It has been quite some time since our last blog post and so much has happened in between. Here’s an update on our latest activities and our current situation. A French version of this article has also been posted simultaneously….as you will soon find out, we happen to have a bit of time on ours hands at the moment!
As the title of this blog suggests, we are indeed back in Santiago, contrary to our original plans. After four peaceful weeks of self-confinement in Southern Chile/Northern Patagonia next to the town of Puerto Varas, we had planned to renew our rental agreement on the house for at least two additional weeks, to see how the situation would evolve. However, at this same time, there were alarming reports in the media that Europe’s Schengen zone may keep its external borders closed until September. We had just received on April 11th, an email from the French embassy informing us of an attempt to organize one last evacuation flight out of Santiago for European citizens wanting to return home. The date of the flight was unknown (could be as early as April 15th), the final destination was unknown, the airline company and the price of the ticket was unknown, and whether we would get two seats on the flight was unknown. Given the fact that the time span between the flight confirmation and its departure would be extremely short, it would be necessary to be physically in Santiago at the time of the confirmation. Failure to register for the flight would be taken as accepting to wait until international commercial flights were once again available, whenever that would be. After a convincing discussion with our friends Eric and Alexandra (who had just returned home to France from Peru), we took the difficult and painful decision the next day, on Easter Sunday, to call it quits and to return to France.
The decision not only meant that our South American adventure would be definitively over (or at least postponed for a couple of years or more), but that we would be heading back to the French epicenter of the covid-19 pandemic, transiting for an undetermined period of time via the Chilean epicenter for the disease (over 50% of the country’s >10,000 confirmed cases are in the Santiago area)! It also implied finding a quick solution for Tommy since we would likely not have time to drive all the way up to Santiago, over 1000 km away, and go through all the administrative and logistical steps to get him shipped back to Europe. We managed via a South America travel group to quickly find a couple of fellow travellers, Paul and Cathy from Belgium, who have a truck camper similar to ours and who were also planning to leave Chile and return home. They were happy to share a shipping container with us. Thanks to Pierre and Vanessa, also freshly back home in Switzerland after more than 2 years on the road, we were introduced to Massimo, an international shipping logistics expert who knows how to make miracles happen from his home base in Basel, Switzerland (far from the ocean)! We sent him a Whatsapp at 23h30 (Swiss time) on Easter Sunday and 15 minutes later we were discussing together via video conference! His first words were “Don’t worry, we have a solution for you.”
In addition to organizing the shipping of our vehicles, Massimo also arranged for two drivers to drive Tommy (and Paul and Cathy’s vehicle) all the way up to San Antonio, the port just south-west of Santiago, from where they would be shipped to Belgium. Apparently he can also organize private jets but that option was a bit out of our budget (130,000 euros for a 10 seater plane compared to 300,000 euros for an entire Boeing 737)! On our end we had to go to a notary public office to get a bunch of papers authenticated as well as a power of attorney put into place. What is amazing in South America is that one can just show up at the notary public office without an appointment, wait for your turn, and leave 10 minutes later with everything done. All this for the equivalent of a few euros!
We took an internal flight from Puerto Montt to Santiago on April 14th, but learned upon arrival that the evacuation flight was cancelled with no guarantee of a replacement flight. Based on a reliable external source (unfortunately not the French embassy), we learned that the flight was to have been organized by the German embassy with Frankfurt as its final destination.
We have now been confined in our airport hotel for one week, along with many other travellers in similar situations, with little visibility on a return flight. Based on our estimations and information from different sources, there are currently several hundred EU citizens in Chile looking for a way home. In order to avoid being overwhelmed by daily inquiries, the French embassy has advised everyone to refrain from calling and to wait for news to be communicated.
Everyone has chosen to occupy their time in their own way. Laurent and I have been busy activating our contacts and writing to the media and local politicians in the hopes of drawing attention to our collective cause. Who knows what may help speed up the process or contribute to making things happen? We have so far managed to get air time on a local radio morning show back home , a national radio program and have had an article written about the situation in a couple of local newspapers. More articles and interviews are in the pipeline!
A big thank you to Clara, Alex, Marie, Ben, Cecile, Nathalie, Ludwig, Bernard, Martine and Martine, and everyone else who has supported us by providing media and political/diplomatic contacts, sending our story to the right people, and providing advice and support!