“Your names are not on the list,” the gatekeeper of the line in San Francisco for the TACA check-in said.
“How can that be?” I said, gripping a sheet of paper with our itinerary printed on it as if it would change everything. “This can’t be a good thing.” I thought but didn’t share.
“What day did you think your flight was on?” the gatekeeper asked.
“The seventh?” I returned, pronouncing the words slowly as doubt crept into my mind. Our flight was scheduled to leave just after midnight. It would be easy to confuse the days, but a quick glance at the just crinkled itinerary confirmed that we were at the airport before midnight on the 6th, as we should be.
Eventually, the gatekeeper let us pass and join the line of people and their large, overstuffed bags heading to a place that most of them had been before. We were different. We hadn’t been there before and right now, it looked like we might not get to go, after all.
With a brief delay, we were at the counter presenting our passports. The agent did not take long to determine that our names were not, in fact, in the system. He gave us the bad news with an expression usually reserved for doctors giving the bad news to a terminal patient.
“What’s your final destination?” he asked, hinting that he might be able to find us that way.
“Santiago Chile,” I said, adding “By way of San Salvador and Lima,” repressing an “I hope” and preparing to give out my mother’s maiden name as that always seems to help in sticky situations.
Some tapping at the keyboard and a slight turn of the head was sufficient to let us know that the new information was not of much help.
Soon enough reinforcements in the form of the shift the supervisor came by and looked in. Our printout was from United and it seems that was part of the problem. “Was there a ticket number on the printout?” the supervisor asked.
“A ticket number?” I repeated while handing over the crinkled, shrunk down to microminature size, confirmation sheet. The supervisor took the pages and searched the United Airlines printout carefully. To be sure, she also searched for the ticket numbers in the details for our next several stops on our tour of Chile that were unrelated to the flights but were also in the paper pile.
“Did you find them? I asked, trying to avoid conveying desperation.
“What do we do now?” I asked, sufficiently worried that I was starting to contemplate moving to Pan B. That I had no Plan B was not helping the anxiety level at all.
“We must call United Airlines,” the supervisor eventually answered. It must have been the royal form of “we” as she dialed United Airlines on her cell phone.
There was hope. But, as the agent navigated the automated phone system and eventually ended up on hold, I flashed back to my own extended phone sessions with United. And I wish I hadn’t as that wasn’t a pleasant place to be.
Fortunately, contact with United was made and the crackle of the printer producing out border passes indicated that we would soon be on our way. Chile, here we come.
It is never clear why we chose to go where we go. The last big trip was to Rome and Sicily, and that one was literally drawn out of a bag. Our desire to visit Chile was born of a desire to go somewhere different. Add in Patagonia, world class wines, and a few volcanoes, and our mission was set, at least as long as we could get the flights using our frequent flyer miles.
The logistics for this trip were exceedingly complex which added to the fear that a chain of dominoes was about to fall if we weren’t on the first flight. Along with the three flight legs going back and forth to Santiago, we also have five internal flight segments within Chile, two rental car journeys, two 1.5 hr and a 2, 2.5 and 5 hr bus/van rides, and one 3-day boat trip. With a lot of places to see and a lot of schedules to meet, we would be traveling.
Amongst the planning issues for this trip was the luggage. For the internal flights within Chile, we are limited to an 8 kg (17.6 lbs) carry on and 20 kg (44 lbs) of checked baggage, each. With some new camera gear and the empty bags themselves reaching about half this weight already, we were concerned. In the end, we ended up under the limit. As it always seems to be when we are confronted with luggage restrictions, we end up carrying more than we would have otherwise.
The first TACA flight took us from San Francisco to the TACA hub in the smallish international airport in San Salvador, El Salvador. We slept on the flight, but with a five-hour flight, there wasn’t much time to sleep. A 6 hour layover in El Salvador gave us a chance for more sleep, but, like all airports, they make it impossible for the passengers to get horizontal above the floor, so the break between flights was not as restful as it could have been. It didn’t help that American Christian music was piped loudly into the waiting area. Maybe the music was better than having Fox News strobing from TVs every 30 feet, but we were not so sure. The airport did provided some good eats with torta-style sandwiches at one of the stands.
We found good food at the modern, European style Lima airport also. Ceviche with sweet potatoes and corn and Papa a la Huanaina (boiled potatoes with a special spicy sauce, olives, and egg) were not what you expect for the standard airport fare. The hunt for the signature Peruvian drink, the Pisco Sour, continues, however. We could by the fixings for one at the duty free shops, but it looks like we will have to wait for one put together.
Our flight arrived in Santiago around 3 in the morning. We paid our reciprocal entry fee (not cheap!), cleared immigration, and customs and headed out into the arrival area of the airport and found our driver. Before we left, we needed to obtain some Chilean Pesos so we could pay the driver. The driver directed us to an ATM along the way. I watched as Becky entered her information into the machine but stopped her just was about to request $ 500. Perhaps we would need more than 82 cents, I told her. She hadn’t realized that her request was in Chilean Pesos and would have left her owing money after the fees. The mistake was easily fixed and soon Becky had 300,000 Chilean Pesos in her hands. She figured that, with a few more trips to the ATM, she could be a millionaire.
We piled into the driver’s small car and moved onto the empty, modern highway taking it past and into the vacant roads of late night in urban Santiago. Our hotel, The Orly was paid for Saturday night so we were able to get into our room immediately. Sleep came welcomed around 5 am, 26 hrs after our departure from Belmont.