January 20, 2012: Leaving Chile

One last night falling asleep to the now-soothing sounds of stray dogs barking at each other. One final breakfast of yoghurt batido, platano, and banana cake. One last morning of swearing good-naturedly at the shower’s inability to give more than eight seconds’ worth of non-scalding, non-freezing water.

After an extreme wrestling match with my mochila (backpack) to get it to close, I was all packed and ready to go. This left me a good five free hours before I had to head to the aeropuerto for my 11pm flight.

V. had thought I was leaving Sunday, for some reason, and she ay-ed and we hugged many times. At one point, she disappeared and came back with a small leather purse from Argentina, as a gift for me; she’d said she meant to buy something else for me also, but had thought she had another day to do so. I’d been too scattered to have gotten an exciting gift for her, but I gave her a small, colorful alpaca pin I thought she might like. She prepared a lovely healthy lunch of beans, hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, and avocado for us, and we ate together one last time.

I had originally planned to catch a micro to the terminal; I figured it would be challenging but not impossible with my heavy bags. At lunch, V. asked whether I’d like her to call a taxi; I thanked her but said no, the bus would be fine (I had only enough cash to get to Santiago, and I was hoping to avoid another costly trip to the ATM before I left). Around 5pm, she came downstairs and asked if I was ready, saying that she had called me a cab but that she wanted to pay for it (it was only a few mil because the driver was an acquaintance of hers). I tried to give her some money, but she didn’t take it. What a wonderful, sweet woman! I will miss her greatly. Le extraño mucho.

The taxi driver was friendly and chatty, and we arrived at the bus terminal with delightful ease. The next bus to Santiago was in ten minutes; I picked a window seat in the very front. I gazed out the window fiercely as we left Valparaíso, then I drowsily napped for a while, then stared out at Chile some more. I made it to the airport with mounds of time: too much time, if anything.

Interesting mountains outside Santiago.

In my transit-planning, I had padded my timetable generously, and then I had left two hours before the departure-time I’d calculated, anyhow. Thus, I got to the airport over four hours before my flight. This was so early that when I checked in, my flight hadn’t even been assigned a gate yet, so I was left to wander rootlessly. Once through security, I started to wonder what to do with all this time, but almost immediately spotted a sign for Starbucks and gleefully zoomed over there for some coffee. I spent the very last of my Chilean bills (other than the two I saved as souvenirs) on a tiny bag of chips and some M&M’s (“eme-emes“). Then, I chose an arbitrary gate with a nice sunny window to settle in for the wait.

I ate my packed sandwich, drank my coffee, and finished (re-)reading The Golden Compass. Then, I gathered all my things, and went to check on the departures-board; it was finally about two hours to my flight, so I thought my gate might have been assigned. By amusing chance, out of all the gates in the large international terminal, we’d been assigned to the very gate I had been seated at. I went back there to resettle my things, and then made a brief foray to one of the abundant gift shops.

"The Last Pisco Sour": a well-named airport bar.

I don’t remember the Santiago national terminal being this snazzy, but the international terminal was crammed with glittering shops. There were elegant boutiques with lapis lazuli jewelry and copper-gemstone figurines. I almost regretted having finished all my gift-shopping already, but then I looked at the prices and was glad to have already finished, after all. Nonetheless, I wasted some time by window-shopping through one large store, just enjoying looking through all its nifty items. They even sold English-language books — only the second place in Chile I’ve encountered them — but they were priced normally for Chilean books, which is to say $20+ for a paperback that would be $7 in the U.S.

Finally, we boarded the first of my three planes to get home. My seatmate was a model from Brazil living in Mexico, who was very friendly. My window happened to be right above the luggage compartment loading area, and that was fascinating to watch. A van would pull up with a metal luggage container; they’d manually push it about a foot towards a flat loading platform, then they’d mechanically lift the platform up a smidge to get the container to catch on the first row of twisted rollers. These rollers could rotate in any direction, so the technician could rotate and twirl the container around from underneath, like a remote-control ballerina truck, until it was lined up just right to be rolled into the plane.

My last sight of Chile was an ocean of exuberant rainbow lights, guiding the plane down the runway and on its way.

Ciao, amor.

Once we were airborne, they served us a decent airline meal, and I browsed through the entertainment system (the personal seatback screens which had many choices of movies, television, music, and games). I was pleased that they had a number of movies I had wanted to see, as well as a few I’d already seen and wouldn’t mind rewatching. I settled on The Adjustment Bureau and watched about half of it. I kept giggling at inappropriate moments because one of the antagonists was played by an actor who plays a more amiable character on the television show Mad Men. Both his movie character and his television character were dressed and combed very similarly, so every time he showed up in the movie on his nefarious business, I’d think, “Mr. Sterling, what are you doing working for these people?” This state of being easily-amused suggested that I might be a bit loopy from exhaustion, so I decided I should try to sleep.

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