Posts Tagged With: Travel

South America…the unexpected happens

Wow – it’s been a very long while since I last updated this. I guess part of the reason I hadn’t is that I’ve been so busy with the new job that my hikes were few and far between, and quite frankly, not very exciting, and certainly not epic.

This time it’s different.

A few weeks ago I traveled to Brazil for business, and after a couple of days went on to Montevideo, Uruguay, also for business. Both trips were very successful ventures, and all that remained was to get home. So Friday evening I left Montevideo for Rochester – short hop over the mountains to Santiago, Chile, and on to Toronto, then a quick puddle jumper across Lake Ontario and home early Saturday morning. But fate had other plans for me.

The mountains sit just behind the city

The mountains sit just behind the city

When I arrived in Santiago, I learned the AirCanada flight was canceled – the incoming 777-300 had apparently hit a bird while landing, and lost an engine. They needed AC to fly parts in from Toronto, so they canceled the flight and sent everyone to a hotel until the next day.

Because I was only in transit, and never meant to clear customs here, they took my passport at the airport and locked it in a safe. Technically I am not ‘here’ in Chile, according to Immigration. I told the Immigration Office that I wasn’t comfortable being in another country, and he calmly replied “Don’t worry senior. What could happen?”

I was bussed to the Sheraton San Cristobal – a hotel I had stayed in years ago – it is a beautiful five star hotel in downtown Santiago, not too far from the financial district. I even made a short video in the hotel, and commented on how lucky I was to have been stuck there, as this was a pretty nice way to be inconvenienced.

As everyone knows by know, Chile was hit with a massive earthquake early Saturday morning….I was sleeping when it hit, but was wakened by the shaking and the noise, much like a freight train in my room. I tried to stand, and fell….turned on a light, ran to get my cell phone and key, but another shake caused me to slam into the wall and drop the phone. It happened to be at the same moment we lost power, so I dropped to my knees and tried to feel on the floor for the phone The shaking and noise were intensifying at this point, and for a brief moment I stopped everything, and came to the conclusion that this was to be my end. I take solace in knowing that reaching that conclusion was lot more peaceful and calming than I thought it would be, but the calm allowed me to stand up, and leave the room (after fighting with the deadbolt). Still, it was much like being on the deck of a boat in 20 foot seas….I hit the walls a few times, and fell again as I tried to open the door. As I entered the hallway, the power returned, and I saw people running and screaming down the halls.  Luckily for me the stairway was right across the hall, and I was only on the 2nd floor, so I opened the door and directed a few folks into the stairwell, and we ran downstairs. Just as we approached the bottom, the quaking stopped – it was nearly three minutes of shaking. We ran outside into the dark, and were directed by hotel security thru the lobby and out back onto the lawn….managing to step on some broken glass in the process. We waited outside for about four hours before we could return to the rooms – when I did I realized my cash, company card, cell phone and watch had been stolen during the chaos.

The hotel staff was fabulous – they set up coffee and fruit during the wait, and for the next few days provided three excellent meals a day. It is unbelievable the dedication and effort they made, even while their own families were home without them.

Camp Sheraton

For the next three nights, we slept outside in lawn chairs or on the lawn….luckily the nights were clear, but given the low humidity and despite the warm days, the nights were quite cool. Luckily for me I had my Patagonia down sweater, which was a lifesaver, and having spent many nights camping, this wasn’t as difficult for me as for some of the other guests.

Sunday afternoon a strong aftershock hit, and caused a rock slide on the hill behind the hotel….I was lucky to have had my Flip video with me and caught the slide. I understand that this tremor caused at least one and maybe two heart attacks among the guests though, and I have to admit the continual jolt of the aftershocks does indeed wear thin on your heart.

Events like this bring out the best in people, and the worst. News of looting in other towns made my small room robbery seem trivial, but the fact that people used this situation to take advantage is sad. However, I did meet some wonderful people, and we did the best we could to keep each other cheered up throughout this situation. I hope to keep in touch with them in the future, but hopefully not under these circumstances again!

I know of several people there who say it has changed their lives deeply – I’m not sure I can say that, although I am still trying to figure out the purpose in all of this for me. I believe it was an opportunity to not only help those around me, but to re-connect with long lost friends from my past. I was very grateful to see the outpouring of support and prayers for my safety, and for my wife, alone at home and worried about the outcome. Their support made the situation much easier to cope with than it would have been without it. And through it all, Pam waited at home, with the minimal communication we had, and I can say now it was much more difficult a week for her than it was for me. At least I knew I was safe and that I’d be alright – she could only imagine, and of course one’s imagination always sees these things as worse than they are.

For several days we waited – and waited – for news on the re-opening of the airport. Originally planned for Friday evening, the ill-fated Air Canada flight finally left Wednesday evening at 11PM, and despite not always enjoying long flights, this one was the best. Even the storm tossed turbulence didn’t matter – I was finally going home.

As I arrived in Toronto I learned the next connecting flight was eleven hours away…silly to wait, I rented a car a drove home, with only a minor issue at the border.

Border Officer: Why are you here?

Me: My plane landed in Toronto and the next flight was tonight, so I drove to be home sooner.

Border: Why did you go to Toronto?
Me: I didn’t, really. I was in Chile and got stuck for a few days, flew back thru Toronto, and here I am.

Border: Why were stuck in Chile?

Me: You know – the earthquake? Airport was closed…

Border: Hmm…no, haven’t heard about it. Next time you should take your flight, but go on this time.

Me: It’s good to be home, eh?

And so it is….Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.

Ready to go home!

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