Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Day 43 – Santiago to Sydney

One final early start this morning – up, finish packing, get the kids ready, take them down stairs for breakfast, back to the room and finish getting ready to leave.

We had a driver picking us up from the airport at 9:30am, so we had to get our bags downstairs and checked out of the hotel in time.

As it turned out, the driver was waiting for us, so while he packed the bags in the car and Leanne got the kids settled, I checked out.

We made it to the airport in good time, I managed to find a couple of baggage carts, and so we were able to get to the checkin counter with minimal fuss.

Given that Qantas have only been flying out of Santiago for less than 2 months now, they still didn’t seem to be that confident about their checkin procedures and each person took a long time to get processed.

Finally, we managed to get ourselves checked in and confirmed that we had been assigned a bassinet seat and were sitting together.

We stopped to buy some milk for Andres to drink before heading through immigration and security and out to the departure lounges.

We headed straight for the playground area we found last time and grabbed some hot chocolates and muffins from the nearby Starbucks to keep us going for a couple of hours – we were quite early for the flight still.

Andres ran wild with the other kids on the play equipment (some of them spoke English this time!), while Nicol crawled around picking up every little bit of fluff and rubbish she could find on the floor. She’s like a little vacuum cleaner sometimes!

A woman sitting near us had some shiny bangles on her arm, which Nicol seemed to take a liking to and crawled over to investigate. The girl handed them to Nicol, who proceeded to swap between banging them together and sucking on them. At least that kept her entertained for a while.

I went for a walk to find some supplies for the trip and used up the last of our Chilean pesos. I also stopped to buy some Subway for lunch.

Eventually, we saw that the flight was about to start boarding, so we hustled the kids over to the departure gate and waited for the staff to finish getting ready for people to board.

Once again, we managed to be first on the plane – actually quite important when travelling with two young kids, since it took us a while to get them settled and our bags organised.

The only complaint I had was that someone had decided to implement a final bag security check in the air-bridge just before boarding the plane. This was after going through airport security and everything else, and since it was actually on the way onboard the plane and not done during the period while we waited for the boarding to commence, it just served to slow boarding down immensely and it took ages to complete boarding.

They tried to take issue with all of the water we had with us (only allowed 100ml bottles they insisted), while the procedure in all other airports around the world is that you go through airport security without any liquids and then you can buy whatever you need in air-side before you board. They seemed like they were about to deny us taking any of our water on board, but I started to make a fuss about having two young children and needing to feed Nicol bottles on the flight, so they relented with a warning that next time we need to heed the restrictions.

Everywhere else in the world seems to be relaxing these restrictions right now, so I don’t know why Santiago airport suddenly needed to go all hyper-security now, especially on a flight to Australia of all places.

So we managed to get on board with our supplies and settled in for the long wait for departure. Fortunately, Qantas’s new inflight entertainment system is operational from the moment you get on board, so we were able to set Andres up watching episodes of Dora and Diego while waiting for departure.

The 1:30pm departure time, followed by 6pm arrival into Australia was not that ideal, since we would actually be chasing the sun the whole way and not experience a proper “night” time. Indeed, the sun didn’t actually set until we were almost in Australia.

It didn’t seem to make that much issue though, since the cabin crew insisted that everyone close the shades soon after they fed us dinner and they dimmed the lights to simulate what they do at night time.

We had three of the four seats across the middle of the 747, but the guy on the far aisle was travelling with his parents who had a spare seat next to them, so he ended up going and sitting with them rather than dealing with our kids (smart move!). This gave us more space to stretch out and allowed us to set up a bassinet for Nicol without cramping our own seating space too much.

There was a galley immediately in front of us, so at one point I tried to duck through there to get around to Leanne’s side so I could get something out of her bags for her. Unfortunately, I came up right behind one of the crew who spun around (a little too fast!) and spilled hot chocolate all over my top. Fortunately, it was only warm and not scalding hot, so it didn’t hurt at all, but I was worried that it might stain my top – which was a new ExOfficio top I’d had shipped over from the US before we left home.

