Category Archives: air travel

Santiago to Calama (a flight)

The first thing I noticed on my Sky Airline flight was that this was an old easyJet plane. easyJet is a low cost British carrier and why their plane was being rebranded (on the outside) slightly concerned me. How old was this aircraft, really?

But I couldn’t focus on that for long. Once we were in the air, the scenery was otherworldly. Every photo was wildly better than the last. The clouds mixed with the landscape was just incredible.

Received a lovely meal on the (short) flight …

meal on plane

And I had it of surprise when I landed. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect in Calama but it wasn’t this! This is the entrance to the airport after deplaning by stairs. All planes landed this way. We were basically dropped in the middle of nowhere so whoever I asked to take the photo, took a bit of a photo shoot with the plane in the background. Check out the background, or lack of, in each of the pictures. If you think this looks like Mars, wait for the next post.

Leaving Cordoba — Take Two

Monday morning the wake up call went off – and I got out of bed with the first one. I showered, got ready and headed down to the lobby where we had all agreed to meet for breakfast. I was the first one to arrive at breakfast at our agreed upon time and so sat down with a cup of tea while I waited for my dining companions/stranded travelers/friends.

After a breakfast from the buffet, the ten of us checked out, got back into the taxis that we had taken just a few hours before and headed back to the Cordoba airport for take two.

mendoza take two

We left on time but the flight was very bumpy and when we landed I was so thankful to be on the ground.

During the time we were delayed, my new friends Rafael and Gustavo invited to show me around their town, Maipu, which is one of the towns in the countryside around the city of Mendoza, later in the week. I agreed and we exchanged emails to confirm Thursday. They would pick me up in Mendoza and then it was up to them to make a plan.

The flight was very bumpy and I was so thankful to be on the ground. We said good bye and agreed to confirm my trip to Maipu on Wednesday.

I got into a cab and headed to Mendoza. The taxi driver, of course, asked for an address, and since I didn’t know where I was going, I asked him to drop me off in the center of town.

mendoza taxi

Back where we started

Once we were back on the ground in Cordoba (yes, the airport we started out from) was probably one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

In the US when there are flight delays, typically, you have people crowded around the counter, tempers flare and people get angry. It’s not pretty.

Same thing happened here — except I couldn’t understand full sentences because everyone was speaking so quickly.

It was one of those travel moments where you step back out of the situation — and at this point I had to. Everyone was yelling and talking so quickly that I couldn’t hear enough words together to be able to translate fast enough. Everyone was mad and yelling but in Spanish it sounded so beautiful.

So I just observed and hoped for the best. 

My new friends Gustavo and Rafael were also looking out for me. Gustavo did not speak any English so he and I would communicate with my Spanish and if I didn’t know the word, through lots of hand motions. Rafael and the woman were leading the charge and would periodically come back and update us.

They were trying to get the airline to put us up in a hotel (another hotel night for me!!). Once they made that happen, the gate agent had to rebook the entire flight (it seemed to take forever and there weren’t even fifteen of us) us on a flight in the morning — on Aerolineas Argentinas, Argentina’s national airline — because this Sol plane wouldn’t be going. The flight we were rebooked on would depart at 8.15am but the taxis were scheduled to pick us up at 6.45am.

Note: I never found out why we were delayed and I don’t think I’d really want to know. 

Then, those of us staying at the hotel had to wait to be issued vouchers. And then, finally, sometime after midnight, we were able to get taxis to the hotel.

Ten of us crammed into two taxis — the local people went home — and arrived at a pretty nice hotel in the outskirts of Cordoba. There was a golf course, a spa and a pool. Of course I wouldn’t be using any of these amenities since we were leaving only a few hours after we arrived.

After checking in, and asking the front desk for two(!) wake-up calls since I was certain I’d be hitting snooze, I said good night to everyone else — who were all going to meet up at the restaurant for dinner. At nearly 1 in the morning.

I went to the room and conked out as soon as my head hit the pillow. I had about five hours of sleep in free accommodation and I was going to take advantage of it!

For anyone doing the math, it basically made my splurge the prior night cost-efficient! And out of everyone inconvenienced, I was probably the least, since I had only made my plan for my arrival while spending time in the airport. Win win (for me, anyway)!!

You Have Got to Be Kidding

My new lady friend and I were seated next to each other in the front row (fear not, there was no first class on this flight). We were seated across from the flight attendant in her jump seat so my new friend and her had a lively conversation and I could pick up a little bit so I could nod where appropriate.

The welcome message was in Spanish followed by an English version that was more Spanglish — and more on the Span. I understood her but in the chaos of an emergency, probably not.

The flight attendant did drink service and the flight was bumpy but pretty uneventful. It was definitely dark when we left and I was relieved I had a place to tell a taxi upon arriving in Mendoza.

