Summer holidays! I can't begin to explain how much I wanted to see 2022 come to an end.
What better way to start the new year than a little flying, una cosita poca, just some hops around the neighborhood.
I think I'll visit auntie Cecilia in Santiago.
But I'll take the long road, with a stop in Coyhaique - which I visited back in 2016 - and then Bariloche, Argentina, on the way back.
So, the itinerary will look like this:
- Puerto Montt (PMC) to Balmaceda (BBA) (BBA serves Coyhaique)
- Balmaceda to Santiago (with a stopover at PMC)
- Santiago to Bariloche (BRC)
No flights to Coyhaique from my hometown. Boo hoo. I have to leave from Puerto Montt. I'll spend the night there to make sure I make it to the airport on time.
It's a 3-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Valdivia to Puerto Montt. Buses are the most popular way of traveling in Chile, and there are different cabin classes. This is a salón cama cabin…
…which allows for more comfort and privacy.
The fields in summer don't look that green, but it's still so beautiful. I love the countryside.
Puerto Montt is NOT on my list of favorite cities. It's quite UGLY. Like most Chilean cities, it looks dirty and neglected.
Out of habit, I walk straight to Andrés Tour at the Puerto Montt bus station…
…without noticing that there's a new bus line right opposite - Transportes Imperio. Hmm. Sounds very "imperial." Same ticket price as Andrés Tour.
It's 7:56 when I get my ticket for the 8:00 van. I haven't had breakfast, but I don't want to waste my money on a sandwich and a coffee at the airport, having the chance to buy them here.
Unfortunately, there's a little queue at the only shop open at this time. I wait for two minutes, but the guy in front of me is taking ages to order. I give up and run to the van before it leaves without me. The driver is standing at the van's door. I ask "Alcanzo a comprar unas galletitas?" (Do I have time to buy some cookies?) I make my best sad puppy face. He says I can go.
I sprint back to the shop and get my cookies.
That's how we leave at 8:02 😬
I wonder, would that be possible in Japan??
The trip is short, about 20 minutes. The runway and the terminal can be seen from the road.
The astro rey is going to give me a hard time with my photos today.
BTW, all the legs of this trip will be on Sky Airline. Sky has become my airline of choice…
…since it's halfway between LATAM's punctuality and comfortable cabins, and JetSmart's LCC model.
Sky also gives LATAM a run for their money in other aspects, like the availability of a very functional Android app, automatic check-in, and differentiated seats with more legroom for a little extra.
Unfortunately, the automatic check-in was not working this time and I had to go to the counter. The staff at the counter acknowledged this problem. No big deal. I was the very first passenger for this flight this morning, it seems, because he was engaged in lively chatter with a coworker, and didn't see me standing there until the latter nudged him on his side. It was funny because he was taken aback.
That's how I got my first printed BP in ages, printed in thick paper, much like standard photocopy paper.
Oh, no. My teacher's brain cells are active again. I can see a children's chant on the BP!
I want to forget school for a day!!!!! 😭
Whatever. PMC still looks as fresh and shiny as six years ago.
Feliz Navidad! I have heard that the song Feliz Navidad is quite popular around the world this time of year. The lyrics goes Feliz navidad, próspero año y felicidad. Please, make sure to say año (year) - ñ sounds like French gn - not ano, which means anus. Thanks.
Kevin's friends are here to say hello! (hee hee hee)
There's an unused counter in a corner where… OMG!…
…defunct Latin American Wings used to be.
I flew Latin American Wings (LAW) only once back in 2017, from Concepción (CCP) to Santiago (SCL), and wrote a detailed report with information about their controversial history and business model. You can read it here.
The aircraft on that occasion was CC-AQL. This was CC-AQL arriving at CCP for my flight:
LAW eventually went belly up in 2018. Some time later I learned that CC-AQL was up for bid. It was announced on the Chilean Customs website.
However, it was not CC-AQL as I had seen it. All that was left of it was junk. (Well, the same can be said of some of my former school mates) but in this case I felt very touched. After all, an aircraft is quite a majestic machine, and it flies, for God's sake! So it was heartbreaking to see it like this:
I gasped at the sight. And even more shocking were the following views.
The cabin when I flew…
The galley before…
The right turbine before…
Well, let's think that some pieces of it still might be working in other aircraft.
Thanks for being a donor, CC-AQL. You set a good example. 🌹
PMC serves as an important local hub for the sparsely populated Chilean Patagonia. Being the last largest town north of an area of fjords and islands that stretches for about two thousand kilometers, many people come to Puerto Montt for medical treatment, studies, etc.
Still landside, next to the counters is the omnipresent BritShop. They sell souvenirs of places you might want to remember…
…and places you'd rather forget.
Beyond the shop is… Oops! I have no idea what's over there. It's not the arrivals section because arrivals is at the other end of the building. I see some seats over there. Whatever it is, it seems to be temporarily out of reach.
