This report is dedicated to the IT guy who rescued my draft from eternal oblivion in two occasions. Thanks forever. :D
Unless you're a hard-core avgeek and your life philosophy is "board, deboard, wait, repeat", frequent stopovers can be a p.i.t.a.
That's the problem we have in my country. With a large capital city in the middle concentrating everything from population to businesses to smog, attempts to introduce point-to-point flights between smaller cities north and south of Santiago have failed once and again. Demand is just too low to make this kind of flights profitable.
But before we learn how JetSmart has changed this, let's visit some interesting places around Antofagasta.
After all, this is flight 8 of 9 of this series covering my 2018 summer holidays. The reports for flights 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 are also available.
Tourism Bonus - La Portada, Mejillones, and Huanchaca Ruins
La Portada and Mejillones
La Portada (The Gate) is nothing but a natural arch carved by the sea in the rocky cliffs some 5km north of Antofagasta. You can drive there, or take a bus in the center of the old part of the city. It's a short drive along the Ruta 5 Norte, aka Panamerican Highway.
The bus will drop you at a pedestrian bridge. You see? We're very close to the city.
Then it's a 2km stroll from the highway.
At the end of the road there's a lookout on the left.
Before I get there, I am reminded that the airport is only a couple hundred meters from here. Unexpected spotting place!
This view was in one of the stickers of a collectible sticker album I completed as a child. I never thought I would see it personally! :')
A lot of sea birds call it home.
Unfortunately you can't go down those stairs to the beach.
According to that little sign…
…the beach is closed because there's danger of falling rocks.
Indeed, the cliff is made of sandstone…
…and it's being quickly eroded by the sea and the wind.
So we'll have to make do with some views from the lookout.
Well, all this spotting is a nice, unexpected plus! Sky Airline and LATAM are taking off.
Let's walk back to Ruta 5 Norte and continue our trip to Mejillones, a small port and fishing town on the north shore of the peninsula.
When I'm reaching the highway I hear a roar over my head, reminding me that ANF is also a military base.
I hail a bus and the kind driver invites me to sit at the front. It turns out that this is not a regular service. He's taking some workers to Mejillones. I think he just needs someone to talk to because he never stops!
The airport terminal is just meters from the road.
The desert is also a colorful patchwork here.
We leave the Panamerican Highway and follow a secondary road north-west. Those lines carry electricity produced for the mining industry by one of many polluting thermal power stations in the area.
All railways around here serve the mining industry. There are no passenger trains.
Few minutes later we are welcomed by this festive sign and enter the town. Mejillones is Spanish for mussels, though the word we use in Chile is choros, or choritos.
The town looks much nicer and tidier than I had expected.
Here are some views of the main avenue…
Hibiscuses grow surrounded by artificial grass. I can't blame the authorities. Keeping some greenery in the middle of the desert is already a feat.
An old locomotive of the Antofagasta Bolivia Railway.
I see they make a real effort to keep the town tidy and good looking.
A funny touch is that many streets are decorated with these sculptures of fish…
…and of some cartoon and movie characters, like Sebastian, from The Little Mermaid!! XD
I wonder if Zlatar restaurant would be a good place for lunch. (The owners must be from Croatia) Hm. Who knows. It might be a pearl hidden in a not-so-attractive shell?
It is! I want to try something new, so I order cabrillaa la plancha, and look at that! The portion is so large that the side dish comes on a different plate!
Later, I discover that Zlatar is very well rated on Tripadvisor. First place in Mejillones, in fact! Good food for low prices. I think I was very lucky to find it.
After lunch I head to the seafront. I can't believe what I find on my way there. Is that really…???
By July last year JetSmart was advertising its new "Smart Routes" (point-to-point routes) linking Concepción (south of Santiago) with Antofagasta and Calama (north of Santiago) on Facebook.
From the beginning JetSmart has launched aggressive promotions. Their "Nuevos del aire" promotion (something like New ones in the air) for example, offering the basic ANF > CCP fare at 6000 CLP (9 USD). Of course, you have to add the airport fees and the extras, but it's still a very low price, as you'll see below.
