Monday, December 28, 2015

Empanadas and Airport Coaching

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 baƱo 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?” 
“Yes. Gracias.”