Chile (12/2008 – 01/2009) [Part 2/2]

2009 December 8
by Jon

WED 12/31/08 – SUN 01/04/09
Written 03/17/09 – 03/23/09

Wednesday, December 31 - we resolved to go out and have fun on New Year’s Eve. But not end up crashed out in, like, a bus station in some city we didn’t know. So we elected to accept Manuel’s offer from the previous evening to go to Vina del Mar on the condition that we could get our own bus tickets, allowing us to leave when we felt was a good time. There are numerous regional bus services in Chile, but the most prominent one is TurBus. We searched their site and found that they were running a few buses around 3 to 4 AM just for the New Year’s celebration between Vina del Mar and Santiago. Perfect. When I tried purchasing them, though, they asked for a Chilean passport number. Which, of course, I didn’t have. All to buy like $30 worth of bus tickets.

So we went down to the concierge to see if he could help with a little piece of hotel notepad paper full of information. He went through the same process we did and said, “you need a Chilean passport.” Thanks, guy. Real help.

He then filled out another little piece of hotel notepad paper full of information to take to their nearest offices to buy them there. In Spanish, he said, so we’d know what to tell them. Except he wrote it in English. So I wound up with another little piece of hotel notepad paper identical to my own. Thanks again, guy.

We decided that this was all too much trouble and was probably a sign that we should keep it local. After all, we were in the largest city on the west coast of South America, there had to be lots of things going on. So, we got breakfast and then set about to see some more of the city before the big night.

We hadn’t actually gone to a museum yet and that’s what you do when you visit foreign cities, right? See their museums? So we decided to take care of that. We headed down to the region of town containing numerous government buildings and museums called Plaza de Armas. We were looking for the Pre-Colombian Art Museum, having decided that it was probably the most unlike anything we’d seen already back home and therefore the most interesting. The plaza itself was royally and completely packed with people. As in, we were wading through a sea of shopping locals at certain points. When we got to the center we found a piece of art that seemed promising in that it seemed to be celebrating some sort of indigenous heritage:

It even came with a napping perrito underneath:

However, the art museum remained illusive. We had two turista maps. One said it would be right on the square. Instead there was an old, stately building converted into a mall of sorts with plenty of store fronts selling cheap sunglasses or greasy street food. Sort of a Faneuil Hall. Clearly not it. The other map pointed us to a museum alright, but not the right one. Oh, and it was closed, meaning that the Pre-Colombian Art Museum – wherever it was – was probably also closed for New Year’s Eve. As we would soon find out, many things there closed up tight as a drum that day. And by “many things,” it turns out I mean “everything.”

We finally gave up on trying to find our white whale of a museum, but not before wandering around in and out of the throngs of people last-minute shopping for trinkets. We learned some things in the process. Such as the fact that hubs put in the sidewalk to prevent drivers from parking on the sidewalks are exactly at Becky’s knee height. And that if you’re in Chile on New Year’s Eve, you should buy yellow underpants:

Oh, and that even after 20 years, many Chileans still aren’t a fan of Pinochet:

And, finally, that apparently Frida liked monkeys, but not Jews:

This was during the early stages of the most recent conflict in Gaza, which I believe was the artist’s reasoning behind sharing his views with all of Santiago. Or maybe he was just nuts. Hard to tell.

By the time we got back to the hotel things were already showing signs of closing up quickly, even though it wasn’t even yet 5 PM. So we decided we’d better get food and drinks quickly. First drinks. We walked down the street to the nearest supermarket, adjacent to the train station we’d been using to get back and forth from the hotel. They had a wide selection of all sorts of alcohol and we decided to get a liter bottle of pre-mixed pisco sour, both because it was super-cheap (less than $3) and because we wanted to experience the local flavor. When I checked out the woman at the register asked me something I didn’t quite understand. Might’ve been asking for ID. Might’ve been asking if that was all or if I wanted cash or credit or pointing out a buy-one-get-one-free. Might’ve been asking if I had a Santiago Stop ‘n’ Shop card (as was the cause of confusion for us when we tried buying candy at a pharmacy in Quebec once). Whatever it was, she didn’t think twice to continue checking us out when I hesitated.

