Helicopters, mountains and the sea
I'm tired after a remarkable day. We left early to get to a small airfield where there were two helicopters waiting for us. After a short delay where we each had to declare our weight in kilos in a most public fashion, we were each assigned to one of the two rather brightly decorated machines.
This was only my second helicopter flight, and I was looking forward to it. Taking off we headed east towards the Andes, following the Maipo valley. Gradually, the hills became big hills, which became mountains. It was spectacular, brutal and rugged. The other helicopter could sometimes be seen ahead of us. Quite dramatic.
We passed a glacier and a lake, and eventually landed beside a mountain refuge, where we breakfasted. It was a stunning setting, some 2000 metres high but surrounded by much bigger peaks. There was a purity to the air.
Next stop was the coast: our flight took us towards San Antonio, from where we turned northwards through the Leyda and Casablanca valleys, and then along the coast to Zapallar. We landed in a football field to a crowd of curious locals, who must have been surprised to find out we weren't celebs or super-rich, but a scruffy bunch of winos.
The restaurant we ate in was in a stunning setting, surrounded on three sides by the sea. Apparently you have to arrive at 1130 to get a table for lunch on Sunday; we sauntered in at 1400 and our table was waiting, the subject of envious glances from perhaps two dozen people waiting to be seated around the periphery of the restaurant. The food was good, but the array of Chilean wines we tried was better, with perhaps 9 whites and 4 reds, all of which had some real interest. I took notes!
The clouds were coming in from the sea, so at 4 pm word came from the pilots that we might have to leave soon. This meant that if anyone wanted to swim, they had to move quickly. Five of us braved the freezing Humboldt-current-cooled Pacific and the large breakers – it was really, really cold, and the draw on the waves was powerful. But I was glad I went in.
Then it was back in the chopper for a 40 minute ride across country to Santiago. Seeing this part of Chile from the air is really interesting, and it was a totally enjoyable day. I'm exhausted, and trying to summon up the energy to go out and find some beer. Work begins in the morning...