Wednesday, January 25, 2017

On My Way to Chile!


I'm starting this post from seat 18C on the 3:28p flight to Panama City, Panama, my layover enroute to Santiago. For months I had been worried that the typical DC winter weather could result in flight delay and had been kicking myself for not having left a day earlier so I would still meet up with my brother in Santiago without issues. I don't know if it's because of global warming or because it's an La Niña year but when I left home today, it was a picture perfect sunny day with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees. If there were to be a flight delay today, it would not be because of weather.

I called for an Uber. The guy was literally less than 5 minutes away and despite heavy traffic on the Beltway, we arrived around 1:15p. Not to mention the fact that the driver was from Ethiopia, a country that I enjoyed visiting and so we chatted the entire way to the airport. He was a lovely guy and although you don't have to tip Uber drivers, I gave him one for keeping me entertained the entire ride. At Dulles, I had plenty of time to check in, make my way through security and get to the departure lounge.

The plane boarded on time and we landed in Panama City pretty much on time and the gate for my flight to Santiago was right next to the one I disembarked from. No need to walk but a few feet! Everything went right on the flights. I don't know how it happened but I ended up in the group that boarded right after business class so on both flights I was in my seat pretty much before the rest of the economy class passengers boarded. I had exactly the same seat on both planes which just happened to be on the exit row so I had extra leg room for no extra charge!! Yay! I did have to agree to open the window in case of an emergency. Done! On my second flight, there was someone sitting on the window seat but no one in the middle seat so we had room between us but not enough to for me to put up my legs as I did on the first flight. It was a 6 hour flight to Santiago so time to watch a movie before catnapping.

We landed in Santiago on time. I was so pleased at how smooth everything had gone so far. I immediately powered on my phone and checked my text messages. There were two from my brother, one telling me that he too had arrived safely and the other to tell me where the ATM machines were in the airport.

As it turned out our flight was mainly filled with Chileans and those of us *foreigners* who were shuttled off to a different set of immigration officers were so few in number that we cleared immigration with a breeze. By the time I made it to baggage claim, my suitcase was already on the floor waiting for me.

Customs was a breeze too as I had no items to declare as that was the honest truth. I had brought along a bit of dragon fruit with me but I deliberately left that behind on the plane.

Waiting for me on the other side of the door was the driver from Rutas Chile whom I had booked rides for my brother and I from the airport to our hotel. It was a relief to see a sign with my name on it. First order of the day was to get money from the ATM. With my kindergarten level Spanish, I asked the guy for the box that gives out money. Hey, crudely worded question, I know, but it worked. Together we found the machines and I withdrew exactly the same amount of money that Bro had. That would be our pool of money for however long it lasts.

The moment we exited the terminal, I noticed a very odd smell in the air. A bit of burnt smell but I couldn't identify exactly what it was. Very strange.

It was about a half hour ride to the airport. The sun had yet to peek over the horizon but it was just light enough to see the surroundings. All the way into town, we passed by ramshackled buildings covered in graffiti and there was trash strewn about everywhere. I don't know if this is because we were driving through the *poor* part of town or what but it wasn't pretty.

My driver had no problems finding the hotel which was surprising because there was no signage out front. I kept looking for something with the words Hotel Patio Yungay printed on in but there was nothing. I had to confirm the address to make sure that we were indeed at the right place. The driver ran the door bell and I rang several times more until a man appeared at the window above the front door acknowledging that he would be down in a bit to let me in.

It was Francisco who greeted me at the door. I had exchanged several emails in the days leading up to our arrival so it was nice to finally be able to put a face to the name. He let me inside a very charming home that had been converted into a 4 room guesthouse. Bro must have heard the alarm as well as he was sitting at the top of the stairs to greet me as well. It was good to see each other as that was final confirmation that we had both arrived into Santiago safely and we could now begin our trip together!