Then to food. We had a local choice of a number of small street-side restaurants. Of which two were still open. One seemed okay and we stopped in and sat down to the quickest service we’d ever get there, as they, too, were antsy to close. You’d think that a great plague was about to be unleashed into the streets from the way people were heading home. At any rate, dinner. Cheap and delicious. I had a sandwich called a “perro loco” which Becky proclaimed to be the most disgusting thing she’d ever seen and I proclaimed to be the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten. It was chicken, sliced beef and bacon all smothered in cheese. And that’s it. That plus a Stella for like 8 bucks cannot be beat.

On the way back we stopped by to take pictures in some corporate art in front of an office building free of any workers:

And so we went back to our room to have a pre-party for the two of us with our bottle of pisco sour and whatever we could muster out of the mini-bar before heading back out. We put on nice clothes and did just that. We decided to head out to a plaza with an Easter Island head to watch the fireworks. Manuel said that would be a good place, or at least we thought he did. Maybe we were confused. At any rate, there was a distinct lack of… anyone.

So, for a while we just took pictures and fooled around:

After a bit it became obvious that the carabineros walking around everywhere and driving by might have something to do with the lack of people. As in, there were specific areas to celebrate and we weren’t in one of them. Whoops. We walked back swiftly to the hotel and asked the concierge on staff – a young guy with a good grasp of English – to hail us a cab to where we knew a party was going on, at Espacio Riesco. By this time it was 11:30 so we were getting nervous we’d miss the whole ordeal. But the concierge said, “try not to drink too much” when he opened the door to the cab for us, which let us know we were on the right track.

The driver, however, was not on the right track and took the majority of the remaining 30 minutes to get there. Apparently he was new. Just our luck. We got there and we could see the lights, the sparkling, the beat of the dance music and… the iron gates? Wha? The entire place was gated up! We made it on time – barely – but we were locked out! Was it sold out? Did they just decide not to let anyone else in? We’ll never know. However, we were hardly alone; there were a few dozen locals with us on the wrong side of the gate and, as the PA from inside counted down, one couple popped a champagne cork. We kissed, giggling at how incredibly silly the whole ordeal was. And we couldn’t even see the fireworks very well. A theme for 2008, I guess.

We walked down the dusty side of the road as the Espacio emptied out in what I hoped was the direction toward the main road back to town. The Espacio was sort of like Greatweetercomcastcenterwoods in that it’s a bit out of the city. And we were most definitely without a ride home. I was never too worried, though, as the night had sort of a good feel to it, despite all our troubles and, sure enough, after walking maybe 1 km or so, we came upon a road leading to the highway into town and a cabbie sitting there waving to us. At least that much worked out just fine.

It might have been a fail-filled New Year’s Eve but in a city we had known for only 4 days and a language we didn’t speak, well, we tried our best. We went to bed knowing that we were at least getting the hang of it. And seriously, who puts up gates before the party’s over?

Thursday, January 1 - Happy New Year! After our New Year’s Eve mis-adventure dragged us all over Santiago, we decided to spend the first day of 2009 enjoying the weather that was significantly better than that in Boston and traveling somewhere out of the city by bus. The impossibly mountainous terrain of Chile necessitated the building of some pretty impressive highways in order to coax the country out of the third world and, since many can’t afford cars there (which is not to say there aren’t a lot, just not as many as there are here), buses are very well-established there as a form of regional transportation. In the post-Pinochet era, the train services sort of fell through the cracks of government and have largely fallen into disuse except for a sparingly few major routes. Buses are super-cheap and the way to go in Chile. Coming from a place where city buses smell of urine, regional buses smell of crazy and the Fung Wah takes a layer of paint off my car on a near daily basis on the Pike, you can understand this took some getting used-to for me. If I have to travel, I drive myself. I take the train under specific circumstances. I’ll fly if it’s too far, and my definition of “too far” has a much higher minimum cutoff than most people’s (I’d rather drive the 1,000 miles to Chicago than fly). No part of buses in the US appeals to me. But, new country, new experiences, right?

