After a rather hectic first two days of on-call, I received an international standby assignment. Typically, I would be excited with the prospect of going to Paris or London, but Santiago was one of those exceptionally large question marks on the map. After a horrifying experience in Guyana, I swore off South America all together. Crew Scheduling had completely other plans in mind, and within twenty minutes of signing in, I was tearing through E Concourse in my red dress and heels.
I arrived at the aircraft breathless and bewildered, but the crew were exceptionally fantastic in rallying my energy to make it through the night. The flight over was mercifully painless as most of the passengers slept, and during my crew break, I slept like the dead. Upon our arrival in Chile, I had long exhausted my second wind, yet a third wind puffed up my sails as I stepped into South American winter. The brisk cold air snapped me awake, and I promptly realized that I was packed for summer on the Northern Hemisphere, including Parisian and English (cool with possibly light rain). Having continuously dodged the South American assignment, I had become complacent in my packing practices. Talk about needing to get creative.
The van ride was quick, but my nose was pressed to the glass like a child at an aquarium. Another destination on my ever evolving check list, and I did not want to miss a single moment of it. It took several beats to realize that the beautiful, snowy mountains in the distance, were none other than The Andes! The overcast sky slowly gave way to the sun, fighting its way through the cloud cover. Santiago, Chile– from its rural stretches of land, transitioning into the out skirted fringes, evolving into the city center– I soaked it all in. As the highway melted into the metropolitan area, our little motor coach was engulfed by Santiago’s concrete jungle.
Unlike the hotel nightmare in Georgetown, Guyana, I felt like I was in a European city as the hotel valet assisted me off the coach. The beautiful floral arrangements welcomed me, and I forced myself to contain my excitement as my heels clicked across the marble floors. Had I known that the layover hotel in Chile was this classy, I would have come on my own volition much sooner. After peeling off my uniform in my room, I hopped into the shower, and proceeded with a power nap.
With my battery properly recharged, I layered up, grabbed my umbrella, and made my way to the Costenera Center. I had a momentary panic attack after visiting the ATM, as I couldn’t properly calculate the exchange rate between US Dollars and Chilean Pesos. I need to make a cheat sheet, as their decimal points and commas mean the opposite to what I am accustomed. I honestly couldn’t tell if I took out $100 or bankrupted myself.
Unsure of the actual amount I had available to do my usual routine of dining out, food shopping and souvenir hunting, I played it close to the vest. My first stop was Antartica Libros where I purchased a replacement travel journal. In my daze working from Raleigh to Los Angeles the trip before, my travel journal fell out of my bag. All my notes from for my blog, including my back logged items, as well as my event notes from various outings around Orlando. Gone.
I dropped by Isadora, a cute accessories shop similar to Claire’s or The Icing here in the States, and I picked up a scarf. While it was imported from India, it was surprisingly inexpensive. Knowing that I might be returning to the hotel,after dark and the temperature potentially nearing freezing, I picked out a colorful one. It felt far more luxurious than it’s price tag would let on, but really appealed to my sensibility.
The next task was stocking up on food for my in-room fine dining experience, so I headed over to Jumbo Market. Uncertain of Chilean market protocol, I watched the locals go about their business. I saw that bulk items like fruit and bread had weigh stations, where clerks calculate the prices, much like the clerks at the deli or fishmonger counters. I looked for items I would not be able to find at home to try as well as items made in Chile. Yes, even when abroad, I like trying to eat and drink local. Thanks to the ladies in the wine aisle, I managed to quickly and painlessly find some Chilean greats to bring home.
After my trip to the market was complete, I hunkered down and decided it was time for some food. With my essentials for dinner as well as breakfast and lunch the following day, my appetite turned toward coffee and cake. In the center of the shopping plaza’s first floor, I stopped at Café Melba where I ordered a cappuccino and a hefty slice of carrot cake. While the cake was a smidgen drier than I prefer, the cappuccino was precisely the perfect temperature and balance of sweet and strong.
Carrot Cake and a Condorito Journal in a cafe.
I wrote my notes in my new journal as I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the color changing fountain. Little girls splashed in the water beside my table, giggling with each other, so I mused to the sound of their laughter. Then the floor started rumbling. The flatware and dishes started clattering.
Tables and chairs started rattling.
The fire alarm started wailing.
The building began swaying.
People started screaming and running.
When was the last time I’d felt one? 2008?
