Antarctica

Antarctica 2007

Atacama Desert

 

After watching the expedition ships setting off to Antarctica the previous March from Ushuaia harbour in Southern Argentina, I decided to make Antarctica my holiday destination for 2007 - and to hell with the price! I arranged a two week trip for the following year over the summer of 2006. As this would leave me with two weeks of my four weeks holiday to spare I also decided to spend some time in Trelew in Patagonia at the start of the holiday, and also a week in the Atacama Desert (I'd been there before inMyself in Trelew 2004),Parque El Desaphio after the Antarctic trip. So after parting with a substantial amount of cash for eleven air-tickets and a 12 day Antarctic trip I set out on a hectic four weeks at the end of January.

Saturday 27th Jan. 2007: I got a taxi to Glasgow Airport for London Heathrow; the first of four continuous flights to Trelew. Then I took a second flight to Madrid. By now it was midnight. There I checked my email: despite having booked a hotel in Trelew in Patagonia over the Internet, no conformation had yet been received. I tried to buy some cigarettes at the duty free and my credit card was rejected! Small doubts began to come into my head.

Sunday 28th: The Iberia flight to Buenos Aires was 13 hours of torture. I couldn't sleep; the in-flight entertainment comprised of a miniscule TV screen about 15 metres away - not that the headphones worked anyway. I arrived in Buenos Aires at about midday and got a bus transfer to Gorge Newbury Aeroporto. Aerolineas Argentine were up to their usual organisational standards; the plane to Trelew had been put back 3 hours. "But you should have known", explained the woman behind their desk. "We gave your travel agent in Scotland 24 hours Tin Cans on Rusty Spindle Posing as a Water Wheel - Dolavonnotice of the Beagle Channelchange". Very good, considering that 24 hours earlier I had been in mid-air en route. Eventually I got the flight to Trelew and a taxi to my hotel. As I suspected the reservation had never been processed. Fortunately they arranged for me to stay the first night in another hotel where I finally got some sleep.

Monday 29th: Deliberately slept till checkout time which was only 11 o'clock. Trundled my case back to the "Hotel Libertador" and checked in. Then I went out for a walk. Trelew, and the surrounding area was originally settled by Welsh settlers in the early 18th century and had supposedly kept their Welsh traditions and language alive; however by the end of day one I still hadn't heard a single word of Welsh spoken - not so much as an "indeed to goodness, boyo". Also the greengrocers seemed bereft of leeks, nor was I accosted by gangs of male-voice choirs rampaging across the Pampas singing in tight harmony. Actually the whole town was a bit of a disappointment; it still seemed to be trying to hang desperately to a long vanished "pioneer town" image, only failing dismally. Apart from the small townHorse Riding in Tirra Del Fuego National Park Ushuaia Harbour - my ship is the one one the leftcentre it was also pretty dilapidated and there wasn't really much to see. It was also stiflingly hot. I went to the Tourist Office where they suggested I should go to see the nearby towns of Gaiman and Dolavon. I checked out the bus station and decided to do so the following morning.

Tuesday 30th: It took me about an hour to work out the bus-routes and I finally arrived in Gaiman about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Everything was closed. There was hardly a person to be seen in the wide, decaying streets. The whole place seemed bland, featureless and decaying. It had the atmosphere of an American Mid-West town in a 1980's film where you expected a transient serial-killer to strike at any moment. I climbed up a small hill - at an elevation of only 100 feet the town became almost invisible. Directions were useless as almost none of the streets had names on them. I went into the only shop that was open; the atmosphere was like going into the "Local Store" in the BBC black comedy "The League of Gentlemen". In other words not very welcoming. It suddenly occurred to me that there was apparently no bus-stop to get away again. I waited at the side of the road for over an hour before a bus came to take me to Dolavon. Was this the worst Storm in the Drake Passageplace I had ever visited in my whole life?Elephant Seal - South Shetland Islands

