The EYM and I are here for the next month, nearly, in Santiago de Chile.
Got in late this morning, after the overnight ick flight from Atlanta to Santiago.
The intrepid Juan Pablo picked us up at the airport, after it took us 2 hours to get through customs. Chile has a rule that they charge visitors the same charge for a "reciprocity" visa that those countries charge Chilenos. Thanks, America, for costing me nearly $300 for "reciprocity," just to enter the country.
Chile is also really paranoid about bringing in food items. So I asked the EYM to make sure that he didn't have any opened food containers, or plant matter, in his luggage. He says, "What about this?"
He holds up a big sandwich baggie full of creamy white powder. He sees the look on my face, and says "What? It's protein powder. Is that bad?" I tell him to throw that away, right away, and walk away quickly. I do NOT want to try to explain to Chilean Customs why we need to bring 100 grams of white powder into the country.
The lines are long, but they move along. When we got to the hotel (Apart Hotel, La Gloria 30, Las Condes
), I noticed I was missing....MY BACKPACK! The one that had my laptop, books, and myriad "things of great importance."
Juan Pablo, by this time having graduated from intrepid up to unflinching, drove me BACK to the airport. (The EYM caught 40 winks in the hotel). We got to the airport, and since I knew where I left the backpack (the x-ray booth at the "Nothing to Declare" desk), we tried to get there. But, of course, you can't get there. At all. You can't go back up the cloaca of the "Arriving International" wing, without getting shot (and rightly so, no complaints). But neither could I get back to the TOP of the International Arrivals digestive system, unless I was arriving on a new international flight.
We knocked on a bunch of doors, and tried to find an official who could help us. After knocking for nearly ten minutes on one promising door (it said, "vacated baggage," in English; don't know what that means, but like I said, promising), an august official of the Chilean PDI appeared. Rather, one of his eyes appeared, behind a crack in the door. Juan Pablo explained. PDI guy looks at me and says, "Passport?" I nod, eagerly.
I am ushered in. Left to stand in a corridor for a few minutes. A second PDI fellow, one who spoke no English, appears and escorts me down a hallway to yet a third PDI guy, one who is so important that I think he actually lives in this underground grotto. PDI 3 begins to speak to me rapidamente en espanol. I try to tell him that I don't speak Spanish (though my "don't speak Spanish" is WAY better than my "don't speak German," from last summer). Then, I SEE MY BACK PACK, ON A SHELF, right behind PDI 3! I point to it, and say "Alla! Es mio, el backpack negro!"
PDI 3 is most skeptical. "Es SUYO? Verdad? (What is in it, he asked, I don't remember the Spanish, but I undestood it.)
I answered: "Libros, papeles, laptop computer..."
PDI 3 is overjoyed: "Libros! Son SUYOS?" Takes one out, and before I can see, covers up the cover completely with both hands: "Este libro, que dice?" (What does it say?)
I can't see the book, because he is hiding it. There are ten books in the pack, and so I just cleverly stare at him bug eyed. At this point, I haven't slept in 28 hours, and this seems surreal. Fortunately, I realize that I had put a name tag, with my ...well... name and address, on the backpack, just like checked baggage, just in case. I point to the tag, and say, "Mira! Mi nombre, Mike Munger, Carolina del Norte, como en el passport."
PDI 3 is pleased: a positive ID. He spends (seriously) at least two minutes comparing the info in my passport (name, address) to the info on the tag (name, address). Then he takes the pack over to a giant desk covered with scraps of paper, and digs around. He finds it: a black notebook with looseleaf paper. The paper is full of rubber bands holding together groups of pages, and paper clips and post it notes. He finds a blank space on a page, and writes laboriously in cursive longhand. I peek, and he is writing down the an inventory of the contents of the backpack. Then he writes down my name, address, and passport number, and draws a line for my signature.
Then he asks me to check the backpack, and make sure that none of the contents had been stolen. I had to pick up each item, tell him that it was in the backpack, and then he checked it off his inventory. But, since his inventory was composed ONLY of those things that were in the pack...you see the problem. Still, okay, we were making progress. After all the items in the backpack were checked off as being in the backpack, I signed with a flourish and thanked the man. He called me "Don Miguel" and wished me "buena suerte" and escorted me to...The Customs Area!
As the door closed behind me, I realized that I did not have the paperwork to get through Customs. I had just BEEN through Customs, 90 minutes earlier, and had handed in my paperwork that had been stamped at Immigration Control. Now, all I had was a passport and a backpack. By this time, the morning rush of international flights that crowd Arturo Moreno Benitez airport had long gone. The huge Customs hall had just me, and about 30 customs agents, all staring at me. The place is well lit, and it's hard to act casual in those circumstances.
I decided to play dumb, and just headed for the door, bypassing everything. One guy asked me to stop, and he came over. I showed him my passport, and said, "I forgot my backpack, and came back to get it." He frowned, pointed at the cloaca, and said (in perfect English) "You came back through there?"
"No, no, I came through the vacated luggage office, there." I pointed at the door right behind me, which was in fact where I had come out, and he had seen that.
He asked if I had the arrival papers, and I told him I had just been through Customs 90 minutes ago, and had just come back to get my backpack. I held out my backpack, as evidence (I'm not sure of what, but evidence).
I was sure that my Chilean Maxwell Smart would sneer, and say, "Oh, the old 'I've already been through Customs' trick. They always try that one!" But no, he just said, "Have a good visit. Make sure you go out the main door."
Back to the hotel, a long nap, and then a fine meal with Juan Pablo and the EYM. On which more anon.
Labels: Chile, people and places