Day 10: Santiago to Chicago

After yesterday’s late night of travel stress, we slept in a bit today at the United-provided Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Santiago. But! We also intended to wake up in time for the free breakfast and take advantage of our bonus day in the city. The weather this morning was beautiful and the sky seemed more clear than our previous visits to the city. Could even see the Andes in the distance.

Looking for Easter rock concerts

We started with the breakfast buffet, which was solid. Then we heard some music coming from the event space near the lobby and discovered a big Easter rock concert/mass thing. Hard to tell, but we watched and rocked out for a couple minutes before they tried to seat us. Fun fact, there was a Bat Mitzvah in the same space when we arrived at 2AM last night, so look no further when considering where to book your next religious music party in Chile!

Once we hit the streets, our plan was to hike up to see the Virgin Mary statue atop San Cristobal Hill — a hike we did back during our visit in 2019. Only this time, it is more thematically appropriate because it’s Easter Sunday! Also, this hike is a good choice because while a lot of places are closed for Easter (La Burguesia… Noooo!), the public park stays open.

Along the way, we encountered some sort of biking event which closed the streets to traffic and filled them with cyclists instead. Then we discovered the same sculpture park we wandered thru last time. And finally, we found a series of promotional tents giving away useful sample items to the masses — ranging from sunscreen to toothpaste. Colgate even set up a trampoline exercise workout zone to get your heart-rate pumping before your hike and/or bike up the hill!

Santiago’s version of “Bike the Drive”

Wish Chicago had this park

More clear view of the city than our last visit

After having some fun, we hiked up the hill. Started on a paved road, but mixed in some forested, mountain-bike paths for good measure. Finally, we made it to the top and Easter’d it up with people attending mass by the Virgin Statue. We rewarded ourselves with Mote con Huesillo – a sweet peach drink with husked wheat. We walked back down the road and back to the hotel. In total, we walked about 6.25 miles.

Beautiful bonus day in Chile

Happy Easter!!!

Pro tip: We each got our own this time

Bees approve!

Curly fry art

Back at the hotel, we finished our leftover pizza and packed up for our return to the airport. We got an Uber and arrived perfectly just before check-in time. Because we were now flying Delta, we were also allowed access to the Priority Pass lounge that shot us down yesterday. From the windows of the lounge, we could see our broken United plane from last night still sitting on the tarmac.

Solid martini from bartender Jo

Our cancelled fight from last night still hasn’t moved

Given our last-minute booking on this flight from another airline, we didn’t have seats next to each other, but they managed to help us change our tickets and seat us together. The plane actually boarded, and even took off! We were on our way from Santiago to Atlanta on the overnight flight.

Finding two seats together like an Easter Egg hunt

Santiago sunset

Next stop ATL

We arrived in Atlanta a few minutes late. We were at the back of the plane so it took a while to get out. Are Delta passengers slower than usual??? Hard to tell. Anyways, we breezed passed everyone in the very long customs line by going through Global Entry. But then, of course, we still had to wait for the bag, and get back in the single security line. Eventually, we made it to our gate a few minutes before boarding, and once again, they managed to seat us together.


Back in chilly and rainy Chicago, we landed in concourse M (which is in Terminal 5, in case you were wondering!). Again, we were seated in the back of the plane, so we enjoyed another chance to observe Delta passengers setting records in the “most time needed to deplane” category. First time we’ve been the LAST two people off of a plane! Anyways, good thing we weren’t in a hurry. We grabbed our bags and eventually made our way to the Blue Line.

Nice try Atlanta, but this is the real “plane train”

Despite losing a day to the cancelled flight, we managed to pick our schedules up pretty well. Jo headed straight to work from the Addison stop — which is fitting because that’s how the trip started. Meanwhile, Matt headed home on the 152 Bus and was able to pick up Poe no earlier than we would have if we had arrived yesterday. So, all good! And with that, another trip blog is in the books!

Day 9: Patagonia National Park to Santiago

We had an early wake up call today in order to depart Explora and be driven to the Balmaceda airport in time for our afternoon flight. We enjoyed one more breakfast and said our final goodbyes. We hopped in the van and set off on the six-hour drive.

