I suppose if I actually want to consider this a blog and myself a writer I have to, you know, write. Even though my life here in Brazil may be an exotic mystery to most of you, as I began to cultivate routine, develop friendships and find favorite local hot spots it simply became life for me. It is just the thing I do. And no matter how different it might be for you, for me it seems somewhat normal.
I also forget how many of you out there who read this whom I don’t regularly communicate with and have no idea what is actually going on down here. Thankfully, in the last two weeks all of what I just mentioned above was shaken up as I took an adventure to Easter Island, Santiago, Lima and Machu Picchu. Everything about this trip was new, exciting, difficult, awe inspiring and took me out of my normal Brazilian routine. This means I have several stories to share with you! Thus, my preamble is finished and we have arrived at the real beginning of this blog post.
Easter Island – Day 1
I had to pack for 2 weeks on the road which would take me through two ends of the landscape spectrum; running through surf on the beach and clamoring over mountains at 9,000 ft. I packed very simply. 3 pairs of shorts as well as a swimsuit, 1 pair of pants, 4 t-shirts, 1 long sleeve shirt, a fleece jacket, a raincoat and 2 pairs of tennis shoes. Throw in a handful of socks and underwear and I had everything I needed for 2 weeks. I did debate for close to five whole minutes over if I should take a sweatshirt but ultimately decided not to. It would have been nice in Cusco where it dipped down close to freezing at night, but utilizing layers and a fleece turned out to be just as effective. It also saved me valuable bag space. Other items in my bag included: toiletries, journal, camera gear and accompanying electronics, tripod, computer and a big ‘ol bag of trail mix – my go to snack when traveling.
If there is one thing my brain will most assuredly never fully adapt to down here it is the notion of time. My organized westernized American brain does not want to be late. So much so that when I show up on time, I wish I had arrived 10 minutes earlier. Here in South America though? Scheduled times are merely a suggestion. Say we should get there at 2 but don’t actually show up til 3? No worries. It’s all good. Here in São Paulo there is a built in excuse of ridiculous traffic, but really, that could be solved with a little planning ahead. While I only feel mildly stressed anymore in dealing with this down here, when I am traveling all prior assimilation gets thrown out the window. My flight left at 9am and even with more relaxed and quick security lines, getting there any less than 1.5 hours before departure time seemed dangerous and insane to me.
Enter São Paulo traffic.
Everything was looking pretty rosy for a 7:30 arrival at the airport when we hit a major traffic jam about 10 minutes outside the airport. Why there is a major highway entering and exiting through a very, very smal stretch of the road to the airport I haven’t the faintest idea but there is and it screws everything up. I know things should still be ok, but as I sat there in the passenger seat calculating when I might possibly arrive I could feel the anxiety creeping in. What if this is the one morning where security is crazy ridiculous and I miss my flight? What if there is some unforeseen customs issue and they don’t like me leaving Brasil? What if they close the doors for the international flight earlier? WHAT IF. I think if I had to pick one thing that consistently drives me crazy about traveling it would be the preflight drive to the airport. I tend to think about a thousand things that could go wrong that would cause me to miss my flight and it is the worst. Even more so when it is an international flight not from your home country.
I arrived around 8am and while it was not nearly ideal for me, everything worked out ok. Security was calm and basically empty. I did have to go to the absolute furthest end of the terminal to find my gate and arrived 20 minutes before my scheduled departure time, but remember what I said about South American schedules? Yeah, we didn’t even start boarding until 9am. I ended up having plenty of time to catch my breath, set my bag down, and turn those last few moments of chaos into excitement for the upcoming adventure.
I should also mention that my luggage was also a point of stress leading up to my gate arrival. I had everything in one large carry on backpack, but TAM’s policy for carry on luggage is a strange one. They only allow 5kg (~11lbs) for your bag. Which, come on, that’s almost not even useful. I didn’t know if they were going to make me check my bag (which I did not want to do as I had two layovers this flight one of which was a random one in Uruguay.) Fortunately, as I learned on this trip, this is a very relaxed policy. It only really comes into play if you check in at the ticket counter. As I had checked in online and already had my boarding pass, I was able to skip the counter and had no issues with carrying my bag on. Thankfully. Oh and for those of you who are curious, my bag tipped the scales at 16kg (~35lbs).
My flight to Montevideo (the capital of Uruguay) was quick and uneventful. The strangest thing about the entire ordeal is that the Montevideo airport, though architecturally beautiful, is ridiculously small. As in it only has 8 gates. Total. And only four of them are jetways. The other four are remote parking spots. We parked out in the middle of god only knows where and had to use a bus to get to the terminal. After some slight confusion on where to go for connecting flights (I know, how do you get confused in an airport the size of your living room, but this is South America we are talking about here), I arrived at my gate to wait for my flight to Santiago. It was extremely bazaar to see only 4 planes total outside and all of them from different companies. AirFrance, American Airlines, British Airway and LAN. That’s it. It felt as if I stepped back into the early days of aviation. It was exotic.
The flight to Santiago was longer but just as uneventful though it did provide one of the coolest travel lines I think I have ever heard. As we approached the Andes the captain came on the intercom and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen we are approaching the Andes. Please take your seats and fasten your safety belts.” It was innocent yet also so ominous. And perfect. The Andes also did their part and did not disappoint. They were majestic. Upon arriving in Santiago I had to go through Chilean customs. This was a rather simple, painless and well organized process. I only make note of it here as after I landed in Peru a week later I came to appreciate this simplicity even more.
I had a small layover here of about 2 hours and started getting really excited over the fact I would be on EASTER ISLAND soon. The Santiago airport did not have free wifi (or much wifi whatsoever) so there was nothing to distract me while I waited. Just me and my imagination. It was glorious. Easter Island, if you have not looked on the map, is way the hell out in the middle of nowhere and a healthy 6 hour flight from Santiago. Again, like my two other flights it was completely uneventful, outside of being asked to change seats from the window to the aisle to accommodate a woman whom I was told was terrified of flying and sometimes had panic attacks unless she sat by a window. This woman’s name was Ofelia and she was from Mexico City. This is all I will say for now, but know there is much hilarity surrounding this entire situation that came up later in my trip which I will get to in another post.
Easter Island arrival
I arrived on Easter Island around 11pm local time. Immediately after stepping off the plane and onto the tarmac (no jetways here!) I felt a wave of tranquility wash over me. This place had magic hidden somewhere and its effects were tangible through all five senses. Because of our conversations prior to landing, Ofelia ended up booking the same hostel I did upon our arrival and we were both met at the terminal to be shuttled to our new home. The ride took all of 5 minutes. Easter Island is very small and nothing is far away. After checking in to my room the exhaustion of my early morning wake up and spending all day traveling finally caught up to me. I was also running 2 hours behind São Paulo time. It was close to 2am for my body and I was approaching being awake for 24 hours. I said goodnight to Ofelia, did a bit of unpacking and organizing in my room, sent off messages to let people know I arrived safely and then went to sleep. Tomorrow brought the promise of exploring this great land of mystery. I was excited.