So, we picked a destination. We’d go to Melipilla, a moderately-sized town to the dusty southwest of Santiago, a short 45 minutes out of town:

View Larger Map

The guide books recommended going there to take a short cab or minibus ride to neighboring Pomaire, pottery capital of South America. Now, while neither of us had a vested interest in pottery and in fact found the prospect of looking at and purchasing earthenware – no matter how ridiculously cheap compared to Pier One – to be rather painfully boring, we figured it was a nice little mini-adventure we could handle to get used to the idea of striking out away from the comfort of readily-available public transportation. It was far enough to be out of town and get an idea of the real local culture, but not so far that we couldn’t hire a cab home if worst came to worst. So, Melipilla it was.

After getting a good breakfast in the hotel we struck out on the Metro to try to catch a bus at the central station, the enigmatically named Estacion Central. We were able to figure out what was going on only by virtue of the fact that it was New Year’s Day and therefore most of the shops were closed down and there was much fewer people than on most days. If it were a regular day we’d probably have collapsed into a corner and pouted. As it was, it took us a solid 15 minutes of wandering around pensively to figure out what was going on. It seemed like there was only a couple of services going to Melipilla of the dozen or so bus lines there. Of those, one, RutaBus78, seemed the most idiot-proof. From what we could tell from their kiosk, they appeared to go back and forth from Santiago to Melipilla and nothing else. No confusing line transfers or asking for tickets with specific destinations or seat assignments or any other headache-inducing formalities that we’d have the joy of experiencing the next day with TurBus. No, if TurBus was Greyhound then RutaBus78 was the Fung Wah: cheap and simple. And man do I mean cheap. Each one-way ticket cost 1400 pesos, putting the entire round-trip journey at a grand total of a bit under $10 for the two of us. For such a low price I was expecting a bus that made the Fung Wah look like a luxury liner but, surprisingly, it was in about as good shape as your average Greyhound or Peter Pan bus. Decent, not much for amenities, but considering the short length of travel, it was absolutely fine.

We bought our tickets and were hustled onto a bus which, I’d figured out, left the terminal every 15 minutes or so or whenever one was full or whatever. It seemed to work and, before long, we were on our way. The bus trip was a nice, steady ride out into the countryside and, before long, they started letting people off. At first I wasn’t concerned. After all, it probably wasn’t uncommon to let people off closer to home than the bus terminal. But then the stops continued. And continued. And continued. As we wound through Melipilla I became more and more worried that we weren’t actually going to the bus terminal but they would just let people off until there were no more people and pull into a garage. Fortunately, at the very end, the driver did pull into the trans-Santiago bus terminal. A good thing, too, as the only person left on the bus other than us was a lone backpacker who seemed to be a tourist, too.

So, we were in Melipilla. We knew where the bus terminal was. Confident in that knowledge and enjoying the lovely weather, we set out on foot to see what a bit of actual Chile looked like outside of the glimmering skyscrapers of downtown Santiago. We had the idea of getting to Pomaire, but we figured that, hey, if we could see enough stuff in town, then there was no need. Besides, all the shops were probably closed for the holiday, anyway. We set out walking retracing the bus’s path to the terminal, which, as it turns out, took us into the center of town. We met some friends along the way:

In that last one it’s hard to tell if the children are cheering the lack of wasting water by playing in draining hydrants or if the town is attempting to discourage having fun. Either way it just made me want to knock off a hydrant cap more. MIXED MESSAGE, MELIPILLA. MIXED MESSAGE.

The great part about being out of the big city was that there were some quality perros hanging around. Not only that, some were lounging in the shade next to thoroughly hung-over and passed-out locals:

It’s worth noting that it was about 4 in the afternoon when we took that picture. That was some serious New Year’s partying that guy did.

The town square quite conveniently had a big, easy-to-read map posted for all to read, helping us pick which way to walk next. We decided to hit the road toward Pomaire, figuring that if it was within walking distance we’d hit it up but it it wasn’t, well, we’d done well enough. So we walked on, past a small brush fire behind some stands where some locals were selling melons. We’d seen numerous such fires in our time in Chile, most likely caused by the dry season and hot weather, and didn’t think much of this little one smoldering and throwing off a bit of white smoke. We took in some of the scenery as we walked:

You’ll notice that in Melipilla the dogs seem to hang out in pairs far more often than the loners in Santiago. I wonder if the harsher climate forces them to cooperate more and form social units as a means of survival. Sort of like how proto-humans didn’t really form societies until they left Africa and ventured into the harsher ice-age climates further north.