After entering my personal information…
…I choose some extras. This time I am right to pay for extra hand baggage. I will be carrying a large, heavy piece of goat cheese (that lasted three days at home… those piranhas!) that I bought in Antofagasta. (It's quite expensive back home)
I also pick my seat for 3 USD. Eventually, I pay 20,406 CLP (32 USD), which is absolutely fantastic. The bus trip lasts 24 hours, and you won't find it for less than three times that price. Actually, I wouldn't do that trip by bus for free, anyway!
My boarding pass. I see they call ANF by its old name, Cerro Moreno. Its new name is Andrés Sabella, but I think a much better (and fair) name would have been Mucki Koeppen, as explained in my previous report. Whatever.
Andrés Sabella Airport
Being the first passenger to be picked by the transfer van…
…I get ready to be taken on a long tour around the city.
Luckily, we only pick two or three more people…
…all in the north part of the city.
The airport is barely 10km north of Antofagasta.
Toll at the entrance.
The tour around the parking lots allows for a view…
…of the military base on our right.
This base served as a detention and torture center during Pinoche's regime. It was one of the stops of the caravana de la muerte (caravan of death) at the beginning of Augusto Pinochet's regime. It was a group of Army officers in charge of "accelerating" the execution of political prisoners.
According to Wikipedia, "the group traveled from prison to prison in a Puma helicopter, inspecting military garrisons and then ordering — or carrying out themselves — the execution of the detainees. The victims were then buried in unmarked graves. General Joaquin Lagos explained why he didn't return the bodies of the 14 executed prisoners of Antofagasta to their families: "I was ashamed to see them. They were torn into pieces. So I wanted to put them together, at least leave them in a human form. Yes, their eyes were gouged out with knives, their jaws broken, their legs broken … At the end they gave them the coup de grace. They were merciless. "[…] "The prisoners were killed so that they would die slowly. In other words, sometimes they were shot by parts. First, the legs, then the sexual organs, then the heart. In that order the machine guns were fired."
Unaware of these horrendous details of ANF's history, I make it to the terminal smiling at the prospect of flying back to my loved ones.
Go lento (slow)
It's going to be another sunny day in the everlasting summer of Atacama.
From this angle, ANF looks more like a motel than an airport. XD
The current building dates back to the early 1970s…
…so it looks a bit different from other, newer Chilean airports.
It does, however, meet my concept of a nice airport: lots of room and natural light. The counters area.
Quite a busy airport for Chilean standards. LCCs JetSmart and Sky contribute their point-to-point routes, but JetSmart is the only one skipping Santiago. Amaszonas is flying to Iquique at 11:00, but by the time I'm writing this, this Bolivian airline has given up its point-to-point flights in the north of Chile.
What started in March 2017 as a pioneering project to connect the main cities of the north of the country with Bombardier CRJ200 aircraft…
…quickly came to an end because of high prices and a load that barely reached 50%. I myself was eager to report on one of those flights, but the prices were too high.
Checking in for my flight. Ha. Beginners. Learn from me and carry only the basics… and a large, heavy-as-hell goat cheese. :(
I drag my cheesy load along the main hall.
Most shops are still closed…
…but the cafeteria is already serving hungry early-risers.
ATM. Very important. Cajero automático, in case you ever need help to find one in Chile.
I'd feel very lonely in her place.
Aquí penan las almas (souls haunt here) my grandma would have said, meaning that the place is completely deserted.
Baggage claim on the left.
Outside. I have noticed that airport gardens in the north of Chile usually have lots of trees.
A psychological need to see some greenery? Or a way to minimize the shock for passengers coming from greener places?
Well, no baggage to check, so I'd better go airside at once.
The blue and yellow mural on the left is called Cámara del Tiempo, by César Olhagaray. According to a local newspaper, there used to be another painting there, donated by a university, but after it was removed in order to be replaced… it just vanished! And it has not been found again.
Security check is a breeze at this early hour.
In a minute I emerge at the waiting room. To the left, international police, so the international boarding gates are that way, I presume.
To the right, the long boarding room.
JetSmart boards by zones, so read your boarding pass carefully. I still have to find out what these zones are about. Not seat rows, because I have boarded last when sitting at the rear. Ticket price, perhaps?
Sometimes I wonder if colonial times really ever came to an end. Telepizza is just one of MANY Spanish companies operating in Chile.
At least our new Lords seem to be more merciful than their ancestors, judging from these reasonable prices.