Perhaps, but only for about half an hour. Dolavon turned out to be even worse. While everything in Gaiman may have been shut, at least in Gaiman there were places to be shut. In the whole 2 hours I was in Dolavon I only came upon one shop (shut), 4 slightly menacing teenagers and a stray dog. The tourist propaganda and my guidebook drivelled on about a "picturesque canal" with "traditional waterwheels" running through an "untouched Welsh agricultural town" as if it was some sort of rustic utopia. In fact the "canal" turned out to be a stagnant, concrete-lined drainage channel and the "traditional waterwheels" were rusty tin-cans on iron spindles that deposited water into stained concrete basins on their top. The water then trickled back through pipes into the "canal" demonstrating their complete lack of purpose. The rest of the town was arid, featureless and utterly boring. Even escape was difficult. After half an hour the driver of the first bus denied he was going to Trelew (despite a prominent sign saying "Trelew" on the dashboard) and it was an hourOld whaling boat - Deception Island before another turnedLeaving Ushuaia - The Beagle Canal up. Back in Trelew I decided to go and have a look around their famous museum of palaeontology which I was glad to say lived up to its reputation with a fine dinosaur display in an imaginatively modern interior. I spoke to one of the curators and made plans to go to the Entomology Parque the next day.

Wednesday 31st: I awoke  with a badly sunburnt nose. I decided therefore not to risk a day out in the dinosaur park as I had better things to do than end up with bad sunburn before my Antarctic trip. But what else to do? It was suggested that I go to Caleta Valdés to see the colony of Magellanic Penguins but no: as I pointed out is was a 3 hour bus trip to get there, I'd be seeing lots of penguins soon in Antarctica and had seen a much better colony of Magellanic penguins in Ushuaia last year. And anyway, who wanted to see a lot of rubbish penguins sunbathing in a heat wave, no doubt wearing sunglasses and eating Coronettos, when real penguins Penguinwere freezing on icebergs? And anyway they stink of fish.Glacier Walk

So instead I went back to dreadful Gaiman, but this time to see the intriguing Parque El Desafio. This is a unique "theme park", for want of a better description, being built entirely of recycled junk.  The flower beds were stocked with flowers made from cut up coke-cans and old light-bulbs and there was everything from a mini Taj Mahal to dinosaurs to a Red Indian Village all made from rubbish. The creator, now in his 90's was there to greet me, and according to my guidebook the park has even made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the worlds largest recyclable theme park.

In the afternoon I took another bus, this time down to Puerto Madryn on the coast which proved to be a rather run-down resort town on the coast although in retrospect it would probably have made a better base for exploring the area. At least this was my last day before flying to Ushuaia.PenguinsIce Packing

Thursday, March 1st: I booked out of the hotel in the morning and went to check my email - and the first thing I saw was a banner headline about a Norwegian cruise ship hitting an iceberg in Antarctica! I looked up Reuters - information still a bit sketchy but it seemed it had ripped a 25 metre hole in its hull trying to get into Deception Island. Shit! That was the first place we were meant to be going. There were also reports of a fuel spillage which despite the ship's owners denials, for some reason didn't leave me reassured. However there wasn't any point in worrying.

The flight to Ushuaia left on time but the last hour before landing was rather fraught to say the least. Flying backwards and forwards, buffeted all over the place by the Andean turbulence in pitch darkness, I was glad when we finally touched down. I got a taxi to my hotel - the driver got lost and I eventually had to give him directions. However the "Hotel Vista" turned out to be a very nice, very modern place, run by a young couple who served wonderful home-madeOur Ship, the "Akademik Schokalski" This was Hell to walk on!bread made from seaweed and provided unlimited, free internet access. And this time my internet booking had actually worked.

Friday 2nd: After breakfast, I walked into Ushuaia. Even in the year since I had last been there there was a lot of new housing being build on the outskirts of town. I booked an all day hiking and kayaking trip in the National Park then went and checked my email and sent email to friends and family. I also checked up for more news regarding the holed Norwegian Cruise ship. It turned out that it wasn't an iceberg, but a rock under the surface it had hit but the rest was true. However all the passengers had been evacuated safely so at least we wouldn't have to suffer "Titanic 2" in the cinema in a couple of years time. In the afternoon I visited the Ushuaia Museum which is set in the old prison and always worth a visit. I had a big steak dinner in the evening, bought some toiletries and had an early night.

Saturday 3rd: I was picked up early (surely an Argentinean first?) for the hiking trip. This was quite a good day, beginning with a 10 kilometre walk along the Beagle Canal then we were picked up and taken to a Port Lockrow Museumcampsite for lunch. It started to rain torrentially, we were eating in a small marquee but it looked grim forJuvenile Penguins the kayaking in the afternoon. Fortunately the rain stopped and we were able to kayak downstream to the sea. It was just as well we were going downstream as it quickly became apparent that I was the only one who had any idea about paddling let alone steering but we made it eventually. Afterwards I was dropped off in Ushuaia town centre and I managed to book a half-day horse trek (just myself and someone from the stables) for tomorrow afternoon. Actually I was supposed to be meeting up with the Antarctica Group then for a guided tour of the Tierra Del Fuego National Park, but personally would rather have been impaled on an electric spike than go, having done that tour in various guises more times than I cared to remember. After dinner went back to the "Hotel Vista" and spent the evening downloading photographs and sending some farewell emails on their free computer.Zodiac TripEmbarking into Zodiac