One last Explora Double Cappucino incoming

The sun finally appears

It rained for the first couple hours but eventually cleared up. The drive was very scenic — especially if you are awake (lol). It was nice to catch the impressive Patagonian views we missed on the drive in when everything was covered by low-handing clouds last week. As a final wildlife bonus, we also spotted a male huemule along the way.

Driving view #1

Driving view #2

Driving view #3

Driving view #4

The Balmaceda airport is pretty small and they don’t start checking baggage until exactly two hours before the flight. Thankfully, our timing was pretty good and we only had to wait a few minutes. We had a drink at the restaurant to pass the time until we headed into the single gate area.

We have arrived at Balmaceda Airport

Maqui ale, good stuff!

All aboard LATAM to Santiago

Flight left on time and was smooth. We arrived at Santiago airport, collected our bags, and walked to the international terminal. We found a table at a cafe and waited roughly 30 minutes to check our bags once again. Once we were allowed, we took care of that task and went through customs. Too bad for us, the only Priority Pass lounge in the international terminal is for people flying on Sky Team flights (aka. Delta), so we slummed it at Ruby Tuesday’s for a very fried dinner.

Don’t make the Santiago PDI dog sad by smuggling anything

Pilot: “We hear a loud tapping coming from our empennage!”

Spoiler alert! We might be here until Tuesday!

We arrived at our gate right as boarding was starting… and then, everything promptly stopped! We were told a maintenance team needed to fix something on the plane and the flight was delayed. After a series of “We’ll give you another update in 20 minutes” announcements, the gate area began to resemble a Lord of the Flies situation as all the children gathered for pre-boarding got their hands on the blue balloons United had decorated the gate with (why??? no idea).

Finally, after waiting about an hour and a half, the flight was cancelled. We were directed to go back through customs, collect our checked bags, and get on a bus. They were putting us all up at the Intercontinental in downtown Santiago. They also said United would be contacting us about re-booking. When we attempted to re-book using the app, it said there were no available re-booking options for THREE DAYS. Not being too keen to learn if that was accurate, we instead chatted with a United agent who booked us on a flight tomorrow night with Delta.

Party’s over! Take down those balloons the kids didn’t already destroy

Loading luggage on the coach buses to the Intercontinental

It took a couple of hours, but eventually we made it to the hotel. They offered us “dinner” of pizzas and pudding delivered to our room, which we gladly accepted. We spent some additional time working on tomorrow’s check-in and baggage issues given the adjustment from United and Delta. But, we pretty much gave up after another few calls with unhelpful agents. Who cares! We have a flight! And, since it was about 3AM, time to get some sleep to take advantage of our bonus day in Santiago tomorrow.

“Sorry we cancelled your flight” pizza

Day 8: Lago Gutierrez

Today is our last full day at Explora. Because the weather forecasted rain in the morning, and clearing up in the afternoon, we requested a bit of a late start. We left at 9:30AM with two other people in our group, and of course, Mica who was now our driver as well!

Look who got her driver’s license!

Rainy pre-hike calisthenics

The parking lot for the trail was the same as Los Avilés – the hike we did on the first day. Heading in a different direction, this hike does not go through the valley, but rather southeast along some ranches and then south up to Lake Gutierrez. It was indeed raining and a bit chilly, so we geared up and set out.

Aside the Chacabuco Valley

Snowing at elevation

Heading up to Lago Gutierrez

As we hiked along, there were periods when the rain stoped and the sun came out. The light hitting the mountains in the distance made for a great view.

Rain gear vs Patagonia palette

This Puma is clearly looking for an exhibits curator job with the Natural History Museum

Clouds breaking over the valley

Lake Gutierrez is the largest lake in the Cocabucha Valley. The windy day created some decent waves.

Loudest lake in the Chacabuco Valley?

