Friday, July 15, 2011

Beautiful disaster

Written on Sunday, July 10: 

So where do I start? *cracks knuckles*

I got into the Buenos Aires airport today and waited patiently for my sister and mom's flight to get in (they were connecting through Santiago, Chile.) My flight got in three hours before theirs, so I staked out a seat near the arrivals screens and hung out people watching to Paul McCartney (I'm having a Wings moment) to pass time.

Around the time they were supposed to land, half the flights on the arrivals screens began flashing red. I leaned closer and saw that all flights out of Santiago were suddenly "canceled." God damn it. In a foreign country by myself? Totes not a big deal. In a foreign country minus the rent money my mom was supposed to give our apartment's owner, Tomas, when we signed our rental contract that night? Slightly unnerving. (Here you pay all cash for the big things, and so my mom was traveling with a couple Gs for our place.)

Apparently the volcanic ash from that Chilean volcano was blowing past Santiago at the moment and all flights were grounded until the ash cleared and it was safe to fly. When I talked to the customer service desk, which was not really a desk, just a lone room off the back of the luggage conveyor belt that I had to climb over to enter, an impatient Argentine man sat behind a sparse desk inside and told me had no answers, just that all flights out of Santiago were canceled until further notice. 

Unfortunately I had no way of getting a hold of anyone since wifi seemed nonexistent throughout the airport (nothing makes you look more American than wandering around with your smartphone, sniffing for wifi in every corner and orifice of a building), and all of Tomas' contact info was sitting in an email in my inbox.

Finally, five hours after I'd been in the airport, I found wifi and checked my email. Hello six messages from my sister telling me they were stuck and that United was putting them up in a Hilton that night. Sigh. The grease on my face from traveling for 15+ hours felt palpable. All I could think of was taking a shower. I needed Tomas' number, stat.

Thankfully he happened to be online when I signed on, and he told me to leave right away since he'd been waiting for us for hours, and gave me the apartment's address. He stressed he needed the payment up front in full when I arrived, just as the rules stated, but I stressed this was impossible since the half of our entourage with the money was still en route to Buenos Aires. He said this was going to be problem; I said I could look for a hotel if it was. Thankfully something about this statement made him relent, and he said come anyway.

I jumped in a cab driven by a guy named Julio and chatted with him during the 30-minute ride from the airport into the city. Julio was a big fan of Fleetwood Mac, so when he found out I was from Estados Unidos, he put on his "favorite cd" (Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits) and we talked nonstop until he pulled up to the curb of my building on Sanchez de Bustamente in the Recoleta district. He asked if I wanted to go out later that night with him and his friends, but I told him I was exhausted and needed to decompress, which he acknowledged along with his cell phone number if I changed my mind. Oh, Julio.

Tomas was a very kind, older Argentine who empathized with the whole situation. Instead of telling me to find a hotel for the night, he allowed me to stay, unpaid, but asked for my passport that first night as collateral to make sure I wouldn't up and leave without paying. I laughed at even the thought of doing this, but he said he's had it happen before with an American woman and her child. They'd stayed for a week, promising payment every day and on the seventh day they left without a trace or payment. Obviously after hearing this I understood Tomas' plight. 

After showering and fluffing my feathers, I went out for a stroll around Recoleta, grabbed food at a corner restaurant and ate the yummiest tart for dessert at this confiteria called "La Porteña." Most people here don't speak any English, and I barely speak any Spanish, but somehow communication still flowed well through hand gestures and broken phrases. After I got home with a second tart for the road...I realized that my main credit/atm card was gone. 

In the words of Lindsay Lohan, I felt like my heart was going to fall out my butt. I tore through both purses I'd brought flinging receipts and crumpled napkins everywhere, searching in vain for my card until I realized I'd lost it back at the airport where I last used it. Shit. So much for taking it easy. I signed online and emailed J 40 times, telling him it was urgent and that he needed to call the bank asap to put a stop on the card. Which he did, but not before noticing that four charges totaling $700 were made on the card in the last hour. Ughhhhhh. The claims department was closed for the night, but J said he'd call in the morning and report the fraud. 

Flash forward to five days later and THANKFULLY the claims department reimbursed all the money that was stolen, pending our signature on an affidavit swearing I didn't make those charges. While I could barely sleep that evening with the money issue overshadowing my first night in the city, everything was taken care of the following morning and I've been having a great time so far. Lots of shopping and eating with my mom and sis, who eventually caught a flight out. I'll post pics soon!


  1. What a trip! So much craziness in such a short amount of time. I hope things have settled down, and from your post script, it sounds like you're having a blast.

  2. OMG how stressful! So glad that everything has worked out. Have a GREAT time!

  3. Holy frijoles! UGH, I love traveling abroad, but all the scenarios above gave me a mild panic attack. I'm glad it all worked out, but geesh talk about mucho stress-induced scenarios in a matter of a few hours!