Sunday 4th: This morning I had to change hotel: The night before departure for Antarctica was pre-booked by my tour company. This I did before heading into Ushuaia for some last minute shopping. Unfortunately I had forgotten it was a Sunday and half the shops were shut but I got what I needed (especially waterproof trousers) eventually. I then had some lunch before sending my last emails. I headed out to the riding stables in the afternoon. This was riding unlike anything you would get in the UK - apart from anything else I doubt if any UK stable would have the insurance to cover it. Myself and a Dutch girl from the stable set out through the forest, it soon turned out the track was blocked and we had to force our horses down the steep mountainside, dodging tree branches and pushing through up to three feet of solid thorn bushes. At times we had to dismount as it was almost impassable. Eventually we got to the shore and galloped and cantered as far along the Beagle Canal as we could go until the sun started setting. By the time we got back it was dark and when I eventually made it to the hotel there was nothing left Whale Watchingbut to go to bed.Ice Cave

Monday 5th: After breakfast we labelled up our luggage and set of for the obligatory tour of the Tierra Del Fuego National Park which I thought I had managed to miss. It was raining slightly and as I've done this tour innumerable times, less than interesting. We had lunch at a hotel then set off to the docks.

The "Akademik Shokalskiy" at 580 tonnes was dwarfed by the huge cruise ships in the dock but as I knew was capable of going where no cruise ship could. I had a good cabin, sharing with an Australian guy. After leaving port we went through the mandatory lifeboat/evacuation drill which left me thinking that if it was the real thing we would be as well letting half the clueless idiots drown, then at the end of the Beagle Canal our pilot left on the launch, we turned South and were on our own. At 20.00 we had an introductory meeting in the bar followed by an early night.

Tuesday 6th: I got up to an excellent breakfast, by now we were well out of sight of land. At first all the Drake Passage had to throw at us was a gentle swellSunset on the Drake Passage Bad weatherand I attended a couple of lectures on the wildlife and geography of Antarctica. However in the afternoon it got progressively more stormy, the deck became pretty precarious and from the Bridge I watched waves breaking over the bow deck. By late afternoon we were in a Force 10 storm and the decks were closed. Everyone was either ill or bouncing off the walls. I wasn't ill but as  moving about was becoming almost impossible I took some strong anti-histamines (just in case), and went to bed.

Wednesday 7th: The storm was if anything worse. I managed to make it to one meal but it wasn't worth it. In fact nothing was really worth it. At times the ship was doing 46° rolls. Even going to the toilet was an adventure. My cabin-mate tried and went sprawling full length on the floor. Anything that wasn't tied down was falling and sliding about everywhere. I spent most of the day in bed, sleeping, reading and wondering what the hell I was doing here. I attended a mandatory briefing in the bar where we were told "remember, this is not a vacation, it's an expedition". And an 05:30 hrs start tomorrow morning! I went back to bed to dream of never-ending roller coastersWhale-watching on the ship's bridgeAntarctic Barbie

Thursday 8th: Forsooth! I woke to a comparatively flat, calm sea! I spent 25 minutes (I was later able to do it in 12) getting dressed in multiple layers of underwear, socks, t-shirts, thermals, shirt, pullover,  fleece, polar jacket, life-jacket, gloves, hat, hood, sun-blocker etc etc and was up on deck by 06.00 hrs. We then went down the gangway to the Zodiacs and after a couple of minutes landed ashore for our first landing on Aitcho Island.

Although this island had very little snow or ice cover - the temperature was a couple of degrees above freezing, it was a beautiful, clear morning. The shore was home to hundreds of friendly penguins; if you lay on the ground they would walk round and even perch on your stomach. We walked over a ridge to the other side of the island where there was a colony of elephant seals. Old, bleached whale bones and vertebrae littered the beach. I took a lot of photographs before we retraced our steps and after a couple of hours went back to the "Shokalskiy" in the Zodiacs. Unfortunately my main SLR camera developed a fault, or at least the memory card did. Damn! I had only the one card with me. Before I left I had confirmed that there was a computer on board that I couldSeal on an iceflow Wandering Albatrossdownload and burn to CD any photos I took but in my wisdom I hadn't bothered buying a back-up memory-card. However I still had my digital compact and a number of flashcards so all was not lost.