I headed to the bathroom to rinse the top off – I intended to test the quick-dry on the shirt by rinsing it thoroughly, wringing it out as much as possible, and then soaking up any remaining moisture using paper towel. Before I could finish, the guy who spilled the drink on me tracked me down in the bathroom, knocked and told me he had a new top for me to wear – it was a long sleeved Qantas top. So, rather than put on the still slightly-damp top, I wore the not-quite-big-enough Qantas top and hung my top over the back of a spare seat to finish drying.

I think it was less than an hour later when I checked to find that the top was pretty much dry, so I changed back into my ExOfficio top. Not long after that, I happened to come across the same crew member again and he noticed I had my top back on again. He was surprised it was dry already and I explained that I spent a lot of money on tops which could do exactly that – dry quickly! I told him that with two kids, if it wasn’t him who spilled something on me, it probably would have been one of them – so I kind of expected something like this to happen at some point. It was nice to have some validation that the purchase had been a good one!

Eventually we managed to get Nicol to sleep in her bassinet – Andres was easier on our flight home last time, with an almost midnight departure, he slept pretty much the entire flight from Santiago to Auckland – although he was awake for the Auckland to Sydney leg.

Nicol asleep in her bassinet on the flight home

Andres asleep on his seat on the flight home. He didn’t look comfortable, but he seemed to sleep okay for a while.

Andres finally got tired and I offered to let him snuggle with me on my lap. He was asleep fairly quickly, and after a while I was able to put him down on a seat, padded with pillows.

I didn’t really sleep that much, nor did I get to watch any of the dozens of movies that I had picked out that were worth watching. I seemed to spend the entire flight either taking Andres to change his pullups, taking Nicol to change her nappy, going to the toilet myself, feeding one of the kids, refilling water bottles, or doing something else to keep everyone happy on the flight! It was hard work, but we managed the flight without any major issues.

Andres starts to wake up, ready for breakfast (or was it dinner?) on the flight home

Nicol tucks into some food on the flight home

Finally, after an exhausting 15+ hour flight, we arrived in Sydney to a damp, cold evening. We managed to get off the plane and to immigration without too many issue, but after a toilet break found ourselves near the end of the long queues through immigration. I was carrying Andres on my shoulders, and given he was still very tired, he was in one of his usual “ask a million questions” moods.

They must train the immigration officers to not be jovial or friendly, the girl who processed us seemed nice enough and after discovering our kids were from Colombia, she actually revealed she was born in Bogota – but did so in a pleasant enough voice without seeming to smile at all. Not sure how they do that.

Baggage claim was nice and quick, then we joined the queue to pass through customs. We had a bit of food with us, plus some wooden musical instruments that we thought best to declare. They did seem eager to get us processed and out of there as quickly as possible – my guess is they could sense very tired children and would rather avoid having to deal with meltdowns! They ushered us to a vacant processing table and after a quick look at the stuff we had brought with us, they waved us on without any further fuss. We didn’t complain – we were all tired and keen to get home.

Fortunately there was no queue at the taxi rank, so they found us an access cab station wagon with a baby seat for Nicol and enough room for our bags and we were on our way fairly quickly.

When we got home, it didn’t take much effort to get the kids into bed, and we weren’t all that far behind them.

I will note that we were all up at around 4:30am the next morning, so we decided to just get up and start our day then, rather than fight the jetlag. Either way, it was great to be home after a very enjoyable (if tiring and difficult) trip to Colombia.

Travelling with a 3 year old and a 9 month old is really really hard work. But we still came home with a lot of very happy memories and will treasure our time away.

Day 42 – Australian Embassy

Up early this morning – which was difficult after our late night the night before. It took quite a bit of effort to wake Andres up and he was very grumpy after we did.

When we had emailed Patti at the Australian Embassy the previous week, she had let us know that visa hours were between 9am and 10am – although we could arrive later if we wanted, we would just need to call her when we arrived to get security to let us in. We decided it would just be easier to get there early, then we’d have the rest of the day to relax.

