...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Do you ever feel like your life is an episode of The Amazing Race?

Holy Christ in Heaven, I was so relieved to get to Perú in one piece this morning. Pretty much everything that could go wrong with our travel arrangements, did; and the fact that Jon and I are now both in the same country and staying at the same hostel is largely due to the help of our wonderful director, Marcia...and international calling cards. It´s the kind of thing you could call a comedy of errors, but like all comedies of errors, it´s not very funny while it´s happening. But let me start from the beginning!

The plan was this: Jon and I would meet at the departure gate for our 10:10 pm Santiago-Lima flight yesterday. We would fly to Lima, arrive, given the time change, a little after midnight, spend the night in the airport, then fly to Cusco at 5:40 am, arrive around 7, and start our Peruvian Odyssey from there. Of course, even while making the plans, we acknowledged that the timing was a little too tight: Jon would be flying back from Valdivia, where he had been travelling with Jake, earlier that day and would have about three hours in between arriving in Santiago and leaving for Lima. Jon can tell the story far better than I can, but it seems what basically went down is that the Valdivia flight was delayed twice and didn´t get into Santiago until after 11. LanChile put Jon up in a hotel for the night, then in the morning he began the long and frustrating process of trying to get on another flight to Perú.

Of course, I didn´t know all of that as it was going on. I was more concerned about my own travel plans being screwed up. To wit: to get from Valparaíso or Viña to the airport in Santiago, you have to take a bus to Pajaritos metro station then take an airport shuttle. The whole process should take no more than two and a half hours: an hour and a half to Pajaritos, and an hour at the most for the shuttle. So, since I had to be at the airport at 8:10 to check in for the international flight, I left Viña around 5 and was on a bus headed towards Santiago by 5:30. Here´s where things started to get tricky, though. Route 68, the fastest way to get to Santiago and the route that goes by Pajaritos, was closed due to a procession for the Virgin in honor of (I´m pretty sure) the Immaculate Conception. The highway was clogged with people pilgramaging to church. So instead of Route 68, the bus driver takes Route 5. Route 5 is very scenic and beautiful, but it´s also under construction, is for much of its length a two-lane road, and can only be accessed by going through downtown Viña up Libertad. It was rush hour. It took us forty-five minutes just to get out of freaking Viña del Mar.

By this time, I´m getting pretty antsy and am doing the passive-agressive thing where you look at your watch every five seconds and sigh really loudly. For the first hour and half of the journey, we´re trapped behind slow-moving vehicles headed for Quillota or huge construction...things, like cement mixers. From my seat, I could see the spedometer, and at no point in the first hour and half did we exceed 60 kilometers an hour. Finally after about two hours we´re able to kick it up to 100...and then we´re pulled over by the carabineros (Chile´s police force). I´ve pretty much given up hope of getting to the airport two hours early, and am praying that they don´t take that rule too seriously. By the time we get to Santiago (near Parque Balmaceda, basically on the other end of Santiago from Pajaritos), it´s almost 8:30. I´m weighing my options; on the one hand, I could take the metro all the way to Pajaritos and hope that I don´t have to wait long for a shuttle; on the other hand, that would take at least an hour and half, if I´m lucky. So I flag down a taxi and ask the driver to get me to the international terminal of Aeropuerto Merino Benitez as fast as he can. Thank God I got the fasted taxista this side of the Mapocho, because flying down the autopista at 140 km per hour, we´re there in twenty minutes.

So I´ve arrived about forty minutes late, but the woman at the LanChile check-in counter doesn´t even mention it. I get to the gate and start to wonder where Jon is...

Fast forward to arriving in Lima. Immigration takes about an hour, and by the time I´m free it´s about 1:30 or so. I head up to the food court and ask a security guard to wake me up at four if I´m still asleep. I head downstairs to check in for the Cusco flight at 4:15, and my conversation with the Lan woman goes something like this:

Lan woman: ´´Is this all your baggage?´´
Me: ´´Yes, except for what I checked in Santiago.´´
Lan woman: ´´And where´s that?´´
Me: ´´Oh, I checked it through to Cusco.´´
Lan woman: ´´Didn´t you know that you have to pick up your baggage and put it through customs again? You need to go find your baggage and do that before I can check you in for this flight.´´

Now, that might seem like an unforgivably stupid mistake, and I´m not saying it wasn´t, but I´ve never flown internationally by myself before and I was kind of in a daze after getting through immigration in Lima. So I´m running around trying to get back into the baggage area, the security guard says I need someone official from LanChile to come with me, there´s no one at the LanChile Human Resources desk, they´re calling my flight over the loudspeaker, I´m back at the Lan desk, I´m at Lost and Found, I´m walking through the back tunnels of the Cusco airport with a young woman who helps me find my bag and put it back through customs. I head back to the Lan check-in area, but now there´s a huge line and according to the loudspeaker it´s final-call on my flight. The Lan guy who helped me earlier lets me cut in line, I check my bag, then run (literally) to the departure area. And....surprise! Airport tax! Thank God I had American dollars on me and didn´t have to go to an ATM. I pay the tax, then head for security...and set off the alarms. After emptying my pockets and taking off my jacket, I finally clear it and jog off to my gate. And...the punchline is, I´m the first person on the flight.

But still, no Jon. When I get to Cusco, I buy an international phone card and call Marcia back in Valparaíso to see if she´s heard anything. When I call back an hour later to tell her what hostel I´m staying at (so that she can communicate that information to Jon), she tells me that his flight was delayed a couple times but that he´s on his way. And...once again, thank God: when I get back to the hostel this evening after spending the day in the Sacred Valley, Jon is there.

Whew.