The ship proceeded South throughout the morning and by early afternoon we reached Deception Island. This is an active volcano which last erupted in the late 1960's causing the evacuation of several research stations. It was also a whaling station until the mid 20th century. The interior of the island comprised of a flooded caldera which you sailed into through an channel called Neptune's Bellows. This looks wide enough except for the fact that there was a jagged rock just under the surface right in the middle. It was upon this very rock that the Norwegian cruise ship had come to grief the previous week. We landed on the shore for a couple of hours. There was a lot of evidence of the whalers; piles and piles of aged whale bones, ruined building, old wooden boats half buried in the sand and metal storage tanks. At the far end was the derelict aircraft hanger and buildings from the abandoned British Research Station. There was also three graves.First landing on the Antarctic MainlandZodiaks and the "Akademik"

Due to from sub-terrain thermal heat the water is supposedly relatively warm and we were challenged to go in for a swim. Aye right! - I'd already made a few experiments and discovered the layer of warm water ended about 6 inches below the surface. I graciously declined the challenge, and instead enjoyed myself taking photographs of the more foolhardy discovering this for themselves after jumping in.

Back on the "Shokalskiy" one of the tour guides offered to lend me a memory card for the duration of the trip, so that was my SLR up and running again.

Friday 9th: Didn't keep a log for this day I must confess - by now I was too much into just enjoying every moment of this once in a lifetime experience to be bothered with such trivialities. And far too tired in the evening also.The top deck of our shipOld Whale Skeleton

Saturday 10th: We got up at 06.30 hrs and out on deck to see a massive iceberg floating past about 30 metres away. It was getting much colder now and the terrain was truly magnificent everything covered in white snow and ice with black, rocky outcrops. Also there was a lot of loose ice in the water. We anchored at 08.00 hrs and Zodiac-ed to Dacro Island. We climbed up the glacier for about half an hour to the summit (I only fell once). This was truly magnificent; completely ice covered and with panoramic views in all directions. Occasionally there would be a noise like artillery fire as pieces of ice slew off into the sea. And the perfect backdrop to take lots of photographs of each other striking heroic (?) poses with flags and other such nonsense. The most remarkable thing happened while we were Zodiac-ing back to the ship when a huge (about 12 feet) Leopard Seal started playing with our zodiac; swimming round and under the boat again and again and even partially leaping out the water in front of us. We could have stayed there watching it all day, except the rest of the party marooned on the shore got a bit mutinous after a while.Lemaire ChannelLemaire Channel from glacier

In the afternoon we stopped off at Port Lockroy in the Neumayer Channel. This was once a British Antarctica Base, later abandoned. However, when the UK realised that under the Antarctic Treaty they were responsible for clearing the site it was listed as an Historic Site (No. 61), and turned into a museum, under the control of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. It was very interesting, the volunteers, showed us round the station, reconstructed as it was when operational and we could also send postcards home from the most Southerly Post Office in the World. (It's also probably the World's slowest as mail takes on average 6 weeks to 3 months to deliver which is understandable).

Sunday 11th: Again no log. No doubt because after a day spent  climbing glaciers, chasing whales in rubber boats and communing with seals and penguins I was too busy to spend precious time scribbling in a notebook.On the BowLowering Zodiacs

Monday 12th: This was supposed to be our last full day in Antarctica before the return voyage across "The Drake" - although the weather forecast said that this time it would be relatively calm. I got up at 05.30; the ship was proceeding up the Lemaire Channel. It was extremely cold and the visibility low so I took a couple of photos then went back to bed until breakfast at 08.30 hrs. At 10.00 hrs we took the Zodiacs to Useful Island; a change of plan due to the weather. It was a considerable scramble to the top where lots of penguins were sheltering. Afterwards we went on a long Zodiac cruise round the ice-bergs.

In the afternoon we had a really spectacular trip in the Zodiacs. From as close as was safe we watched and listened to an enormous ice cave in the throws of collapse, then we chased Humpbacked Whales out into the heaving, open sea. It was extremely cold and windy but I got some brilliant video. However back on the ship I then proceeded to accidentally format my memory card and lost the lot! This did little for my previously buoyant spirits although I was told itZoiac Trip - Rough swell amongst the icebergs Seal and penguinsmight be possible to recover the video back in the UK. However that meant that another memory card was out of action. I replaced it with the card in my mobile phone - mobiles being of little use in Antarctica. We began the trip home in late afternoon but had to return to anchorage after half an hour due to engine problems. So I was glad I had the foresight to give 24 hours leeway before my flight to Buenos Aires.