Oh! What do I see!
A printing station. The availability of these computers entails some dangers, though.
Las year, someone at CCP used an information kiosk to visit a porn website, as reported here. (Parental advisory: The video in the news article is not blurred!)
This happens because those kiosks are nothing but a standard computer running standard software like web browsers apart from the airport's specific info software. The same is true about most info screens you see anywhere, from the pharmacy to the bus station. Someone must have created a way to block everything on them but the necessary software/websites.
Further down the hall, Mr Morales has a parking place of his own.
And last, but not least, arrivals and car rentals. There's a lounge on the second floor, too. Kevin reviewed it on the report to his recent trip to these latitudes.
Well, not much more to see around here. Let's walk back to the stairs…
…to security check.
Still landside, there are toilets and a restaurant upstairs. But I prefer to go through security check now that I'm the only one around here.
It was a breeze!
There's a whole market airside! Offering local handicraft - lots of wool -…
…VERY expensive coffee and sandwiches…
…and even sunglasses.
Most of the ads on the walls are for apartments, some around beautiful Llanquihue lake.
They appeal to your preservation instinct… (Thanks, but no, thanks)
…especially if a good-looking female is involved. (Again, thanks, but no, thanks)
At the far end, gates 5 and 6 are reserved for international flights. I wonder what international flights have arrived/departed from here. None that I know of.
The seats are not the softest kind. However, I'm impressed that all of them have charging ports underneath! Remarkable.
Yes, I noticed the dust, too. Cleaning seems to be PMC's weak side. As I was sitting near a gate that was not being used at the moment, the cleaning staff came and started to clean that section. They didn't have a vacuum cleaner, so they started to sweep the carpeting energetically, raising an enormous cloud of dust! I took my stuff and ran away to the other end of the hall.
Let's try the AC/DC charging ports. Uh oh. Nothing. The USB port? Again,nothing.
I try the ports in the area that has just been cleaned. They work! So, only some of the chargers under the seats were working at the moment.
Anyway, they also have several of these charging stations…
…and some extra AC/DC outlets over there. In summary, plenty of charging points for an army.
I'd love to sit and watch an episode of Pantanal - the remake of a popular 90s Brazilian soap opera. (Stupid sexy Zé Leôncio! ❤️ ) I'm determined to improve my Portuguese, which I think is the most beautiful language in the world. Unfortunately, the time is coming to head for my gate.
The screen at gate 4 was already displaying my flight number when I came airside.
Let's see where my plane comes… Ah, it's almost here! Just above Nueva Braunau. Yes, there's a town named after Hitler's birthplace here.
Our ride is barely-one-year-old CC-DCC. Wow! Look how handsome he looks!
I'll wait for its arrival here. See how spotter friendly PMC is!
There he is!
CC-DCC is an A321NX, which - according to some sources - means that it's a version of the A32neo "with Airbus' Cabin Flex. This means that the overhead bins are larger, the plane comes with mood lighting, and it has a new cabin layout that can be tailored to meet the airline's needs." Go figure.
LATAM and JetSmart hire the services of a Spanish subcontractor called Acciona. From what I see here, Sky takes care of their own operations…
…because everything is branded "Sky."
Short queue for Coyhaique today. I'm the last one in the line.
We board quickly. The longest part is… reaching my seat at row 33! Gosh! This is a long plane!
I begin my inspections. These seats seem to have become the standard for Sky's fleet.
Enough space for my legs on this flight.
I love the charging port right in front of your eyes…
…and the possibility to recline your seat. My lower back says thanks.
Everything seems to go smoothly, except that some passengers - like these two ladies in front of me, coming from Santiago - didn't realize (or pretended not to know) that they had to move to a different seat at PMC. It was marked in their tickets.
Tis flight, as seen by flightradar24.com.
Pushback on time.
We stop at by the road for a minute while we ruffle our feather for the fight.
And up we go…
…heading south above Puerto Montt and…
…beautiful Maillén island, and the small Capehuapi island on the right.
Volcanoes Osorno, Puntiagudo and Calbuco watch from a distance.
That fjord below is called Reloncaví. The Spanish conquistadors had a hard time finding names for geographical features like fjords, because there used to be no word for fjord in Spanish. They had never seen a fjord before!
So when they came to the southernmost tip of America and found hundreds of fjords, they scratched their heads looking for a word. Was a fjord a seno (inlet)? Was it an estuario (estuary)? Curiously, they eventually picked the word estero (creek)
That's why this fjord is usually referred to as Estero de Reloncaví. However, now that we have the word fiordo, the official name is Fiordo de Reloncaví. Good thing, too, because a creek has nothing to do with a fjord!!
The Andes sink into the ocean south of Puerto Montt, turning into about five thousand islands of all sizes and intricate shapes.
