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27 December - Santiago to Coyhaique
We are taking an internal flight to Patagonia: it's nearly 1700 km by road to the town of Coyhaique. Chile is a very long country!
Gosh, they've left the cockpit door open! While in ye olden dayes it was considered perfectly normal, it's rare in the post-9/11 world. Granted, the likelihood of this flight being hijacked by terrorists is, like nearly all flights, essentially zero, but usually the security theatre show must go on.
OMG it gets worse!
Nuts! And peanuts! (which technically aren't nuts but are still a no-no when it comes to allergies).
Somehow we've accidentally boarded a time machine and been taken back into the past.
It's hard to believe, but neither terrorism nor anaphylaxis strikes, and we arrive at Balmaceda airport entirely without incident.
We are to pick up our hire car at the airport, and we've been told to go to the Europcar desk, but we can't find it! How can this be?!
Eventually, it turns out that it's in the middle of all the other hire company desks, it just doesn't have a very prominent sign, and our view of said sign was blocked by the queue of people that we are now the last to join. Harrumph!
We are given detailed instructions on the car: "Put petrol in, not diesel". What? You don't think that's very detailed? Well, I suppose maybe they could have elaborated a bit, but they probably wouldn't have told us the single most important thing: how to disable "Patronising Mode".
If you are at all familiar with "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", you will recall how the various semi-sentient products of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation exuded cheery helpfulness to the point where one could barely restrain the urge to launch into a destructive orgy of enraged violence. Well maybe the Chery Tiggo 8 Max Pro (what a name!) isn't quite that bad, but we really don't know why it has to tell us very loudly at switch-on that it is in NORMAL MODE!!!, or why after an hour's driving it proclaims that tiredness can kill and, "perhaps you should take a break". [I will rapidly figure out how to stop the latter, but the former will persist until at some point I completely unknowingly do something to turn it off, but GOK what.]
Another little curiosity:
It's an automatic, sure, but on what planet does it make sense to push the lever forward to engage reverse gear, and pull it back to go forward?
In fairness, not all its features are bad ones. It's positively festooned with exterior cameras, and with some clever processing it can show the exact track you will reverse along as you turn the steering wheel, or a virtual birds-eye view of the car and its surroundings on all sides. Though it's a much bigger car than we'd normally drive and we're sitting on the wrong side too, that really makes tight spaces a doddle.
It's also quite decently powered (especially by hire car standards), so although the gearbox doesn't like to change quite when I think it should, it's got enough grunt for steep hills and overtaking (on the rare occasions there's enough of both space and visibility).
Balmaceda is Coyhaique's airport in much the sense that Gatwick is (one of) London's. Actually, more so: it's about 56 km to the centre of town compared to 44! The driving, though, isn't even remotely comparable! We've been told the roads will be worse the further south we go, but this is smooth, flat, straight and almost empty. It's only two lanes, but it doesn't need any more.
Coyhaique itself is nothing terribly special, and the hotel has been chosen for practicality more than anything else, but that's never a bad way to start when you don't really know what's going to be coming up later.
"Hotel Dreams Patagonia".
Not quite sure whose dreams, but it's fine.
There's a casino attached, so I suppose it's like a kind of micro Las Vegas Strip hotel!
On your way to the car park, you pass this multicoloured window.
And just like Las Vegas, it's a sad disappointment to anyone who thinks casinos are what they are in Bond movies. I mean, we surely all fancy splashing a few grand (of taxpayers' money) on the roulette wheel, impressing the supervillain and his glamorous blonde (who will soon succumb to our charms), but the real world seems defiantly banal. We are not tempted.
The town itself is not unpleasant, but ultimately it's just a small town with nothing of particular note.
That said, I rather like the selection of local beer.
The dinosaurs are all real Chilean natives, hence perhaps not as well known as the Tyrannosauruses and Bronto [yes I know!] sauruses of an English childhood, but come on: who doesn't think dinosaur beer is cool!
And true, we can't really fault the view from the room.
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