I’ve always maintained that the human brain is not meant for modern international travel. On Monday morning, for example, at about eleven o’clock I was shopping with my wife and sister-in-law in sultry Córdoba, Argentina. Twenty-four hours later, my wife and I were 9,000 miles away at home in our apartment in freezing Iowa. The abrupt change in scenery made two weeks in South America seem like a receding dream.
In between we were sealed up in jet planes and airports. Sometimes I wonder if the we ever leave the ground. Maybe it’s elaborate hoax, like a machine blows some fake clouds around the plane while some people shake it for nine hours. Then they let us out and tell us we’re in another airport. Meanwhile, they rearrange the signs and shops in the airport, and re-cast the local population with new actors.
Actually, they don’t have to rearrange much in the airport. We had layovers in Santiago, Chile, and even though we were quarter of a world away from home, we could still eat at Dunkin Donuts, Ruby Tuesday, or Starbucks. Yuck. I mean, what a waste to fly all that way to eat food I could eat at the Coralville Mall.
Speaking of wasting money: during our return layover in Santiago we were sitting across from a young American woman in an Oregon State sweatshirt complaining to a stranger about her trip to Chile. She couldn’t understand why Chileans were so proud of their polluted, impoverished country. She couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just pull themselves together and clean up the trash in their city. She couldn’t understand why they didn’t think being like us would be better.
She wasted her money on that trip. Is it really that hard to imagine that other people don’t share your exact same outlook? Is it just as hard to find what we have in common with people in other countries? What’s the point of traveling all that way if you don’t want to learn something?
Ugly Americans aside, our flights and layovers went smoothly without delays or incident. Mostly. The descent into Córdoba was rocky, like I thought the plane was going to shake apart. I nearly got sick—well, I was sick but I didn’t throw up. I haven’t been so sick on a plane in a long time.
Which reminded me: on trans-Andean flights, the safety orientations should include tips on survival cannibalism in case the plane crashes on a mountainside. Like which parts are the richest in fat and protein and not just empty carbs.
Córdoba’s airport is small for such a big city, and it was overwhelmed with Christmas travelers. Besides the long line at the passport control, there was barely enough room for all the people in the international baggage claim waiting to bring their stuff through customs. About a dozen people from our flight were missing bags; an equal number of unclaimed bags waited by the conveyor belt.
We lucked out and recovered all of our bags filled with Christmas gifts. Because we brought Christmas stockings, we also brought hooked weights to hang them on. The customs agent was intrigued and asked Lore a lot of questions. I didn’t pay much attention, for a couple of reasons. I was having trouble following the conversation in Spanish. And for a women who spends much of her day bending over looking through people’s luggage she sure was showing a lot of cleavage. We had arrived in Argentina.
On the way home, the airline agents wouldn’t let us gate-check our carry-on luggage for the flight back to Santiago. It was a small plane and our carry-ons are at the upper end of the size limit. On the way to Argentina they were fine but flying back the to United States we couldn’t gate check them. Which defeats the purpose of bring a carry-on, right? That pretty much settles it: I’m going back to using my little L.L. Bean rucksack as a carry-on. As I’m fond of reminding Lore, I once traveled to the U.K. for a week with only what I could fit in that little bag. But those were simpler days.