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Sunday, February 28, 2010



We are still in Coyhaique (in Patagonia, Chile) and doing fine. This is the only town of any size at all in this part of the country, and so most Patagonia expeditions leave from here or from nearby Balmaceda. Because expeditions typically run Saturday to Saturday (as ours did), there are at least 20 Americans stuck here, just as we are.

On Sunday, almost nothing is open here. We did find one restaurant and one pharmacy open. However, all credit card machines seem not to be working. ATMs are empty. Therefore, we are conserving the pesos and dollars that we have in cash until banks reopen on Monday morning. The LAN airline office will also reopen tomorrow morning, so we will go there a couple of hours before to get in line.

We are now hearing rumors that the Santiago airport will not reopen until Wednesday (or Tuesday, or Saturday, or not at all . . . ). Unfortunately, unless we go to Argentina, we can only get out through Santiago. The problem with going to Argentina is (1) we don't hold tickets out of Argentina and so will not be prioritized to board and (2) we are getting advice from everyone (including a travel agent who opened for an hour in this town today to try to help stranded travelers) that it will take just as long to go that way and will cost us much more and (3) a lot of people are apparently panicking and trying to get to Argentina, which may mean that we will have additional delays.

Because it is Sunday, this is a Catholic country, and we are in a very small town, we are unable to talk to airline reps until tomorrow morning. Steve's family has been trying and trying to call LAN in the US but cannot get through. At any rate, it is unclear that the airline can tell us anything yet even if callers do get through. The passenger terminal in Santiago seems to have been seriously damaged from what we are hearing.

Be assured that we are treating this as one of life’s grand adventures (what else can we do???). We hope to be home with lots of great photos for you all very soon.

Steve and Lisa


Saturday, February 27, 2010

From Our Travel Writer Who's In Chile On Assignment

Hello from Chile, about 11 hours post-quake!

Steve and I were on the Futaleufu River in Patagonia, Chile, this week, covering the world's most luxurious river rafting trip on what is arguably the world's most challenging and sought-after rafting river (more on that to come). We left the Chilean countryside at about 7:00 this morning for the airport in Balmaceda, planning to connect for an evening flight from Santiago to Miami. It's almost impossible to describe the Patagonian countryside . .. only tiny farms quite far apart on gravel roads. That's why it took a while before we knew that there had been an earthquake. Finally, our bus driver got word via his cell phone that all airports were closed due to a major quake. As you can imagine, it was a little frustrating to be out in the middle of nowhere, as cell phone service was almost non-existent, and we couldn't get internet connections on our phones. Our group of 12 Americans kept going, thinking that it might be quite a small quake and that reports might be overblown.

We eventually stopped at a gas station, where the proprietor told us that the quake had been an 8.4. We didn't think that could be right - we had never heard of a quake that big, so we assumed that either news was not getting through accurately or our Spanish was not good enough to figure out the term for "Richter scale."

So we kept going. It wasn't until we reached the tiny town of Coyhaique that we learned the reports were true. What to do? Eventually, we decided that our best bet was to stay put, where we could access news and Internet and figure out how to proceed. We're now in a little hotel in Coyhaique waiting out the situation. We think (!) that we are about 800 miles south of Santiago. It's really interesting to be here - word is just spreading down here, and gas stations have lines a mile long because there will be no way to get gas down. Cell service is not working, and neither are ATM's, etc. that rely on services from Santiago. Same with airlines - their computer systems are totally down, so they can't tell us anything.

A bunch of the river group we were with are now on a bus to Argentina to try to find a way north through Buenos Aires. We decided not to do that because we figured lots of people would be trying to get out through Argentina. We do hold tickets out of Santiago (through Balmaceda), so eventually they will have to honor those. Seemed safer and less crazy to us - we'll see!

Once we found a place with internet, the 12 of us in our river rafting group emailed home and asked friends to call our families. We also all posted on Facebook that we were OK and asked our FB friends to update their own statuses to get the word out that we were all right.

Our 10-year-old daughter was told about the quake by her skating coach this morning- she was very scared, but we have been able to Google Chat with her to calm her down. Again, no cell phone service, but some land line phone service. It's scary, but it could be a lot worse.

So for now, adios from Chile. We'll keep you posted on our progress!

Steve and Lisa McElroy

Friday, February 19, 2010

Three Days in Heaven at the Telluride Wine Festival

Nobody wants to die, but everybody wants to go to heaven? Here's one way to do it.
By Francis DiScala Jr.

