We've been in Chile for 2 days now, but so far we're experiencing it through the haze of jetlag. It was always our plan to take the time here to recover from the inevitable effects, and to plan our trip in detail. We're succeeding in doing the latter, but the jetlag is taking longer than we expected. Dave French, whose travelometer goes Spinal Tap style all the way up to eleven, tells us that we need to allow one day for every time zone change. At that rate, we'll be almost finished with Chile by the time we fully recover.
We've taken a close look at our plans for the next two weeks. Our fixed point is Cuzco on the 30th of July. Our plan was to cover the distance from Santiago to Arica (30 hour bus trip) and cross from there to La Paz (another 7 hours), spending 2 days there before moving on to Lake Titicaca. There are too many problems with this. Firstly, in our rush North, we would miss out on many sights and experiences that Chile has to offer, chief amongst which is San Pedro de Atacama. Secondly, we could expect to be laid low with altitude sickness in La Paz for the 2 days we planned to stay there, recovering just in time to leave.
Our new itinerary leaves us more time in Chile, stopping off in La Serena (and getting a tour of the Mamalluca observatory), then making our way to San Pedro de Atacama for two nights of desert contemplation and a visit to the Salt Plains. Finally we will spend two nights in Iquique from where we will fly directly to Araquipa in Peru. We'll have time to reach Cuzco via Lake Titicaca - we wouldn't think of missing out on that.
Even without the language gap - which Letizia is spanning brilliantly - managing your own trip in Chile is not as straight forward as in Australia or New Zealand. There's a huge variety of bus companies, each with their own specialised areas of interest. High car hire cost rules this more independant option out. And even if LAN and other airlines have an online booking system, not all flights are available this way. We decided to seek out the help of a travel agency and basically picked the closest one to our hotel that we could find in the Yellow Pages. With the address in hand we went out to find the office, expecting something like Flight Centre - a highstreet shop with lots of brochures in the window (and maybe even an inflatable pilot outside the door). What we found was a doorbell to a closed office on the 11th floor of a 12 floor building. So we rang.
The door creaked open, and a suspicious pair of eyes peered out at us. Clearly not used to personal calls. Once the initial suspicion passed, we were invited in,. An english speaker was found but it was becoming clear that this agency did not deal with the public. But once it was established that Letizia was Italian, conversation switched immediately to Italian. The company was Italian-owned, and we were speaking with the daughter of the owner. All doors opened. Take off your coats! Sit down! A few moments later the owner herself swept into the room, introducing herself to Nina and Sara first as 'Nonna (Granny) Carla', before directing a tornado of welcome at Letizia and me. There was no talk of business at first - that would have been crude. This was business Latin style. Carla brought us out onto the balcony to admire the sunset over Santiago. She showed us pictures of her grandchildren back in Europe, and we approved. We described our travels to her and she expressed her approval. When, and only when these nicities were observed did we move on to what might have brought us to her office. Up until that point we might just as easily have been making a courtesy call to a distant relative.
A little over 24 hours later, we now have travel and accommodation and some activity vouchers for the rest of our Chilean stay, as well as our flight to Peru - all in the quaint kind of customized plastic folders that were used at home when flying was still something of a big deal. Now we just have to kick this jetlag and get stuck in.
Tomorrow we make a day trip to Valparaiso. More when we get back from that.