The road to Arica

Before I left for Athens we agreed that it’d make sense to meet in Arica, a town on the boarder with Peru famed for its surf. We also agreed that till I got a passport in my hands it made little sense to plan further, book tickets etc. So whilst we were apart Andy was slowly making his way through Salta and I was enjoying all the modern day luxuries in Athens (decaf skinny lattes, Zara, haircut…).

I got the passport in my hands at 10.30 local time and was scheduled to fly to Buenos Aires via London at 18.20. Needless to say that I had not packed, finished washing clothes or bought all the stuff that we had agreed I’d pick up in Athens. Thankfully, Orestis had dutifully collected about a dozen Amazon parcels by his desk in London and had FedEx-ed everything to Athens.

Clothes in the washing machine, taxi by the front door (I am still without a drivers license) and a manic 6 hour stretch begins. Pick up jewelry, buy socks, external drive and new USB chargers. Rush home, download movies, do Insanity, shower, 20′ siesta (yes I know), pack. Message Andy to get his ass to Arica for Sunday night. Oh boarding pass. F£&K won’t let me print. Fine. Will get to the airport at 16.00 – gives me time to book the flights from BA to Arica.

As I am squeezing the final tshirt in my backpack and decide which clothes will not make it back to S America but will be taken by my mum back to London (if anyone needs anything shipped, my family are pros) I realise my phone screen is not working. Just some static, I can’t see anything. F U C K. This is my only connection to the outside world. iPad was stolen, laptop is with Andy; how does one communicate with people, book flights and hostels if not via phone? A panic attack similar to that of an agoraphobic 5year old asked to speak infront of his/her class ensues. Thankfully in my many trips around Athens to various passport offices, I spotted a brand new iPhone repair shop.

I literally drag my mum half dressed and with wet hair to the car (remember no drivers license) and direct her to the shop. I run in.

“Oh the screen is coming off the body of the phone” says the 16year old behind the counter.

“How soon can you fix it?”

“An hour?”

“You’ve got 20 minutes”

With me and my mum standing over his shoulder he tries to fix my phone. Hands it back, Touch ID is not working. I am ready to grab it and go but I have managed to find a perfectionist teenager so we wait. It’s now 16.15.

“Really need to go”

“I can get us there in 35-40 minutes” says my mum.

By 16.30 we run out of the shop. Seat belts fastened and we race it down the sea side avenue to the airport.

17.01 I am at the front of the queue exitedly handing over my brand new passport.

“Ma’m I am sorry but there’s a delay to your flight”.

No good news comes after someone calls you ma’m.

“You won’t make your connection to Buenos Aires I am afraid”.

We debate various options and settle on my staying overnight at Heathrow, jumping on a 07.00 flight to Madrid and from there making it to BA, around 21.00 local time. That’s a full 24 hours on the road to BA; 5 flights to Arica.

At the Holiday Inn I am given the last room; by the elevators and adjacent to a room of very loud French teenagers. At midnight I knock on the door and remind them that’s midnight – can they keep it down? At 1.00am I knock again. At 1.30 I just bang on the walls. Eventually I fall asleep for a couple of hours and wake up at 5 to catch the bus. I might, just might, have left the alarm ring at full volume for the 10′ it took me to have a shower and get dressed…

By the time I get to Buenos Aires I am exhausted and want to stretch my legs and sleep. I’ve got the option of a 40′ shuttle bus, the long taxi queue or the very expensive “luxury” taxi. I opt for the later and 15 minutes later find myself at the hostel. But a good night’s sleep seems elusive, Carnival is on and the streets are filled with people and the all too familiar regeton beat. I short walk around to find food and then into bed.

On Sunday morning, fresh from another Insanity workout it’s time to book the remaining flights to Arica, figure out where I am staying on Sunday night and find a hostel in Arica. Needless to say I am super thankful for a fully functioning phone. An hour later all bookings have been made, Andy is made aware of the plans and I am ready to head out for another Sunday in San Telmo. Only I’ve got an email from the site I’ve booked the flight through asking me to call them – there are some security questions. Not going to bore you with the details; suffice to say that an Amex card, issued in London to a Greek national was being used in Argentina to book a flight to Chile. Naturally they were concerned and I don’t blame them… 30 minutes on the phone to the worlds most helpful customer service team (use for your flights people. They are awesome) all is well and I can finally enjoy my favourite coffee in BA.

Flight 4 of 5 from BA to Santiago is short. The huge KLM plane is mostly empty and the crew’s insistence on speaking first in Dutch, then in English and finally in Spanish makes me chuckle. It’s blatantly clear that no passenger speaks Dutch. The landscape over Argentina and into Chile breathtaking. We fly over Mendoza and the volcano park we drove through about a month before. It reminded my of something I read in one of our guide books. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, was a pilot in World War 2 often flying over Argentina. His descriptions of the Prince’s planet, barren and full of volcano craters is said to be inspired by the Argentinian landscape. I can see why and wish I could have shot it.

At Santiago I have to pick up luggage, go through customs and then check back in for my domestic flight. The queue for customs snakes around the conveyor belts delivering luggage to annoyed passengers crammed in a tiny space.

Find backpack, swing it on back without killing anyone in the process and then find the end of the queue. 2h10m before final flight leaves. I’ve come this far; I am not missing this flight. I walk to the front of the queue, eye up a cute couple and plead that they let me jump the queue. Thank god for loved up people who are in no hurry. As we head closer to the customs officer I am reminded of the dinner we had to cook at the Chilean border when they refused to let us bring in the country any fresh produce. Tucked away in my backpack is a litter of protein powder, green powder I use to make green juice. I suddenly have visions of me frantically unpacking my suitcase, paying huge fines and having to donate everything to the customs team as I won’t be able to bring it in the country (or sit there to drink it all). I am waved through, pass the X-ray machines – no customs check :).

Run up two flights of stairs to departures as the queue to the escalators is huge. The queue to check in is long. A quick scan – full of backpackers trying to get around in Chile. Quick chat with my neighbours in the queue, everyone’s worried they will miss their flight. No chance of jumping the queue here. Thankfully as the departure time approaches, our flight is called out and we jump the queue en masse.

Flight 5 of 5. Starving. That’s the one thing I remember about the flight. Throughout the day I did not have a chance to stop nor did I have any Chilean dollars on me. As we flew over the Pasific and the outskirts of Atacama all I could think of was I wish Andy has some food.

4 days since I left Athens, 5 flights and 6 cities later I finally got to Arica. To find that no, Andy did not have any food left in the car.

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