27 February 2011

Winks and Nods

A gold star stuck to my pant leg. Flocks of birds congregating in DIA's main terminal. Compliments from strangers as the last conversation in the States and the first in Chile.

Ever since I finally got on my way, little signs and winks and omens have been popping up everywhere. Little encouragements that I am doing the right thing, that this is the right path...and the biggest one came last night while I was talking with Pablo, a friend of the hostel's owner. He is from the South of Chile and was an exchange student in high school and college in the US. He even lived in Colorado for four months! We talked about skiing and Colorado microbrews and how girls from Colorado are awesome (because we are...).

As we started to talk about Chile and what it's really like outside of Hostel-land (where everyone speaks English and it's all a little cushy and comfortably familiar), his eyes lit up. It's clear that people here are really proud to be Chilean, and proud of what their country has to offer. Pablo lowers his voice.

"People come to Chile all the time," he says, "They stay in Santiago For a week and leave once to the South for a day. They think they are seeing the country," he scoffs.

"But you," he pokes me on the knee (a very Latin gesture I remember from Italy). "You will see the real Chile. You will live the real Chile."

A massive green streak darts across the sky, lighting it up behind Pablo's head. It races from left to right for ten seconds. The largest shooting star I have ever seen in my life. Not one of the other twenty people on the roof saw it. It was as if it showed up only for me, as a little empahasis on Pablo's statement. Even as I write it reads like a made up fairy tale.

As far as winks go, that was about as obvious as it gets.

26 February 2011

Take Your Seat...

This may well be the longest blog post ever. I promise it's worth reading the whole thing. Cross my heart and hope to die. 

It's time. After the weeklong ear infection delay, I am finally on my way to Chile. It's a relief, and honestly the week helped me to be much more prepared and relaxed before I left. I had time to see those I love, watch almost the whole first season of my new favorite show Must Love Cats (only for the severely cat enamored), and lie around for days on end waiting for the antibiotics to kick in. I lived in my pjs. It was awesome. 

Now this experience is beginning, and it feels surreal still. I am having trouble convincing myself that I am in fact on this plane to Santiago and that this is actually happening. So much craziness has already happened and I feel as though it can only get better from here (and here is pretty great already). 

It was snowy and gray when we got up this morning to go get my ear drained at the ear doctor's office, and the frost clung to the grasses and the trees. The contrast made everything white and black, like someone had edited the world in Photoshop. At Avista, the doctor drained my ear by cauterizing my eardrum with a burning solution, lancing the eardrum with a tiny scalpel, and drawing the fluid out with a vacuum. It sounded like I imagine a brain-sucking alien probe might...and tickled. Nearly 24 hours on, the hole is holding well and my ear is making funny noises. 

The flight to Dallas was uneventful. Smoothest takeoff I've had out of Denver in a long time, and the sunset was beautiful. I got to my gate at DFW and walked into the line for seat assignments (I have no idea why, but it appears that American Airlines likes to book its flights without giving anyone an assigned seat, so everyone had to check in). I glanced around, feeling eyes on my head like people were staring. They were. Then I realized why. 

I was literally head and shoulders taller than everyone in line. Everyone I could see (and I could see EVERYONE) was far more compact than I am, and I realized that on top of that I was the only natural blonde in the crowd. Welcome to being a giant gringa. 

They put me in seat 12G, in business class. Five minutes before we left, the gate attendant came to change my seat to 22G...they needed to seat a mother and child together. I happily moved to 22G, with no idea what lay in store for me from that new vantage point. 

The flight attendants were preparing the cabin for departure, and the captain had asked them to be seated. The man in the middle seat in front of me tried to raise his seatback to the upright and locked position, struggled, and 


The seats in front of me landed in my lap, squashing my knees. They were both broken. The man tried to alert a flight attendant, and she and the others whisked the two in front of me away to new seats as quickly as possible, trying to avoid a two-hour delay to fix the damn seats. Everyone laughed nervously and we were happy to be on our way. This minor setback actually worked out great since I now have a ton of legroom!

Imagine the scene. An hour and a half into the flight, we are about to dodge out above the Gulf of Mexico. I've been writing in my journal for the whole time, and I'm beginning to wonder when dinner will come out. I'm hungry. 

Shouting in the cabin. "Take your seat now! Take your seat now! Take your seat now!" A veteran flight attendant with a militant short haircut (already silver and probably further frayed by this incident) and efficient brass hoop earrings is bearing down on a drunk passenger next to row 21. Our green-hooded friend appears to be trying to open an overhead bin. 

"TAKE YOUR SEAT NOW!" she commands him. He gestures for her to be quiet, and tries to continue forward to first class, looking perplexed. "Take your seat now, or in about two seconds I'm gonna put you on the floor and handcuff you to a seat." No response but a glazed look. Then he turns and pushes past her and stumbles back down the aisle. 

And just like that a 9-hour flight turns into a 14-hour one. 

Another flight attendant explained to those of us near the incident that we had to turn around and go back to DFW to remove him from the plane. "We slipped him a sleepy pill," she smiled. The capitan came on to tell us that we had to turn around so the individual could be arrested. Groans. Typical of Amurrican Airlines, no one thought to make the announcement about turning around in Spanish for several minutes, and so the other half of the cabin groaned later. 

As we approached Dallas, I noticed that the GPS on the plane was telling us to turn around. It was as if it was saying, "Oops, you missed  that right turn at Galveston, please make a U-turn at the next light..."

Full police escorts and the DFW fire brigade were waiting for us to land, lights flashing. We landed, and suddenly stopped on the runway. "So folks...please stay in your seats. We are having our brakes inspected by the fire department. Since we are so heavy and a lot of energy needed to be dispelled, the brakes have a tendency to get white hot."

Once we were cleared by the fire department (which presumably said we weren't hot enough to set the terminal on fire with our proximity), we pulled up to a gate. Eight police officers boarded the plane and took the green hooded idiot away. Damn people sure suck sometimes. 

On the bright side, I got to get a few more last texts and calls in before leaving and even to say goodbye to someone special I'd almost spaced calling. It all worked out, every one of the setbacks for this trip. It's a pattern. A lesson. When things seem shitty, just keep going. There is probably a good reason you have to go through the shit and you'll be happier once it's over if not better off for it. 

Once we finally got turned around and on our way, the flight was smooth and uneventful. And yes, they did still feed us dinner. 

My first glimpse of Chile (and of South America) came in the form of dizzying arid peaks over the 767's wings, so craggy that they didn't even look real. Despite growing up in Colorado, these mountains took my breath away. I've never seen anything like them. They seem to be cut from some cosmic mountain popup book, and less like actual mountains. One immediately understands the protection and isolation they have afforded Chile since...forever. 

Spontaneous applause broke out in the economy cabin as soon as we landed. Everyone was ready to be off the plane.

The people are nice, and the city smells alive and like a real city should (food, bus exhaust, slight BO wafting through open windows...). 

Bienvenida a Chile!