Saturday, December 10, 2022

Returning to Santiago (and all that entails)

At very long last, this past Monday, I arrived back in Chile for the first time since March of 2020, when I abruptly flew home to California as the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic became obvious. I was originally to arrive on the previous Saturday but, late that week, LATAM suddenly canceled my nonstop Friday flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Aeropuerto Arturo Merino Benítez (SCL).

Thanks to my heroic travel agent—there are still such things!—I was able get rescheduled for Sunday even though not without trepidation that the new flight might also be canceled. Analía Rupar-Przebieda (an Argentine resident of Southern California) first tried to reschedule me on Delta (a LATAM partner) via Atlanta, but Delta refused (even though the SFO-LAX leg of my flight was with them). That would have gotten me to SCL on Saturday as planned, but the rescheduled LATAM left on Sunday and didn’t get me here until early Monday morning.

The lines at immigration were long, but moved surprisingly quickly.

The flight was reasonably comfortable if crowded, and I was one of few coach passengers wearing a mask (those in first and business seemed to take it more seriously). On deplaning and arriving at immigration, though, we were faced with the longest lines I’ve ever seen at any airport. We also saw a warning for monkeypox—Chile continues to take contagion seriously—but the lines moved surprisingly quickly. So did the customs and agricultural checkpoint, so I was finally officially in the country.

Is monkeypox the next big thing?

Now to get to the city, and I purchased a seat on a shared TransVIP shuttle and was surprised to find a 5.5 percent surcharge on my foreign credit card. This has also been the case on some restaurant meals, but not on a purchase I made at a downtown department store. I had arrived with a small amount of Chilean cash but, at the new international terminal, the exchange houses were offering very poor rates and there was no functional ATM anywhere to be seen.


I rested most of Monday, other than a fine Peruvian dinner at with my host Marializ Maldonado at Del Carajo, across from the Hipódromo (racetrack) in the untouristed neighborhood of Independencia. The next day, I found a BancoEstado ATM and learned that their once-free ATMs now charge Ch$5500 (roughly US$6.50) for any withdrawal from a foreign account. Yesterday I made the maximum withdrawal of Ch$200,000 (about US$230) with the private Banco Itaú at a cost of Ch$6,000 (US$7). I haven’t yet tried to change US cash in the city, because I’m saving most of that for unpredictable Argentina.

With luck, my so far trusty Suzuki will be back on the road soon.

In preparation for upcoming Patagonian road trip, I’m now awaiting replacement of the catalytic converter on my 2005 Suzuki Grand Nomade, which failed its most recent revision. The most worrisome part of this, at present, is the availability of a replacement part, though my trusted mechanic Mauricio Donoso sounds reasonably optimistic.

Another issue I’ve had to deal with is cell phone service. My US carrier provides phone and data coverage here, but with limits—not exactly clear—on how much, and I’ll be in Chile and Argentina for three months. Because my new iPhone 12 uses an E-SIM rather than a physical chip, I cannot use a pay-as-you-go option here and, without legal residence in the country, nor can I open an account with a monthly plan. Yesterday, though, my host Marializ added me to her plan (and I’ll reimburse her), but that’s not an option for the overwhelming majority of visitors. Some will be limited to WiFi.

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