Starting at the End
Every new journey ends with its share of tales to tell, and the Cachando Chile Duo (that would be me and the Mister) have plenty to say about our recent trip to Italy. I had hoped to offer up regular doses of insights, tips, and tidbits from the road that recently took us through Rome, Florence, and Venice, but alas… the Chileno half of this expedition does not believe in leaving any sight unseen or step untaken. Forget about piazza-side espresso sipping and people watching; in fact, I think his feet keep moving even in his sleep. Remember, he’s of the “but we might die tomorrow” school of thought. I, having sped up a less than successful round of physical therapy for a bum ankle to make this trip, was doomed to play the part of the gimpy gringa grumbling about aching feet, perfect shots missed (more on that photographic subject to come, you can be sure), and culinary novelties left untasted. He, the enthusiastic onward-marching soldier was determined to conquer Rome and acquire the true spirit of Italy in a mere 2 weeks. But we made it out alive—and together—and are on our way home with a cart-load of shared memories, one traveler’s notebook filled and spilling over onto the back cover, and some 40 gigabytes of raw photos (FYI, that’s 1500+) ripe for processing.
As we unpack, settle in, and reflect upon the experience, I will post the most post-worthy—and spare you the “Aunt Gert & Uncle Fred on vacation” version of it all!
Flying the Funky Skies
But just to get the ball rolling, I’ll start at the end, thanks to Aerolíneas Argentinas, who awarded us a bonus pack of 4 unexpected hours in Rome to chill (to the bone) at Rome’s Fiumicino Gate 11. To their credit, they did give us each a slice of pizza and a soft drink for our troubles. Snarkiness aside, it was much nicer to arrive in Buenos Aires at 8:30 AM instead of 4:20 AM, as originally planned, although that 5-hour layover we were dreading in BA? Forget it. Missed the flight to Chile anyway.
The passenger list tipped the scales on the Italian side, followed by Argentines, who share the same charming accent (though not the language) and boisterous extroverted collective personality. If there were other Chileans on the flight, you would only have known by their silence. Let’s just say it was a lively night.
Boarding was late and haphazard. Out of boredom and desperation, anxious passengers began lining up at the gate when they tired of waiting. What is it about human nature that makes people feel the need to march in step? In this case the ring leader was a long-robed priest at the front. Maybe everyone figured he had some inside information from above (and I’m not talking about the control tower)…
When in Rome…
Being the more frequent flyer in this Duo (which gives me bossiness credits in airports), I announced there was no need to join the herd because, really, who ever heard of boarding first come first serve? Errr… Italians at Aerolíneas Argentinas, as it turns out. When the announcement finally came and the mad rush began, there was no call for first class or adults with children first, no priority wheel chairs (which were clumped together near the entrance and apparently boarded last), just on your mark, get set, GO!
Understandably anxious to get this show on the road (although bird in the air may be more appropriate), all 300 passengers surged forward, brandishing boarding passes, stormed the stairs and came to a screeching halt as those in row 15 blocked aisles to stuff, cram, and jam their over-sized bags into the overhead compartments while passengers in rows 16–40 back up on the stairs and spilled out onto the tarmac.
Finally seated and ready for takeoff, belts fastened, seat backs upright, electronic devices off—Hey you in 26B! That includes cell phones!—the flight attendant had to come back TWICE to say that the pilot was having trouble communicating with the tower due to interference from the cabin.
The flight itself was textbook economy class: the guy in front flips his seat back suddenly into your lap, the one behind fiddles with and pushes his tray into your back all night and somehow manages to kick you from below at the same time; the same “pasta o pollo?” at midnight, the same insultingly bad movie starts sometime during the wee hours. The usual high-carb, low-caffeine breakfast; the same lines waiting for the person camped out the restroom (seriously, what could anyone possibly do in there for so long? No, wait, I don’t even want to know). I make a list of annoying airplane behaviors
Strangers in the Night, BEST Buds by Morning
We were all tired, cold, and annoyed when we boarded, but some mysterious magic friendly dust seems to have been sprinkled into the ventilation system, because people who were total strangers just hours earlier swapped life stories and addresses by morning. Aisle strollers stopped to chat, breakfast snacks got traded, and destination advice was offered. The sun rose somewhere over Brazil and I overheard an enthusiastic young man peeking out the window explain to his seatmate that he was looking for the Andes. Everyone around him did a double take, language check, and launched into a geography lesson. Arrival anticipation rose.
The pilot announced we’d begun our descent. Scattered applause. We giggled. We haven’t even landed yet and the celebration was already on! In the past, Chileans often applauded upon landing, although it’s decreasingly common as people fly more.
Take your seats, buckle up, seat backs forward, electronic devices off. “Yes, 26B, that really does mean you!”
Hearty touch-down applause was immediately followed by the unclick-click-clack of hundreds of antsy travelers bursting out of their seat belts.
“Please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened…”
The woman next to me hopped up to get her entirely unnecessary heavy winter coat out of the overhead compartment (she isn’t going to need that thing till she touches down in Rome again–it was already 70ºF). She couldn’t reach and bags and jackets toppled into the aisle. The flight attendant, desperate as a kindergarten teacher on the last day of class, stormed back to establish order.
The pilot comes on to explain that another plane is in our assigned slot.
We move up to another slot.
The Sky Bridge operator is nowhere to be found.
For the next 20 minutes the passengers play cat and mouse with the flight attendants, sneaking up into the overheads as we assume someone is trained in the fine art of Sky Bridge attachment.
We inch into place and the seat belt light goes off. More applause as everyone jumps up in unison. Hand shaking, cheek kissing, qué te vayas biens in that Argentine-only cross between Italian and Spanish. Finally.
We’re back in South America.
How about you? Got a favorite plane travel story to tell? Leave it in the comment section or blog it yourself and let us know so we can do some link swapping!