RAPA NUI Pt 3 – SAFE LANDING

This was not intentional on my part but as it turns out, you are experiencing my flight to South America in real time.  Needless to say, I could not get comfortable enough to sleep on the chairs at Orlando International. No matter how creative I got with their placement, my back just could not take the positioning. So, from midnight until 6 a.m., when the breakfast café opened, I tossed, turned and went full on brain numb. Finally, breakfast.  The plane boarded easily and I sat in another lovely, comfy seat on my multi hour flight to Santiago Chile. I think that I chatted with my seat companion for a few minutes, then tucked myself in for a long winter’s nap. I awoke just as we were beginning our decent. My seat companion expressed his jealousy at my being able to sleep the entirety of the flight.  Our chat ended with the touching down at SCL, Santiago International Airport. Here is where it gets fun.

So over the past number of years working construction I have learned a bit of Spanish. It has been my privilege to work with men from Mexico, Guatemala and even Columbia. Each with their own idioms and accents. Currently I am able to:  Ask how you are; tell you to dig a ditch; and, well, to piss off; if I want. All very important communications tools. At the time of these travels I barely had 4 words of Spanish. Upon landing we were directed to head through customs with all of our luggage.  The queue was long and I felt personally proud that I was able to manage the 12 or 13 cardboard boxes of my belongings.

It is said that each person’s favorite word is their name. When called, almost all of us will turn in response. Standing in line I thought that I heard something familiar. I will share with you now that it was my name being called over the loud speaker. (A Tannoy for my English readers.) Not accustomed to International travel I was focused on getting through the customs lines and while I looked up I did not see anyone holding a sign with my name. (God how I hoped for that scene.)

The Custom’s Officers in Chile were dressed in sharply pressed blue uniforms and carried a sidearm. Hmm? When my turn came they asked me what was in the boxes. I had previously been instructed to tell them that it was my clothing. They asked me to open a box. Of course it was a cooler packed with food stuffs. The younger officer’s eyes went wide as he blurted, “Contraband.” Here is where my 4 words of Spanish both helped and failed me. “Pelicula,” I said. “Isla de Pascua,” I added.  (Movie; Easter Island.) I had such a horrible American accent that neither men knew what I was saying.  “Film, movie, Easter Island,” I repeated. The older agent nodded and ushered me along. The younger agent’s eyes got even wider.  “Contraband!” he repeated, with even greater emphasis. I stood there frozen trying to stem the surge of Chilean prison images that flooded my brain. The anxiety must have shown on my face and the older agent looked at me in a blessedly paternal manner. He turned to the younger agent, lowered his voice and said a few short words in Spanish to him. The younger man dejectedly deferred and they ushered me along.

Always a supporter of local economy, two young gentlemen approached me and offered to help with take my packages to my final connecting flight, the one that would drop me to my final destination of Isla de Pascua. It was only a few short meters to the next desk but I was thankful for the assistance. When we arrived at the next check-in counter they asked for payment. The ticket agent immediately spoke up in my defense and had the young men seal up my open boxes and load them onto scale for me. I gave them each a fiver, US. Sweet, I had made it and my next flight was due to take off within the hour. First things first, all of my packages were weighed and checked in. Great. Being pleased with myself for upgrading all three legs of the flight, I was so looking forward to the first class lounge, I asked politely with a smile; “May I use the first class lounge?” “No.”  “Sorry, but I have a first class ticket.” “Sir, you are not on the next flight.” Now it was my turn to open mu eyes as wide as saucers. “What!?” “Sir, you are not confirmed on the next flight.”  “But you just checked in all my luggage.” “Yes sir.” “But the flight leaves in 45 minutes.”  “No sir, it has been delayed 8 hours.”  “When will I be confirmed?” “Check back later. Next!”

Seriously? I was kicked out of the first class lounge in Orlando, and left to fend for myself in the cold dark expanse of Orlando International. Now here I was in a foreign country; no money; no language skills; no clean clothes; no McDonald’s in sight; AND my flight, which I was not confirmed on, was delayed, again! (SCL, just so you know, was a small single terminal airport without any amenities, save Los Baños.) Talk about being lost. I had no idea where I was, no idea how to get in contact with the movie production company, and really, no idea as to what to do next.  I plopped myself down in one of those hard, molded fiberglass chairs that are oft found in amusement parks and stared straight ahead. A woman sat down next to me and placed a cage with 2 chickens in it, on the floor. Oh great, this just keeps getting better and better. A few minutes later, when the check-in line had dwindled, I queried the ticket agent a second time. Again, no. I must have done this at least 3 more times over the course of 2 hours. As you might imagine, I was beginning to get airport stir crazy. I went outside for a bit of fresh air and sat on the lawn which was the median strip for the airport. That lasted no time at all as the diesel smoke was just too thick to take.  Back to the hard chair for me. I think that I nodded off for a bit, that or I must have blacked out the thought of it, because I cannot remember what happened over the next few hours. Once more into the breach!  “Am I confirmed?” “Yes, here is your ticket. The flight leaves in one hour.” “May I use the first class lounge please?”  The furniture was much more comfortable there and I had no qualms at all about stretching out on the sofa for a nap.

The flight to Easter Island was quick and comfortable. A little known fact: The airstrip on Easter Island was built by NASA as an emergency landing strip for the shuttle, should it ever have to land in that part of the world, and was a full 2 miles long. The landing there was the smoothest I have ever experienced. The pilot required no flaps, or reverse thrusters, to slow down the aircraft. We just glided to a stop. We deplaned on the tarmac and a lovely woman came running up to me and asked, “Tom?” “Yes,” I replied.  “Oh my God! We did not know if you had made it on the plane. We had someone at the airport to greet you and take you to a hotel room where you could shower and rest.”

I just laughed. In truth, I had made it, literally, half way around the world with relatively few discomforts. I was alive and about to start an amazing adventure. So, I just laughed. It was nighttime and I was shown to my room at the local motel. The building was old and weathered from many years of tropical storms, and the hot water smelled of Sulphur but the shower was delicious.  Having shampooed, showered and shaved, I tucked myself in to a proper bed for a good night’s sleep. The only sound I heard was that of a gentle Pacific Ocean breeze. I had work tomorrow but tonight I slept.

Until Tomorrow,

Tommy Judt

p.s. Oh, I almost forgot. As I turned out the light and nestled into my soft, soft pillow embracing the breezy quiet of the island I heard this strange clicking sound moving across the hard floor of my room. I sat up quickly and switched on the light. Looking down I saw three HUGE cockroaches coming at me from the front door. They must have slid under from outside. And to this day I will swear, on any holy book that you give to me, that I heard one of them say, “You two hold him down and I’ll grab the pillow.”

Welcome to Hollywood!

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