Dust storms were starting to kick up along the road to Pomaire and so we decided to turn around and head back to the terminal. It didn’t take us long to realize, though, that the little brush fire had gotten out of hand:

The locals seemed unaffected by this development:

In fact, the people at the melon stands didn’t so much as abandon their posts, lest a customer come when they sought shelter or else a melon-thief steal their wares under cover of smoke. We didn’t get a picture of this – what with the not wanting to pass out of smoke inhalation ourselves – but Becky drew a re-creation:

That is, more or less, what it looked like.

We walked back to the station, got return tickets and got on a bus back to Santiago. In the Metro on the way back to the hotel we came upon a rather disturbing ad:

Seriously, does any part of that make you want to get surgery?

We got dinner in the hotel, figuring that we’d had enough adventure for one day. I got some rather tasty flat-bread pizza. Ironically, this would be the one meal that would make me feel ill the entire trip.

After the sun set we decided to try to go out to the Observatorio so Becky could do some Southern Hemisphere star gazing. I picked a street address close to it so the cabbie wouldn’t ask too many pressing questions. It halfway worked; he still asked a lot of questions we mostly interpreted as “why do you want to go out that way?” but brought us there anyway. We walked the rest of the way.

Unfortunately, when we got there there were some guys in a pickup truck waiting at the gate that were really creeping me out. I know I shouldn’t be the stupid American tourist fearing for his wallet and kidneys, but they made me feel really ill-at-ease. New England townies have a habit of sitting in their cars and just staring into space and I associate the act with being at best mentally deficient and at worst up to No Good. Especially in the middle of nowhere around midnight. So we walked around back a bit, near some big agave plants:

Becky got down to stargazing as we crouched into a field on the side of the road but unfortunately I was just too nervous and flustered about the whole ordeal. I tried to keep it bottled up but eventually it was obvious to Beck that I was visibly uncomfortable and she agreed to leave. The light pollution from the city was still pretty bad, anyway. On the way back we saw a car along the side of the road that was decidedly messed up:

Just needs a little paint and a few dings hammered out, right?

We were, unfortunately, out of the realm of the regular cab routs and it was past midnight, so we knew we were in for a bit of a walk. And so we walked. And walked. And walked. Almost 4 miles, we figured. Finally we got to a hotel toward the end of town with a familiar sight:

I still think it’s funny how moai are everywhere in Chile. It’d be very akin to having Hawaiian junk spread all across the United States: just silly. And yet, there they are around every corner.

We waited until a cab came by there and took us back to the hotel. It was less than 2 miles from where we were but we were just about done with walking for one day.

Hard to believe, but we slept fairly well that night. And so we pressed on, to our last full day in Chile.

Friday, January 2, 2009 - after our relatively successful trip to Melipilla the previous day, we decided to try once more to head out via bus, this time a bit further, to Valparaiso to see the South Pacific from land for the first time.

This would have gone over just fine, but I woke up feeling queasy and generally ill. It turns out the dinner we ate in the hotel restaurant – not to be confused with the bistro from a few days back – gave me a bit of sour stomach. Ironically, all the junk I ate off the streets settled just fine. Oh, my GI tract. Why you gotta be so funky?

I was finally feeling well enough to get out and get going by the early afternoon, so we headed down on the Metro to Pajaritos station – our old friend from catching the Centropuerto bus when we were in the Holiday Inn – and book TurBus tickets to Valparaiso. TurBus is one of two national bus services in Chile, along with Pullman, that travels throughout the country. Santiago-Valparaiso – a 90-minute journey – was one of their shortest routes. Still, because they had other routes that take literally days of travel, the ticket-purchasing process was much more formal. We made it clear at the booth we wanted tickets on the next bus to Valparaiso and that we would like round trip. He then asked us something we didn’t understand. He then clarified – in surprisingly good English – that we should select our assigned seats. How formal. I pointed to a couple and he suggested a couple on the other side of the bus, citing the sun beating down on the side I chose. Why he didn’t say that to begin with is beyond me, but, whatever.

