Location Santiago

At the end of the world

The biggest market I’ve ever seen.
Santiago, November 2021.

Chile, my dear Chile. Fancy seeing you again. I’d forgotten, for a moment, how arid your hills are.

It took me a little while to get over here. In Madrid, in that never-ending hall, the one that rolls out to infinity with gates enough for the entire world to visit, I helped a guy who was trying to go to Mexico find his flight. He was confused because the letters and numbers were repeating themselves, the terminal, the subterminal, the gate, the same icons on a loop, like knowing a place by its GPS coordinates but not its name. I was confused because my gate number changed as I was leaping between moving walkways. I was confused because I was tired, and I had a headache and I was clutching a thousand forms: vaccine passes, pcr test results, declarations of the absence of symptoms, the location in which I would stay, all those numbers and words used to identify which country, gender and age group I belong, boarding passes, taxi reservations, evidence that someone will pay if I get sick. But I heard someone say, “Cachai” as we waited at the gate, and suddenly the number of documents seemed irrelevant. Do you get what I’m saying? A blink and I was in Madrid, another blink, gone again. But the Chilean words stuck around, with a reassuring presence.

We came backwards through Santiago airport, coming in through what must be newly built gates, walking through doors designed for the flow to be in the other direction, passing ‘no entry’ signs. I wandered through this labyrinth, following the guy in front. Chileans can queue. Without thinking (and therefore without worrying), I allowed myself to be herded through. I wondered how the Chileans were going to test us all and process all our documents and I imagined that I might be awhile in the airport, but they attacked the problem with many hands, applying parallel processing: countless people siting at countless desks collecting the countless documents in a building constructed like a maze. Fodder for Borges, I thought.

I was given a sticker to identify me as in isolation and sent down the escalator for my pcr test. I keyed my passport number into the machine and then moved into the next queue for testing. My first test, in Berlin, had been a gentle affair and I had wondered afterwards why people made such fuss about it. In England, my pcr test had been less comfortable but in hindsight not so bad. In Chile, I was reminded of those hooks which the ancient Egyptians used to remove a dead person’s brain through their nostrils.

I went up another escalator and followed people through another corridor. We’d made it to arrivals, and I recognized the room where we waited in our lines to pass through immigration. Slow lines, because the open desks could be counted on one hand, discarding the thumb and most of the fingers, and the staff kept wandering off to do other things. I didn’t feel rushed. I’d seen the sunshine through the floor to ceiling airport windows. Peace had settled upon me. In line, I helped a Spaniard connect to the free airport wifi so that he could call his children and tell them he’d arrived. He offered me chewing gum. The lady at the immigration counter stamped my passport with the pretty multicoloured Chilean stamp, and I was in.

Wheeling my jenga tower of suitcases out through the building, I found a bottled water dispenser, inserted my pesos and the machine refused to dispense the water. I tried another machine: it didn’t work either. I wasn’t the only one wanting water, and I shared consolations with a stranger – at least the machine refunded our pesos. We met up again a few minutes later, buying water from a little shop. A woman served me, handing me a bottle of water which was cheaper than those sold in the machine. Perhaps the gods were helping out.

Thankfully, I knew what I was doing because I had clear instructions from Chilean friends. I found my driver, a professional chap who squirted my hands with sanitizer and did all that moving my luggage around, and he drove me to a friend’s flat. The receptionist appeared and these two men transferred my three suitcases into a shopping trolley. I just stood there, while all this happened, with an expression halfway between a sunshine smile and goldfish thinking. I was led into a lift, and left there with the trolley, the receptionist pressed the button, sent me up and phoned my friend to notify her of the guest on her doorstep.

I had arrived.

Part six of the repatriation ordeal (In which I compare airlines)

Torres del Paine, Chile
February 2020
This was on the eighth day of continuous hiking (in the same clothes).

In February I went hiking in the beautiful Torres Del Paine National park in the Patagonia region of Chile. My flight back to Santiago was with the airline LatAm. Shortly into the flight, the pilot came on the tannoy system and cheerfully told us that what with it being a really beautiful day, with perfect flying conditions, and a perfect view over the national park, he was going to just take a few minutes and twizzle the plane around a bit so that everyone on the flight could get a good look at the iconic stone towers for which the national park is so famous.

It was quiet flight to Miami with LatAm, but the staff checked we were okay, and they gave us food which to my surprise seemed like real food on what looked like a plate. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was until I started eating. I had the entire row to myself as the staff gave us freedom to sit where we wanted to help us keep socially distanced and make use of the available space.

I don’t remember the food on the American Airlines flight to London, except for that when I got off the flight I was hungry and there was an awkward moment where I had to go to the kitchen at the back of the plane and ask for water because we’d been given so little.

The LatAm staff acknowledged the unpleasantness of wearing masks, but they wore their own mask correctly and set a good example.

On the American Airlines flight, I saw one senior looking member of staff not bothering to wear any mask at all, despite it being an obligation for everyone. He walked up and down the aisle from one end of the plane to the other, mask-less, a number of times throughout the night.

You’ll understand therefore if I now have a bias towards LatAm. I was exhausted, anxious, afraid and alone and the staff bothered to recognised it. No surprise that I slept much better on the LatAm flight that the American Airways flight.


On my return I did write to the booking agent, Opodo, explaining the situation. They have still not responded. There has been no apology for their screw up.

My father called British Airways about the first cancelled flight. Nobody ever picked up.

‘Tannoy’ is apparently, like hoover, a brand. I think it looks ugly capitalised mid sentence.