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Day 29


Panama City to Santiago, Chile

We had a briefing the night before so we knew the game plan. Get up early, pedal to the airport, load the charter as fast as possible, fly to Santiago, Chile and unload as fast as possible so that we could all pedal to the hotel before dark. A good plan. It should work if everything went like clockwork. It should but when planes are involved it often doesn't and this wasn't to be an exception.

My morning started with clockwork when the alarm went off at 4:30 am. I popped up and was in line for the gear truck when it opened at 4:45. That was a slow line but in less than an hour I had attached the luggage tags to my two bags and loaded them onto the truck. Then I joined the breakfast line. They ran out of pancakes before I got there but I enjoyed the tiny triangle-shaped ham and cheese sandwiches offered instead. I was moving right along and I could see I was going to be ready to cycle to the airport on time at 6:38, the first moment of daylight. By this time some people had already left for the airport by taxi. They had taken their bikes with them or they had loaded them onto a big truck provided by a local bike shop for those who didn't want to cycle to the airport. But then an announcement was made saying our chartered plane had been delayed, it was still in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A new departure time was set for 9:00 am. I went back to bed for a 2 hour nap but then we were the told that there was a further delay, now we'd go at 11 am. None of this was good because it would mean we'd arrive in Chile in the middle of the night and we would have to sit in the airport there waiting for daylight so that we could pedal to the hotel. But there is no use worrying about things that you can't fix so I went back to my room and wrote updates about the Odyssey for my web site. It was a great opportunity for me to get caught up.

I was making good progress but our chartered Tradewinds plane was not. It was announced that the plane couldn't fly until a missing part could be found and the plane repaired. The hotel had extended checkout to 3:00 but now it was 3:00 and we had to vacate our rooms. We all gathered in the lobby, the dining room, around the pool, anywhere there was a place to sit. Dinner was offered at 4:00 and a new departure time set for 5:00 from the hotel to the airport. Our flight was rescheduled to 11 pm but we had to leave at 5:00 to have enough time to cycle the 22 km to the airport before sunset.

At 5:00 we were on our bikes blocking the entire street in front of the hotel where we waited and waited for our police escort. Finally at 5:30 it was decided we'd start without them. We'd just begun when the police car arrived, lights flashing, and siren screaming. It was an easy, exciting, spectacular ride to the airport. People cheered and honked their horns, and we rode two abreast proud of how cool we looked and enjoying being on our bikes again.  We left the city streets to ride on the toll way all the way to the airport. It is a new and an excellent road, built like a causeway over the beach and marshland. We could watch the waves of the Pacific Ocean and the birds that inhabit the area.

We arrived at the airport in good time and were treated to a gorgeous pink sunset as we stripped our bikes of pedals and bags and all gadgets, and turned the handlebars. Then we formed a line and handed over our bikes before going inside. So far so good.

Now as I write it is 10:30 pm, our plane is on the tarmac and we are in the departure lounge, eating, talking, and sleeping. We could see our bicycles being loaded but now that has stopped so what next? This plane, an LT 11, was supposed to be big enough to hold everything.

But even this big LT-11 plane wasn't big enough. Before long we were told that some of the staff and 79 bicycles would be left at the airport. If our plane arrived in Santiago early enough to allow the crew sufficient rest it would return to Panama City to pick up the staff that was left behind and the 79 bicycles. My bicycle. How do I know mine was left? I saw it leaning there against a wall among the other 78. It has a big yellow card on the back with the number 10 and my name. I could see it as I looked out the window of the departure lounge before boarding the plane. By now I've become somewhat attached to my bike and I rather hate leaving it behind. Here we are as I write, in the Santiago airport and it seems like everyone else is busy attaching their pedals, straightening handlebars, and getting ready to ride to the hotel. Those of us without bikes will have to wait here until other transportation is arranged. We bikeless riders will get a late start on the first ride of Stage 3 tomorrow while we wait for the bikes to come from Panama City. That is not good. Tomorrow is a 95-mile day.

It's 2 hours later here in Santiago than it was in Panama so it is already 3:00 in the afternoon. Everyone has come to the Libertador Hotel by one means or another. I came by airport express bus but I left my luggage with hundreds of other bags at the airport to come in the gear truck. A new lesson learned: put my shampoo and so forth plus a change of clothes in my bike bags just as I would a carry-on for any trip. Obviously being on a chartered plane does not mean we'll have our bags sooner or even soon enough.

The flight itself was entirely routine. Boarding was easy as there were no assigned seats. Several rows had been set aside for staff so they could lie down and sleep. The rest of us sat where we could. I went to sleep immediately but awoke in time for dinner at 1:30 am! It was lasagna, salad, and cake. The flight was 5 ½ hours long, long enough for another nap before getting a little white paper bag of assorted snacks an hour before landing. I thought I wasn't hungry but once I started munching I ate everything: a granola bar, a tiny bag of Fritos, a tiny packet of raisins and a cookie. But what I really wanted was something, anything to drink. Out the windows we had our first glimpse of Chile and soon we had landed. It is 2 hours later here, warmer, and we have crossed the Equator, a first for many people. I am going to watch the water go down the drain today to see if it swirls the other way. What do you think it will do?

Once we arrived at the hotel (around 2 pm) we lined up for room assignments and then discovered a bountiful brunch set out for us in the dining room on the second floor. There were enormous wedges of watermelon, sweet green grapes, sliced fresh peaches, and chunks of honeydew melon, all of it delicious local fruit. We were served grilled cheese sandwiches, toast and jam, fresh peach juice and coffee. It was a lovely welcome to Santiago. Now the nearly 300 people in our group aren't hungry but we are tired, sleepy, and unwashed. We all wish we could shower and put on clean clothes. I would like to go sightseeing in the little daylight we have left because this is our only day here. The city looks attractive. There are magnificent old buildings, clean streets, fast and efficient public transportation including busses and subway, and interesting areas to explore. It is Sunday so the streets are relatively quiet.

I've had a nap, a small flatbed arrived from the airport with some gear but not mine, it will be making at least two more trips. The original large rented truck broke down and can't be fixed until tomorrow. The unthinkable has happened; tomorrow's ride has been postponed one day. That has to mean that everything in Stage 3 will be postponed a day. Wow! Think of all the vendors involved!




View of Santiago

Santiago is a bustling modern city in which half of Chile's manufacturing takes place. Among Santiago's attractive features are well-kept public gardens and parks, including Cerro Santa Lucía,  which is the spot where Santiago was founded. The hill itself is 70 meters (230 feet) high and provides this excellent view of the city.


Cerro Santa Lucía in Santiago
Santiago was founded by Spanish explorer Pedro de Valdivia on Cerro Santa Lucía in 1541. Originally known as Santiago del Nuevo Extremo, the city was besieged by the area's native inhabitants for many years following the arrival of the Spanish. During these sieges, Cerro Santa Lucía, a hill, was used as a lookout by the Spanish settlers. Cerro Santa Lucía is now a city park..

Schoolchildren at the Municipal Theater
Santiago's Municipal Theater, the hub of the city's cultural life, is also one of Chile's foremost theaters. As well as theater productions, the center stages regular dance, orchestral, and operatic performances. The Chilean arts have blossomed in recent years, especially since the demise of the repressive Pinochet regime in 1990. The resurgence of mestizo arts has been particularly noteworthy, especially in the areas of theater, music, painting, and literature. Santiago, one of South America's most cosmopolitan cities, is also home to many fine museums and art galleries.

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