Hiking to Lago Gutierrez lookout

Snow incoming

We hiked up along the lake until we found an overlook. We stopped for our tea and muffin break while enjoying the view. It also started snowing! It wasn’t sticking at our level, but we saw the mountain tops start to get covered. Since it was cold and windy, we didn’t stop long and started back down the same path. We warmed up as we were moving and getting down the mountain.

Tea time location fit for a condor

Last day… Good bye Mica! 🙁

Heading down from Lago Gutierrez lookout

One more photo in the wild

Once we made it back to the car, we had our celebratory Fanta and headed back. Last night, we only signed up for one half-day exploration so we had time at the hotel before leaving tomorrow. After eating lunch, we visited the museum on the property. It explained the history and development of the area as well as sections on things like geology, flora and fauna, and climate change.

Clear view of Cerro Tamango back at Explora

Wait, is this Westworld?!?

I guess this is the best we’re gonna do in the Puma department

One thing we knew we had to do was go to the hot tub and relax after a week of hiking. As we left, someone told us that a puma had just walked past the restaurant. Unfortunately, we missed it by about 15 minutes. We continued with getting ready for the night and to leave. As we were making our final gift shop purchases, we heard rumors of a puma walking near Case Viscacha. We quickly checked out and looked around and spotted it! It was a little far from us, but we were able to see it clearly before it went into the woods.


Mica said this is either an adult or a juvenile in “bad shape”… Puma burn!!!!

Having completed our checklist for the trip, we went to the bar to have a drink and relax before dinner. Tomorrow we leave early to get to the airport and start the journey back to Chicago.

Day 7: Los Pumas & Confluencia

The weather forecast for today was wrong. It was supposed to rain in the afternoon but it actually rained almost all day. However, that didn’t stop us from enjoying two half-day hikes. After our usual morning routine, we met up with a group of hikers for the morning. Mica was our guide and we set off on foot. The trail head was the same as the one for Laguna Cisnes – a quick walk from the hotel.

Setting off into the rain

Rainbow Bear powers did not stop the rain

The trail went through steppe, the dry, grassy areas of Patagonia. Guanacos live in the steppe, and we saw many along the way. One of the main attractions of this trail is the large suspension bridge. It was created to connect the two side of the Chacabuco Valley, separated by the river. This bridge now allows hikers to pass between the sides and provides a reason for the park to maintain the trails and build camps.

Rio Chacabuco

Chacabuco Canyon suspension bridge

Hello any other Explora guides Mica knows!!

View upriver from the bridge

After crossing the bridge, the weather let up for a few minutes and we took a coffee and cookie break. When Mother Nature decided we had enough of a break, we crossed back again and we were on our way back using the same path.

Ultrahand this and let’s ride back!

This ankle bone links whales and hippos… wild!

The name of this hike is Los Pumas because it is located within the Puma conservation area. There are rangers who tag and track some of the pumas to help with the conservation effort. While we saw signs of puma activity such as guanacos carcasses and tunnels under the bushes, we did not actually see any pumas. The total hike was 7.2 miles with 900 feet of elevation gain.

Puma house with fresh kill by front door… but puma not home, maaaybe????

Me and one guanaco keeping an eye on the puma bush

No pumas, just jaws

You’re safe here buddy, we don’t see pumas

We dried off and had lunch before getting ready for the afternoon exploration. We met up with the two other people and our guide, Iggy who drove us about 15 minutes to the trailhead of the Confluence. This is where the Baker river and the Chacabuco river meet. Because of the rain, the Chacabuco river was a bit more brown than usual, making the contrast even more clear. The Baker river is turquoise due to the sediment from the glacier it comes from.

Afternoon exploration

Almost down to the shoreline

There was going to be a dam built at this location for hydroelectric power that would have flooded the National Park area and essentially wiped out all of the wildlife. Douglas Thompkins helped the campaign to block the dam and saved the park.

The hike was relatively short with a mile of downhill before getting to a beach area. The path was nice and clear from rocks, but because of the rain, it became very muddy and slippery. The vast majority of the trail was fine, but the last few feet was basically a mudslide. We all made it down safely with just a few muddy hands and very muddy shoes.

