“O Circuit” Day 0 – Getting There

Goofing on the Plane

The night before my flight to Miami I realize my American Airline boarding pass says “Rick”, from my old Advantage Milage profile. All my identification of course says “Richard”. I call customer service and a very nice woman tells me she is happy to fix it, but I risk losing my assigned seat. She suggests I go to the airport ticket counter early, where they can easily do it and keep the seat.

The next day at the counter, Gary, counters her claim, telling me a name change will cost $200. I explain that I called customer service and the agent said it can be done free of charge. He tells me it can, if there are notes in the electronic record, but there are no notes. He speaks to a supervisor and returns with the same undesirable answer. My explanation in person, with full emotion and hand gestures, is apparently not worth $200.

I keep the wrong named ticket and try my luck at security, where I have plenty of time to make new friends, including the security supervisor who desperately wants me to have something with the name Rick on it. I show her my connecting boarding passes on LATAM airline with Richard, but this creates another suspicious situation. Why do I have so many boarding passes? I explain that the LATAM website says I need 2 copies for each leg of the flight, 1 for the airline and 1 for me to carry onto the plane. Making it worse, I have Brian’s 4 boarding passes printed to give him in Miami. I stand before the mercy of security, with an endless stack of boarding passes for Rick Romine, Richard Romine, and Brian Romine. Apparently multiple personality disorder is a TSA protected class, as I am eventually given leave to go.

In Miami we are to meet John, but there is more confusion. Brian and my bags are only booked to Miami, so we have to exit security, pick them up, then go back through security.  I arrive at Concourse D, then walk further than the Patagonia “O Circuit” to get to Concourse H, where I meet Brian. John texts a picture of himself, and we wait for him in front of the LATAM ticket counter. The line keeps getting longer, and John never arrives. Later we will learn he missed us, reprinted his boarding pass and went back through security ahead of us. Giving up on John, we join the huddled masses in ticket line. The line is so slow they stop taking people from the front, and start pulling people from the back who are about to miss their flight. The longer this goes on, the more people who were on time are now also about to miss their flights. I feel as though we are in socialist Venezuela, where everyone will equally miss their flight.

In Santiago we go through Immigration and then Customs. What food you are allowed to take into Chile is a complete crapshoot, but not declaring food can bring significant fines. We all declare plant based food, but get very different examinations. John receives the full treatment, meaning they go through everything. The customs agent is particularly excited to confiscate his honey packets. His dual packets of salami and cheese get mixed reviews. They cut off all the salami sicks but give back his cheese, which is strange since dairy products are listed as forbidden. Another agent starts looking through my food bags, and becomes so overwhelmed by the quantity, she simply lets me go. Yet another agent waves Brian through without so much as a single question. They have clearly had enough of us – next please!

In Punta Arenas, we have reservations for the 3:00 pm bus to Puerto Natales. We try to get on an earlier bus but get busted instead. I tire of the freezing cold wind, and go inside to try my luck at the ATM slot machine. I receive translation support from a German who reads Spanish and speaks English. I lose service charges to the house, but eventually win a pile of extremely fake looking money. Finally on a bus, we see ostrich-like rheas running in the road. The bus driver honks his horn, well actually the buses’, but the rheas seem not to care. Brian is amazed at the amount of counter correction required to drive a bus in the Chilean wind.

We arrive in Puerto Natales and walk towards the hostel. We are clearly important dignitaries, as a team of the city’s finest K9s escort us from street corner to street corner. Each dog has its own territory, and the handoffs at each crossing are cordial, yet formal. We check into the hostel, throw down our things, then head quickly to the market for salami replacements and various minor items.

We walk to Erratic Rock for fuel canisters, since we were not allowed to bring them on the plane. We luck out and find a free partial in the hiker bin and purchase three others, some of which will probably go back into a hiker bin at the end of our trip.

Back at the hostel, Brian is crashing and ends up sprawled across his open roller bag, zipper marks embedded in his sleeping face. We buy late bus tickets for tomorrow, since we clearly are not packing tonight. We will still have time to hike, because it stays light until 10pm.

John, Mark and I leave Sleeping Beauty, and go ask the hostel hostess for a restaurant recommendation. She suggests El Bote. I ask for her favorite dish, which she describes in broken Spanglish as some kind of meat that sounds to me like casserole. The hunt is on.

Guanaco Cacerola

Guanaco Cacerola

On top of the restaurant menu board at El Bote is Guanaco Cacerola, described in English as Patagonian camel stew. This has to be what she meant, so I order it. It is quite tasty, very much like beef stew in a wine sauce. I return to the hostel, thank her for the recommendation and proudly tell her I ate the Guanaco. Her face drops as if I have just eaten her family’s puppy. I gather Guanaco is not what she was telling me to order.

I fall asleep full of guilt and guanaco, hoping to do better in the morning.