We got our tickets and hopped on our designated bus, which, as it turns out, was already waiting. The bus was the cleanest, nicest one I’ve ever been on. Better than anything in the US. Every now and then the porter or one of a couple people picked off the side of the road would come by with food or beverages for us all; a necessity on longer journeys, I figured, but not so much on this one.

It didn’t drop off many people before reaching the bus terminal, unlike the RutaBus78 the previous day, so we didn’t feel too pensive about being dragged to far away from the center of town. Furthermore, the bus terminal was in a relatively centrally-located area. So we set out on foot.

Vaparaiso is a dingy shore town with buildings and a trolley-bus infrastructure both dated to the 50s. The narrow, windy roads are full of locals with blankets spread out selling all sorts of half-broken junk of just about every variety imaginable from tarot cards to power tools:

It was the sort of place we could have tons of fun exploring under better conditions. As it was, though, we were fairly travel-weary and very, very hungry; we’d missed breakfast in the hotel due to me being ill and had yet to eat anything as of 2:30 PM or so. So we wandered around and looked for a passable restaurant. We settled on a dirty, sweaty little prix-fixe hole in the wall at a corner that seemed to be populated by a decent number of locals and looked to be a good bet for fast service. We hesitantly sat down after being encouraged in by the owner and took a table. Becky, thinking she was asking for a menu, inadvertently ordered the full entree for both of us, which was called the “menu.” It turns out that we probably would have gotten that anyway, so it worked out.

What came first was a wilted plate of greens the woman serving us sprinkled some buttery oil on from a Gatorade bottle. She also plopped down some bread which I tore through quickly. What came next was a big bowl of equally buttery, oily soup with exactly two things in it: half a baked potato and a slice of beef the size of a decent hamburger, fat still wrapped around the edges. By this point I ordered a liter bottle of beer, figuring that the $2 I’d pay for it was worth the antiseptic effect it would hopefully have at killing off any parasites I was about to ingest. If it turns out I have worms in the near future, I’m positive this is the meal it came from. Finally, a plate of spaghetti and meat sauce that made school lunches look gourmet topped with a huge slab of fried fish, bones and tail and all. I was so hungry I ate all of that, too. Somehow, miraculously, none of this caused any digestion problems.

We paid after calling it quits and headed back out to see what we could find in Valparaiso. We stumbled upon a park. That seemed to feed directly into a sort of outpatient mental institution. And a… school? The whole thing seemed really surreal. It had papier-mache floats and… things:

We wandered around a bit more and got some ice cream, but figured that we’d pretty much seen what we were destined to see in Valparaiso and, travel-weary as we were, headed back to the bus station to go home. Now, the tickets I had were round-trip. I figured we could just go onto the next available bus, take seats, and be on our way. Through the first two steps of this everything seemed to work out. Besides, the bus terminal was a mad house and I didn’t feel like wading through a sea of sweaty humanity to get seat assignments if they weren’t necessary. The guy back in Santiago didn’t say they were. Not that I shouldn’t have known by this point that people there don’t volunteer information if you don’t ask, anyway.

So the bus pulled out and hit the road and we figured everything was fine. Then the porter taking tickets – maybe all of 20 years old – came to us, frowned at ours and kept ratting off disapproving things in Spanish. I kept muttering “lo siento” but he didn’t seem to want to make any action as to making it easier for us to understand what was wrong. We figured out that yes, we did need to get assigned seats. He decided to spend the better part of 5 minutes explaining this to us, though, as if we could understand a word of it. For a moment I thought they were going to pull over the bus and kick us off, and I actually would have preferred that to getting lectured by an uppity kid with an overinflated sense of power and responsibility. Dude, you take tickets on a bus. Get over yourself.