So, there is a lounge…
Power outlets for chargers.
The apron is all peace and quiet.
If ANF wasn't older than other Chilean airports…
…I'd think that they used the same template to build them all.
This corner is so similar to the same area at ZCO, for example.
The airport wakes up as the time for the flight nears.
Indeed, our plane will be here in minutes. It's CC-AWA, the same plane that brought me here. JetSmart's fleet is not very large at the moment, but as I mentioned in some previous report, Indigo Partners have made a massive purchse of planes, of which around 70 will be assigned to JetSmart.
…the lighter-colored South American version of the peregrine falcon.
The guys of Acciona (yet another Spanish company)…
…jump into action.
I wonder if all this international outsourcing is a reflection…
…of some sort of Chilean lack of initiative.
Whatever it is, all their equipment looks brand new and the planes look very well maintained.
While the passengers from Santiago deboard…
…we line up orderly according to our zones.
Not many Chileans visit Africa these days, but just in case…
Well, they might invade us with Telepizza, Acciona, and so on, but at least we don't have the ebola virus. Ha! (Hm. I think that Ecuador sank into the ocean)
A very spotting-friendly airport, indeed.
A warm, polite welcome. You are warned (on the door) not to exit the jetway without a plane waiting at the end. It might be a short flight and a painful landing.
JetSmart seats are, as someone described them, the ironing board style. They don't recline. Not so bad for a short hop, but JetSmart is planning to open international routes. My back would pay a high price.
I think the zones system helped to speed up the boarding process.
We are soon pushed back.
The short taxi…
…allows for a view of the military facilities.
I wonder which one of those…
…was buzzing above my head at La Portada the day before.
We hastily bid farewell to ANF.
We climb southwards above the peninsula….
…and I'm treated to a view of the very road I walked the day before. That road on the right links the Panamerican Highway to the lookout.
And that rock center-right is La Portada.
I picked a window seat on the left…
…expecting to have an magnificent view of the Chilean coast all along the trip.
However, even as we fly above Antofagasta…
…I notice that something is going wrong.
Instead of flying along the coast…
…we are heading inland!!
Where's the sea??? Where are the beaches???? Give me my money back!!! :'''(
The worst thing is, with no geographical references I am completely… at sea!!
Mountains?! Shouldn't we be flying south along the coast?? I hate not knowing where I am.
I think I'll do what I usually do in cases of anxiety: I'll order a muffin. But even the muffin is disappointing! :(
Too bad the menu doesn't include a microscope!! You get a muffin four times larger on LATAM or Sky for the same price. >:(
This is the strangest flight I have ever made. Where on earth am I????
I'd better take a minute to pay a visit to the restrooms.
The restroom is occupied, but a FA in the galley shows me a narrow door that had gone completely unnoticed to me. It's another, tiny restroom at the rear…
…where I definitely won't fit in a couple of years…
…unless I seriously reconsider my anxiety-relieving techniques.
Going back to my seat I wonder if this, the first point-to-point route skipping Santiago, will be a long-lived one. What's the seat occupancy this time? 50, 60%? I'm crossing my fingers. JetSmart is betting for Concepción as their second most important hub after SCL.
I'm still struggling to guess my location…
…but these little valleys eventually show me that we are somewhere north of Santiago and south of Copiapó, the area of the valles transversales.
Until… whaaaat?? I have seen that tailings dam before. It belongs to Los Pelambres mine. But what on earth are we doing here??!!
So we didn't fly in a straight line along the coast, but almost all the way to the limit with Argentina. I wonder why. Whatever the reasons - which of course, must be good reasons - I'll have to leave my plans to behold the Chilean coast from the air for a future flight.
Later at home, when I check the route on flightradar24.com I see why I was so disoriented. Antofagasta and Concepción are both located on the coast, so I was expecting to fly on a straight line along the coast, but we actually made a curve that took us almost all the way to the border with Argentina and back to the coast.
Now I see why I can almost touch Mercedario hill…
…and see some towns right north of Santiago, like San Felipe in the foreground, and Los Andes in the background.
After flying over Llay Llay the captain comes over the PA system and tells us that passengers on the left will be able to see…
…SCL! We are making history here! This is one of the first flights on a Chilean domestic route skipping Santiago!
