Archive for the 'Colombia 2009' Category

Day 43 – Auckland to Sydney

We arrived in Auckland around 3am (they served us breakfast before we landed!). We stumbled off the plane, leaving most of our bags behind and only taking enough for a couple of feeds for Andres. We had to pass through the transit area before heading into the main part of the airport to wait for our flight to reboard – which meant going through security again. However, when we reached the security area, the doors were locked with a sign saying “security opens at 4am”. Not impressed. Fortunately someone must have gone to wake them up, since they opened up security about 15 minutes later for us.

We went through to the foodcourt area and bought some drinks and snacks and then sat around to wait for our flight. We had nearly 2 hours to wait until we started boarding again, and most of the shops were closed – although some of them did open around 4am. I had purchased some internet time at the airport during our stopover on the way to Santiago and still had credit, so I was able to get back online for a while and get a few more things done. When that ran out, we took it in turns walking Andres around the airport, showing him the TVs where they were playing Rugby (and explaining that this is what they call “Football” here in Kiwiland and that he would also find people playing it in Sydney).

When we eventually boarded and took off again, we didn’t bother getting the bassinet set up. Andres did eventually fall asleep in Leanne’s arms, and she fell asleep holding him. The flight went pretty well – and Andres didn’t complain at all during landing, and with the sun now up, he was able to look out the window as we came in, which kept him occupied. They served us another breakfast before we landed and we arrived in Sydney a little ahead of schedule just after 7am and were out of the plane and heading for immigration by 7:30am.

Immigration was pretty smooth – they checked Andres’s passport and visa and gave us the all clear. They did insist on checking our yellow fever vaccination records – but that’s normal for people who have travelled to this part of South America. We waited about 45 minutes for our bags to arrive – Sydney international airport still has not improved in that department! Since we had bought some souvenirs back with us that might cause some problems for customs, we declared them and had to pull them out of our bags to show the customs officers. They didn’t have any problems with most things, but some of the little shakers (percussion instruments) had seeds in them. We let them break open one of them and they confirmed that it was a seed and not just stone or something else harmless. Even thought there may not have been any problems with the seeds (I thought they had been cooked myself) – they err on the side of caution at customs and said they would either need to treat the instruments (very expensive relative to the value of the instruments themselves), or confiscate them. I wasn’t that fussed – they were pretty cheap items and I always suspected that customs might have an issue with them, but the customs officer did offer a compromise, and suggested that he removed the seeds from each of the instruments and let us take them. This kind of defeats the purpose of the instrument, since they no longer make any noise, but we should be able to find something to replace the seeds with and repair the damage to make them function again – so we took him up on that offer.

After leaving the customs area, we headed to the Hertz counter to collect our car. Rather than waiting for a taxi with a car seat (you can no longer ride in a taxi in NSW with an infant just sitting on your lap), we decided to rent a car with a child seat for a few days. This way, we have some time to get ourselves organised with a bit of the shopping we have to do – including buying a car seat for the Charade! We had been looking at buying a new car, and probably will eventually – but for now, the Charade still runs very well, and even though it is too small to carry a car seat and a pram at the same time, we figure it is still good enough for most things. If we want to go away for a trip where we have bags and want to take a pram, we’ll look at hiring a car instead – still far cheaper in the short term than buying a new car.

The Camry we had requested wasn’t available yet so instead they gave us a rather large Ford Fairlane. That gave us more room for our bags, but it’s more of a pain to park. By the time we got to the carpark, the guys were fitting the car seat for us, but Andres started yelling for a feed so we had to wait for him before leaving anyway. Eventually we got the car packed and Andres settled in the car seat – Leanne sat in the back with him since it was reverse facing and he couldn’t see us. Being just after 8:30am, the traffic was still pretty heavy, but at least the car is comfortable and it was a smooth drive home.

After bringing the bags inside, we walked down the street to collect some supplies (milk and Weetbix being the most important!) and then spent the rest of the day unpacking, sorting through mail, catching up on emails, tidying up and generally trying to stay awake. It is very cold here in Sydney compared to Cali and Cartagena and the room we have Andres sleeping in gets quite cold too. When we were shopping for clothes before we left, we mostly concentrated on warm weather clothing, so we are a bit short of stuff for him to cope with the colder weather. After lunch, we walked up to the shops at Chatswood to buy some warmer clothes and a warmer Grobag for Andres to sleep in.

