Thursday, January 17, 2013

Worst Transit of All Time

Why hello world,

I was not expecting to be able to write for several weeks but alas, I was not expecting much of anything that has happened in the last 48 hours.

Warning: this is a long post. Apologies for my venting.

All prepped and ready to leave my house by 5am Tuesday, the American Airlines cyborg called to mechanically inform me that my very first flight was cancelled, thanks to single-digit temps, ice all over the place, and the classic issue of Albuquerque not knowing what to do with themselves when things get cold despite it happening every year for the months of winter… shocking. This earned me a couple more hours of sleep that had me waking up to believe that the entire Torres del Paine plan was just a dream. Nope, got on a plane that eventually took off despite loads more delays due to neither the plane nor the equipment to fix the inactive plane actually working.

Thanks, Albuquerque. Notice the "Feels Like -6 °F"
Those delays earned me a great time in Dallas, airport 2 of 7. The plane landed at 1:54, before taxi. My next plane was set to take off at 2:05. Guess who miraculously made that connection? Add another reason to keep running marathons to the list—sprinting 20 gates in the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with a backpack and carrying a 35-pound rolling suitcase (yes, carrying. More maneuverability). The fun part of this was when the entire front of the plane that I was seated near cheered for my running ally and me when we bolted out of the plane as soon as the jetway opened.

Miami was one of the worst airports I have ever flown through, considering it was gigantic without a train or moving walkways, and that I had to leave security, re-check in while trying to explain my fairly ridiculous itinerary in Spanglish, go back through security, then speed walk while on the phone with my mother, having my first episode of questioning why this madness is worth it. Oho, past Emily, it has yet to begin.

That flight was fantastic, a welcome change from day one: nine hours to pass out after one of the best airline meals I’ve ever had. I learned long ago that the trick with airline food is to always, always go with the pasta option; this gem has seriously never failed me. The family of three daughters near me were very nice (although really made me wish more than anything that my sister were with me), I was surrounded by beautiful Spanish, and wine was not an option with dinner: the option was vino tinto o blanco. A tricky way of getting all the passengers at elevation to sleep for the flight, which I did quite happily.

Buenos Aires Ezeiza has easily been the best airport, even if it was under construction. Still, I never had to leave security and just had to follow the way for transit passengers, where I encountered no lines before being passed through a single metal detector with my shoes on by a very tough-looking security woman before entering a rather new, empty, and sunny terminal at 6am. Got some help from a nice desk clerk and camped out in front of my gate to observe my first Sudamericano surroundings and have a great conversation with an Australian student en route home. This flight was also quite nice, where I woke up from a short nap to see the Andes and Aconcagua out my window. It was breathtaking, easily. This is near Mendoza, and got me pretty excited for that next chapter.

Volcanoes while landing in Puerto Montt
Santiago is when the fun really started. The airport was more reminiscent of the most depressing hallways of the basement of my job in a laboratory a few years ago, and I really was beginning to feel like a herd of cattle being led to the slaughter… without knowing exactly what the slaughter was. Instead of following transit passenger signs like in Buenos Aires, I was redirected to pay the reciprocity fee to enter Chile and go through customs even if I was far from my final destination. Unfortunately, customs was a three-step process and the second step I had to go through twice thanks to paperwork misinformation on my Argentina-Chile flight. Before step three, I had to collect my checked bag from a carousel and re-check; however, I had checked my bag straight from Albuquerque to Punta Arenas, to avoid this. When I got to the carousel for my flight, it had already pumped out all the bags… and mine was nowhere to be seen.

Queue the panic beginning to bubble to the surface. I had no choice but to go through this security anyway and my barely two hour connection was now at 20 minutes. I speedily bought food for the first time in my travels (just pointed to something on the menu and asked for the internet password) before frantically contacting my parents and my volunteer group. Many thanks to Carl for being on Gchat and calling my mother to summon her on Skype somewhere around 8am on a Wednesday in Albuquerque, and my volunteer group told me to just be persistent and grill any desk attendants for my flight about my bag. Three attendants later, a guy seemed to seriously check and then tell me that, yes, my bag was scanned onto my next plane. HALLELUJAH.
Anyone recognize this? I don't believe it is Cerro Fitz Roy

On the final flight I had a grand time translating between most of the passengers and the only-Spanish-speaking attendant, getting me ridiculously excited about Spanish. This route was even more incredible than flying over the Andes as we just flew along them directly and, after Puerto Montt, there was nothing but lakes, volcanoes, glaciers, and incredible mountains the entire way. As we stopped in Puerto Montt, I turned to my new French friend Felipe, en route to his own 10-day Patagonia tour, to comment on how beautiful it was. He just said with a big grin, “I can’t wait.” I was finally starting to believe what I’ve gotten myself into and more excited than stressed for the first time.