Last part was a mudslide

Confluence ussie with Iggy

At this time of year, the water levels of the rivers are low enough that the shore is exposed. The rain had stopped and we took a coffee break and skipped some rocks. Getting back up the mudslide was also an adventure. The best method was to go as fast as possible so you don’t give your feet any time to slide back down. We made it back to the car and headed back to the lodge.

Jo likes rocks

We picked our exploration for our last day – a long half-day hike. The weather is supposed to be raining again, but that’s not going to stop us.

Day 6: Las Correntadas

After our usual morning routine, we met for our full-day exploration of hyaking — a combination of kayaking and hiking. This is a popular exploration, and there were eight of us on the trip plus Laura and Mica guiding.

When we arrived, Jorge — our specialist kayak guide – provided our equipment and gave a quick lesson. All of the other guests opted for two-person kayaks, while we each had our own. We didn’t really think about it, but Jorge said a German woman once called the double kayaks Scheidungsmaschine, or “divorce machines.”

Ships ahoy!

Moments from a port-side collision

Paddle-boarding, but sitting down

We paddled up the Río Cochrane for about three miles. We were on the lookout for huemules and pumas, but did not spot any. While we were technically kayaking against the current, it was very calm. At the end, there were what the guides called “rapids” but really just a stronger current. We all made it through successfully. The only people to get wet were the few brave souls who decided to brave the frigid waters and jump in (we did not… we ate delicious hot soup instead).

Put on your helmets, it’s getting serious! (Not really)

We made it!

Once everyone disembarked and dried off, we said goodbye to Jorge and started on the second half of the adventure. We first hiked up to a lookout with a view of Río and Lago Cochrane.

Hi Nacho!!!

Rio Cochrane

The lookout is where we stopped for a leisurely lunch. The clouds broke and the sun began to shine thru, so the colors of the river became more vivid.

Walking to our lunch spot

Rio Cochrane headwaters

Normal people eat lunch on full-day explorations

Boundary Waters vibes

After lunch, we continued hiking on the Carpintero trail and did, in fact, spot some carpinteros. This time, we saw the male with the red crown. The hike had some fun ups and downs over rocks and man-made stairs. The Río Cochrane was to our left as we essentially walked back the path we kayaked. We even spotted our Kayaks in the river and passed Jorge on the trail enjoying his lunch. We made it back to the van for our end-of-exploration drinks.

hahahaHAha … hahahaHAha … hahahaHAhaHAhaha … hahahaHAhaha

Turns out we kayaked this portion of the Rio Cochrane…

…and this part too!


There may be heavy rains in the area tomorrow, so we picked two half-day hikes. But at least we had clear skies last night for some great star gazing.

Southern Cross and Milky Way

Day 5: Lago Chico

Today we went on a hike called Lago Chico. It had been recommended to us since we arrived because it isn’t too challenging, and has constant great views. We started with our morning routine and met Mica when it was time to head out.

The drive took about an hour and 15 minutes. This hike is currently pretty exclusive because the park is technically closed. Only Explora staff and guests are allowed to enter. The weather was perfect and we started walking along the path on the east side of Lago Chico with views of Mt. Oportus.

Sendero Lago Chico by Cerro Oportus

Looking west over Lago Cochrane

Lago Chico

The landscape on this side of the lake was covered in short spiky bushes that made the ground look bumpy. As we walked along the length of Lago Chico, we were treated with views of Lake Cochrane, a large lake that spans from Cochrane in Chile to Argentina (though they call it Lago Pueyrredón).

Amid the fun green spikey plants

Shoreline of Lago Chico (some glaciers on that mountain in the distance)

Lago Chico with Cerro Oportus

Clear waters

As we approached the halfway mark of the hike, we stopped for lunch in a spot that overlooked Cochrane Lake. Mica pointed out the peninsula that marks the border separating Chile and Argentina, as well as a second small lake at the very end with a teal hue. We enjoyed the view for a while as we ate.

Lunchtime view into Argentina (southeast)

Hello Roberto!

Continuing on, we looped to the west side of Lago Chico. The landscape on this side was noticeably different than the east side with lots of tall grass that eventually led into a forest area. There were also more inclines on this side.

