Jack Daniels and the Dunkin Donuts

Christmas in Antarctica originally posted by Linda Lou Burton December 17, 2005 from Santiago & Puerto Montt, Chile –It took one hour and 25 minutes to get to the glassed-in box that housed Policio, Immigracion. I had my passport in my hand, a friendly I’m-not-dangerous expression on my face. “Have you been here before?” I was asked, as she flipped through my passport pages, which were as yet free of any mark. “No, my first time,” I replied.

“Go pay. One hundred dollar.” I knew they would collect a hundred US dollars as I entered, I had three crisp fifty-dollar bills folded and ready in my passport case, one for good measure. But there was no sign anywhere indicating that it would be anywhere else but at the gate. “Where?” I asked, more than a little frustrated. She pointed to an area behind me, where there had been no line. I had observed none of the other passengers standing there during the long wait.

I trudged back across the nearly empty room, where three ladies merrily chatted away. “Pay here?” I asked. She had me slide my passport through the slot and then said “One hundred dollar.” I passed the money through. She stamped the passport, printed a receipt, and stapled it inside.

I trudged back to my original waiting line, ready to get aggressive about position. I edged my wheelie carry-on to the yellow line, like a runner at the starting gate. Go! I’m certain now I’m good. Passport to the glassed-in booth, receipt poking out the side. She flipped through again, glared at me. “You did not fill out the papers! Go back!” I had not noticed two small papers stuck inside, that asked for name and address and purpose of visit. “Can I please sit down to fill this out?” I asked, noticing a bench just a few feet past her. My knees were begging me to SIT. “NO! GO!”

I moved behind the yellow line again, first in place, determined not to let anyone ahead, hastily scribbling in the pre-measured boxes demanding name/address/married/single/widowed/divorced. ????? I thought. @#%$^&&#$^ I also thought. Now I’m up again! Go! Passport into the glassed-in booth, papers complete, fee paid. She slapped the stamp against the page and thrust it back to me. “Welcome to Chile,” she said.

I saw a sign pointed to the baggage area, which wound through the duty-free shop. Now I’m in the main terminal, crowded with people pushing, shoving, hauling carts piled high with boxes, bags, children. I find a sign for Flt 601, and there below, tossed already onto the floor, are fancy and schmancy, waiting for me. No other luggage is in sight, long gone, to somewhere.

Good fortune! The carts are free, parked here and there. I grabbed a cart and piled my belongings together, all my stuff, at last! I headed for the gate. Or so I thought. There was a line of carts poised to go through, oh no I can’t believe it, CUSTOMS. I get in line again, leaning wearily against my cart. Fifteen minutes, edging forward, finally to the x-ray machines, a gentlemen is standing there, collecting papers. PAPERS? What papers? I ask. I did not see any papers! He handed me a sheet, “Here Senora, to declare,” he kindly stated. Many questions, name, address, widowed/divorced/married/single, did I bring plants or animals into the country? No. I handed him the completed form, and he stuffed it into a stack on the counter, never glancing at it.

“Go now,” he said, nodding at me. My bags disappeared into the x-ray machine, but I held possessively onto my cart.

On the other side, a sign in blue-and-white loomed overhead. Spanish, of course, but I could make it out. SMOKING CAUSES CANCER was the basic message. It pictured a person looking very ill. I pushed my now x-rayed baggage forward, past the waiting taxi drivers, onto the elevator, up to the Departures tier. Everything smelled of cigarettes.

And what did I see? LINES. Nacional. Puerto Montt, Balmeceda. I did not know what fate called next, but, I could not stand in line. I had to sit. I had to rehydrate. The vending machines asked for coins I did not have, could not read. I spotted stores, just around the corner. A bar! “Ginger ale?” I asked. “Si,” replied the bartender. “Ice?” I ventured, hopefully. “Ice,” he replied. I sat down. It was 3 AM by my watch, but 8 AM in Santiago. A mustached blond man at the next table ordered coffee, lit a cigarette.

I sipped my ginger ale, watched the people passing by. On the wall, a sign advertised Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. Hm! I recalled my tour of the place, my lunch at Bobo’s, in a tiny town in the Tennessee hills. The next store was a music store, plastered with posters of Jennifer Lopez. Just past that, Dunkin Donuts was the spot for a Chilean breakfast.

“No matter how far we go, we’re never very far away,” I thought.

Fortified now. Back to the lines. I handed the ticket agent my passport, she asked my destination. “I do not know,” I replied, ‘but my name should be in your computer somewhere.” I explained about the tour company, the delay, the arrangements. She called for a supervisor. They talked for a while, in Spanish of course. I waited.

Then she began to type. “You will come back later to see your gate,” she said, “it is too early now to know.” “Then you see my name?” I asked. “Si.” “Where am I going?” I asked again. “Balmeceda,” was the answer, “at 12:55.” She pasted new tags on my luggage, threw it onto a belt. Suddenly, I had a boarding pass in my hand.

I pushed my cart outside into the Santiago air. It was sunny with smog, and pleasantly warm. “Santiago,” I thought, “is the same latitude as Birmingham, Alabama. So, this would be like a Birmingham day in June.” More or less. I snapped a few pictures of the rounded brown hills and went back inside.

Now to stay awake until noon. My head was drooping. I decided to eat. Back to the café, a milkshake now, a fruit tart. How to pay? How to tip? I blundered through.

Security at Santiago was easy. Finding my gate was easy. Or, is everything routine now? Seated, with two hours to wait, I fell asleep. But still, I heard the call. Onto the plane and a window seat! A couple to my right. She was so friendly, now I know I cannot sleep. She asks where I am going, listens to my tale. “We are going to Puerto Montt,” she said. “That is my home. We were delayed in Miami ourselves, our luggage lost. We’ve been filling out papers.” Now I knew, we were kin! “What were you doing in Miami?” I asked. “Oh, we live in North Carolina,” she replied. “My husband is from Alabama.” He smiles and nods at me. Maybe our paths have crossed before, in a grocery store, at a football game? Small world thoughts again.

The sky was clear as we left the ground, and suddenly I saw the city of Santiago below. My seatmate leaned to look with me, described the city. She knew the route, pointed out the mountains, the lakes. Osorno Volcano I recognized from the pictures I’d seen. She verified I was correct.

The plane glided over lakes, water, resorts, boats, houses, trees. We were on the ground and my friendly companions departed. “Have a wonderful Christmas with your sister,” I said.

“Good luck in Balmaceda,” they said to me. “We hope you catch your ship.”