Incredible glaciers near Argentinian Patagonia

Punta Arenas was the final test. The baggage carousel did bring my gateside-checked bag, and yet… I waited and waited and my backpacking pack never came. All of the attendants in Punta Arenas spoke rather broken English, if any, so I translated for myself and an American man who had just come from Easter Island and lost his pack as well. While filling out the contents section of my missing bag report, I straight up started crying as I realized the extent of everything that is currently lost somewhere on two continents and the fact that I know each and every single object that is in that pack. This report was thrown together in about 15 minutes before a bus to Puerto Natales arrived by the fellow American’s reservation. Having already missed my own chance at a bus, I heckled my way on in pretty ridiculous and fairly desperate Spanish—the bus was full but they granted me standing room for the three-hour bus ride for 4.000 CLP (about US$8). It was sitting in the aisle of this bus that I really just wanted to give up.

Chilling on the floor of the bus
Mind you, giving up is not a common feeling for me at all, but this is the situation I have found myself in: at the bottom of the planet with none of the belongings I depend on to fend for myself and completely alone for who knows how long. I have a toothbrush but no toothpaste. I have my few electronics, but do not have the near US$3000 worth of gear I have amassed over my life of outdoors escapades. I have my handful of summery clothes for Mendoza but have no jacket or hiking boots whatsoever. I have my old prescription glasses but not the new prescription I just recently attained. I have lost many a gift from friends and family that have meant so much to me and to them. And at this point on the bus I had no way of contacting anyone when all I genuinely wanted to do was just turn around and take another two days to fly all the way back to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to burrow myself into my own bed and not emerge for the next month or so.

Instead, I rolled off the bus at 11pm while light still lingered in the sky from the recent sunset, speedily figured out the Puerto Natales map and trudged over to the Erratic Rock hostel where I have a one-night reservation. Now, my friends, I am quite delirious from flights and staring at some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen while flopped on the floor of a bus for a couple hours. When I walked into the Erratic Rock, I quite seriously thought I was dead and perhaps in heaven. It was toasty from a cast-iron stove in the corner, the walls were covered with posters of Torres del Paine and ancient snowshoes, quickdraws, and guanaco pelts, there were a few cats rolling around on the floor, and two women about my age were perched on a couch watching Almost Famous. I met the owner Julie, who told me not to worry: AMA volunteers are extra-welcome at Erratic Rock and I can stay here for free as long I need and will get a free ride into the park to meet up with the AMA group whenever my bag arrives.

So for now, I do not know what I will be up to in the next hour let alone few weeks and I’m feeling like the biggest failure of all time, but hey, I am alive and I am safe, so things aren’t too awful. There is so much more to write about, but I have already ranted on for long enough and it’s looking like I’m going to be here with very little to do for awhile so I’ll probably be writing again. Postcards may happen. Email me and I would love to talk to you. Anyways, off to hunt down lunch and bumble down to the water here in Puerto Natales with my new flock of five business school student friends who are heading off to do the W route for 5 days this afternoon.
There is a reason no one ever goes to Patagonia--it is ridiculously difficult to an extreme just to get here. I am so close, and yet so far away.

Much love,
a very defeated Emily


  1. EMILY!

    First: I love you more and more every word I read, because you are one incredibly brave, persistent woman, not to mention a great storyteller. Your disaster of a trip so far sounds horrible, beautiful, and exhilarating, and I hope you can find the beautiful moments to be the most memorable ones, and consider the other ones merely bragging points for your future accounts of these travels. Then you can say, SCREW YOU AWFUL AIRPORTS, I WIN. Which I'm sure you will do. I have faith in you, and am super proud and in caverns of admiration for you so far. It seems like you're finding some good people, as well, so I hope you don't feel defeated for long. Don't forget about all that glory (GLORY!) running around in those crazy marathoner-adventurer-puddle jumper-green chile eater-veins of yours.

    I will put all my will power into magicking your bag and belongings to you.


    1. Carrie... I love you more than words can describe. No, really.
      : )

  2. Emily,

    I'm hoping that the 3-day news blackout is, in fact, good news. By now you quite possibly have reconnected with your long lost baggage and moved on.

    What you learned rather quickly while skydiving (and I learned over 20 years of mountaineering) is "Stay calm and carry on."



    1. Ah yes, this is quite true. Fairly easy to realize, ridiculously difficult at times in practice. Hope you´ve still got some hiking going on even in the New Mexican winter!