Then the captain says that Valparaíso and Viña del Mar can be seen on the right. You can change your seat on JetSmart, but only for a fee. But there's such commotion with people trying to get a picture of the cities that the FAs don't seem to care much if we leave our seats for a moment. I kneel on an empty seat on the right side.
Left half of the photo is Valparaíso, and right half is Viña del Mar. Quilpué is lower right.
The "river" flowing through Viña del Mar isactually an estuary called Marga Marga.
Under our feet, Casablanca, renowned for its wines.
It can be seen a little better here. Too bad it's not open to swimmers - but only to boats or scuba divers - since 2013, when a boy died when trapped by the filtering mechanism.
El Tabo, Las Cruces, Cartagena… a lot of towns where well-off vacationers from Santiago used to spend the summer in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Things have changed a little, but it's still a nice place to visit. In Isla Negra, for example (upper right in this photo) is one of Pablo Neruda's houses, which has been turned into a museum.
The FA saw me but didn't send me back to my seat, so I feel emboldened to take this picture of San Antonio, an important port…
…and the mouth of river Rapel. The town of Matanzas is on the left.
Litueche. I have passed through this town a couple of times on a bus when travelling to… OMG… am I really going to see…
…Pichilemu?! You won't believe the many conflicting emotions making me shiver as I see this landscape.
My father brought us to live in Pichilemu in the early 90s. For years we thought it was due to his job, but he actually wanted to be closer to his mistress. That sunov…
Someone told my mother about my father's newborn baby. They divorced.
Luckily I was studying in Santiago at the time and only spent my summer holidays in Pichilemu, but I still have strong emotions about the place, good and bad. We made so many good friends there, too. So many good moments. And all that looks so far away.
So, the lesson would be: Time heals everything. Just like Pichilemu looks small and insignificant from here, good and bad experiences become distant and insignificant as time goes by. There are so many other beautiful things to do and see. <sigh>
Still with a heavy heart from the memories, I move back to my seat on the left side.
As we slowly start to descent above Cauquenes, something draws my attention. What's that thing in the distance? Is it…?
Holy guacamole!!! A volcano is erupting over there!!
We are very far, of course. This is the most I can zoom in. Am I seeing the evening news live?? I hope this won't spoil my fun and ground flights or something like that! I still have to catch the next flight from CCP!
As we cross the river Itata…
…I notice that the plume of ashes from the volcano…
…slowly turns into a little cloud. Phew! It looks like it was not an eruption, but just a "burp".
Much like the area around Valdivia, my hometown, native forests here have been completely devastated in order to grow pines and eucalyptus.
You'll see the consequences in my next report, as we take off from Concepción.
We descend into CCP with a view on the industrial town of Penco…
…which used to be the original location of Concepción until the Indians destroyed it.
Final approach with a view on river Andalién.
And here we are.
In exactly two hours JetSmart has linked two cities that until August 2017 were at least 5 hours away from each other by plane or more than a day by bus.
LATAM followed suit only months later.
Being the third largest city in Chile…
…Concepción is very well connected to Santiago…
…but it's only with the advent of LCCs that it's become relevant…
…as a hub for flights between the mining far north of the country…
…and cities south of Santiago, making the life of workers much easier.
So the word is Jetway…?? Or jetbridge?? Or something else?
Wow. That's efficiency. Passengers are already in the jetway waiting for the next flight.
Busy day at CCP.
A last view at CC-AWA by gate 4.
As for me, now I have to wait until 7 p.m….
…to take my next flight south to Puerto Montt, and then a bus home.
This gives me about 6 hours to wander around Concepción.
I'm really eager to visit Caracol hill in order to have a panoramic view of the city.
If it weren't for this damn goat cheese that I had the idea of buying in Antofagasta and now I'm carrying in my backpack. As heavy as a rock!
It's a "goat damned" cheese! XD
I have no choice. I'll have to carry it up and down the hill. X( Now Uber, come to me.
Antofagasta - ANF
Concepcion - CCP
The ULCC JetSmart is revolutionizing the Chilean aviation market with its point-to-point routes and all-time low fares, succeeding where many airlines failed before. A flight skipping Santiago was unthinkable until last year. Now we're flying non-stop all the way from the dry Atacama desert down to Concepción, 400km south if Santiago.
JetSmart, can you make your muffins larger, please?
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