It turned out to be a very wise idea to stop drinking when I did the previous night as I was about to embark on a much longer than expected journey back to the States. The day started out pretty decently with a noon checkout I had negotiated the previous night versus the usual 10AM. The weather was fairly hot but again dry so I walked down to Sarimento one last time to check out a traditional parilla. One had caught my eye the other night as a billboard declared they had Patagonian lamb. That was the last spot on my Argentine food bingo card so it was a no brainer.
The restaurant was fairly busy and seemed to be tourist free, another good sign. It was a bit after 1PM and since I wanted to leave for the airport at 3PM, I would have plenty of time… or so I thought. I took a quick glance at the menu but was pretty much convinced I’d have the lamb. To be a bit healthier, I also chose a side of grilled vegetables. I hadn’t eaten anything yet that day so I eschewed the bread basket so as not to break my fast.
By now, I was more than used to the delays to get food, especially at lunch. The WiFi wasn’t working so I opted to read from my Kindle iPhone app. 30 minutes later, with nothing yet and barely a peep from my server, I began to get the sense something was off. Still, it was Sunday, which tends to be even slower service than usual so I let it slide. At a bit before the hour mark, my server appeared, apologizing for the delays and said it would be 10 more minutes. 2PM, OK, well that still works for my timing so fine.
It was now 2:30PM with still no food in sight. A group of men angrily got up and walked out. I came thisclose to joining them but realized that if I did that, I’d still have to get food elsewhere, which wouldn’t be fast. I also wanted my lamb dammit! Plus, I was getting so weak from lack of food, I wasn’t even sure if I could walk anymore. Finally, after 15 mins past the “cuatro minutos” I had been promised, the lamb finally arrived. I was so out of sorts at this point there will be no food porn shots and while decent, it certainly wasn’t worth the wait. Now suddenly pressed for time, I scarfed down the lamb and really mediocre grilled veggies, and ran back to the hotel.
I ended up getting to the Mendoza airport in plenty of time and of course, the flight was delayed. With still no decent WiFi connection, I wandered around the tiny DutyFree store to look for any wine. They had a bottle of one of my favorites, Vina Cobos, which I would take back as a thank you for my friend Jasmina taking care of my cat all these weeks.
Thankfully, I was able to get an exit row both for the short trip to Santiago and the much longer flight back to LAX. The plane was quite nice and during the flight, I finally picked the right side to be able to see the magnificent Aconcagua practically in front of me.
After landing in Santiago, I now had about 3 hours to kill before the next flight. The airport looked to be recently renovated but unfortunately that also meant that the insidious plastic chain mentality that pervades so many airports had also appeared. As I walked down an extremely long hallway, I saw nothing but chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesdays (yeah I have no idea either), McDonalds and even Subway. Wanting something even vaguely authentic and lured by an interesting beer list and WiFi, I chose a place called El Antonio’s.
There was a large crowd gathered around the TV at the bar – the Super Bowl perhaps? Ha ha, no silly American, why it of course it was a soccer match!
Everything on the menu was listed in Chilean pesos which was waaay more than the Argentine version. My waiter explained it was $450 pesos per dollar. I began to do some mental calculations on some of the items and quickly realized I was dealing with airport prices here. The lomito and queso sandwich looked good and I was going to pair that with this surprisingly good Chilean beer I had tried back in Buenos Aires – Kuntsman – Grand Torbego ale. I got as far as “Kunts…” before my waiter boomed “NO!” and told me they only had Budweiser, Heineken and some sort of really lousy looking Chilean lager. Oh and the WiFi didn’t work. Wonderful. Fortunately, the sandwich, while way too expensive, was actually quite tasty.
I made my way down to the gate to find the flight was about to start boarding. I looked outside and saw the massive plane ready to fly us home. I had been surprised how easy it was to go through security but as I walked down the ramp, there was another security checkpoint. One odd thing though was the familiar looking No Liquids sign along with various water bottles, sodas and random liquids in a basket to the side. The gruff security worker looked at my DutyFree bag and pointed to the sign, saying “No liquidos.” I said it was from DutyFree. “No liquidos” “DutyFree” I basically kept saying that over and over until she summoned the other security person who also explained no liquidos. Tired and not wanting to give in, I explained that it’s impossible for me to check something from DutyFree, which is how I got it in the first place. Finally, they let me go.
I took my seat next to a very friendly Argentine who was finishing up his economic PhD at MIT. We talked about his thesis on clientism and how effed the Argentine economy was. He spoke perfect English and we would bounce between Spanish and English. We also talked about the NBA, his favorite team, the Spurs, and other sports items. I had also been able to get the half time score of the Super Bowl, which seemed to be heading for a blowout by the Ravens. I was enjoying the conversation so much I didn’t realize that over an hour had passed, and we weren’t moving. Hmmm
Suddenly, it was now over 90 minutes after we had boarded and still nada. My seatmate inquired as to what was going on, and we got a vague answer that it was something to do with the baggage. 30 minutes later, we got the notice that we had to get our stuff and deboard the plane. Greeat. Through my seatmate as well as a couple of other people we were able to piece together that apparently the issue was a labor dispute between the private baggage handlers, who had loaded half of the plane, and the union. We were told to check back in 90 minutes for another update.
The silver lining in all of this was that due to a power outage, the Super Bowl was actually still early in the 3rd quarter. A group of us ended up at Ruby Tuesdays after pleading with them to keep the game on for us. The game turned out to be a nailbiter and one of the guys in our group ended up winning $2000 in a pool with the final safety of the game. It concluded almost exactly when we had to go back to check on the status. We were told that it would be another 30 minutes but that we were going to leave.
The flight finally took off around 2:30 AM and even though my ticket had indicated it was a non-stop flight, there was an hour layover in Lima. Still, the plane was quite nice, with a great entertainment system and we stayed on the plane with the Lima stop. The delays also didn’t matter that much to me as I couldn’t check into my next temporary home until 3PM. After a rare approach over the coast, we landed a bit after 10AM. This seemed to be a popular time to land as the customs line rivaled the one I suffered through in Buenos Aires. Still, being an American, my line wasn’t nearly as bad as that experience. USA USA USA!
After a harrowing cab ride with a truly clueless Armenian driver, I finally arrived home. Of course, that was sadly only a brief stop to get my car and to see that I wasn’t anywhere close to getting into my actual home. It had been an extremely long day/night/day but it was good to be, well, at least home-ish. As I drove to my next stop, in Los Feliz, I reflected back to the whirlwind that had been the last 6 weeks. It was an experience I will never forget and very glad I was able to capture at least some of it via this blog. On to the next adventure…
El Fin, for now