As you can see here, Patagonia is a popular spot in summer.
At the tip of Comau fjord lies Caleta Porcelana, a small fishing town. It's called Porcelana after the white clay that can be found there. Nearby are the the only known geysers of the south of the country.
No onboard service on this 50-miute trip. It's OK. I don't want to miss a centimeter of the wonderful landscape of snowed mountain tops…
…uncountable lakes like lake Situación in Argentina…
…and lake Yelcho in Chile…
…lake Palena, shared by Chile and Argentina…
…lago Verde (Green lake)…
…or lakes Fontana and Plata, both in Argentina.
Given the orientation of the runway at BBA, we have to cross the border and make a long U-turn. Patagonia has two main kinds of landscape - cold and rainy, or cold and arid. Most of the rainy area is in Chile, and most of the arid area is in Argentina. The change in the landscape is striking. As we enter Argentina, the forests suddenly…
…give way to never ending plains. Another striking feature of the Argentinean Patagonia are those lakes that seem to have been formed by meteor impacts. I haven't found much information about it, but from the air you can see hundreds of those lakes with a kind of "tail" - like that of a comet - which, in my opinion, must have been formed by the debris of the impact.
Above the limit between the forests and the steppes we bank to the right, back to Chile…
…and approach the runway from the south-east.
Welcome to Balmaceda!
Back in 2016, a lot of construction was in progress at this airport.
Look at that. New control tower!
All-new apron and a longer terminal building, too.
For comparison, this is what BBA looked like when I visited in 2016. My report for that fight is here.
Because of the beastly weather down here…
…once you disembark…
…you are led like a hamster…
…along a series of corridors…
..that connect both jetbridges to the terminal building.
The middle section has a great view on the apron.
The section closer to the building is painted in this beautiful color…
…that makes it feel much like the interior of a cozy, warm, local house in winter.
Ah, it really looks more spacious than the last time.
This whole area is new, and there are two belts now.
Great! I'm happy to see there's been some progress around here. Let's go a get our transfer ticket.
Oops! Nobody here! I wonder where they went. Maybe in the next room…
Nope. Only car rentals here.
Me and several other passengers are quite confused as to what to do now. How will we take our transfer? I think that the best thing I can do is go outside and ask the drivers.
There are two vans parked outside, but we are told that all the seats are sold.
But another one will be here in minutes. We only have to wait some minutes. Grmf.
As the driver said, another van comes in about 10 minutes. The ticket is 9000 CLP (10 USD) Not that bad for a 60km ride.
We abandon the premises.
To the right, Argentina is barely 2km away.
Right across the road from the airport is the town of Balmaceda, which is nothing but some eight or ten blocks of run down houses like this…
The main square.
Something like a rodeo is being held over there. It must be one of the few forms of entertainment these people have in these God-forsaken corner of the world.
We visited Balmaceda only because a worker asked the driver to give him a ride from the airport. Now we are back on the road. Oh! A heart-shaped cloud. Is it a good omen, perhaps?
No. It wasn't. I didn't meet anyone.
BBA is quite far from the city it serves. But these 60km are full of picturesque views.
This sign announces that we reached the Carretera Austral, the portion of the Panamerican Highway that runs along the Chilean side of Patagonia. Building it has been a very difficult task. Most of it was built under the Pinochet government.
From the steppes we get to…
…green fields were fodder is produced…
Lots of fodder.
Absolutely necessary, considering that these fields are covered in snow most of the year.
As we near Coyhaique, the rugged silhouette of mount McKay welcomes us.
I would't build anything under those rocky walls!
But there they are. Living a life of danger.
I'll be here two nights only, before I continue to Santiago. I am eager to take the bus from Coyhaique to Puerto Aysén. What you see here is the canyon of River Simpson.
As we drive along the winding road, the melancholic notes of Bajando pa' Puerto Aysén (Going down to Puerto Aysén) play in my head.
It's a song that describes the hard life of the arrieros, cattle drivers, who did their work in rough weather conditions. Summer is very short down here, and temperatures usually reach less than -20°C.
The first part of the song goes:
Tropilla de cariblancos - Herd of blazed face horses
bajando pa' Puerto Aysén - going down to Puerto Aysén
Sobre las bestias hay nieve - There's snow on the animals
sobre los ponchos también - on the ponchos as well
If you want a taste of Chilean folk music, I suggest you listen to this song. It's one of my favorites.
Yes, this might be a beautiful place to visit…
…but living here must be a totally different thing. In fact, I asked a local dog what life was like for him, and he said "rough." XD
Thanks for reading! :D
Sky Airline has become my airline of choice for domestic flights in Chile. It's halfway between LATAM's comfortable cabins, and JetSmart's LCC model. Best of all, Sky's fleet is brand new. Most of their aircraft are barely one year old.