Tuesday 13th: A frustrating day. We began heading back to Ushuaia but only at about 6 knots - around half speed. We had a meeting in the bar: it seemed we would not now arrive back for another three to four days which put my Atacama Desert plans in doubt. Otherwise it was a relaxing and uneventful day mainly spent whale and penguin watching on the bridge. The Drake was fortunately very calm for a change.

Wednesday 14th: We had another briefing in the morning where we were told we would be making an attempt at full speed later in the afternoon.Whale Watching Whale WatchingUnfortunately this didn't work and we ended up stuck at about 8 knots on one engine. At least I was resigned now to missing my connecting flights and put my name down for rescheduling of airfares. The Drake Passage was still in an almost unheard of state of calm.

Thursday 15th: As per yesterday. We were now on schedule to arrive back in Ushuaia at around 23.00 hrs on the Friday night (so I'd definitely missed all my onward flights). Actually myself, and the rest of the passengers were beginning to enjoy the experience of slowly crawling our way across this vast expanse of inhospitable ocean. Today was Sir Ernest Shakleton's birthday, we had a toast and a Shakelton quiz in the evening.

Friday 16th: I woke up to see land on the port side. By evening we had entered the Beagle Canal. However as we couldn't make port in the dark we anchored until morning.

Saturday 17th/Sunday 18th: We had berthed by the time I woke up. After breakfast I was in two minds as to what to do next. I had had my flight to Buenos Aires rescheduled for the "Iceberg Alley"following morning, but that would mean me missing my onward  flight to Chile, making it pointless with the time left to try and makeFreezing Morning Mist it to the Atacama. Another possibility was to fly to Punta Arinas in Southern Chile and then onwards to Santiago and Calama. I went ashore and made a phone call to LAN Chile Airlines but all they could tell me was that there were no seats left on the afternoon flight from Punta Arinas (Chile) to Santiago and anyway, all their computers were down. I remembered this last bit; it could prove useful later. I went into Ushuaia, sent some brief emails intimating my return to dry land, then went back to the ship.

I decided to go out to the airport anyway, after a lot of bluffing (after all, the airlines computers were down), I managed to get a last minute seat on the Ushuaia to Punta Arinas flight. So far so good. Arriving in Punta Arinas, as I expected, there were no seats available on the Santiago leg - the next seats were not available until the three o'clock in the morning flight which wasn't for another 14 hours. By now I was in company with two women from Alaska. Ironically they had come all the way to Ushuaia for the next expedition (now of course cancelled) on my ship! Fortunately they were taking it philosophically and were all set to come back again the following year. Rather than get a hotel, the three of us hung about the terminal for the duration; it passed quickly enough and we got the flight to Santiago (I had to pay up front this time but knew the tour company would refund it), and got to Santiago by early morning. LAN Chile accepted my story that I Iceberghad cancelled the next flight (after all their computers had been down) and rescheduled me on a flight to Calama that afternoon.Early Morning However that left me with 9 hours to kill so I decided to get the airport bus into Santiago for the morning.

This was a mistake. I'd been in Santiago before and should have remembered that this was a Sunday mornings and the good people of Santiago take their Sundays very seriously. After wandering about for hours and finding nothing of any note (except MacDonald's) open I gave up. So I got a taxi back to the airport.

By the time my flight arrived in Calama it was about 8 o'clock at night. I had thought of staying there overnight and heading into San Pedro in the morning but there was a mini-bus going to San Pedro in an hour. I caught that and got to San Pedro about 10 o'clock. It was pitch dark, I had nowhere to stay but fortunately the first place I tried was able to offer a small, ultra-basic room round the back. By now I had been on the road for about 40 hours and would have accepted a roost in a chicken coop. for the night. But at least I had made it.A very posed photograph taken on a glacierZodiac

Monday 19th: It was a beautiful, hot, sunny day outside. Looking at my room I decided that perhaps I would stay here for the duration after all. Basic, yes. luxurious, no, amenities none, but it was how I used to travel years ago. Perhaps I'd been getting soft in recent years? So I stayed.

