Today we’re going home! Well, eventually, but there were some logistical issues to sort out first. The bus ride from Puerto Natales to the Punta Arenas airport takes about three hours, and we can leave Natales at 9 am or 1 pm, but not between those times. Our flight leaves at 4:45 pm. So we have two choices: drag our bags around Natales for four hours and risk being late for the flight, or leave Natales right away and sit at the airport for five hours. We choose the latter option because it is less risky, and besides it is raining, so we may as well sit indoors.
At the airport we while away the time by checking all the shops (one overpriced souvenir shop and three kiosks) and devising a way to get rid of our coins. We were almost successful; we were left with only 41 pesos in coins. While we were waiting we noticed one of the Americans who had been camping with us at Serón, so many days ago. He was at the DAP counter, evidently trying to get on their flight to Puerto Williams. It seemed to be a long negotiation; the pack went onto the scale, then it came back off, then there was more discussion as flight time came and went. Eventually he picked up the pack and walked away. We walked over to say hello to him and to ask what was up. He wasn’t happy about being asked to pay 3 US dollars per kilogram for “excess baggage”, which was anything above 10 kilograms, but at flight time there had been only one seat available, and he was travelling with his brother. So they were heading for the docks to look for ships going to Puerto Williams.
Two hours before flight time we checked in, hoping to get a window seat. We were successful, but then the flight was only about half full. Strangely, there was another flight leaving for Santiago 15 minutes earlier than ours. That task completed, we went through security and then played cards to while away more time. The first leg of the flight, to Puerto Montt, was over clouds so we couldn’t see the Southern Icefield. Landing there was not cloudy, though, and as we flew over the islands south of Puerto Montt we could see that there were literally hundreds of fish farms and oyster farms in the channels around the islands.
Taking off from Puerto Montt, the clouds were still there, so we didn’t see Volcán Osorno again. As we flew north, though, the clouds cleared and we were flying past the High Andes, landing just at sunset in Santiago. Our bags had been checked through to Los Angeles, and we had seen the ground crew at Punta Arenas putting orange “Connection” tags on them, but just in case we stayed around the baggage carousels to make sure they didn’t get off-loaded by mistake. Then we went up to the international departures level and officially departed from Chile. That earned us yet another stamp in our passports. We had read in one of the guidebooks that there was a departure tax in Santiago, so on our last visit to the bank machine we had budgeted for that. But nobody asked us to pay it, and there were no signs telling us to pay it, so we didn’t.
On the first leg of our long flight, to Lima, we got dinner. That was our third airline meal of the evening. All of them were reasonably good, too. We landed at Lima at midnight local time, 2 am Chile time, 9 pm Vancouver time. Rosemary slept for a lot of the Santiago-Lima leg but Paul decided to stay awake and sleep as much as possible in the second leg.
Both of us slept quite a lot of the Lima-Los Angeles leg, but by 4 am Vancouver time we were both awake. The rest of the trip was quite routine; we went through Customs and Immigration in Los Angeles, checked our bags on to Vancouver, checked in at Alaska Airlines, and eventually boarded the flight home. We could tell we were back in North America because we got only a cookie for lunch. We weren’t through with volcanoes, though, because we got a good view of all of the Cascade volcanoes, starting with Mount Shasta and continuing all the way to Mount Baker.
Caroline was waiting for us at Vancouver airport, and whisked us back home and back to our ordinary lives. We actually had to go to work the next day! We agreed that we could easily have spent more time in South America, and that we would go back there again.