This seems like an unlikely photo to post especially as the first photo of my recent trip to Chile and Argentina. I took this photo to remind me of the kind people who help me while traveling. I know most of the people I meet are in the tourism industry so it’s their job to help visitors. But I still appreciate it very much. I can’t believe how many of them say “Sorry my English is not very good.” I should be the one apologizing for visiting their country when I don’t know who to say much more than hola, gracias and el baño por favor. Still it seems many of them go beyond what is expected. I went into a little coffee shop in Puerto Natales with a few hours before the next bus to Punta Arenas. I didn’t have many options as it was just after 3:00 p.m. and most of the restaurants were closed. I looked over the pastries and menu on the wall the best I could before sitting down. I was hoping for an empanada but didn’t see any. I asked the young man behind the counter if they had any empanadas. He said no. I sat down anyways and ordered a cup of coffee. Shortly after I sat down the young man brought me this note directing me to a bakery that had empanadas.
Later in my travels I was helped out quite a bit at the airport in Santiago. One guy literally went the extra mile for me (or at least a 100 meters or so). I wrote this the next morning (December 11, 2015) at the airport in Bogota.
My flight from Rapa Nui to Santiago was delayed about 2 1/2 hours. That left me with less than 1 hour to make an international connection to Bogota. When the plane landed in Santiago at 12:40 a.m. I impatiently waited to get off. No one else seemed to be in a hurry. When I got out of the plane everyone was meandering down the exit hallways and it was nearly impossible to pass anyone because I was carrying two backpacks (weighing around 50 pounds), one over each shoulder making me twice as wide as usual. Fortunately I had no checked bags. As the hallways widened I raced passed everyone, taking stairs where possible and looking for signs leading to departures.
I ended up at the baggage claim and didn’t see a clearly marked exit. There was no one to follow because everyone was just getting there and the luggage had not started to come out. No one was leaving. I saw a lady at a help desk. I went over and she was on the phone. I waited a few minutes for her to finish then asked where to go for Avianca check-in. She said to go outside then up to the third floor and motioned towards some doors. I walked to the doors and outside as quickly as I could. When I got outside I found myself on the tarmac underneath airplanes. No one else around. I tried to go back in but the doors were locked. I walked to my right but there was a high chain link fence with barbed wire on the top. I went the other way. It looked like another baggage claim area but no one was there and those doors were locked too. I went back and began knocking on the doors I came out of to see if anyone would let me in. The people waiting for bags just looked at me as if I were a security threat. Finally the lady that gave me directions saw me and came over to let me in. She said “I told you to go outside” and pointed to a hairpin turn at the entrance of the baggage claim that was still in the building and definitely wasn't “outside.” But I didn’t have time to explain to her what “outside” meant to me. I know she just meant outside the baggage claim area anyways.
I thanked her and ran off through the crowd of people waiting for arriving passengers many holding signs with names on them. A number of men jumped in front of me one after another “Taxi?” I pushed my way through the crowd to the stairs and ran up to the third floor. I didn’t have time to search for the Avianca counter and spotted an information booth. The lady told me to go to counters 8 thru 15 at the other end of the corridor. I walked as quickly as I could through the crowds. My backpacks bumping into people about every other step. “Sorry.” “Excuse me.” I really need to learn more Spanish. When I got to counters 8-15 I saw the Avianca signs and went straight to the counters through the first class lane. There was no one at the counters. I walked up and down passed counters 8 to 15. Each one had a closed sign posted. I looked around for anyone who might work for Avianca but didn’t see anyone. I had no idea what to do. I looked around for another help booth. I didn’t see one but did see check-in kiosks. I began the process. Selected English. Reservation number? I reached for my phone and opened the file with my reservation number and typed it in. My flight info came up on the screen. Great! Then I pressed next and got the message “This flight is closed.” No! I tried it again scanning my passport this time knowing it wouldn’t change anything but I didn’t know what else to do. I forgot to select English so the message was in Spanish. I tried scanning my passport again after selecting English. My flight info came up again. Next. “This flight is closed.”
Not knowing what to do I ran back to the other end of the corridor to the information booth. The attendant was busy going through a backpack with a security guard. She was spraying dirty shoes and clothes with something. The guard said something to me that I felt meant “What do you need.” I started to speak. He interrupted “English” and pointed to the attendant. After a few more sprays she turned to me.
"I need a boarding pass for Avianca but no one is at the counters."
She said “Counters 8-15” and pointed to the other end of the corridor.
“No one is at the counters, they are closed.”
“Just go to the gate.”
“But I don’t have a boarding pass.”
“It doesn’t matter. Go to the gate. Hurry.”
I jogging to the other end of the corridor dodging people standing around and whacking a few with my backpacks. I didn’t know where to go but at the far end I notice a sign that said international departures. A man at the doorway asked for my boarding pass. I said I didn’t have one and showed him my reservation information on my phone. He waved me on and said “Run.”
I ran to the only customs desk with someone there. There were no lines. No one else was in the room. The man asked me for my boarding pass and passport. I handed him my passport and said I don’t have a boarding pass while showing him the reservation info on my phone. He stamped my passport and said “Run.” I asked which way and he pointed to my left.
I ran down a hallway and came to a security screening area. At first it looked like no one was there. I saw a few people standing by the last x-ray machine. As I was racing through the empty maze some guy stopped me and said something in Spanish and pointed behind me indicating I did something wrong. I looked back but saw nothing. I started forward again. He raised his voice and repeated what he had said and pointed behind me. I looked back but couldn’t figure out what he was pointing at. I gave him a confused gesture. A man at the x-ray machine waved to me to come over so I just ran passed the man and he didn’t say anything else. I threw my packs on the conveyor. At the exit side of the machine a guy asked me for my boarding pass. I told him “I don’t have one.” He grabbed my passport and asked which airline. “Avianca.” He then asked my name. I told him and he repeated it into a radio.
He said “Gate 11, you’ve got to run.”
“I will but I don’t know where gate 11 is.”
“I’ll go with you, run!”
We ran down a zigzag walkway passed duty free shops and restaurants. While we were running he asked me my name 2 or 3 more times. Each time I told him and he repeated it into his radio. Then he asked what my final destination was. I said between breaths “Salt Lake City, USA.” We ran passed gate 11A and onto a gate that I could see no sign as to what gate it was. Two attendances were standing by a small counter. It was very dark almost all the lights in that area were turned off. The guy running with me handed one attendant my passport. I didn’t even realize I didn’t have it. The attendant asked for my boarding pass. “I don’t have one.” They quickly printed the boarding passes for my next 3 flights. Handing them to me along with my passport he says “Run to the airplane.” I ran down 4 ramps to the plane and at the door a man asks for my boarding pass. “Yes, I have that!” As I walk to the back of the plane breathing and sweating like I had just run 400 meters with 50 pounds on my back a flight attendant checks my boarding pass. There was a problem, my seat was already taken.
She pointed to an isle seat with no one sitting next to it and asks “Will that seat do?”
“Would you like a glass of water?”