The long journey down

Fiona in Santiago Airport

17 October 2011 – 20 October 2011

I checked in at the airport in Phoenix at 5pm on the 17th of October.  Mom fought back tears which made me fight back tears, but while I sat waiting for my plane to board all I could think of was that the guy I met only a few weeks ago was going to be at the airport in LA to meet me for my 6 hour layover.  I had been living in a state of calm and patience for so long that I almost forgot what it was to feel anxious and rushed.  I couldn’t wait for the plane to get there, and so of course it was delayed. As we were boarding, it seemed people were moving in slow motion.  One woman actually stopped mid-aisle and started talking to a fellow passenger!  I was losing all patience and mentally persuading her as strongly as I could to board so that we could be on our way. We finally took off a half hour late, and in my mind I was subtracting the amount of time I would have with him.  At last the plane was landing at LAX, and it seemed that people were in no rush to get off.  They were slowly getting baggage out and moving like slugs through the door.  I maneuvered through as fast as I could until I reached baggage claim and his embrace.  After a week of lengthy phone calls we hardly had anything to say, just sat and held hands waiting for my bags.  We were pretty firmly locked in an embrace outside the airport, waiting for the shuttle to take us to his hotel.  The three hours that followed were the best send off I can possibly imagine, until I kissed his sleepy face goodbye and made my way back to LAX for a 1 am take off.  This interlude was likely the most romantic thing that has ever happened to me, and I’m not sure when I will stop reliving it in my mind.

From LA the plane tickets and itinerary all indicated that the flight would go first to Costa Rica, then following another 6 hour layover on to Santiago.  What it did not indicate were the additional stops in Guatemala and Peru.  Storms were brewing in Guatemala and the plane circled for a half hour or so before we could finally land.  The six hours in Costa Rica’s airport were rather uneventful, spent reading and drinking a horrible instant coffee that would become the norm in a few days.  Finally it was time to board the plane to Peru.  By the time we landed in Lima I had been awake and traveling for something like 27 hours, with a three hour wait ahead for the plane to Santiago.  I followed the signs leading to connecting flights only to find out that you have to pass through security again in Peru.  The lady at the beginning of the line asked me ‘De donde vienes’ (where are you coming from) and I answered ‘Lima’.  She repeated her question with increasing annoyance three times while I responded the same, until finally she said ‘ESTAS en Lima, de donde VIENES??’ and finally I answered correctly, ‘De Costa Rica’.  I apologized for my stupidity, mumbling something about not sleeping for a long time, and proceeded through the checkpoint slightly embarrassed and wondering what I would miss next.  After a couple more hours waiting, the plane was finally there for the flight to Santiago.  The ticket agent then announced that the flight was overbooked, and asked for volunteers to take a flight the next day.  He said they would offer a $700 travel voucher along with a nights stay in a hotel and transportation to and from the airport.  At that point a shower and a bed sounded like the best thing in the world, so I volunteered.  He said to wait until the plane was boarded and he would take care of everything, so after I made sure my bag would not be loaded on the plane I continued to wait.  Finally everyone was on board, and he finished his paperwork.  He then informed me that all the hotels they use were booked.  He said that he would give me a pass to the VIP lounge where they had beds and that I would be on the first flight in the morning, leaving at 11 am.  Having no choice I said that was fine, so long as I could sleep, not that I had much choice anyhow.  He also gave me a voucher for dinner and told me he’d find me in the lounge with my boarding pass for the following day before he left.  I went to the lounge, only to find out that all their beds were full.  I helped myself to some fresh squeeze juice and bread, took advantage of the internet and waited, hoping a bed would open up and the boarding pass would show up.  Around midnight I noticed the employees of the airline were packing up, and the girls at the VIP desk suggested that I go down to the counter before everyone was gone.  Down I went, only to encounter a nice young man who had no idea what to do with me.  He kept asking me if I was really on a different airline, and I kept showing him my stub and saying no, I am on your airline.  Thankfully after five minutes or so the original guy showed up with my boarding pass, and the information that he was misinformed about the flight, and could only get me on the same flight for the next night, leaving at 10 pm.  Again, I had no choice in the matter.  He was really sweet and apologetic, and had upgraded me to business class for the flight.  Also he had found me a hotel for the night.  It was now 1 am, and I could barely speak English let alone Spanish.  He led me through immigration, through customs and out to the curb where he arranged a taxi.  The taxi driver didn’t like the hotel chosen for me so my escort made a call and got me booked in the only 5 star hotel in Lima, the Sheraton.  I was deposited in the hotel with arrangements made for a taxi to pick me up the following night.  Too tired even to shower, I took my dirty clothes off and slept for 13 hours.

The next evening I got to the airport almost without a hitch.  There was a festival happening right outside the hotel and traffic was horrible.  My taxi had to park three blocks away and ran to come and get me.  We maneuvered through the crowds to his car and made it to the airport on time.  Business class was nice, roomy, and with champagne.  I was still in the exact same clothes I had put on Monday morning and it was now Wednesday night, but at least I was clean underneath.  We arrived in Santiago airport at 4am and after immigration and customs I found myself accosted by what felt like a million cab drivers offering to take me wherever.  I was so tired I asked one guy how much to get to Quintero, it would be around $90 US so I said no.  I asked him where the ATM was which was likely a mistake, but I didn’t see one anywhere.  He proceeded to follow me all the way there.  Kind enough to wait a good distance away while I got some money out, he then immediately came up to ask me again if I would take his cab, lowering the price to $60.  I just wanted to get away so I said I needed the bathroom, which he showed me.  I hurried through the door past a cleaning lady only to see a guy pissing in a urinal.  I apologized and swiftly retreated, then headed into the ladies room and stayed there for a while regaining composure and brushing my teeth.  Leaving the bathroom finally, I told the cab driver I would take the bus and parked myself on a chair to wait for the sun to rise.  I struck up a conversation with an Aussie girl next to me, who was leaving South America after a year.  The last day of her trip she had lost her atm card and had a greater than 24 hour wait in the airport for her flight home.  We had a great visit, and as the sun rose I realized the buses were starting to run.  It felt strange, like I had been living in airports for so long that moving to the outside world was daunting.  Finally I said goodbye to Fiona, and stepped into the morning light to start my adventure.

About stephwithoutborders

I decided to sell (almost) everything I own and buy a plane ticket to South America. This is all about why and how, and what happens next.
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1 Response to The long journey down

  1. Anonymous says:

    i liked your airport adventure story…

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