Gracias a la Vida - the 11th Annual year end in Chile, and flying LAN

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  1. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto (Posted in several parts because of MP photo restrictions in a single post)

    I booked the trip nearly a year earlier. This was to be my 11th end of year in Chile. How life has changed in that time. It was to be the 9th annual New Year's Eve with a good friend in Chile - 2 of those years have been in Puerto Montt, and the remaining years in Santiago. Each of these trips has been on LAN (previously Lan Chile), and every longhaul segment has been in a premium cabin. I've been from north to south of Chile and many points in between, many times, and now, Buenos Aires is a regular part of these trips. (The trip report of about a year ago tells the back story.)

    This trip begins the night before the trip, at the Holiday Inn SFO, where the room rate including 2 weeks of parking cost less than just two weeks of parking by the airport. My Platinum status got us a non-descript but decently appointed room on an executive floor, along with two bottles of water and some cookies. As the attached restaurant is a gag and vomitous culinary delight, we wandered across the street to the Four Points SFO for some eats, along with a drink, and a pleasant chat with the bartender, who was from Peru, a nice coincidence just hours before a flight to LIM.

    After the ZZZZZzzzzztime was over, it was off to SFO. A trip from SFO just always seems to start better when it departs from the International Terminal. Bright, airy, uncrowded. Although the weather was pea soup, the inbound aircraft was able to land earlier that morning, which was a good sign for an ontime departure. And we were off to the LAN check-in counter.

    The nice thing about flying an airline at a smaller station is that you get to see familiar faces, even when you may only fly a few times a year. I was on LAN's inaugural SFO flight and the familiar, friendly, and helpful faces are a welcome sight. Check-in was efficient, security line was almost non-existent, and we were off to the lounge.

    LAN still uses the BA Terraces lounge. It remains a pleasant space, with quite slim pickins in the food offerings. CX used to share this lounge at approximately the same hour, and there were more selections, but now they have moved to their own facility.


    Given the temporarily earlier hour of the flight (moved up due to madrugada LIM runway repairs), I had expected something of a continental breakfast spread. Instead, the little sandwich bits came out about an hour-something prior to flight time. The usual packaged goodies were out. The lounge attendant for LAN was delightful, and went above and beyond the call of being nice. Finally, it was boarding time, and we boarded right from the lounge. The LAN airport supervisor came onboard, where we had a nice chat, a pre-departure beverage arrived (LAN continues to not have a license to serve liquor on the ground @ SFO), and we were off to LIM

    Cuando vuele con mis alas volare hacia ti


    For maybe only the second or third time ever, the LAN crew offered pre-meal drink orders. Typically, you had to specifically ask for one, otherwise the first beverage came when the initial set-up came. I hope this is the start of something new. I also wish this crew would have continued to be as nice after the meal service as during the meal service. Alas, that was not to be. Another service point is that this segment doesn't pass out a water bottle after the meal service. The northbound segment does (and both directions from LAX seem to, with the LA, not LP, crew).

    The meal was the standard LAN fare. The champange and nuts came out in relatively short order.


    Then came the starter trays


    Then came the main course, without a picture (they all seem to look the same after so many flights).

    Then came the dessert


    The crew was serving this as if it was a ship that just hit a reef and they wanted to complete the service before the ship sunk. My main course came out while I was still eating the appetizer, there was no place for it on the tray, and the flight attendant seemed a little put off when I requested she take it back until I was ready (which she did).

    A movie, some more wine, some chocolate, some lying down (without any sleep) and it was almost time for the pre-arrival snack. The earlier flight time really makes any attempt at a nap almost impossible for me. LIM arrival time was about 10:00 PM, which was 7:00PM home time. I eventually requested some water from a flight attendant in the galley. Mee-oww. Sorry to ask. But, I did receive the water. For the LAN-uninitiated, LAN doesn't repeatedly pass through the galley with water. In fact, they never do.
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  2. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    Finally, the pre-arrival snack came. Wow - after a few years of the same two-sorts-of-sandwiches on a plate, this was a tasty mushroom (hot) quiche, which was a better tray of food than many domestic USA longhaul flights up front. As it was scheduled mealtime, the crew was behaving properly.


    We landed quite early at LIM, only not to have a gate. We awaited quite some time for a bus, and the most amarga of the flight attendants made her displeasure at the wait most noticeable. Continuously. It was probably 30 minutes from touchdown to bus boarding. When we were finally in the terminal, I kept looking at the departure screens just prior to transit security, because once you go upstairs, there are no customer service counters. Everything ontime, and off to the SUMAQ Lounge ... where we were greeted with a WE ARE FULL. I suggested that I could see seats in the Business Center, so she begrudingly let us in. I then went to get Pisco Sours at the bar, where the bartender was even more sour than the drink. But this guy usually is. The tip that was in my hand didn't even leave my hand when he didn't even look up while handing me the drinks. The lounge started to thin out, and soon enough we were off to board for SCL.