Leanne’s sister came around for dinner and to meet Andres for the first time (although she has seen him via video chat), and we sat around talking for a while before putting Andres to bed. We are hoping he will sleep most of the night – although I won’t be surprised if he does wake up early. I struggled to stay awake most of the afternoon – and we ended up going to bed not long after dinner.

Day 42 – Zoologico Nacional and Santiago to Auckland

Leisurely start to the day – up in time for breakfast at the hotel and then we got ready to go out for the day. Clear skies made it look much more inviting to go outside, even though it did still look very cold.

View from our hotel room - Holiday Inn Express

View from our hotel room - Holiday Inn Express

View from our hotel room - Holiday Inn Express

View from our hotel room - Holiday Inn Express

We got one of the hotel drivers to drive us to the Santiago Zoo – we had wanted to visit this zoo the last time we were here in Santiago, but it is closed on Mondays – so our visit had to be today or not at all. The zoo is set on the side of Cerro San Cristobal – the mountain with the statue of the Virgin Mary on the top and the funicular which takes you up to the top. The zoo is surprisingly steep, much steeper than other hilly zoos we’ve been to like Taronga or San Diego – and it even felt more steep than the Zoologico Santacruz south of Bogota that we visited last week.

Leanne and Andres say hello to a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Leanne and Andres say hello to a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

After climbing up from the road to the zoo entrance, we kept climbing and climbing as we explored the exhibits – the zoo seemed to just keep going up the side of the hill. The walk-through aviary was quite spectacular, set at the edge of the zoo with views out over the city, you walk along a raised platform that must be at least 10m above the ground at some points – trying to take photos over the side of ground dwelling birds below made me quite dizzy.

Walk-through aviary at Santiago Zoo

Walk-through aviary at Santiago Zoo

Overall the zoo is not great – small enclosures that are generally not up to scratch by modern zoo standards in other parts of the world. They have a reasonable collection of native animals, plus quite a few exotics – lions, tigers, hippos, polar bears, and even giraffes and elephants.

Santiago Zoo

Santiago Zoo

It was a sunny day today which made it much more pleasant than yesterday, although the air was still very cold – at least standing in direct sunlight made it a little less unpleasant. Even so, next time we visit Santiago at this time of year, we will definitely take gloves and beanies. One good thing about the zoo is that it didn’t take very long to warm up with all the climbing.

A roo with a view - Santiago Zoo

A roo with a view - Santiago Zoo

Leanne and Andres at Santiago Zoo

Leanne and Andres at Santiago Zoo

We left the zoo around lunchtime, climbing back down to street level at the bottom of the hill. We walked to Baquedano metro station and after stopping for a quick lunch we hopped on to the metro to Tobalaba station which seemed to be the closest to the hotel. We wandered around a bit looking for somewhere to buy formula and nappies to stock up for the trip home. It took us a while, but eventually we got everything we need – it seems that supermarkets here in Chile aren’t allowed to sell formula, you have to go to a chemist!

Santiago Zoo

Santiago Zoo

Leanne and Andres outside Santiago Zoo

Leanne and Andres outside Santiago Zoo

We eventually got back to the hotel and started the task of packing the bags preparing everything for the long trip home. We really didn’t know what to expect with Andres – we didn’t know how many bottles he would want and so needed to make sure we had more than enough formula and bottles to cope with unexpected demand. We also didn’t want to be stuck without enough in case of delays or other problems on the flight, so we took far more than we needed to, just in case.

With all the washing, sterilising, drying, preparing and packing, it ended up taking nearly 3 hours to get ready – we then had a bit of a problem. We had requested a late checkout because our flight is not until 11pm and we needed time to be able to get everything ready. I explained that I wanted to leave at 6pm, and the hotel staff seemed to indicate this would be fine. However, I think that there was a bit of a breakdown in communication because just before 5pm, we got calls from the hotel management asking whether we would be out of the room by 5 – the hotel was full and they wanted our room back! I explained that we weren’t ready (couldn’t just up and leave the room at that point – would have been impossible) and we really needed the room until 6. They weren’t happy, but there wasn’t a lot they (or we) could do.

We got down to check out right on 6pm, and they tried to charge us a full extra day for use of the room – the agreement was that the late checkout would incur a 50% charge of the normal room rate. I managed to convince them to only charge us the 50% and not the full day’s charge – paying full price for only 5 hours use of a room was a bit steep I thought. Anyway, we eventually got that all sorted and got the hotel driver to take us to the airport. Traffic seemed quite a bit lighter than I had expected, so we actually made good time and arrived quite early.