Monday 19th: I got up late and went for a walk around town/ A few days ago I had been on the Antarctic Circle, now I was in the tropics and it was extremely hot. I sent some emails home to explain where I was, that I was still alive etc, and despite the terrible internet connection which was to plague me for the next few days, managed to get them sent eventually. San Pedro was just as I had remembered it from three years earlier, hot, dry dusty and salty. In the afternoon I signed up for a 4X4 trip out into the desert and even went for a swim, or rather a float in the a saline lake. Unfortunately my lack of Spanish let me down and not understanding the warning shouts The "Akademik Schokalsky"tried to climb out the lake only to discover the rim was a mass of razor-sharp salt crystals. I ended up standing in theVillage Church - Atacama Desert sun dripping a mixture of salt water and blood!

Tuesday 20th: I was picked up early (at least I was early, the mini-bus was an hour late), for a full days excursion to the high Altiplano. I'd done this on my last visit so knew what to expect, a very long drive through ever changing landscape to the most spectacular turquoise blue lakes with a backdrop of snow-capped volcanoes. On the way back we stopped of at a small restaurant for a meal and also at the old Spanish town of Toconao. Later, in the evening, I went out for a meal with some of the people on my tour

Wednesday 21st: A very early start to see the sunrise over the Tatio Geysers. Actually it was very cold at first and I regretted not wearing a pullover. The geysers themselves were quite a distance from San Pedro and it was pitch dark when we got there. After an hour or so stumbling about in the dark, making sure I didn't put my foot through the thin crust into the boiling water below, it rapidly became light and more importantly warm. On the way back we stopped at a small Myself - Lakes - Atacama Desertshepherds' village (population 70) whose thatched cottages none the less managed to have a solar panels on each roof as well as a beautiful oldAtacama Desert church. In the afternoon I began planning how to get back to Santiago for my flight home and managed to get a good contact (eventually) with a local tour company.

I was meant to go for a tour of the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) and the Valle de la Meutre (Death Valley) in the evening but misunderstood the arrangements. Actually I spent an hour standing outside my hotel waiting to be collected, while the actual tour was gathering outside the operator's premises, not 50 metres round the corner! As a result I missed it.

Thursday 22nd: I went back to the company organising my Valley of the Moon trip who arranged for me to go on the one that evening instead. They also organised a flight for me from Calama to Santiago for Friday. After lunch I organised a bus ticket from San Pedro to Calama before my tour (from the correct place this time).Tatio GeysersMyself at Tatio Geysers

The highlight of this trip was when standing at the top of Death Valley, looking down the seemingly sheer precipice to the bottom, a long, long way below, our guide informed us we were going to descend it. How? Jump! And he wasn't joking. Actually it was quite simple. You just took off your shoes, jumped into the seeming abyss only to discover the sides were fine sand. You just kept jumping and sliding and gravity did the rest - the whole experience was very exhilarating, presumably even more so for one member of our group who fell over and ended up somersaulting his way to the bottom.

Eventually we climbed up to the top of a rock and sand dune formation where a couple of hundred people had gathered to watch a very beautiful and dramatic sunset over the Atacama.

Friday 23rd: My last day in San Pedro. I decided not to go horse riding in case I didn't get home in time for my bus. Instead I had a last walk round town then caught the coach Jumping into the Valley of Deathinto Calama, a taxi to the airport and the flight to Santiago. By now itMyself - Atacama Desert was about nine thirty in the evening and with all the accommodation offices shut took a chance from one of the touts (but made sure it was one who was allowed to operate inside the terminal). It paid off and for a ridiculously cheap price, ended up installed in a good hotel in central Santiago in less than forty minutes. Being my first proper accommodation for over a week, I had a long bath, ( I  had run out of razor blades but never mind) and a good sleep in a big, double bed.

Saturday 24th: I got up reasonably early, took a walk around central Santiago, posted some cards, bought a razor, took some photographs and after shaving and checking out, got a taxi to the airport. I caught the 14 hour flight to Madrid which was even more hellish than the outward journey. Once again the in-flight TV screen was a dot in the distance and my headphones were again broken. Iberia had certainly knocked KLM off my top position of long-haul airlines to be avoided at all costs.

Sunday 25th: I arrived in Madrid airport at about dawn. After negotiating the confusing signposting and repetitive security checks, I eventually made my connection to London. Heathrow. The fact that there was only one x-ray scan in operation at security for ALL transfer flights at Heathrow meant I only just made my Glasgow connection. I eventually got into Glasgow Airport in the early afternoon and got a bus and train to my house. Seventeen hours later I was back at Glasgow Airport again, but alas, to work this time.

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