I white-knuckled the table trying to process the people fleeing around me. I forget which film the quote comes from, but I let the fear in for a three count, took a deep breath, and remembered I could not control the situation, only how I reacted to it. Many of people left without paying, but others stayed unconcerned. I flagged down my server, paid my check with a trembling hand, and as calmly as I could muster, made my way to the exit. I drew up my hoodie, opened my umbrella, and carefully navigated my return to the hotel.
Initially, I passed the hotel as all the windows in the entire building were blacked out. Hotel guests huddled together underneath the awnings. Glancing across the street at the emergency assembly area, I saw nobody, so I stepped into the lobby of the hotel, defeated by the freezing rain. One of my crew members found me, and after a few minutes the power was restored to the building. Others from our crew made their way to the lobby as they were preparing for their pre-dinner happy hour meetup.
I dropped off my shopping in my room, returned to the lobby, and made a beeline for the bar. Sitting alone at the bar, I took a beat to reflect. It had been years since I worried about earthquake preparedness, as Florida doesn’t have that natural disaster in its portfolio. Pulling up a chair at the counter, an lovely older gent, Heniberto, asked what I wanted to drink. I ordered a glass of Chilean Carménère (red wine). He gently placed an empty glass on the bar before me with a warm smile.
He noticed the paleness in my face and inquired how I was coping in the wake of the quake. Though I tried to put on a brave face and forced a smile, but he could see that I was still rattled. Filling my glass, he winked and gave me an extra splash since nobody was looking. I reached out and touched his arm, giving it a thankful squeeze. He patted my hand like a grandfather would a fretting child. This singular act gave me such comfort. Several minutes later my crew started filing in one after another, and when my Purser asked me how I was doing, I didn’t sugar coat it. Like the bartender, she gave me a great hug. Compassion isn’t dead. It may be hard to come by, but it surely thrives.
During our “crew debrief” I learned that several years ago, there was a larger quake, one that rendered our previous crew hotel unsafe. The reason people panicked as if we were in a disaster film is that many of them still are coping and dealing with post traumatic stress from their last encounter. By the look on my face, I was as well. I had forgotten simple things about surviving an earthquake, and worse I had become complacent.
Critical Points for Earthquake Preparedness:
- Know the locations of emergency exits, stairs, & assembly areas
- Have a backup exit strategy
- When in doubt, get out.
- Leave the door ajar
- Keep a contact list of other crew/travel companions
- Check-in and let people know you’re safe
The following morning, I slept in. With the rain trickling down, I made some coffee and had self-service room service breakfast. I listened to VH1 as I worked on some writing, and for a moment I forgot I was sitting in a different country. Ask anyone if I’ve seen Lost in Translation, and they’ll tell you how much I hate that film. While Bill Murray is incredible, Scarlett Johansson absolutely beautiful, and the commercial scene gloriously tongue-in-cheek, I simply hate how everyone thinks it is an accurate portrayal of a foreigner living in Japan. Sitting in my room on a rainy, gray morning, I felt like Charlotte (Johansson), simply wasting away an opportunity to explore an unfamiliar city. I wish I had packed my cold weather running gear because the rain was light enough that I could have pushed through it. Had I prepared better, I believe I could have accomplished more on this layover. Finishing my coffee and lacing up, I did something I meant to do on more layovers this summer: run.
Last year, I was far more focused on maintaining my weight loss, and regularly training for my races. With summer flying handing me my backside on a silver platter, my training has gone promptly out the window. One look at my calendar, and Avengers Half is far closer than it should be, so I made it a point to tackle the gym as soon as it opened in the morning. My hard and fast rule for hitting the treadmill or going for a run is that I don’t rise for anything less than 5K. The one factor I failed to take into consideration was the elevation. Florida is flat, fast, and sea level. Conversely, Santiago is 1,500+ feet above sea level. That may not seem like much for those living in locations with mountains, but for a Swamp Gal like me, it makes a heap of difference.
Running at elevation is better…
The view from the 18th floor of the hotel was great. Unfortunately, the treadmills weren’t facing the more scenic landscape. I did squeeze out two miles before my body threw in the towel. Listening to your body is hard, but knowing I would need to work back home later that afternoon, I certainly could not risk injury. I still have time to prepare for November, and hurting myself now wouldn’t solve anything.
After the gym, I showered and took my mid-morning nap. The hardest thing about Santiago is it laying within the same time zone as US East Coast Time. Our flight departed in the evening, and we arrived in Atlanta the following morning. I head swam with all the new experiences from this trip, and now I simply cannot wait for the next chance to return to Santiago. I still have plenty of Pesos to spend, so I am going to start drafting an action plan for my next visit. I do not know how soon it will be, but it’s better to be prepared (and better packed) next time!