Arrival at Santiago was as planned. ‘Ah, home!’ my mind said, not for the first time, on arrival at SCL. As an ‘In Transit’ passenger, I did not have to join the usual queues (they seemed longer than usual) at immigration, or battle with the other planes’ loads of passengers for my checked luggage. Or did I?
While queuing to have my hand luggage scanned – again!, I was asked for my boarding pass. ‘Ah, Santa Cruz! That’s an internal flight.’ ‘What!?!? From Santiago de Chile to Santa Cruz de La Sierra, Bolivia is an internal flight?!?’ Has there been a war?
Well, the flight goes from Santiago to Iquique (internal) and then to Santa Cruz (international). So I still had to queue for immigration! At least I collected some more stamps in my passport. ‘Is that all your luggage, Sir?’ ‘No, at Heathrow I was assured that my checked in luggage would join me again in Santa Cruz!’ ‘No, sorry, you have to collect your bag from the Madrid flight carousel, #5.’ Ah, the one at the other end of the large hall, with lots of people milling around in between!
After 30 minutes at #5, all bags from the Madrid flight had been collected, but sadly no sign of mine. A porter saw my uncomfortable expression and in fluent Spanish asked: ‘What’s up?’ After I explained my predicament, he pointed at the LAN desk and said ‘lost property.’
At the desk, two people argued: yes, luggage had to be collected, no, it would go straight on to the next flight. In the end they agreed that the luggage had gone straight through – fingers crossed.
Somewhat relieved I fought my way through the crowds to our usual ‘international arrivals’ exit, then past crowds of the usual taxi drivers, car rental folks and hotel courtesy chauffeurs on the ground floor, in the lift, up to the 3rd floor to arrive at the Departures hall. I made the mistake of heading for our usual entrance, but that would have got me back into the international departures area, so turned around and then ran the length of the hall to get to internal flights. Once again, my hand luggage was x-rayed – thank God that we no longer carry x-ray sensitive film! Gate 28 was of course right at the end of the long corridor and again I arrived out of breath and in a bit of a sweat. So much for my planned nice relaxed full breakfast in Santiago!
Again, boarding had been delayed and I was just in time to see the first few rows being called.
Two hours later we arrived in Iquique.
Hooray! Everyone off the plane, through immigration, to formally exit Chile and next, queue to get back onto the plane, in the same seat that I had left half an hour earlier. Unfortunately I had an isle seat as I would have loved to have taken some aerial shots of the coastal hills where in 2008 Cliff, Juan, Bart & Marijke and I had spent fruitless hours looking for cacti.
The drinks were served as we flew over the salt lakes of Uyuni, one of the places that I was looking forward to seeing from ground level in weeks to come. There was a long announcement, in Spanish, from the pilot. Smiles of resignation from the Bolivians. A glimpse out of the window suggested that we had turned round! Also on board were a guided touring party of about 20 Dutch folks. Their leader had understood the announcement and came round to break the news in Dutch: the pilot had been warned by Santa Cruz airport that there were heavy thunder clouds over the airport. Their recommendation was to return to Iquique.
Back at Iquique there was anxious waiting while LAN Chile looked for accommodation for crew and passengers of a full A320. Non was available at such short notice! So, everybody was loaded back on the plane and flown back to Santiago and bussed Downtown to Hotel Windsor Palace. My priority by now was to let my friends in Santa Cruz know what had happened, so at 1:45 a.m., now some 48 hours on the move, I went back to reception where I picked up a wifii signal and managed to fire off a message to all participants and a cc to Angie.