    Mañana temprano, volveremos a huir. Mañana sin miedos, podremos ser felices

    After a non-descript boarding procedure, we settled into our seats. An overly-sweet pisco sour served by a Lan Chile crew awaited us. This segment is typically lights out after takeoff, and breakfast prior to SCL arrival. I picked at my breakfast, but didn't really eat much of it. I also watched another movie.

    Que en todo amanece

    After about 3 hours, the first glow of the sunrise behind the cordillera through a thunderstorm in la Argentina made for an excellent start to the day, despite the lack of sleep. I had reserved a 'free bonus night from the credit card' at the airport Holiday Inn so we could get some sleep as soon as possible. Alas, the baggage carousel broke and we had to wait awhile for one of the bags. Upon check-in (reserved for the prior night), the clerk told us that because of our status, we could have the room until 2pm. Great. In any event, we left at noon, and there was no bill. Well, until I saw a $50 charge on my credit card for no apparent reason. About a month later, I will finally be getting my money back.

    We then got a taxi, and then we were off to the San Cristobal Tower, where I have now stayed countless times, and the reservation had already showed a suite upgrade. Alas, there was none to be had when we arrived. The "story" (which was actually true) was that the one remaining available suite was undergoing refurbishment longer than it should have. Later in the day, they found us walking through the lobby and offered this suite to us, if we "approved" it (i.e., no paint smells, etc.). It was lovely, and became our home for the next three days. When I later presented this agent with one of the SPG Platinum Thank You cards, she was truly overwhelmed and appreciative.

    Fui a cazar

    For the past many years (actually, since the year after the first New Year's Eve Dinner in Puerto Montt, fin 2003), I have been the wine selector for the dinner. That first year, we were drinking Gato Negro from the box, and when we ran out, someone found an open kiosco, from where we ended up drinking even something lesser than Gato from a box. So, I sort of self-appointed this task. This year, I brought a nice California obscure bottle, plus a bottle of Hangar One Raspberry Vodka. I was lazy this year and just got some medium quality bottles from Santa Isabel, along with the "you aren't Chileno if you don't drink some" Valdivieso bubbles to pop at midnight. (I actually bought a better bottle of bubbles the next day, too.)

    Santaigo was just lovely. Days were hovering about 30 and dry, nights were perfect. The requisite lomito tomate palta was the first food of substance for the trip.

    Al final de mil caminos siempre habrá desvíos, al final de mil caminos,decido te sigo

    Finally, finally, the time had come to get a taxi to the centro and commence the evening. My friend's mother has been staying with him for the past few months, and she was to prepare the delicious cerdo. Another friend preprared the venozolano version of tamales. I also brought the dessert. Just before the witching hour, we all went up to the roof patio to watch the fireworks from the Entel Tower, just 3 or 4 blocks away. We first popped the non-Valdivieso bottle, and then when that was toast, we opened the traditional Orange label. By about 3, after more vino and postre, it was time to go. Abrazos fuertes, and we were back to the hotel. And no one offered me vaina or cola de mono which I didn't want to drink (but would have been obligated to). Yay. And so another New Year's Eve had come and gone. They are never exciting, yet they are almost always fun, and they are always where I want to be.

    Me veras en el sur, Donde el mar es triste y azul, Juntos aunque la distancia Nos deje ver

    It has become unspoken as to "what are we doing next year" because it is just assumed that I'll be in Chile. I don't know where this ride gets off, but I hope no time soon.

    Five of us met up for lunch at the Mercado Central on the 1st. Locura. But muy muy chileno. Yum. Within 24 hours of this lunch, we were packed up and on our way to SCL. I handed the bellman (who, despite no more than 1 to 3 visits a year at this hotel, remembers my name at first sight), one of the Platinum Thank You cards with his tip, as we entered the taxi. He also seemed most appreciative. Yet the most helpful person at this hotel remains the Chief Concierge on the Sheraton side. I've known her for likely 10 years at this point, and it is always a pleasure to see her.

    After a quick ride on the Costanera Norte, we were at the Premium Check-in Room @ SCL, and from hotel departure to check-in, to departure formalities and security (via the premium access) it was under 30 minutes total from hotel to the duty free shop. After the obligatory few minutes in the shop (and they are obligatory, because you have no choice but to walk through), it was off to the Neruda lounge, for a nice snack and a few drinks.



    Alas, another trip to Chile was over - my 20-somethingth since the end of 2001. Time to cross the Cordillera!

    A quick 1:30 or so airtime, a decent snack, and we were in La Argentina.

