Day 2: No Blink Goes to Waste
Mary Joy and I both arrived just after 9:30 am local time at the Santiago airport, her from Houston and me from Atlanta. The airport also took in full flights from Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, and Barcelona at the same time. Baggage claim had been empty when I first entered, but quickly filled with people. The exit through Customs became a snaking line that resembled more of the Ourobouros symbol than a rational method of granting entry into Chile.
I spotted Mary Joy as she picked up her heavy duffel bag at the Houston baggage carousel, and I was in one of the many circuitous columns. She joined me, and we caught up as we kicked our bags inch by inch closer to the scanner.
Once through Customs, we found the yellow sign that denoted our group. Confession time. This was group travel. This whole shenanigan was an Overseas Adventure Tour, a group that we’d traveled with before. Mary Joy had traveled with them many times, and I had joined her for a prior trip to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu. No one seemed to be bothered by the fact that I was underage.
See, OAT advertises as an age 50+ travel company, so I am a little out of place. I suppose it would be illegal for them to outright deny me access because I was not their target demographic. I had enjoyed myself so much on our last tour, and I was so excited about this trip, that I had a hard time talking about details when prompted by friends and family.
The benefit of a tour like this is there is always someone nice to take your bag from you. And also to bring it back to you. Not just take your bag and then you are out of both luck and clean underwear.
Post-customs, we found refuge with the gentlemen holding the yellow OAT signs, waited for a few more fellow travelers, and then relaxed into the backseat of a sedan as we sped into town.
I liked Santiago. I like Santiago.
Mountains surround the city, though there was a haze around the edges of the basin. The driver insisted the haze was dust, kicked up by trucks picking up goods and delivering them into the city. It seemed unlikely—the haze looked remarkably similar to smog.
Once at the hotel, we got room keys and a few minutes of turn around time to hit the bricks. We had our first encounter with Nicole, our trip leader, and the stranger we all would interact with the most in the coming weeks, asking for favors, confessing secrets to, a sort of priest of leisure.
Out on the town, starving since our meager airline breakfast hours before, we got our first taste of the country with mote con huesillo. It is both a drink and snack, obtained from a small cart in the middle of a pedestrian street.
Mote con huesillo comes in a tall plastic cup with a spoon. It tastes most like peach iced tea with barley grains bouncing at the bottom and dried peaches (or maybe apricot?) floating to the top. It was too hot, and this both cooled and sated me. Everyone else wanted the ice cream. I stuck with the mote con huesillo.
I’m serious, there’s a subway stop with murals depicting the history of Chile. Stop at Universidad de Chile, and you can see large panels painted by the Chilean artist Mario Toral.
We ate our first meal together that night, our first little group of eight. The dinner was at the top of a rotating restaurant, alternating our views of the city and the mountains. We were all smiles, getting to know each other, shuffling into the edges of one another’s acquaintance. Chicken and rice, with plenty of wine, lubricated conversation, all of us buzzing with the idea that tomorrow we would reach Isla de Pascua—Easter Island.
Mary Joy and I collapsed into a deep, if not brief, sleep when we got back to the room. Catching up could wait until the Island. The next day was our foray to the remotest island in the world: Rapa Nui.