10)  Stuck - In search of penguins. - CycleBlaze

May 2, 2020

10)  Stuck

in Coyhaique until June

May 2   
So, it looks like we will get to know Coyhaique a lot better. 

  • The regional airport at Balmaceda has shut down until June. 
  • Buses are only running to Chaiten, about 500 km north.
  • Ferries are restricted to "residents only".  
  • The Argentine border is still shut down indefinitely. 

On the bright side, now we have a chance to learn some spanglish. I have come to the realization that our previous attempts to learn classical Spanish (a la Babel) is useless in a country like Chile. 

Anyway, life goes on ...



May 20
We are still stuck in Coyhaique, waiting for a plane back to Canada. We almost got away several times, but airlines kept cancelling flights, usually at the last minute. We are currently on ticket #6 which leaves June 1 if all goes well.

We have rented a two bedroom furnished apartment in town ($1500 / month cad) so we are warm and dry. The province of Aysen (where we are) has only seen eight confirmed Covid cases, and zero deaths. The stores are full of food, and there are no lineups. Life is comfortable, but a bit boring.

It is winter down here. It rains almost every day. There is snow on the local mountains but none in the town yet. Hiking is possible but I am staying out of the bush because I don't have proper boots and clothing.

Cerro Negro.
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 May 21
If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans. 

No sooner did I blog our latest travel plans, than LATAM announced our flights were all cancelled. No reason was given as usual, although we can assume  it is the standard one - LATAM hates its passengers and is committed to ensuring none ever fly with them again. Message received, LATAM - loud and clear.

Our long suffering travel agent, Krista Nielson at FlightCentre has been notified. Hopefully she will find us a different flight out before we all die of old age down here. 

There was ice on the puddles this morning. Winter is upon us, metaphorically and meteorologically.

May 26

We have been anxiously awaiting June 1 when LATAM begins regular flights again to and from regional airports.  Latam had announced flights on May 31, June 7, 11 and 14. Surely, we thought, one of those will not be cancelled. Alas, the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be the headlamp of an oncoming train. Latam declared bankruptcy today. 

What this means for us is anybody's guess. Latam is (or was) almost the only regional airline still flying in South America. Hopefully it will continue to fly. 

Chile's external borders are all closed, so we cant drive home.  Internal travel by bus is possible but dificult due to quarantines and military roadblocks. The only international airport still operating is in Santiago; but it is very hard to reach except by air, because it is locked down under a 24 hour curfew.   

On the bright side though, we have been adopted by a very large cat:

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Scott AndersonBeware! With your string of luck, you might get the virus from it.
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6 months ago

May 28
Latam is promising to maintain its scheduled flights during its "re-organization". It is possible they are telling the truth for once. That, and my inability to think of any other way to get home has led us to ask our long-suffering travel agent at FlightCentre to book us yet another Latam flight on June 7. 

  
I know the common definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. But I am out of ideas, apart from building a raft (Kon-tiki style), and paddling north. 

More news when it happens ...

There are a lot of unusual vehicles in Chile, including trucks by Great Wall (China), and Mahindra (India). This one is a Fiat.
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June 4

My apologies if I am becoming repetitious, but it looks like Latam has canceled our flight (#8) again. Back to the drawing board ...

Louise read on the internet that Latam's strategy is to keep cancelling flights and forcing it's passengers to rebook, until they have a full airplane. That may increase Latam's profits. But it is expensive and inconvenient for us.

However, it is not like we have any options, so we asked our travel agent to rebook us again, on the next available flight on June 16.

  June 14

We are 48 hours from takeoff which is closer than we usually get. However, Latam is not above cancelling tickets on the same day as the flight, so we are not breaking out the champagne yet.  

Meanwhile, the Latam website fails to inspire confidence. Sometimes it claims ominously that no information is available for our flight. Yesterday it asserted that that a one hour segment would take 25 hours. And sometimes it says our first departure time has been changed by one hour. 

It is getting cold in Coyhaique. It snowed about 10 cm a few days ago. The parrots don't seem to mind though.

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(The following report describes the plane ride from hell - 36 hours of stress, mindless customs and security rituals, and little or no food or drink)

June 16
1. Balmaceda to Puerto Montt

We packed our bikes and gear again, just in case Latam did not cancel our flight (for once). At 9:30 am our shuttle bus took us to the Balmaceda airport where we joined about a dozen other hopeful passengers. After the usual check-in confusion, we finally saw the inside of an airplane! It was very stressful and we weren't sure until the last minute that we would make it.

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The seats were surprisingly comfortable. I had a full cm in front of my knees. The plane was about 25% full.

2. Puerto Montt to Santiago
Our first stop was Puerto Montt, at the north end of the Carretara Austral, where almost everyone got off.  When the next passengers loaded, the plane was almost full, except for the middle seats. Everyone wore masks; a few paranoid types wore full tyvek suits, and a couple of people even wore swim goggles. Such is flying in the age of CoVid.