At the airport, we managed to jump the checkin queue (having a baby is better than frequent flyer status in some places!) and they got us checked in for our flight, assigned seats with a bassinet position. We then headed through immigration and security and then went to get some dinner. Santiago airport is quite well setup with quite a few shops and restaurants on the air-side of the airport. We stopped at Ruby Tuesdays for hamburgers and then went for a long walk around the terminal to help digest it all. Finally, we stopped near the gate and settled down to wait for our flight to start boarding. Fortunately they have free WiFi at Santiago airport, so I was able to catch up on a few last minute things before the flight.

Eventually we boarded (again, jumping the queue), and got settled in. After takeoff they set up the bassinet for Andres, and although he didn’t really like it at first, he eventually settled down and finally fell asleep. The timing of the flight worked quite well overall – Andres slept most of the way from Santiago to Auckland, which meant that we were also able to get some sleep. We did actually manage to sleep a bit – we were both exhausted from such a long day. Having our Thermarest compressible pillows with us really made a lot of difference – these were one of our best purchases on our trip last year and we also used them pretty much every day on this trip too – especially so on the long flights!

Andres in his bassinet on board our flight to Auckland

Andres in his bassinet on board our flight to Auckland

Tweets from today

waiting at Santiago airport for our flight to Sydney (via Auckland). Couple of hours yet until boarding.
23rd June, 2009 8:42 PM from TweetDeck
just back from a day out in Santiago – cold but sunny. Finally got to visit the Zoologico Nacional de Chile, missed it on our trip last year
23rd June, 2009 2:51 PM from TweetDeck

Day 41- Australian Embassy

Had a nice sleep in this morning – lovely soft bed makes a nice change to the rock-hard beds they seem to prefer in Colombia. Andres did wake up a little early and was grizzly, but after a feed, we put him in the bed with us (king sized bed – plenty of room for all three of us!) and we all went back to sleep for a while.

We eventually got up and went down to breakfast around 9:30am, with Andres making plenty of friends with the hotel staff again. The hotel puts on a nice continental buffet breakfast, and Leanne especially liked the warm milk with packets of chocolate to melt in it.

Now that it was daylight, we could see that we were in a really nice area of Santiago – there are hills quite close to the hotel and large mountains nearby. Pity it’s was quite misty and very cold – forecast maximum was 11 degrees for today and poor Andres has never worn so many clothes in his life.

We waited around the hotel for a while getting ourselves a bit more organised and then around lunchtime, we headed out to the Embassy to collect a visa for Andres. It was a leisurely 20 minute or so walk down the road to the Australian Embassy, which is nothing grand like the US embassy across the road from the hotel or the Czech embassy a few blocks away – the Australians just occupy a couple of floors of an office tower. We had to wait for a little while to get the visa – there was nobody at the counter and we had no way of signaling to anyone that we were waiting! Eventually someone came out and fetched Patti for us – she took all the paperwork and the passport and came back a short while later with the visa stuck in the passport – all very straight forward.

Leanne and Andres out and about in Santiago

Leanne and Andres out and about in Santiago

We stopped for a hot chocolate and a snack and to feed Andres and then wandered back to the hotel via a different road – this area is really up-market with nice apartment blocks and office buildings. We can see more of the mountains in some places and there is snow not too far up, which actually makes us feel even colder. It is very still and quite misty, so visibility is rather poor.

We went out again for dinner – this time to TGI Fridays for steak and seafood and then stopped at a mini-mart on the way home to pick up some supplies.

It is nice to get back to the hotel and snuggle up in bed after being out in the cold!

Day 40 – Bogota to Santiago

Very early start this morning – 5:30am alarm to get us up in time to catch our ride to the airport. I didn’t sleep well at all, so it was a bit of a struggle to get going. After a quick breakfast, Patricia picked us up just after 7am to drive us to the airport with all our gear.

We managed to check in okay (no excess baggage for these international LAN flights – yay) and Patricia escorted us to immigration – even helping us jump the very long queues to pass through security, having an infant really helps sometimes. We breezed through immigration – the officer there checked the documentation carefully, but seemed quite happy with it all and let us through with no questions.

After a lengthy wait for our flight to actually leave, we boarded and settled in to our seats. Turns out there are no seats with bassinet positions on this plane, so we were going to have to hold Andres the whole way (6 hours), which was a bit of a pain. Just before we took off, the cabin crew came and asked us to move seats – apparently there were only two oxygen masks in that seat and we needed three in case of emergency. They moved us to a row with three vacant seats, which gave us a little more room and allowed us to put Andres down for a while during the flight too.

