Despite all the carefully laid plans, preparations and scheduling for this Chilean trip, all that not withstanding we were badly let down by the airline who flew us from Heathrow to Madrid….. in fact so badly let down that I very nearly did not make it to Chile after all as we very nearly missed the flight connection in Madrid, thanks to the incompetence and inefficiency of various people but all starting with the check in desk and its staff at Heathrow….. we checked in at London with plenty of time and were told that we would have to collect our onward boarding cards in Madrid for the flight from Madrid to Santiago (although we had booked the tickets with one airline, parts of the journey were handled by some of their air partners) – I did think this very strange as I have travelled long haul often and have never had to collect boarding cards for the next leg of the journey, but the check in staff were adamant that this was the procedure and so who was I to question them….. oh if only I had, isn’t hindsight an incredible thing!
Thus after an uneventful flight from London to Madrid all passengers in transit were asked to check their boarding cards and either disembark at the front or the rear of the aircraft in order to be shuttled to the correct terminal for the next legs of journeys- not us though as we had no boarding cards for the onward journey, so we did as instructed left the plane and went in search of the desk to collect the boarding cards (thankfully our luggage was much luckier and had been taken care of all the way through to Santiago). Madrid airport is very smart but also very complicated and the terminal buildings are widely spaced and you have to take a shuttle train which takes approx 10 minutes to go from one place to the other…. To bring this sorry tale to a faster ending basically with only 1 and ½ hours to spare before our next flight we chased up and down escalators and moving walkways, on and off the train and on again, asked two very unhelpful information desks for directions and advice, neither of which were willing to be less than helpful and eventually we arrived in gasping heaps at the check in desk, only to be met by a very unhurried chap who didn’t sympathise with our predicament at all and I swear took the longest possible time to print off the boarding cards and then looking at his watch stated that he was not sure we would actually make the plane unless we hurried!!
So then the sprint back through the airport started all over again, this time with us having to go through X ray, security and once more down so many escalators we lost count, back on the train and then a further 10 minute sprint to the gate, which we arrived at with literally 5 minutes to spare …….We felt like we were extras in a “Challenge Anneka” show. I am sure the CCTV footage of 4 harassed adults and a child running in every which way with hand baggage, including two very heavy bags of books and a laptop looked comical to anyone watching-it didn’t seem very funny at the time, although we have laughed about it all since, but it was an added, unnecessary stress that we all could have done without and was not the most auspicious of starts to our journey.
However the air crew on board our flight were great- nothing was too much trouble and once we landed in Santiago those involved in the competition were treated like VIPs with a fast track through security and immigration and our baggage was collected on our behalf and we exited the airport by a side entrance and were whisked away to our hotel.
In the days since we arrived the sun has shone brightly and there is a tremendous camaraderie between the candidates. The quarter finals took place on Monday 12th April and then the semi finals take place on Wednesday 14th, with various winery trips and gala dinners in between.
For the organizers of the competition it has been a logistic nightmare due to the earthquake which happened only 6 weeks ago and they have worked tirelessly to ensure that the programme remained as interesting, diverse and entertaining as possible. They have worked well with the competition sponsors to ensure that the areas around and close to Santiago are shown in all their glory and it is indeed a very beautiful and diverse place to visit and we are all humbled by the Chilean people’s good humour and warm welcome in the face of such adversity. Whilst central Santiago has not been too affected there are many villages and wine producing areas that have been and the devastation that the earthquake caused is plain to see, but everyone remains unbowed and their hope for the future shines through and is inspiring to see. Chile is indeed a fabulous place with fantastic people living here.
Watch this space for competition updates