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Finally at 2:30 we flew to Santiago - capital city of Chile and center of the country's Covid-19 outbreak. The city and the airport are under strict quarantine - citizens are confined to their homes unless they have a temporary permit for a single excursion. It is a huge prolem for the poorer neighbourhoods, because they live in very small and crowded apartments with almost no social services. Riots have broken out again. 

June 17
3. Santiago to Miami

After a (un) refreshing 7 hour layover, we crammed into a huge Boing 787 with the rest of a seething mass of humanity. We flew all night and arrived early the next morning.

Louise bought a bottle of water prior to the flight. It cost as much as the wine we used to drink in Coyhaique. And was promptly confiscated at the gate - because CoVid or something.

It was bizarrely familiar to hear people speaking English again. Or American, at least. Which is like English. For the last half a year, we have understood almost nothing that was said to us. 

Plane was full except for the middle seats.  Legroom was non-existent. And the food was BC Ferry quality. But we were just glad to be finally moving. 

Santiago airport. We had to retrieve our bikes and clear customs and TSA, in Santiago, Miami, and Los Angeles.
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Dagmar KellyWohoo! Happy you have made it back to Canada. It must be a bit of a culture shock coming back to a whole new normal. I don't know when I'll be able to return/visit Canada, but looking forward to catching up re your adventures. PS BC Ferry food is fantastic compared to AC food from Oz to Canada.
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5 months ago

4. Miami to Los Angeles

After a few hours we boarded an American Airways flight to Los Angeles. AA does not believe in social distancing, or anything else that could reduce profits. Every seat was filled, including the middle ones. We managed to nap for a few hours, but it was a wretched flight. The "meal" was a cookie and a small bottle of water.

5. Los Angeles to Vancouver

In LAX it was a frantic race against time  (2 hours) to find our bike boxes, perform the idiotic TSA safety dance, then check in again with Air Canada.  Somehow we did it. 

We were so late that our boarding passes showed "Standby" seating. But the AC flight was only about 50% full so it was much more bearable. And, we were delighted to learn that AC had only lost one of our bikes. A search is underway for it and we are cautiously optimistic.

We will spend the next 14 days at my brother in law's new condo in Sechelt while we wait for zombie symptoms. After that - Kamloops.

That concludes the Penguin Chronicles. We may edit previous posts but no further updates will be posted. Thank you to everyone who followed along. If you are planning a similar trip and have questions, please leave a comment and I will reply.

Update June 22

Air Canada found my bike and delivered it by courier to my gilded cage in Sechelt where I am waiting out my 14 days of quarantine. I figured they might find it- it was packed in a box the size of a small mattress. I haven't looked to see what shape it is in, but the box is looking a bit worse for wear.

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Brian DriscollHigh and dry. Better than the alternative. Good luck with June 1. Stay sane.
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6 months ago
Rachael AndersonGlad to hear from you again! What an ordeal.
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6 months ago
Kathleen ClassenThanks for posting. Stay safe.
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6 months ago
Brian DriscollYou were mulling over the idea of retiring in Chile, were you not? Looks like another dream come true! This time next year our comments will have to be in español. Hasta luego.
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6 months ago
Fay GinTravel agents are suffering as well! I'm glad you've rented a nice casa for your staycation!
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6 months ago
Susan CarpenterYou two were my first thoughts when I heard this morning that Latam was filing for bankruptcy. After all you've been through! But I'm not surprised that you're looking on the bright side. We're all pulling for you.
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6 months ago
Jan Salmon ArmAw, jeez. Any help from Canadian consul? You can't be the only Canadians stranded in Chile, gracias Latam.
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5 months ago
Kathleen ClassenOh no. What a challenging situation. Stay safe.
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5 months ago
Mike CacketteTo Jan Salmon ArmThe Canadian consulate has not been helpful. We have contacted them.
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5 months ago
Kathryn HamiltonAt least you have a cat.
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5 months ago
Dagmar KellyYeah! Thinking of you and hope you have safe travels.
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5 months ago
Brian DriscollLucky you! I still haven't seen the inside of a 787. Not that it'll be any different, but I understand they are less pressurized so you arrive at your destination as refreshed as when you left. At least jet lag isn't a problem flying north.
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5 months ago
Jean GibbonsHi
Been following your journey and are really gad to hear that you’re back safely in Canada. What a trip! Has that put you off cycle tours for life? It seems such a long time ago that we met in Puerto Octay. All the best. Jean & Nick
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5 months ago
Mike CacketteTo Jean GibbonsHi Jean and Nick,
If Air Canada finds my lost bike, there will be more trips. Doubtless, they will be equally eventful; but hopefully less traumatic.
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5 months ago
Jan Salmon ArmHey, can I believe my eyes? Did you actually make the whole trip home without getting anything purposefully STOLEN? Milagro!
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5 months ago
Fran TraceyGlad to hear you made it back, what a trip ! How is Louises knee / leg. No gangrene? I suppose you got out of quarantine today ?!! Please text me !
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4 months ago