We headed downstairs to breakfast, even though they don’t do room service, the Holiday Inn Express still puts on a decent breakfast buffet. We filled ourselves up and then got ready to head out.

By the time we managed to wrangle the kids into getting ready to leave, we were running a bit late, so it was a bit of a rush. I ended up putting Andres on my shoulders and we did a fast walk around to the embassy. At least having been there before, we knew where to go! It was a 25 minute fast walk from the Holiday Inn Express to the Australian Embassy building – at least it was flat with well paved footpaths.

We managed to get there in time, so after cooling down for a few minutes, we headed up to the visa office and waited for Patti to get our visa organised. There was a little concern about the short validity of Nicol’s emergency passport, but they just changed the validity of the visa to match that of the passport and seemed to be happy with that. We were heading home the next day, so we wouldn’t need the several months allowed on the visa anyway.

Finally we were done and officially ready to return to Australia. We said goodbye to Patti and headed back downstairs.

We celebrated by stopping at the Starbucks across the road and getting hot chocolates and muffins – we relaxed there for a while, relieved that the official part of the journey was over (other than actually getting Nicol into Australia – but a visa issued by the Australian embassy should cause no problems).

We made our way back towards the hotel, stopping to buy some baby wipes for the trip home and then stopping at a playground for an hour or so, so that Andres could burn off some energy. Once again, he had no trouble making friends!

We eventually got back to the hotel and bought some sandwiches for lunch. They were still cleaning our room, so we sat down in the lobby for a while first.

Andres was pretty much asleep by the time we got back to the room, so I put him into bed and let him sleep for a while. We were planning on going out for dinner, so would be up late anyway – I figured it was better that he has some sleep now so he wasn’t impossible later.

That evening, we walked around to Ruby Tuesday’s. It felt a bit like a celebration, we were finally on our way home – all the official tasks were complete – and we hadn’t really been out for dinner as a family in quite a few weeks. We also remembered a bit later that today was “Andres day” anyway – even more reason to celebrate. It was on this day three years ago that Andres became part of our family.

Leanne and Nicol at Ruby Tuesday

Simon and Andres at Ruby Tuesday

Andres copying Papa but closing his eyes complaining about the flash being too bright

We enjoyed our meal, although I think we did order a bit too much food – but hey, it was a celebration.

Nicol enjoys destroying everything she can get her hands on

Andres gives the meal two thumbs up

We eventually headed back to the hotel and after convincing the kids to go to bed, we finished packing ready for the final leg of our trip.

Leanne and Nicol, all rugged up against the cold night air

Andres enjoys yet another ride on Papa’s shoulders (his favoured mode of transportation on the trip)

Day 41 – Bogota to Santiago

Up very early this morning to finish the packing and lug our bags downstairs ready to head to the airport.

Fortunately our flight wasn’t until after lunch, so we didn’t need to rush off.

Patricia picked us up mid-morning and we managed to squeeze all of our bags (and us!) into her little car.

We got to the airport with no dramas, Patricia dropped us off near the front door and we got a baggage porter to help us with our bags. After parking the car, Patricia came back to help us with the checkin process and make sure everything went smoothly.

It took nearly an hour for them to check us in – there was a problem with Nicol’s ticket. It seems that the changes that had been made by LAN when we cancelled our flight from Cali to Bogota hadn’t made it through the system completely, so they couldn’t work out what to do with Nicol. There was mention at some point of maybe needing to pay for Nicol’s ticket again, to which we reacted angrily – we had already paid quite a bit for her tickets  and had no intention of doing so again! We had e-Ticket receipts clearly showing that we had paid for her flights, but it still seemed to be an issue.

Eventually, they sorted it out and gave us our boarding passes – I think next time we fly to Colombia we’ll stick to Avianca for our flights in South America – even if it costs more.

We headed up to immigration and Patricia stood near the entrance waiting for us to indicate to her that everything was okay. The immigration officer checked our documentation about Nicol’s adoption thoroughly before giving us the all-clear. We waved goodbye to Patricia and headed through security and into the departure lounge area.

