Southern Adventures – but not in Australia (Part 1)

A while back I mentioned that I was heading overseas on a pretty special holiday. It has occurred to me that I should update before I forget every detail!

So one Friday I hopped on a train that was delayed, to catch a plane that was also delayed, which would have been fine, except that the Airline was frantically trying to get me onto an earlier flight in order to meet my connection but the delayed train meant that I didn’t make the check-in cut-off. So that was a very relaxing start. So the airline ended up just delaying the second flight, too, so that we could all get on it, which was great. By the time I landed in Buenos Aires I’d been travelling a bit over thirty hours and was very tired, hungry and with low blood sugar (turns out the diabetic meal was inedible – filing that one away for future reference, and have offered my feedback to the airline). I struggled to follow my daughter’s instructions to find the hidden ATM in the airport, and took out the amount of money she told me I would need for a taxi. I then headed out into the a very crowded space when a very nicely dressed gentleman asked me if I was looking for a taxi. Stop me if you can see where this one is going …

I replied that I was, and then he led me through McDonalds, saying the other way was closed. By this stage the slow-turning cogs in my brain had woken up the the fact that he didn’t have a lanyard or other airport ID. Then I saw the line for the actual taxis, but he was speeding past, dragging my bag and heading for the carpark. So I caught up and asked, “So you’re not a taxi? You’re more of an Uber?” He told me he was a car service licensed by the airport. We got to his car, a standard but clean sedan and I asked if the cost would be the same as a taxi. He said it was per kilometre. He didn’t say how much per kilometre. I did say that I only took out enough money for a taxi. He didn’t take that out.

Throughout the trip, he’s chatting and laughing and very amiable. Then we pulled up in a pretty deserted street in the middle of Buenos Aires and he’s telling me to walk back to my hotel (which I couldn’t see), and he taps into a calculator and shows me the amount: four times what my daughter had told me I needed. I showed him what I had and he kept saying no, no, it’s this amount. I kept repeating, “but this is all I have.” And then the nice act dropped and he started screaming at me in Spanish. I was locked into the car, and my luggage was locked in the boot. Stupidly, I had no plan B.

I kept asking him what he wanted me to do. I later learned that there are no ATMs on the street because they just attract robberies. He wasn’t suggesting any other options. I told him I didn’t know why he was yelling at me in Spanish when he knew I didn’t understand. He called me stupid and crazy, and then a “fucking American.” I told him I wasn’t a “fucking American” so he changed it to “fucking Australian.” He started telling me he wasn’t a stupid tourist, and I remember thinking that was probably a good thing, in his line of work. I told him to call the police, then.

Well, he certainly didn’t want to do that. So he announced he’d take me to the hotel. And I felt enormous relief, because I figured that the fact that I was a paying guest there might mean they would be looking for a solution. And I was right.

He stormed in and shouted at the young lad behind the desk all about me. I just looked at him and said, “I don’t know what to do.” He kept saying OK, and trying to reassure me, as best he could. I asked, “does anyone speak English” and the not-taxi driver yelled at me, “we don’t need English. I already told him about you.” Cool, so now I know he’s a bit of a narc as well – because clearly his failed attempt to rip me off is the only conversation I might need to have when checking in.

At some point, a dude built like a bouncer and a woman in about her thirties, carrying a sleeping child, appeared. Bouncer-man just talked to the not-taxi dude while the young guy behind the counter, Sanuel, tried to keep me calm. I could understand “only solution” and the calm, no-nonsense tone of the bouncer-like-guy (who was, I think, the manager and living onsite) and then Sanuel asked me if I had a credit card. And being thirty plus hours in, sleep-deprived, literal by nature and having been reading a lot of Scott Pape and Dave Ramsey lately, I said no. Eventually they took my debit card and I made a payment to the hotel, while the bouncer/manager peeled off notes and gave them to the not-taxi driver – around half what he had demanded. As soon as everyone left, so did my sense of terror, and I promptly burst into tears. Sanuel mimed for me to breathe, and then I headed upstairs to try to calm down and get something resembling sleep.

And that’s the story of how I thought I was going to be abducted, or worse, on my first night away.

 

The following morning, Sanuel was still on shift and made sure to check in with me and direct me to breakfast. Major props to the Hotel Master Suites Devoto for how well they handled the whole situation. I would definitely stay there again; I’d just be smarter about how I got there.

The following morning Jamie joined me and we crammed ourselves and our luggage into the tiniest Uber in history, and began our AFS-related adventures, thankfully with far fewer concerns. We headed out to Ministro Pistarini Airport, and over a big lunch and strong drink at the Hard Rock Cafe, she caught me up on her adventures over the preceding three weeks. Jamie being Jamie, she made friends with the waitress (who attended the same Uni as the one where Jamie did her program) and are now Instagram buddies. (The middle-aged equivalent is that the nice manager’s nice wife in the story above has messaged me via Facebook to thank me for the nice review I wrote about how they handled that whole disaster movie).

So off we headed to Chile; first to Santiago, and then off to Punta Arenas. Now, we did not do our usual level of research for this trip. We just tried to get ourselves to where the kids were, and we weren’t worried about tourist attractions because we only had about three days in each place.

Turns out Punta Arenas is nearly in Antarctica. You can go on a cruise to Antarctica from where we were.

Grace and her husband Yeovany and their little girl, Trini, were there to greet us at the airport. There was much hugging and a little crying, and then we went back to their home. Punta Arenas is a pretty, small city, with plenty of ocean views and more ice on the ground than I’ve ever had to deal with. This led to me landing flat on my back at one point–ironically, right outside a hospital, but I luckily didn’t need to go in!

Grace was a very attentive hostess and Yeovany took time off work to be home when we were visiting. Trini and I became good mates very quickly. We like to read and do puzzle together. I  only know my colours in Spanish because of this book and our adventures searching for the chameleon hiding on each page.

Trini was a bit crook so we decided to save bigger adventures for another visit, and instead stayed relatively close to home. We kissed the foot of the statue of Tierra Del Fuego, so we know we’ll be back another time.

We wandered the city streets, starting down by the harbour (you can see the ice on the ground in many of these pictures) and bought churros and checked out the amazing views.

One of the suprising cultural adjustments for me was the number of stray dogs we saw on our travels. I just cannot remember ever having seen this in Australia, particularly not in cities. These three pooches sunning themselves so innocently were almost in every shot we took, and also running at cars. This is them relaxing after that busy morning.

info and dogs

The place was just beautiful, though.

portscape

After this, we headed out of the CBD and up to a lookout, where I had great fun watching Jamie trying to figure out which direction Australia was from where we were standing.

jamie at hill best.JPG
Queen of all she sees, wherever she is.

That night we stayed up very late, talking, laughing and drinking wine and later, pisco.

AFS girls
Jamie (Italy 14/15), Grace (Australia 01/02), Kimberley (Japan 90/91)

And then we realised it was snowing. It was snowing when we finally went to bed around 2am, and it was snowing when we got up at 5am to get ready and head to the airport. Now, the road to Grace’s place is in a state of disrepair that is pretty infamous. As in, we were in the car when Grace was interviewed by a news crew over how bad it was. If you look closely, you can see Jamie and Yeovany in the front seat of one of the cars in this news footage. Between the road and the snow, the drive to the airport was a pretty hairy one, and when we got there we were told that within an hour we’d know whether or not the runway would open. Luckily, it did.

And so we headed off to Paraguay on the next leg of our adventure, which I’ll add here next WordPress Wednesday.

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