The journey begins! This weekend I sat in San Pedro de Atacama…quite a surreal feeling. The journey here proved to be a test of endurance and patience as flights into Santiago were understandably delayed, cancelled or diverted. In my case, my first flight out March 27th was cancelled, rescheduled for Wednesday March 3rd and then I rebooked for Monday March 1st (with an alternate route through Panama via Houston). Things began looking up, in Jacksonville I was booked all the way through to Panama with my luggage checked to Calama! I hugged and kissed my husband goodbye at the gate, boarded the plane and took a deep sigh of relief.
My first concern was that the people of Chile were recovering without any more casualties. The goal was to reach San Pedro in enough time to acclimate to the altitude and dry heat, something my body is not used to and typically doesn’t like. The day went as expected, I arrived into Houston, met the next flight to Panama with no delays and once again I sat, relaxed on the plane. Walking through the terminal to my next gate I checked the monitors to be sure that Gate 27 was where my flight was still departing from. It read “Buenos Aires,” look again; it still read the same thing. I continued walking to Gate 27 because Santiago was not even listed. The attendant looks at me with a very dismayed face and says, “all flights yesterday, today and tomorrow have been cancelled.”
Panic, why didn’t anyone in Jacksonville or Houston let me know this and what do I do now? It was 8:00 p.m. and I didn’t want to go through customs, or leave the airport - especially when absolutely no one knew when the next flight would depart. I decided to go to Continental’s lounge area to find someone who could help. Long story short, they were able to find out that somehow another flight was confirmed to leave Panama for Santiago at 11:30 pm that evening. It was not on the schedule and I was the only American on it. We were informed we would be heading to Antofagasta to clear customs and then on to Santiago. No problem except, I wasn’t sure exactly where in relation to Santiago this was, and more importantly, did my luggage make it onto the plane? On four hours of sleep, I was grew exhausted. I awoke as we arrived into Antofagasta; deplaned, made it through customs, and re-boarded still unaware if my luggage was with us.
We arrived in Santiago and I had already missed my 7:00 am flight to Calama and did not know when the next available one would be. No worries, between LAN & Sky Airlines there would be availability on one of them. After many hours of travel…we land. My luggage is set out on the tarmac, mine was there and I head to find a LAN representative. With Santiago’s airport virtually closed, I must admit that they were handling the situation extremely well. What could appear to be disorganization actually was, under the circumstances, very organized. I was able to find a representative who pointed me in the direction of the makeshift domestic terminal where I again, found a representative who immediately put me on to the next available flight into Calama! And then, my bottom firmly seated on the plane I sat as the tension in my body began to subside. My 1st 4 Desert Adventure had truly begun…