May 17, 2011
We took a transport van to the airport instead of a taxi. While we were waiting for it I took some shots of the front of our hotel and the mega construction project that’s going on just across the street from us. Transports are basically big taxis that pick up a number of passengers and therefore cost less. There can be a considerable amount of waiting around for the passengers. During one stop I glanced through the van window and noticed a lingerie liquidation store. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
The Santiago airport isn’t really very big. But they do have a nice display of luggage art. I got a window seat on the plane and was able to get some aerial views of Santiago and the surrounding mountains. You can really see the mountains blocking and holding the clouds back. From that high, the mountains looked like black islands on a white sea.
We arrived in Antofagasta around 6:00-ish. It’s an even smaller airport surrounded by, well…I know that they filmed “Lord of the Rings” in New Zealand, but really, for the Mordor scenes, they could have given serious consideration to the surrounding hills of Antofagasta. It is brown, brown, brown. And there is nothing, nothing, nothing growing anywhere until you get to the city proper, where people have endeavored to plant green things and provide other amenities of survivable habitats. The water appears to be trucked in.
We were housed on the 6th floor of another ocean front hotel. This one was clearly aimed at the well heeled set. Our “room” was a suite with pricey furniture, marble floors, and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean and a nearby harbor filled with “artesanal” boats. The swank amenities were marred somewhat by bizarre shortcomings. The decorative globes for the ceiling lights were housed in the chic cabinet set aside for the dinner plates, so the ceiling lights were bare bulbs. We tried to put the covers on but there were no attaching nuts. The towel racks had, for some reason, been removed from the capacious bathroom, although the less attractive mounting hardware was still there. The toilet paper roll fell off the first time Carol tried to use it. Even less charming, there was no hot water the first day.
Well, but the views were stunning. The Pacific was pitching rollers into the shore with a leisurely power that expressed awe and tranquility at the same time. They were huge waves. Big enough to attract surfers at other times of the year. I know that we Midwesterners like to think of the Great Lakes – and especially Lake Superior – as inland oceans. But really, folks. There’s no comparison. Duluth does not have a Tsunami Evacuation Route.
It was late and we decided to head for the nearest Supermercado to pick up an in-the-room dinner. A couple of blocks away there was a huge Walmart type place that had a depressingly familiar Wallmart type selection of foods. The supermercados of Santiago are really nothing more than Seven-Eleven’s on steroids. They are grocery stores designed to incur the least expense possible in a high, downtown, rent zone. Antofagasta is a mining town. Apparently, one of the wealthiest in Chile. The store, at any rate, was enormous. The shopping carts were housed on the lower level, below the store. You brought them up sloped, power walk ways. With increasingly dead brains we shopped for a passable supper, waited in an enormous line and by the time we got back to the hotel we were famished, and exhausted. I’d been thinking about trying to get in my South Pacific swim that day. But by the time we were settled it was too dark and cold. I decided to try for the next day. I knew it would be my last chance. Santiago is nowhere near the ocean and we were scheduled to leave on Tuesday, almost immediately after my last performance. I consoled myself with taking a night picture of Antofagasto.
Ah, but the next day was my heaviest day of the tour. Two schools, five performances. The first school, Colegio de Chañares, was right next to a military installation. It seemed that I had finally found a school that took discipline issues seriously. But the kids were actually pretty rowdy and I found myself facing students with almost no English ability whatsoever. To make matters worse, the performance was in a freshly built concrete room with the acoustic qualities of Mammoth Cave. I’ve played in lots of cavernous rooms before. But never one so small. My voice was boomy even without a sound system. I got through the performances. The school was happy and I was hoping for something better at the next school, El Instituto Chileno Norteamericano. While we were waiting for the taxi to take us there I noticed that even the hills of Antofagasto are not free of graffiti.
El Instituto Chileno Norteamericano is an older school, the level of English was marginally better, and the performance space was… (wait for it…) the playground! (Rim shot!) Another first. I can tell that I’m ready to be home because my appetite for new experiences is waning.
Among the vague feelings of excitement and adventure that I was harboring before I left for Chile, I had two concrete hopes for this trip. One was to swim in the South Pacific and the other was to see the stars of the southern hemisphere. Santiago, Viña del Mar, and La Serena have all been too bright for stargazing. I could have gotten a swim in at the beach in La Serena, but I didn’t have my suit with me. There wasn’t really a beach in Viña del Mar, and Santiago doesn’t have any oceanfront at all. So my hopes were pinned on Antofagasta. But the day turned cloudy, so no stars that night. And by the time we got back to the hotel I just couldn’t face the idea of hitting the water in the cold and the dark. We ate at the hotel restaurant and crashed. I gave up on the swim and decided to try for an airplane view of the stars during the overnight flight back to The States.
From our hotel window in the morning you could see some kind of vulture hanging out on the light poles near the hotel. I tried not to think about that might portend and turned my attention to our final Antofagasta school, The British School of Antofagasta. It had the best English comprehension of the three Antofagasta Schools, and certainly the best performance space. The surprise was that we only had two programs to do instead of three. That meant we would be finished early enough to head back to the hotel with plenty of time before our flight. Time enough for a SWIM IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC!!! Singing a full throated version of “Bali Hai,” (OK, I’m on the other side of the Pacific, but still…) I changed into my new swim suit and hit the beach. The day had turned sunny and balmy. The man at the desk had assured me that the beach was indeed open, in the way that you might assure a schizophrenic that Yes, of course he is the King of Burma. The beach was in a constructed lagoon area, which helped to cut down on the wave action. This was a good thing because those suckers were coming in huge. Even with the seawall break the waves were big enough. The water was cold, but nothing like a polar plunge. I hobnobbed with the waves for fifteen or twenty minutes, ignoring the pointed stares of the passersby and the brief appearance of a police car. A troop of uniformed elementary kids on some kind of an outing ignored me and went on with their sand constructions. I came out and baked in the sun for a bit. One stroller asked me: “¿Como está el agua?” “Bien fresca!” I replied. I felt great!
Then it was back to the hotel and a change into traveling clothes for our flight back to Santiago. The Antofagasta airport is, predictably small, but there were some surprising passengers in the terminal. Both Carol and I were glad to get back to our familiar digs in Santiago. I have three more schools to do. It’s hard to believe it’s coming to an end.