We spent the wait for the flight trying to feed the kids and keep them entertained so they didn’t get too ratty. Eventually we were able to board the flight, but not before they ushered everyone out of the boarding lounge and made us line up for a bag check. We did manage to jump the boarding queue again, we are getting used to being first on the plane!

Once again, LAN had managed to do a horrid job of allocating seats – they had Andres and I sitting next to each other (window and aisle) about 4 rows behind Leanne who was supposed to be on her own with Nicol for the 6 hour flight. Fortunately, we got some sympathy from the staff on board and they managed to re-arrange the passengers and get Andres sitting next to Leanne and me sitting across the aisle from them. It turned out that the seat next to me was empty, so we ended up with me sitting in the middle, Andres next to me on the aisle, Leanne across the aisle and a spare seat next to Leanne near the window for all our stuff for Nicol. Not ideal, but we managed.

Andres managed to keep himself mostly entertained watching inflight entertainment and playing with the tablet computer – although he did start to get a bit tired and ratty towards the end of the flight, it did arrive well after 7pm after all.

After passing through immigration and collecting our bags, we pre-paid for a minivan to take us to our hotel. Andres fell asleep on my lap on the way and it was difficult to wake him up at the other end. I knew it was going to be difficult to get him to settle down and into bed, but it ended up being a horrid evening.

It was nearly 9pm by the time we got to our room, they did not have a cot for us, and rang just after we got to our room informing us they didn’t have any cots available (despite us having requested one when we booked several weeks ago). We were very tired and hungry, so I was pretty grumpy with the girl on the phone – especially when she suggested they could probably get us one by tomorrow. I asked her what they expected us to do with a 9 month old baby in the meantime!

I left them to work out what they were going to do and headed out to try and find some food for us. I had forgotten when I booked the Holiday Inn Express that they don’t do room service here – the best they have is a small sandwich bar downstairs, but that was very uninspiring. I knew of a mini-mart about 10 minutes walk away, so I headed out into the cold night air and went looking for food, hoping that they were still open. They were – but they closed the doors while I was in there, so had I been 10 minutes later, I would have missed out. I managed to buy some sandwiches, biscuits, flavoured milk (nobody seems to do plain milk in small single-serve cartons in Chile!), and some water and headed back to the room.

Andres seemed to like the ham sandwich (after I had peeled off the cheese for him), but the other sandwiches I bought were pretty aweful, so Leanne and I put up with biscuits and some leftover chocolate we had in our bags. They had miraculously managed to find a cot for us by the time I returned, which was good, so Nicol was already asleep. I suspect they walked 2 minutes down the road to the Intercontinental hotel (part of the same group of companies!) and borrowed one from there – at least that was what I was going to tell them to do if they didn’t have one for us yet.

I finally managed to get Andres settled and asleep at around 11pm and we collapsed into bed exhausted too.

Day 40 – Artesanias Maku Bogota

Our last full day in Bogota today – we started tidying up ready to get stuck into the packing and preparing for our long trip home.

We did do one activity today though, Patricia picked us up mid-morning and drove us to Artesanias Maku, a large handicraft and souvenir store not that far from the hotel. This place was huge – three storeys tall and full of very interesting items, from the amazingly intricate to the downright tacky.

We spent an hour or so browsing through the store and working out what we wanted to buy. We were conscious of the fact that we had already bought a new bag in Cali – and it was full before we left there! We didn’t really want to buy another bag. We knew we didn’t have a lot more space in our existing bags, so we were cautious about how much stuff we bought – probably a good thing, otherwise we may well have bought half the store!

Andres didn’t have much fun – he was bored and grumpy, but we managed to keep him going long enough to buy some things and jumped back in the car and headed back to the hotel to start packing.

Our room at the Halifax in Bogota

Our room at the Halifax in Bogota

Looking from the doorway of our room at the Halifax towards the TV and play room downstairs

Leanne spent the afternoon sorting and packing while I entertained the kids in the TV room. We were aiming to only need to open one or two bags while in Santiago, so we had to work out what we would need for the rest of the trip and pack things with that in mind.