But they didn’t stop. Instead, he made us move seats across the aisle for reasons we couldn’t fathom and then spent several minutes marking up our tickets with a red pen, before handing them back to us with another lecture. That’ll teach us, I suppose! I had to reassure Becky and myself that this sort of overentitled wankery is completely common in the States, too, lest we forget mall cops and meter maids. Still, it made the ride back not nearly as pleasant as it could have been. As the bus wound back into Santiago the porter asked to us in an unamused tone, “Pajaritos?” As if to suggest that, would we wish to stay on longer, he would be forced to hold us for arrest. Fortunately for all of us, we weren’t planning on staying on that bus a second longer than we needed to. We were more than happy to jump off at Pajaritos and take the Metro back to the hotel.

After a bit of trouble at the station relating to needing to purchase rush-hour tickets rather than the regular-fare ones (the rush hour ones are all of 80 pesos more expensive, but it was just yet another headache), we were happy to see the hotel again. Chileans sure seem to like rules a lot, we decided. Maybe it has something to do with strict societal enforcement as a means of keeping the country out of poverty, maybe it’s residual totalitarian culture-shock left over from the Pinochet era, who knows. Either way, our greatest challenge when we were there – and one we didn’t really succeed at completely within our week stay – was understanding their multitudinous little tiny rules about every little tiny thing in life. You even had to take a number at the pharmacies to buy bottled water, for Christ’s sake. I understand the necessity of regulation to keep their economy in line but, man, give me a self-checkout or give me death.

Having had enough of interaction with other people, we decided that we weren’t properly on vacation until we ordered room service. So we did. It was way more expensive than anything else, but who cares. Honeymoon and all. We had earned it and waited until our last night in the hotel to use it. I got an enormous ham and cheese club sandwich, a beer, and cake. Because we earned it. And we went to sleep in Chile for the final night.

Saturday, January 3 - our last day in Chile. We got up and confirmed that the hotel would allow us to keep the room until 2 PM with no extra charge. Convenient as our flight wasn’t until the mid-evening so we weren’t in a hurry to get back to the airport. So, after breakfast we decided to head back out on the Metro one final time to go to Bellavista to shop some for friends and relatives. We hit up the touristy area, got a couple of trinkets, a sweater for Becky for $30 that would be $90 here and some ice cream before heading across the road to the barrio to see if we’d missed anything. Like creepy hobby-horses for example:

It will remain in my nightmares.

On our way back we walked around the area the opposite direction from the Metro station a bit, as it was a relatively mild day and we wanted to enjoy a final few hours with nothing much to do. It turns out there was a fancy little park with palm trees:

I like that picture because we could slip it in with our set from LA in 2007 and it would go undetected. Sort of a nice way to wrap up the journey, I guess.

We got back to the hotel, double-checked the suite for loose items, and headed down to check out. The attendant at the desk asked us if we’d gotten anything out of the minibar since the previous day and we sheepishly had to list off a dozen items we’d taken for the road. None of which were Negrita, the Vaguely Racist Candy:

We got that on our own. I often wonder how Chileans feel upon entering the US, though. We saw precisely three black men the entire week we were there, all mid-20s, super-skinny, muscular and beautiful. Clearly they have no need for black people who aren’t male models in Santiago. However, the flight we’d take home went through Atlanta, the Capital of Black People. I expect this must be a bit of a culture shock for native Chileans the second they step off the plane.

For us, though, we were damn ready to go back somewhere English is primarily spoken. As a final act of honeymoon indulgence, we ordered a taxi for the airport and charged it to the room. We got back to our old nemesis, the Santiago Airport, and, to really cap off the trip, had one final meal at Gatsby. We then took turns guarding the luggage and shopping for souvenirs for our families to spend our few remaining pesos until ticketing opened up for our flight. Getting through this was a breeze, thankfully, and security offered no difficulties. We packed up our bags according to TSA requirements. Good, as it turns out that, while these weren’t enforced at the main security checkpoint, there was a second checkpoint as we boarded the plane that followed the stricter American regulations. We smartly flew through that one while many others were bogged down in throwing away unbagged toothpaste.