It was a boring flight – we didn’t get to watch movies and as we were now in the centre, we couldn’t see out of the windows either. Andres only screamed once when he got hungry all of a sudden but I was in the toilet so couldn’t make his bottle soon enough. Was a little grizzly on the way down, but sucking a dummy helped a bit.

Eventually we got in to Santiago and made it through immigration and collected our bags. We arranged some “official ground transport” from the airport to the Holiday Inn Expres in Las Condes – over the other side of the city, but close to the Australian Embassy where we will need to go tomorrow. It took far less time to get to the hotel than I had thought it would.

The Holiday Inn Express is a fairly basic hotel, but nice enough. It took them a while to get a cot set up for us, but they eventually got it done. The only downside is that there is no restaurant here (they do a cold buffet breakfast though), and so there is no room service, although apparently some of the local restaurants will deliver to the hotel.

There are quite a few restaurants down the same road that the Embassy is on (just around the corner), but of course, most of them are closed on Sunday nights. We ended up with a sandwich and hot chocolate at Starbucks, which was really all we needed anyway. Andres made more new friends there – I feel sorry for the other customers who had to wait for the staff to finish telling Andres how cute he is!

We had a fairly early night – exhausted from the long day.

Day 39 – Cartagena to Bogota

Our last breakfast at the Hotel Caribe this morning – I took some photos of us eating by the pool. After breakfast we headed down to say goodbye to the Tamarin, and on the way we discovered they have a resident three-toed sloth at the hotel too! I’ve never seen one up close before, he was crawling across the ground very slowly (they can’t stand on all four legs, so have to drag themselves). We also went around to say goodbye to their monkeys and the Macaws.

Leanne and Andres at breakfast

Leanne and Andres at breakfast

Leanne and Andres at breakfast by the pool

Leanne and Andres at breakfast by the pool

The resident Tamarin - Hotel Caribe

The resident Tamarin - Hotel Caribe

Resident three-toed sloth at Hotel Caribe

Resident three-toed sloth at Hotel Caribe

Leanne and Andres say goodbye to the Macaws

Leanne and Andres say goodbye to the Macaws

We finished packing our bags and checked out around midday – heading to the airport in a taxi. We nearly didn’t make it, the taxi developed engine problems about halfway there and the driver nearly had to stop and get us a new taxi. Fortunately he managed to nurse the car as far as the airport, so we made it in plenty of time. After checking in we wandered around for a bit before heading to our gate. Andres made plenty of new friends again, we were the center of attention at the waiting lounge!

Flying over Cartagena

Flying over Cartagena

The flight was pretty uneventful – about the same length as a flight from Sydney to Melbourne, so not too troublesome. We arrived in Bogota and caught a taxi to the hotel. They have a good system for taxis at the domestic airport in Bogota – we went to the taxi ticket office and told them where we were headed – they punched the address into their computer and printed out details including a price for the trip, which we later handed to the driver. This is to avoid people getting ripped off by the drivers – the price is set up front so you know exactly how much to pay.

Flying into Bogota

Flying into Bogota

We stayed at the Hotel Halifax once more – even thought it would have been more convenient to stay at a hotel closer to the airport, the Halifax is at least familiar – we know where everything is, we know there’s a good supermarket just around the corner, we know we can sterilise the bottles easily, and we know we can get good meals there. Of course, there was also the little thing that we had left two of our bags there in storage when we went to Cartagena!

They gave us the same room we had last time – I don’t think they even changed anything (other than fresh linen). After a quick trip around to the supermarket for supplies, we spent the evening re-organising the bags and repacking them to distribute the weight more evently. Leanne did most of the organising, I did the tricky packing bits squeezing clothes into the backpacks and other bits and pieces like steriling the bottles.

Andres video chats with Aunty Bron

Andres video chats with Aunty Bron

Tweets from today

back sterilising bottles again while wife organises the bags ready for me to pack later
20th June, 2009 8:36 PM from TweetDeck
back at the Hotel Halifax in Bogota – in the same room too – looks like they just left everything the same for us. Very early start tomorrow
20th June, 2009 4:49 PM from TweetDeck
woohoo – free WiFi at Cartagena airport
20th June, 2009 1:37 PM from TweetDeck
packing ready to head back to Bogota, there for only about 18 hours before we fly to Santiago. Have enjoyed Cartagena, we love the Caribbean
20th June, 2009 11:41 AM from TweetDeck