Back toward Cerro Oportus

Probably know this one by now

When we reached the end of the loop, we were surprised with a shelter that overlooked Lake Cochrane and the Andes mountains. It was even clear enough for us to see the glaciers on top of mountains in the distance. We had our celebratory drinks and snacks before heading back to the hotel. In total, the hike was 7.3 miles with 1,370 feet of elevation gain.

Hiding from the wind at the Thompkins lookout

Last view of Lake Cochrane

On our way, our driver spotted a humule, an endangered Andean deer. There are only 150 or so in Patagonia National Park. After watching for a while, we noticed a second humule, which appeared to be about 6 months old. Mica also found more exciting mushrooms both along the hike and on our drive back.

No joke, the guides here take fungi VERY seriously

Must be cool!

We got back with enough time to plan our exploration for tomorrow (kayaking!) and relax for a little while before going to the spa to soak in the hot tub. Tomorrow will be slightly different with a full day that starts with kayaking in the morning and a hike to get back.

Jacuzzi time

Day 4: Laguna Cisnes & Raices

Today we opted for two half-day hikes, so we were able to sleep in a little later for a 9AM start. It was raining when we awoke, but by the time we enjoyed our usual breakfast, the weather was turning nice. Mica was our guide again and we set off for the hike, leaving right from the lodge.


Our hike was called Laguna Cisnes, or Swan Lagoon. We walked up and along a path that took us to the shore of the lake. Along the way, we found various types of mushrooms on the ground and as parasites on trees. As we headed into a more forested area, we listened to bird calls and spotted a carpinterito, a small variety of woodpecker in the area. Mica also pointed out the types of bushes that pumas use for shelter as well as mushrooms along the trail.

So much for that rainy weather prediction

Mica and all the Explora guides are BIG fans of fungi

Ms. Carpinterito hard at work

Confirming identity (the red splash is for the males)

We made it to the shore of Laguna Cisnes and saw flamingos and great grebes. The black neck swans that sometimes are found here did not grace us with their presence. While the view at the shore was nice, Mica suggested we head further up to a lookout. She was right — it was a better view from above.

Swan Lake lookout

Swan Lake (and Raices area way in the background)

Swan Lake with some blue skies

After a coffee and muffin break at the top, the sun started to come out and illuminate the lake with blues and greens. We took the same route back to the lodge and passed two big families of guanacos. This hike totaled 5.3 miles and 800 feet of elevation.

What goes up Swan Lake lookout must come down

Before starting our afternoon hike, we had time to eat lunch and relax. The family of guanacos made their way closer to the lodge and we could see them while we ate way too much food.

Our guide for the afternoon was Laura. Greg, the manager of the explorations, was our driver. The trailhead for Raices, meaning roots, was about 15 minutes away. Laura told us about the development of the park and surrounding area, including the fact that the roads were developed in the 80s. Also, as part of the conservation effort, all cows were removed. However, some ranchers bring their cows over for some free grass. If caught, they have to pay a fine, but that doesn’t seem to deter them. We made it to the lookout point of Laguna Pepa and took a break while we took in the views.

Start of afternoon Raices hike (Laguna Edita)

Mam! I found one of your feathers

So there are still renegade cows in the park…

Group shot with our guide Lau above Laguna Pepa

Laura suggested that rather than return on the same trail, we take a slightly different route that continues through the forest and passes lagoon Edita as it meets up with the road. Along the way, she told us about Daniel, a man who lives in the park and has a unique connection with the huemules, the endangered Andean deer. He is able to approach the deer in order to help track and care for them. He is basically the Tom Bombadil of huemules.

Hike is called Raices (aka. Roots) because there are forests

Finishing the hike along the road

Celebrity sighting! Daniel the deer guru (passenger seat)

We made it back to the trailhead where Greg was waiting for us with refreshments. The hike was a nice 3.5 miles with 775 feet of elevation gain. Once back at the hotel, Laura helped us pick our exploration for tomorrow: the highly recommended Lago Chico.