Before getting on the plane, though, we had an hour and a half or so to kill. So we went down to the Business Class Supar Elite Special Unique Snowflake Lounge. Partly because we could and partly because it – unlike the rest of the airport – was air conditioned and I’d had about just enough of stewing in my own juices for one holiday season. We killed time reading, snacking on complimentary cheeses and drinks, and mostly people-watching. For how much money the tickets are – not to mention considering that recession thing – you’d expect Business Class international travelers to have their wits about them. Not so. These Americans – and they were over 90% Americans in the lounge – were as dense as the folks back in Steerage. Just with an added sense of self-importance for extra annoyance. As much as they initially angered me, though, I got some great degree of pleasure in watching one after another – five in total – proceed to open up the blue-capped agua con gas bottles expecting flat water and spraying all over the place. Now, I don’t know if you recall from several days back, but I mentioned how the blue/carbonated-red/flat thing was one of the first things I picked up upon landing. Not to mention “agua con gas” isn’t exactly fluency-level Spanish. And yet these people didn’t even consider that the bottles might be carbonated. Meaning that in their entire time there, they were either so incredibly sheltered from anything even approaching the real world in Santiago that they never had to purchase a bottle of water on their own or they were so incredibly stupid that they didn’t figure out which bottle was what. I suspect the former and it really frustrates me that these are the people with the money that represent America and yet they go down to other countries in a sterile plastic bubble devoid of any actual cultural experience. Like Omelet Woman. It’s the Omelet Women and Water Bottle Men of the world that are what’s wrong with humanity; people who want to perpetuate the illusion of awareness without actually being aware, believing their own doublethink lies of cultural superiority.

Anyway, getting off track. One jackass jock selling mountain climbing equipment who looked exactly like you’re imagining absolutely soaked himself – as in, dude needed to change is shirt – due to opening a blue-capped bottle in an EXTREME MOUNTAIN CLIMBER BRO-DUDE way and it was all I could do to not double-over in laughter. Sometimes the Universe is an okay place.

After that excitement we boarded the plane with little incident and got our champagne to settle in for the long plane ride home:

Believe it or not, Manuel was on the plane. He had decided to go to Atlanta at the last second. Small world, I suppose. He said he’d decided to spend the entire day on the 1st on the beach, anyway, so it probably worked out that we didn’t come with him. After that we didn’t talk much as the noise of the plane and our collective weariness made sleeping a much better option. As on the way down, I dosed in and out, occasionally catching glimpses of Wall-E, waiting to land in Atlanta.

Sunday, January 4 - and so we did. Our plane landed perfectly on time and we had just long enough to get to our connecting flight without rushing. We lost Manuel at Immigration, as the US Citizens line was way longer than the Non-Citizens line. I guess that made sense, what with people returning from vacation and all. Like us. That was the most difficult part of the process and, since we had nothing to declare, it wasn’t even that hard. Customs was a total breeze; we got our luggage and handed it off to an agent with no difficulty. He even said, “going to Boston?” as we were approaching. As I don’t believe our tags were visible and Atlanta is a bit of a hub for Delta (read: is their headquarters), I’m still not sure how he knew that. It is the mystery of the ATL.

We took the shuttle all the way from the International Terminal to the other end where our gate was and got on our Boston flight with no difficulties. The flight to Boston was positively boring and we landed in Logan, ready to head home. As we were quite travel-weary by that point and I had some US cash left I didn’t exchange in Santiago, we decided that, just that one time, we’d splurge and take a cab home instead of the T. I felt bad as the cab driver, who was either very tired or showing early signs of Parkinson’s disease, struggled to lift my 48-pound suitcase in and out of the trunk, but it was all I could do to shove him out of the way and heave it on my own. I gave him a big tip anyway, as he got us to our place in Somerville in a bit over 20 minutes and with minimal verbal directions, both of which are impressive by Boston cabbie standards.

And so we were home. All God’s Creatures were still alive and well. Or at least The Guinea Pig, considering the Lizard was still with Marie and the Dog with Becky’s mom. The place was still in order. In a fit of adrenaline I powered through my laundry and we went out grocery shopping shortly after arriving home. And then we more or less crashed out in a very real way. I think I didn’t get to bed until 9 or 10 but I believe I spent several hours before that on the couch watching Mythbusters in a catatonic haze. “Tired” doesn’t begin to describe it; it felt like we’d just finished moving to a new apartment. But we were home.

And it’s good to be home sometimes.

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