About halfway into the flight, the flight attendant got a call from the pilots. She made an announcement in Spanish and I paid no attention thinking it would come in English any second.

She never said it in English. But my new friend turned to me and did the translation.

She told me we are turning around.

I thought she was joking. Her face told me she was not.

I said es verdad, es verdad? Is that true?

Apparently the weather was not cooperating — there was too much lightning — and landing would be very dangerous. Cordoba was still the closest airport so we had to turn back. I thought it would have been cool if there was another airport, to see another city, as my itinerary was quite flexible.

I know it was good they were playing it safe but all I could think about was the guy at the hotel telling me about the crash a few months prior.

At this point, everything else was secondary. I just only wanted to get back on the ground. Even if it was back where we had started.

Tick Tock

My flight still said on time for a 5.40pm departure but I went to the gate agent and he confirmed it was delayed. No surprise there.

The gate agent told me the flight was now delayed until 7.30pm. I was getting concerned with no accommodation reservation since it would be dark when I arrived.

Since there were limited flights, your odds of meeting someone on your flight were pretty good. I met an Argentine woman and we got to chatting. I told her my situation (no place to stay and now we were sure to arrive after dark) and she offered to help me pick a place. I pulled out my Lonely Planet. Now I am just going off the Lonely Planet — no cross checking on TripAdvisor — so I narrowed down the descriptions I liked and then she picked one with a good location.

Now I needed a phone to make a call. Skype had been my lifeline in this situations prior but without WiFi, I was without a phone. I figured I could wait a bit in case the plane would take off soon and then make the call in the Mendoza airport. She was adamant that I had a place booked before I landed.

She also told me the rules in Argentina and that if a plane is delayed more than four hours they would have to provide dinner and a hotel. Because of this, airlines are incentivized to take off on time. I looked at her quizzically, this was Argentina, and she was confident we would board before the four hours were up.

Tick tock.

Finally, she told me to come with her. We went to the gate agent and she told him my situation (solo female traveler, she can’t speak quickly, no reservation in Mendoza — I’m certain I looked like a winner). I basically stood there like her sidekick picking up words here and there. I still had no idea what she said in Spanish but after a lot of arguing and him head nodding (as in ‘no’) he finally handed over his cell phone to me. She told me to call and make a reservation with his phone.

And then we waited some more.

We met the others on our flight. Two men who were returning from a vacation in Brazil were trying to return home to Mendoza were also on our flight. I was practicing my Spanish since one spoke very good English and the other only Spanish. It was frustrating to everyone because they wanted to get home. I hardly had a plan but I knew I wanted out of the Cordoba airport.

This is what the airport looked like when we boarded at 9pm — just shy of four hours delayed.

cordoba airport

But little did we know that our adventure, and our friendship, was just beginning.

Security or Not?

After my Cordoba adventures, I went back to the hotel, grabbed my stuff and took a taxi to the airport.

I went through what could have been a doorway, but I went through security with my shoes on, a bottle of water in my hand. I stopped to ask about the water and my shoes and instead before I got the words out, was just waved through. There was no line when I got to ‘security’ and there was no line after. It was as if I went through a doorway. There was no concern. I was through in a matter of seconds.

I got to the terminal — which was the terminal for the whole airport and realized I would have an hour to kill before boarding.

I took out my laptop to see if I could figure out where I could stay and no WiFi. I took a seat and nearby I hear English. Lots of it.

About eight burly men were returning to Buenos Aires. They were on a hunting trip and returning home to various places in the Midwest, Idaho and Montana. We chatted for nearly an hour, and then they left to board.

I realized I should have been boarding for my flight to Mendoza around the same time too.


Making a Plan: Cordoba to Mendoza

The staff at the hotel were so helpful. The bartender clearly was great, and the front desk manager on duty helped me figure out my plan for the next day.

The bus was another doozy — ten hours. In order to get to Mendoza before the sun went down, I’d need a bus that left around sunrise. A few glasses of wine in, this was no longer an option.

I could take a night bus the following night, but that would mean no Super Bowl (and let’s be clear, it wasn’t so much for the Super Bowl but for the camaraderie that accompanies it). Plus, I was planning to be in Mendoza for a few days so it would have been nice to meet some other travelers early in my stay.

But, my new bff at the front desk told me, that I could also take a flight. We looked at the price and if I took the one at 5.40pm, I figured it was actually only $30 more than the bus. I didn’t want to cut my day short in Cordoba by leaving too early so this was perfect.

The guy at the desk did tell me there was a recent crash on this airline. I had a slight buzz, I was spoiled by my luxury environs, the speed with which I could get to Mendoza was desirable, flying sounded grand and so I decided to hope for the best.

We outlined a few things I could do in the morning and early afternoon before my flight, I said thanked him for his help, said good night (because I couldn’t wait to choose a pillow!) and I went back to my room to book it.