Telluride ain't easy to get to, but then not many of my favorite places on earth are easy. From New York it's a connection and then a second landing in Montrose, Colorado. "Daddy, where is Montrose?" a little girl said to her father sitting in front of me. It occurred to me that I had never heard of Montrose either. We descended into a patchwork of nearly treeless farms. And the fun had begun. Read on ...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Photo Slideshow of the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach

My Photo Slideshow of the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach

I nearly escaped last week's blizzard in the northeast by flying to West Palm Beach, Florida, on US Airways (via Charlotte). I was supposed to be heading back to Los Angeles but a last-minute invite by the Ritz altered my plans. It's a good thing because my original Delta flight had a pilot that looked like he was in his early 20s. See this blog post for my thoughts about that, including this ad I found in Flying magazine about how to become a pilot in 90 days. Scary stuff, eh? Read on

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Kevin Smith Kicked off Southwest For Being Too Fat

Actor/Director Kevin Smith was thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight from San Francisco to Burbank yesterday because he was too fat. It's obvious the flight crew made a big PR mistake since the story is blowing up like his apparent weight problem. I was told by a Southwest executive that Mr. Smith had previously purchased two seats because he likes the extra room but he was trying to get on an earlier flight so he flew standby. Standby passengers are the last to board and when he did – there weren't two seats together. That's when the flight attendant told him he was going to have to wait for the next flight since he didn't fit safely into his seat. FYI: Normally, if a passenger is questionable in size Southwest will have them pre-board to see if they fit "safely" and "comfortably" into the seat with both armrests down.

Southwest isn't the only airline to have the customer of size policy but they are one of the more generous as they will reimburse those passengers the cost of the extra seat if the flight isn't full. The policy also isn't new for Southwest– it's been around for the past 29 years but they only recently started enforcing it. To be clear it doesn't matter how much a passenger weighs it all depends on if they can fit "comfortably" between the armrests. Apparently, Mr. Smith couldn't. Personally, I have a difficult time believing it because I met him a few years ago and he wasn't that large. But then again I don't the man's eating habits nor have I seen him recently. One thing is for sure was a great guy.

Have you ever had a "customer of size" sit next to you? I have and it wasn't a pleasant experience – I couldn't even put my tray table down because his belly was that huge. I felt bad especially if it was a disease issue and for those wondering why I didn't switch seats - the flight was full and was nowhere to go. It's a tough call and I see both the customer of size and airline's points of view. How about you?

Fine print: Here is Southwest Airlines customer of size policy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Last week I sat next to a pilot and I kept asking him questions, trying to figure out what scares these guys since I used to be afraid to fly. I asked him: "Does flying from the mainland to Hawaii scare you [it's the longest open-water route in the world since there are no islands in between]?" Nope. "How about flying to South America since the South American air traffic controllers are supposedly not that good." Nope. "How about fools like the Christmas Day bomber?" Negative. "How about the fact that they don't do a great job screening cargo?" Not really. "How about severe turbulence?" Nope. "How about flying RJs [regional jets] run by sister airlines?" Ding Ding Ding!

My seatmate said he never ever puts his family on regional jets since most of the pilots are younger than his kids and inexperienced. He went on to tell me that he rarely flies them himself except when he has to and only if the weather is clear in both the departure and arrival cities. He believes RJs are hurting his airline (Delta) since consumers do everything they can to avoid flying them (like me). In fact, the main reason I was flying to New York instead of Providence (where I needed to be) was so I could avoid riding the RJ (they are uncomfortable, too). FYI: The other thing that scares him is ice (on the wings).


A few days later I was booked on a PVD (Providence) flight to Los Angeles via Atlanta and the first leg of the trip was on a 50-seater regional jet. Luckily, my plans changed and I booked a ticket on US Airways to Palm Beach (Boeing 737). However, I walked by the Atlanta gate to see if I could get a credit and standing next to the jet bridge door was the pilot. Even with his four stripes on he looked like he was just out of high school – I couldn’t believe how young he was and I sure was relieved I wasn’t getting on his plane.


Fast forward a few days and I’m back in Los Angeles sitting in my barber shop checking out one of their “Flying Magazine’s” while I wait to get my haircut. Flipping through the pages I came across this advertising that almost made my eyes pop out: “Become a pilot for a regional airline in 90 days”. As you can see from the picture above the graduate is a 23 year old Continental Connection pilot. I realize one initially has to be a First Officer first but still – doesn’t 23 years old seem a bit young to get enough flight hours under their belt? Now I know why that pilot I sat next to won’t put his family on these regional airlines.

Friday, February 12, 2010

$2 off LA Times Travel Show

This is my 5th time in years speaking at The Los Angeles Times Travel & Adventure Show. This is my first time both days! Come on down and say hi and here's a promo code ( to get $2 off the $10 entry fee. "TFUN"

2010 The Los Angeles Times Travel & Adventure Show

Los Angeles Convention Center
1201 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, California 90015
West Hall

February 13th - 14th, 2010
Saturday and Sunday 10am to 5pm

Thursday, February 11, 2010


This week we travel from Lyon to Paris on France's high-speed train (TGV) to check out a new hotel.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park to

I was fortunate to be invited to stay at the Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park to check out their cosmopolitan experience. I rarely stay in hotels in NYC since I share a tiny studio-size apartment with my family on the Upper East Side, but I'm glad I did because I learned how incredible the Ritz really is and got to experience a different part of the city.