“This was an underestimate.”
--Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat
The flight from Dallas to Santiago, over nine hours long, was pretty smooth. But the smoothness pretty much ended as soon as I stepped off the plane, and the unsmooth moments began…
The plan was to get off the plane and do three things:
Obtain a Chilean cellphone from Entel
Rendezvous with the rest of the team at the airport Starbuck’s
1-2-3. Bam. No problema…
Not for Braddah Scottie, not once I got on a good roll—a downhill roll pretty much.
Now before I commence with the intense and grueling narrative of my tragicomic mishaps during my first two hours on the South American continent, I should explain that during the course of events that I am about to describe, although I suffer, I do not die; although I experience a distressing encounter with the Chilean authorities, I am not taken to a windowless room and beaten violently with rubber truncheons by two female Chilean military officers clad in leather and spandex; although large sums of money change hands, I do not wind up as the unintended owner of a taxi and fruit drink stand in either Santiago or Valparaiso. I do, however, suffer a minor personal injury, which I will explain in more detail later. I want to outline all this now because the suspense of the narrative that follows may be too intense for some of the more sensitive readers among you to bear, and I should not want said readers to be overcome with such emotion that they might succumb to a fainting spell, and fall from their favorite reading chairs, perhaps striking their heads and doing themselves injury.
I just wanted to take this precaution because I CARE, dear readers.
OK. Buckle your seatbelts, remove Babelfish; activate Infinite Improbability Drive, here we go…
Step 1: Disembark plane, reencounter Morris, the interesting Chilean-born Palestinian American Spanish teacher with an undergraduate degree in anthropology and archaeology whom I met in the terminal in Dallas before our flight while I was finishing my previous blog post. Join the long queue at “Immigration” (The signs were of course in Spanish, but I will translate most of the Spanish-language terms here, mainly because I can’t be sure I will remember the correct Spanish spellings, and I do strive for accuracy). Join with Morris in celebrating our relative good fortune that we joined the queue before the large and annoying group of student musicians who occupied most of the same section of the plane on which we just spent at least 10 hours, at no point during which time did said student musicians seem to sleep or even sit down, not even during the hours of 2:00-6:00 a.m., which seemed to be the most active time for these strange, large-eyed primates. Now said student musicians are all standing in a loose mass in a different queue to our left. It is of course, this other queue that I should have joined in the first place, but I don’t find this out until I finally reach the end of my current cue and realize, during the course of a discussion that quickly reveals the true limits of my conversational Spanish--which in fact consists mainly of repeating the phrases “poquito” and “no comprende” a great deal—that just because my passport does have a previous Chilean stamp from my 2002 visit to Rapa Nui, it does not mean that I will not have to pay the $131.00 entry fee. As we discuss this matter, my vague memories of this issue from my 2002 trip condense into slightly less vague memories of being told that we would not have to pay the entry fee after all, since we were entering Rapa Nui via Tahiti and not stepping foot on the Chilean mainland.
Step 2: Join the other queue, now behind ALL the annoying students with their instruments. Have enjoyable conversations with the two other guys at the end of the line, and make one possible professional connection which may benefit the students and the communities that I serve on the Reservation, but I won’t go into that here. Reach the end, pay my $131.00 fee, advance to customs*, prepare to go to jail…
Step 3: Oh, “plant and animal products” includes dried meat? Maybe I should have read the [extremely] fine print despite my new contacts, my old age, the dark plane, and the loud kids. Definitely I should have. Yeah, well come to think of it, down at the bottom of my cave pack there is a few ounces of turkey jerky left in the bag that I jammed a bunch of mini-Cliff bars into after my last caving trip. I reveal all this in the interest of full disclosure and honesty. So much for karmic dividends, which had continued into the DFW/Santiago flight, where I had a two-seat window & aisle seat block to myself, thank God. But the Rota Fortuna must spin again, and no one can beat the percentages. The house always wins, and fools are escorted into an office with some nice but stern Chilean ladies who are empowered to fine me up to $4,500.00.
After some garbled explanations, a couple “poquito’s” a few more “no comprendes’”, and a little Latin for good luck (mea culpa). I am told that the minimum fine is $200.00-something.
But I get off with NO FINE AT ALL, because I am such a NICE GUY. I just have to sign some papers and receive some rather stern warnings about “otra vez”, which believe me, there ain’t going to be. At this point I see that the nice Chilean lady is actually a DIVINE ANGEL, and I grasp her right hand in both of mine, and repeat “Muchas gracias” several times, on the point of tears.
Step 2.2: I didn’t even mention my panic at the currency exchange window when I thought that “cambio” meant “charge” not “exchange” and I thought that they were taking a 25% cut of my funds, which would have left me without even enough to pay for the hotel. We got that worked out eventually.
Now I’m at Starbucks in the Santiago airport, waiting for the rest of the team.
*It was while one of the Customs agents was helping me lift my rolling toolbox on the belt for the X-ray that he jammed the handle down into my finger. But I pulled it away quickly, and I can’t feel anything in it now. I mean, any pain type of thing. I can feel normal things. Which is not to say I am going around trying to feel things with my left index finger, normal or abnormal…
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