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  3. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    Sweet Home Buenos Aires, donde el cielo esta gris. Sweet Home Buenos Aires, condenado pais.
    The week was pleasant time without any real scheduled activity. For early January weather, we were quite lucky, until the last day, as it was hot, even quite hot, but the humidity stayed away most of the time. My cousins were in town, so we had a nice dinner together. Another night, we met up with a friend who lives about 45 minutes away in the Bay Area, and lives in the alta sociedad side of Buenos Aires. We went to El Baqueano, a restaurant that specializes in Carnes Autóctonas. This was the best non-slab-o-meat dinner I ever had in Buenos Aires. It was a place I looked at for the past few years, always a bit timid to try, and now I cannot wait to return. For someone that spends much time in this city, one gets tired of beef, empanadas, and pizza. In fact, the beef quality of the typical parrilla is in a steady and sad decline. The best two beef meals I had on this trip were at another friend's house, where he made a lovely asado, and at my own place, just pan fried with mango and onions, on a bed of greens and avocado.
    We also took the cheesy tourist tourbus one day. I really recommend this to get a general city overview, and you can hop on and off at your leisure. Since my last visit in October, a Starbucks opened just two blocks from my place, on Plaza Dorrego. There goes the neighbo(u)rhood! If you think their coffee costs a lot in the USA, wait until you get to Argentina.
    Other things of no particular note - the MAMBA (Modern Art Museum of Buenos Aires) was free instead of the usual peso when we went in. We also stopped in the prison museum.
    As you can see, I half expected Lily Tomlin to be sitting at the phone switchboard.
    Finally, the time had come and gone, and the taxi I ordered awaited, and we were off to EZE. I always allow extra time, as you just never know when there will be tacos en la autopista for whatever reason, and you never know when EZE itself is going to be a cluster*&$#. It turns out that I made the right decision, because I was speaking with someone else shortly before boarding time who was caught in a highway-closing traffic jam, about 30 minutes after we had sailed through.
    When we arrived, something seemed amiss - they weren't letting anyone bound for LIM to check in until a certain fixed time, even though the counters were staffed. Hmmmm -unusual. When we were finally allowed to check in, it turned out that the J cabin had been downsized, and we were sitting in Y. Mind you, when I booked the trip 11 months earlier, the J cabin was a 30 seater, then it was reduced to 18 seats (and we preserved our seats) and a couple weeks prior to this trip, it was changed back to a 30 seater, and then at some point during that day (as the seats were fine in the AM), it went back to an 18 seater. And ours, despite being 2D and 2H, reserved as such for 11 months, were no longer to be. LAN offered us downgrade compensation offers, which received a frown, and then they seemed to improve a bit, which we accepted. We were still given lounge access and pre-boarding privileges, and most importantly, our LIM/SFO was still safe up front. This was to be my first international Y segment on LAN, save a quick SCL/MDZ a few years back. I survived. Actually, the exit row was quite comfortable, and the IFE screen is respectable, and contains the same programming as the front of the plane. Had I known this was a possibility, I'd have brought my own headset.
    Given some real and some not so real turbulence, the seatbelt sign was on for a substantial portion of this flight, and we finally were given our paltry "dinner" about 2:30 out of EZE. Given that the EZE lounge has a crappy selection of snacks, and the airport itself doesn't have much food to choose from, we hadn't really planned in advance for the lack of a real dinner. Oh well. We survived. And if the compensation credit posts per the promise, it will have been worth it. The lack of calories was actually probably a good thing.
    Wow, it takes a long time to disembark from the mid cabin. It has been so long! LIM arrival was otherwise nondescript, I kept my eye on the pre-security departure board, and there was a LONG line for the customer service desk, which made me a bit nervous . Fear not, we were fine, and off to the SUMAQ lounge, where we were summarily denied entry and sent to the VIP Lounge down the hall. Actually, the other lounge wasn't half bad, wasn't too crowded, and in true LIM fashion, the barman was not happy to make Pisco Sours. But since he wasn't as amargo as the SUMAQ barman, and did look at me, he did receive a tip of sorts, in Argentine pesos. SMILE AND YOU MIGHT MAKE SOME MORE MONEY!
    Then we were off to the LIM/SFO flight, received our pre-departure extra security, and boarded. Ah, seats 2D and 2F, the bubbles served, we were set to go. I partook in the post-departure snack. It was far inferior to SFO/LIM pre-arrival snack (as they are usually similar).
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  4. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    En la ventana los reflejos de la luna
    Le hacen justicia a la oscuridad nocturna

    I had requested breakfast only if I was awake. This crew started serving at the most absurd hour - we were not even to the tip of Baja California, and the service commenced. This is for a 16 passenger cabin. Had it been served an hour later, I'd have gotten up. As I was not really sleeping, but not hungry, I continued to lie prone with the music on and my eyes closed.

    We arrived on time, my Global Entry machine malfunctioned (and the crew line officer processed me in seconds) and we waited for the luggage. And waited. And waited. First piece - fine. Second piece, another story.

    LAN did not provide for the safe arrival of this poor bag.

    Suitcase LAN.jpg

    The last thing one wants to do after such a flight is deal with claim forms, etc. After awhile, they did retrieve us a "similar" (much lesser) bag, but it was done, and we were off, back to the hotel shuttle that came fairly quickly. The cold bay air felt so delicious. My car started - just barely - but it started, and we were off to pick up the dog before we'd have to pay for day care for the full day.

    And so another year has come and gone. Always glad to be home, and cannot wait until the next one.

    Al final de mil caminos, siempre habra año nuevo en Chile. Ojalá

    Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto
    Me ha dado la risa y me ha dado el llanto,
    Así yo distingo dicha de quebranto
    Los dos materiales que forman mi canto
    Y el canto de ustedes que es el mismo canto
    Y el canto de todos que es mi propio canto.
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