A long time coming, this trip to Chile and Argentina. Of course, Hub had visited in the 70s on business, when the political situation was chaotic and dangerous, but he was selling sawmills and mining equipment and it was before the days of instant communications, so if you had work to do, you went and hoped for the best. Our trip this time was for vacation and for me, also, some research for my novels. In The Fifth Man, one of the protagonists – Markus – is seriously injured when his mineral exploration plane goes down near the Atacama Desert, in the north of Chile close to the border with Peru. Later, he visits the Swedish consulate in Santiago to renew his passport. I wanted to experience first-hand what that might have been like and I needed to know more about the situation ‘on the ground’ at the time. Did I luck out! More about that later.
When we arrived at Pearson 3 hours early to check in, a cheery Delta airlines staffer told us – as we lined up – that the flight was delayed. No problem. We had almost 4 hours to wait in Atlanta for our connection, so we weren’t worried. After 90 minutes, though, with no arriving aircraft in sight, we weren’t so sanguine. Mechanical difficulties. Aircraft is still in Detroit. Not to worry. Easy for you to say, Sister! In 2010, we missed our connection to Bangkok in Minneapolis by 10 minutes, because the connector flight idled on the tarmac at Pearson for 45 minutes, then there were strong headwinds, plus the gates were miles apart when we got there, huffing and puffing and severely pissed off.
In any event, this time, there was another scheduled flight which did arrive from Detroit and depart on time. We got our reservations switched and arrived at the cavernous Atlanta airport in plenty of time, hopeful that our luggage was with us. The departure lounge was filled with folks chatting in Spanish. Hola! I flipped through my Spanish-English dictionary, trying to pick up on conversations and remember words buried deep since I’d studied the language in high school. Hub was reading a draft chapter from his new book on international economy. No housework or worrying about the grubs destroying the lawn. It began to feel like we were on vacation.
I find long-distance travel soothing most of the time. The nine hour (and nine minutes) flight to Santiago was uneventful. We’d sprung the extra coin for upgraded economy seats – two side-by-side at the window, with more legroom. Drinks, read a bit, dinner (ugh, chicken), wine, bathroom break, knee bends, read some more (Donna Leon’s latest), then sleep. Half-wake, drink some water, snooze.
I awoke just as the sky was beginning to take on a light glaze over the curve of horizon. I love sunrise at 33,000 feet. It’s so primal, always brilliant, always life-affirming. Metaphysical. I just know that some ‘thing’, whatever you call that much-greater-than-humanity Being, had a hand in this….Is out there. By comparison, we creatures are so puny and powerless. Puts things into context, doesn’t it?
Like a kid, I spent the entire time until we landed, with my nose pressed against the window, snapping pictures, holding my breath, filled with as much sense of wonder at the glory of what was emerging before me as the light of the rising sun was burnishing the skies. But it was -57 degrees out there. The clouds beneath us glowed like rippled sand on a beach, looking substantial enough to walk across. As the light strengthened, they faded to pale and the magnificent mountains rose out of the darkness.