Packing is difficult enough with one kid, seems to be exponentially more so with two! At least they were cute!

The kids commandeer one of our bags to play in

It ended up being a late night, but we got ourselves organised and ready to leave in the morning.

Andres takes a photo of Mama with the tablet computer, inbetween watching episodes of Pocoyo and playing computer games.

Day 39 – Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Up early this morning to prepare for our outing. Jorge picked us up around 9:30am to take us to the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral.

The drive was relatively uneventful – traffic wasn’t too heavy. We headed north and turned off the main road just out of Bogota. We stopped at the town square in a small town called Cajica, but the coffee shop we were planning to stop at for morning tea was closed, so we decided to continue to Zipaquira instead.

The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira is an underground Roman Catholic church built into the tunnels of an old salt mine, 200m below ground. Apparently, while it receives up to 3,000 visitors on Sundays to attend services, it actually has no official status as a “cathedral” in Catholicism – the name is mostly for the benefit of the tourists.

Rather than wait for an official tour, Jorge was able to act as our tour guide to the mine – he regularly brings tourists here, so knows the mine well.

We headed down into the mine along a wide, smooth road – I’m not a huge fan of mines and caves, but the ceilings were fairly high and it was not very claustrophobic at all.

The entrance to the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral – colourful changing light patterns

One of the stations of the cross at the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Near the entrance to the church were 14 small chapels, representing the stations of the cross. Various crosses, either sculptured or carved into the rock, adorn this area.

Another of the stations of the cross at the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

At this point, we were feeling a bit disappointed by the whole thing – if this was all there was to see, it was a bit underwhelming.

However, we then continued down to a viewing platform over the main hall, with a huge cross carved into the wall at one end, with an altar, pulpit and pews making the main part of the cathedral where services are held. The area was massive, especially when you remembered we were so far underground.

Viewing platform over the main hall of the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Main hall of the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

What is more impressive was the distinct lack of supporting beams or other structural elements anywhere – the Halite mine is quite able to support itself without such requirements.

Salt “waterfall” at the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral. This thing was probably over 20m high!

Salt … at the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

We continued down further into the mine and were able to wander through the main part of the cathedral, where the size and scale of the architecture was truly impressive.

Large cross at the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

We eventually headed back up to the surface, and headed off to find some lunch - Jorge took us to a small restaurant nearby.

While we were waiting for our food, something on the TV up on the wall of the restaurant caught Jorge’s eye.

Apparently, there had been a car bombing back in Bogota, not all that far from our hotel. Some political radicals had targeted one of the ex-ministers who was very outspoken against the rebels. We found out later that the attacker had ridden a motorbike along side the car and placed the bomb directly on the roof, then sped off. The target survived with relatively minor injuries, but his driver and bodyguard were killed. Reports said that around 40 people had been injured in the blast – it was in a fairly busy area. We were surprised to see how little coverage the attack got back in Australia – some of the international news outlets gave it coverage, but there was no mention at all on the ABC website.

After lunch, we headed into the main square of Zipaquira and found a small coffee shop where we enjoyed some afternoon tea, before heading back to Bogota.

Zipaquira

Zipaquira

Zipaquira

Just out of Bogota, we were stopped at a police checkpoint – these are everywhere in Bogota, but they seem to only randomly choose people to stop, unless they are specifically looking for someone or something. Jorge had quite a chat to the officer – he seemed quite interested in our kids, Jorge explained about the adoption process and where we were from and what we had been doing. There had been a bit of negative media attention towards adoption in Colombia recently (a local current affairs program using typical hysteria to attract attention and viewers!), so the police officer was quite interested in the process. Jorge did his best to educate him on how the process really works and why the media reports were largely inaccurate and misleading.

We arrived home late afternoon, and Leanne then walked around to a nearby hospital to visit one of the guests from the hotel whose young child was quite ill. She mentioned to me later that there was a large media contingent outside the hospital, which I suggested might have meant that the injured target of the car bombing earlier in the day was also at the hospital.

All up, it was an “interesting” day.

Andres playing computer games with headphones on after Nicol has gone to bed