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March 26, 2009

Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas: What would Tony Bourdain do?

Filed under: Chile 2009, Travel, UNESCO World Heritage — anotherheader @ 1:56 pm

Morning in Valapraiso from our room

Morning in Valapraiso from our room

We left Valparaiso in the morning retracing the route of our trip out from Santiago by first taking a taxi to the bus station.  At the station, we needed to exchange our return trip voucher with the old man at the

Luggage at the Santiago Airport

Luggage at the Santiago Airport

counter.  We handed him the vouchers, and he seemed to acknowledge that we needed to exchange them for a bus pass to Santiago, but nothing happened.  As we waited the wall clock slowly metronomed off the seconds and then the minutes while the old man rhythmically folded, unfolded, and refolded a crinkled black plastic shopping bag.  Never was there any movement towards our ticket exchange.  If it weren’t for the clock, we might have thought that time had come to a stop.  Had we gotten caught in the old man’s obsessive-compulsive bag folding loop?  If so, how do we get out of it?  Becky and I glanced pensively at each other wondering what to do.

Fisheye view of a house in Valpo

Fisheye view of a house in Valpo

As quickly as it began, the bag folding ended and the old man exchanged our voucher for a ticket.  I realized later that the old man had turned on his ancient computer and was just waiting for it to boot.  It was really, really slow to boot.  The bag folding seemed to be his ritual to wait out the frustratingly slow PC boot time.  Perhaps he used the bag to keep from smashing the keyboard in impatience.  Once the computer was running, we had out tickets, and were off on the bus to the Pajaritos Metro stop in warm and smoggy Santiago.  From Pajaritos, we caught another bus for the short trip to the airport and our Chilean domestic flight on LAN Airlines.  Overall, door-to-door, the transportation from Valpo to Santiago’s international airport took us 2.5 hours.

More street art

More street art from Valparaiso

Internal flights in Chile, like in many countries, have more limited baggage restrictions than the international flights.  This is something that we were concerned about before the trip and we had worked out a packing plan using our funky bathroom scale.  We were allowed one 8 kg carry-on bag and 20 kg of checked bags per person.  It seemed like quite a bit until we weighed our empty bags and found that the bags, on their own, would take up around 35% of our total carrying weight.  Now, if you add in Becky’s shoes… well, I think you get the idea.  At the hotel in Valparaiso, we redistributed our items amongst our four bags hoping against all hope that our extensive “personal” baggage would not be measureable on the airlines scale.  When we checked in at the airport, our carry-on bags each weighed 8.0 kg.  One of the checked bags weighed 20.0 kg, and the other had room to spare at 14.6 kg.  Somehow we managed to hit our exact baggage allotment on three of our four bags.

Tony Bourdain on the cover of a newspaper in Santiago.  He looked less ragged in the Puerto Montt airport.

Tony Bourdain on the cover of a newspaper in Santiago. He looked less ragged in the Puerto Montt airport.

With a dark, overcast sky and a drizzling rain, we arrived in Patagonia in the small Puerto Montt airport.  As I was collecting the baggage amongst the handful of passengers I heard someone behind me talking about meeting a helicopter.  I looked around expecting to see some adventurers headed to unknown parts of wild Patagonia.  Instead, when I turned I saw Tony Bourdain.  Tony was in the area to film an episode of “No Reservations.”  At least that’s what I inferred from the boxes of camera equipment going by.  We had seen a front-page newspaper picture of Tony eating avocado in Santiago, but it was a surprise to us to see him in Puerto Montt.

Though we took the same flight, our traveling style diverged at the baggage claim as Tony’s crew collected his luggage for him.  I tried suggesting that Becky do the same for me.  Now that’s a mistake I won’t soon forget.  We also thought a bit about getting a picture of Tony, but it didn’t look like he would appreciate the attention of the picture, so the idea was panned quickly enough.

Flowers in the street in Cerro Alegre

Flowers in the street in Cerro Alegre

“Do you know that Tony Bourdain is here?” the agent asked us at the Budget counter as he processed our car rental.

Apparently the rental car agent was a fan of Tony’s show “Sin Reservas,” as “No Reservations” is known in Chile.  I wouldn’t have expected the show to translate, but I wouldn’t have expected to see “The Simpsons” in every country I have ever visited, either.  “Sin Reservas” in Spanish translates, as I understand it, to “Without Reserve” in English.  It would seem that “Sin Reservas” is a better title for Tony Bourdain’s show than the double entendre of “No Reservations” as there’s no way in hell that Mr. Bourdain’s crew is traveling without reservations.

The menu for our lunch in Valparaiso

The menu for our lunch in Valparaiso

As Tony’s crew moved their piles of equipment out of the airport into a waiting vehicle, we managed squeeze our 50.6 kg of luggage, not counting handbags or other personal baggage, into the subcompact rental car by ourselves.  Loaded up, we headed out onto the roads of Patagonia.

We’ve grown quite accustomed to using the GPS to get around foreign lands.  It has become a crutch, of sorts.  Unfortunately, the GPS was not a straightforward option for Chile as the maps were not readily available.  Instead, I had to again resort to using the right seat navigational system, otherwise known as the BeckBeck system.

Once on the road, we were immediately lost.  The BeckBeck system reported that the roads were poorly marked and it was impossible to navigate.  At the same time it seemed as if the BeckBeck system was trying to upgrade itself to a Spanish language version that included curse words, so, as usual, it was hard to tell if the system was working properly.  Before we knew it, we were in the heart of a particularly gritty and rough section of Puerto Montt.  That might have been good if Puerto Montt was our destination.  Unfortunately, we were headed to Puerto Varas, which as near as we could tell, was in the exactly opposite direction.  At the same time, the BeckBeck system had fallen silent and it seemed ill advised to try to get it started again, if you know what I mean.

Graffiti on a steep staircase in Valparaiso

Graffiti on a steep staircase in Valparaiso

“What would Tony do?” kept flashing through my head, but I think I already knew the answer.  Tony wouldn’t be in this situation, as his producers would have the logistics scouted and local guides would have assured that there were no missteps.  He would not, even for a moment, considered using something like the BeckBeck system.  With a large crew, it would be too expensive to do it any other way.  But is it “travel”?  Or maybe this should be phrased as, “Is it why we travel?”  For us, the answer would be no.  We travel to get lost, or, more precisely, to experience the spontaneous things that we discover when we are lost, confused, or otherwise out of our comfort shell.  Not that we are trying to do just that.  Seriously, we try to avoid it.  But, as they say, shit happens.  In the end, though, it lets us find experiences that we weren’t looking for.  And these are often the memories that we will end up valuing the most afterwards.  All this is exactly the reason that cruises are not appealing to us.

A friendly dog

A friendly dog

Tony Bourdain is working and in his insulation he sacrifices much of what we value about traveling.  Not to say that we wouldn’t take his job.  Or, better yet, we’d take the job of those that do the footwork ahead of his crew’s visit.  Too bad we’re not qualified for it.  We get lost way too often.

Hairpin on a steep road in Valparaiso

Hairpin on a steep road in Valparaiso

Eventually we found our way to our room in beautiful lakeside Puerto Varas only to find that my passport and driver’s license were back at the Budget counter at the airport.  Apparently, both the client and the agent were distracted by a certain celebrity appearance.  The Budget agent voluntarily drove the documents to our hotel, which typifies the service we have seen in Chile.  It’s a good thing, as I wasn’t looking forward to driving, or more to the point, navigating back to the airport.  Maybe I don’t like getting lost after all.

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