Renegade cow

Guanacos outside our lodge door for evening grazing

Day 3: Avilés Valley

For our first full day at Explora, we decided to go on a recommended hike to the Avilés Valley. Before heading out, we started with our traditional breakfast of cappuccinos and omelettes. When we met our guide, Mica, she asked us two questions. One, are you afraid of heights, and two, do you have sandals for a river crossing? We knew we were in for a fun day.

The first Explora Cappucino always hits

Breakfast sunrise

The start of the hike was about a 45 minute drive away. The manager of the guides, Geraldo drove us. We felt pretty important until we learned that at this location, the guides are also drivers. Mica told us she will receive her physical drivers license on Tuesday, so until then Geraldo has got us!

The first two kilometers were flat as we made our way into the valley. We had a view of Painting Mountain and the Avilés River as we ascended up the sides of the valley. The weather was forecasted to be cloudy all day, but they were wrong. It was warm and sunny the entire day… and eventually crystal blue skies.

Avilés Valley greeting staff

Guide Mica leads the way

Looking back toward our starting point in Chacabuco Valley

The first portion of the hike had long stretches of uphill. We eventually made it to the highest point of the day, which not surprisingly came with great views.

Looking ahead further up the Avilés Valley

Hello Oscar!!!!!

Patagonian hiking brochure

Painting Mountain above our two forthcoming river crossings

At the halfway mark, we walked on a suspension bridge to cross the river and head to the other side for the hike back. We found a shady spot for a soup break before continuing towards another river crossing, this time on foot. Because the past week had been rainy, the river was a bit deeper and faster than usual. Mica led the way and we all crossed successfully.

Indiana Jones suspension bridge

Contemplating successful bridge crossing in greatest hiking gear ever

Preparing to ford the river

Contemplating why I didn’t bring sandals and when feeling would return to my feet

We headed back to the Chacabuco Valley and started the decent to the valley floor. There was another suspension bridge to cross the Avilés River one more time. We made it back to the car for our celebratory Fantas and beer. In total, the hike was 10.3 miles with 1,900 feet of elevation gain.

Nearly back to the Chacabuco Valley

When we returned to Explora, Mica helped us pick our explorations for tomorrow. With the help of a satellite phone on the hike, Mica also secured us a hot tub to relax and recover. We even had time to stop in the gift shop and found a Patagonia sweater with the Explora logo (it’s an Explora Miracle!) in Jo’s size. A good end to a great day.

Planning for tomorrow (and beyond)

A bit of sun didn’t ruin hot-tubbing

Day 2: Santiago to Patagonia National Park

This morning started with a 4:15 wake up call at the Santiago Airport Holiday Inn. We quickly got ready and walked across the street to the domestic terminal. While we know the check-in area can get very crowded later in the day, 5AM is a breeze. We checked our bag and relaxed in the lounge until it was time to board. Like our last flight, we forked over the extra ten dollars for early boarding — this time with the added bonus of exit row seats. The flight left on time and arrived early to the Balmaceda airport.

Early morning start

Exit row leg room for the win

Cloudy and overcast approaching Balmaceda

Not clandestine, but just as pushy

We quickly collected our bag and met our driver, Nelson. Since we were the only guests coming in today, so we got a private five-and-a-half hour drive to Explora. It was raining most of the drive and there were many potholes to avoid on the mostly gravel roads. One tire didn’t make it. But not to fear! Nelson was an expert tire changer and we were back on our way five minutes later.

Pit stop for flat tire

Despite the on and off rain, the views were still stunning. We also got to enjoy a very Patagonian box lunch during the drive.

Brief moment of sunshine over Lago Carrera

Patagonia juice bar

Upon arrival at Explora, we checked in and were shown our room (upgraded to a suite!). Patagonia National park was established in 2018, and the hotel opened only two years ago. Because of this, the restaurant, welcome center/gift shop, and museum are open to the public. The entire park used to be a private ranch and the buildings all existed before Explora opened in this location.

