But it can still take two full days to make it from one home to another. What’s up, Oregon Trail!
Let’s be real, the distance we’ve covered in the past several days is phenomenal. From one hemisphere to another, one continent to another, we are thousands of miles south of Ohio and it only took two full days. Incredible job, human ingenuity.
We left Leslie’s father’s house at 3:30am; arrived at Dayton Airport at 4:30am; boarded a flight for Chicago around 5:30am; hung out in Chicago for awhile (MY LAST GOOD BYE, BELOVED CHICAGO!), then got to Miami around noon. Our layover there was about six hours, and it was there that I noticed the Language Shift — everything was a blend of Spanish and English, actually perhaps more Spanish than English. I was reveling, in Miami, that none of our luggage had been lost yet, no real scares regarding our eventual arrival in Chile, nothing had been apprehended or confiscated from our belongings…really, it was all going according to plan.
I should know, by now, that this is rarely how things remain. As we checked in for our flight to Santiago, the counter person sternly informed us that we would be refused entry to the flight without a return ticket to the United States. Oops. He acted as if this was common knowledge (um, hello? CheapTickets.com let us book the flight, and obviously visa legality is their priority….RIGHT?!), but what we managed to conclude was that we just needed a flight OUT of Chile (not necessarily back to the US) in order to enter. The Chilean government just needs, for paper purposes, proof that we are not going to be there permanently. So, we were forced to buy a plane ticket out of Chile. We trudged downstairs to the LAN airline office, and purchased a perfunctory ticket from Santiago to Buenos Aires for sometime in December so that we could board our flight. Problem solved. The counter guy finally relinquished our boarding passes and we were on our way.
We boarded an enormous plane bound for Sao Paolo, Brazil around 6pm, which is where the next language shift took place – Portugeuse now became dominant, and I struggled to remember the few words I’d been taught by the amazing ensemble of Brazilians that I befriended last winter. (I failed pretty miserably.)
The flight to Sao Paolo was only nine hours, but the previous two flights had ensured that my hips and legs were adequately stiff and begging for yoga, so the flight was similar to what I imagine a cattle car experience might be like. I pitied all my seat mates – on each flight, I was fidgeting and rearranging my limbs so often they probably thought I had a nerve disorder. I didn’t explain that I just needed a hip-opening asana and all would be well, but for some reason airplanes don’t come equipped with Yoga rooms.
We arrived in Sao Paolo around 5am local time, with a frustrating layover until 8am. Leslie and Amanda laid out on yoga mats and continued sleeping, and I wandered the airport a bit before bunking up on some seats. I slept about an hour before a gaggle of stewardesses arrived and I spent the next few hours people-watching and eavesdropping on conversations I couldn’t understand — truly one of my favorite past times. In Sao Paolo I began to notice the differences of appearance – recognizing the distinct facial structures associated with people from different regions. The European influence is definitely noticeable in the Chileans and Argentinians. Some people looked as physically familiar to me as Americans, yet their language was distinctly Argentine Spanish. Genetic drift is fascinating – I think the people of a region is the truest testament to the history of the area, and the mixing of populations throughout time.
Our flight from Sao Paolo to Santiago was about four hours, and once we landed in Santiago, we took a cab to the bus station. The weather was beautiful, the clouds plentiful, and mountains loomed in the distance. I had watched a Chilean movie on the way to Santiago from Sao Paolo, just to prepare myself for the accent and vocabulary that I would eventually encounter, and I was dismayed to find that I only understood about 20% of the film. I actually had to use the Portuguese subtitles to help deduce the meaning of some phrases. That’s sort of embarassing, considering that I don’t even speak Portuguese.
However, once we were in Santiago, I had no problem being understood or understanding others. Sure, there were cab drivers who spoke too quickly, or little pieces here or there that escaped my Penetrating Radar of Comprehension, but overall, I’m understanding everything just fine. Nothing a little clarification or repetition can’t combat. It feels good to be immersed again – really good! My month and a half away from Spanish since quitting the job didn’t set me back too far.
Once we had successfully purchased our bus tickets at the bus terminal in Santiago, we decided to hunt down some food and explore the area a bit, since we had a solid nine hours until our overnight bus to Puerto Varas left. We ate at a restaurant called “Pito’s Pizza” that had no pizza on the menu at all; Leslie taught me how to play the card game Thirteen, then we wandered some open air markets near the bus station until we descended into the subway system and took a quick jaunt to the Centro to wander and see a few sights before we headed toward Patagonia.
The center was lovely and lively and bustling. Santiago reminds me in some ways of a cleaner, more updated Mexico City, though not quite as many people. The Latin American feel is definitely present, yet there’s a greater sense of orderliness and cleanliness – I’ve never seen so many trash picker-uppers as I have in Santiago. We paused by a tree in a pedestrian walkway that looked sort of like Las Ramblas in Spain, and looking at the exposed root system, I offered a blessing for us as we were beginning our travels — like the tree, we are three girls moving forward and upward into the unknown, yet taking our roots with us wherever we go. A similar sentiment is behind my recent “Ohio Grown” tattoo.
The subway ride back to the bus station was during the peak of rush hour, so we were able to experience some Intimate Santiago Subway Moments. Also, the electricity went out during the ride, so we also got to experience some Intimate Stalled Santiago Subway Moments, in which I developed a fine sheen of sweat directly beneath my pleather coat, which acted like a sort of lubricating layer that I realized is unnecessary and, eventually, smelly.
Our overnight bus ride to Puerto Varas departed at 9pm and was set to arrive at 9am the next day. Yes, twelve full hours of Chilean countryside which went by in a delightful, comatose blur. The sleep was much-needed and way more comfortable than the airplanes and airport terminals. It was on the bus to Puerto Varas that I think we realized none of us had changed clothes or brushed teeth for a startling amount of time, especially considering the Iron-Man style luggage lifting we’d been performing across various countries, the walks beneath the sun, the forced proximity with hundreds of Chileans in the bowels of the transportation system in Santiago, and the general exertion that is required to cross continents and brave language barriers.
Our mission reached the status of Accomplished at 10am on Thursday morning. We rolled into Puerto Varas under grey skies with a crispness in the air akin to an early spring morning in Sandusky. We found the one taxi cab in the area, stuffed all our belonging into it, and drove roughly five blocks into Puerto Varas before we were face to face with our new home.
In the interest of wrapping up this now-epic blog post, I’ll save more of the specifics regarding our new home and the family life/set-up for another entry! But we were greeted by Luz, the mother of Leslie’s Chilean friend, and a very large rottweiler with a terrifying snarl that will most definitely protect the shit out of us. The three of us are sharing the upper level of the house with an Iranian artist named Sara. We all have our own beds and a little common area with enough room to store veggies, spices, clothing, and more, so all is well in Southern Chile.
Hasta luego, mis queridos….