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Hola Chile

July 29, 2013

My flight to Santiago was long-delayed. (so were the flights to the UK as Richard informed me when he popped over to my gate, bored of sitting at his). I finally arrived in Santiago close to midnight and went through the long process of customs. First you have to pay a tax to get into the country, then a very long line (though the airport did smell like ginger, which was quite great), then you must have your luggage x-rayed on the way out. FInally, I was in a cab to the airport Hilton and before I knew it, I was in a cab back to the airport in the morning.

A pretty painless flight, with a first class upgrade (though the plane was undoubtably too old – it still had ashtrays), to Punto Arenas, and I was met by a driver from Explora, the folks in charge of my stay in Patagonia.

He loaded me in his car and started off, quickly putting and end to my small talk by saying he didn’t speak English. We drove out of the city quickly and onto a long empty road. Nothing but wide open fields on either side, sometimes dotted with sheep or cattle, and a huge sky.  After about an hour of driving, I spotted a sign post indicating it was 225 kilometers to Torres del Paine, my destination. Wait  – 225? why didn’t I just fly there. That was still 2 more hours of driving in silence away.

A little further on, there was a small inn, that looked a bit like a wild west tavern and we pulled in. The inside was as quant as the outside with wagon wheels and photos of old gauchos on the walls. This is where we toilet and get a sandwich my driver told me. So I toileted and got a steak and avocado sandwich (yum). He pointed to a table for me to sit and eat and he headed to the bar to talk to the waiter. When I was done, he signed a bill and said come on as I tried to offer money.

We drove into the hills, passing graffiti covered rocks along the side of the road. The graffiti here is catholic, proclaiming Dios and Jesus the Amo.

I could see the mountains and glaciers in the distance and then getting closer and closer as it got darker. There were strange prehistoric looking trees and wiry bushes with big Seuss like yellow pom pom flowers.

And one we drove, never seeing a person, car, or building. Slowly I began to wonder if we’d ever get there, of if I had entered a Stephen King novel. And not one of the good ones, one of the ones where weary travelers trust the kindness of strangers and end up as dinner. I realized that if he’d wanted to kill me he’s succeed, there was nowhere to run. But I was comforted in the fact that he probably could have done it far sooner and saved some time and there was no reason for an avocado sandwich first, so I resigned myself to whatever fate had in store.

Another hour of driving and tiny lights appeared on the horizon. As we got closer, I saw the outline of a building and finally we were there.

I got out of the car into heavy winds as a woman ran out of the building to great me.

Welcome to Explora, she said. And I was here.

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