Entering Patagonia National Park

As part of the conservation effort, all of the pens and fences were removed from the park and cattle grazing is no longer allowed. This means that guanacos and pumas roam free in the area. After a few guanacos ran right past us at full speed outside the front entrance, we learned that getting trucked by a guanaco is FAR more likely to kill you here than getting attacked by a puma. So watch out! If a guanaco is running, they DNGAF if you are in the way. Meanwhile, the pumas are pretty chill because there are a million guanaco here for them to eat. By the way, current Puma sighting count still stands at 0.

After introductions and a quick change of clothes, we met our guide Poncho for our first Exploration (AKA, when the guides take you on a walk and assesses your hiking ability). We started the hike from the hotel and walked a 3 mile loop. It was a great first hike and the sun even came out.

Afternoon welcome hike — La Vega

Views from Valle Chacabuco

Heading back to Explora

When we returned, Poncho gave us the welcome presentation and we picked our exploration for tomorrow, along with some good ideas for the next few days. All that was left was to enjoy a delicious dinner.

Casa Vizcacha, a building on the Explora hotel grounds

What you see if you walk into Casa Vizcacha, obviously (thanks Rick!)

Day 1: Chicago to Santiago

We are off on another spring break adventure! This time, we are headed to Patagonia National Park, home of the final Explora location we have yet to visit. To start the journey, we made our way to O’Hare on the blue line, as usual.

Traditional pointing!

Although we are going to Chile, it made more sense (given flight times and options) to fly direct to São Paulo first (vs a layover in Miami, Atlanta, or Houston), then take a flight to Santiago. We had plenty of time to hang out in the United Lounge thanks to some free passes we acquired as a super-important United credit card holder. However, not that super-important, because we first got rejected from the United Polaris lounge and had to slum it in the regular United Club Lounge with the riffraff.

Arriving at the gate on time, there was a small hiccup when we discovered there was no plane. Obviously this caused a delay, but we had plenty of time to make our next flight, so we weren’t worried. Once we boarded, I discovered I was seated next to my future self. We both had the same water bottle, kindle, headphones, and card games on our phones. In short, she was a joy to sit next to.

We have a plane!

Let’s get a move on, Sky Chefs!

We survived the Bermuda Triangle

We arrived in rainy São Paulo a mere 12 hours later and realized we did not actually need the visas we had painstakingly applied for, reapplied for, and paid for. Apparently that requirement was moved back and will start in April. But hey, they are good for 10 years, so I guess the option to re-see the world’s greatest waterfalls still stands.

Rainy, 75 degrees, and humid

Customs was quick and easy for the shortest trip to Brazil ever. There was a little drama at the baggage carousel after we waited for all the bags to arrive, but did not see ours. An airport person came over to us and said we should check out the manual/oversized luggage area. We did, and of course, our very normal-sized bag was happily waiting for us.

When you fly thru Brazil just to get to Chile?

The delay and the luggage search worked out perfectly because we arrived at check-in for our next flight exactly four hours before the flight — the earliest time you are able to check in bags. We found the same restaurant we ate at last year and ordered some breakfast. After that, we found a lounge just to lounge. No food or drinks needed.

Professional lounging

Finally, it was time for our flight to Santiago. Here’s an LATAM pro tip for everybody out there… pay the extra 10 dollars for priority boarding. We learned this on previous trips to South America, and it is totally worth it. Didn’t have to mosh pit with anybody in group 4/5/6, successfully stashed our carry ons, and settled in.

South America coast-to-coast (well, kinda)

Crossing the Andes

Arriving in Santiago, it was once again nice to not be in a rush, because the Chile PDI border control operation wasn’t either! One PDI agent was on the clock to handle the entire line and, boy, was he thorough. Thankfully, our only plan was to check into the hotel airport and relax. On the plus side, no waiting by the baggage carousel this time!

We walked over to the hotel for the night. It’s a lovely 84 degrees here, so we grabbed an outdoor table at the restaurant and enjoyed Patagonia beers and a delicious meat sampler.

Beers and blog

Just one more short-ish flight tomorrow and a six hour drive to go before we make it to Explora and Patagonia National Park!