Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Discomfort Part

Today, I will describe the most uncomfortable parts of the trip to get it out of the way. Our family has traveled extensively and I feel fortunate that we have been able to do so. We have been able to go places because Dave goes everywhere and racks up tons of frequent flyer miles. Our three flights to Chile were "mostly" frequent flyer miles. I will not take the time to explain the "mostly" part but it can be difficult to get the flights you want especially when three people are traveling together.

We flew direct to Atlanta from Seattle and then direct from Atlanta to Santiago. Our return was the same--direct from Santiago to Atlanta and Atlanta back to Seattle. The flights between Santiago and Atlanta were 9 hour overnight flights. Luckily, both going and coming the planes were not full so we were able to spread out with seats between us to help with sleeping. Still, I do not sleep well and always feel like a pretzel when we land. The Atlanta-Seattle flight is five hours. We did not have seats together so yesterday, I was in the middle between a tiny woman with MS and a large man who did not speak English. For five hours (after completing the nine hour overnight) I sat there with my head bobbing asleep and not wanting to bother either of them to make a bathroom visit. I couldn't read because I kept falling asleep--yuck. Seriously, when we landed in Seattle, I wanted to kiss the ground.

The Santiago airport is nice. It is not huge like Atlanta or Seattle but we had a nice sit down dinner with a cute waiter before boarding our red eye. They also are not as ridiculous about security. As we started through security, I started to do my usual--taking my eye drops and hand sanitizer in the plastic bag out of my purse, taking off my coat, belt and shoes--until a friendly smiling Chilean man approached me and gently said, "no, no." He directed me through the metal detector and told me I was fine. Wow! How civilized and rational. By comparison, when we landed in Atlanta and had to go through customs, immigration and security again, the TSA were screaming at us, "Put your bag here....move it, move it." An older frightened Chilean woman behind me was trying to copy everything I did. Shoes off, belt off, coat off, hurry hurry, do not hold up the line people! All the while, we were faced with giant American flag murals and obnoxious videos showing folks of all different ethnicities saying "Welcome. WELCOME. Welcome. WELCOME."

When we first arrived in Santiago, Lucas met us at the airport. We rented a car to drive the hour's drive to the coast where I had reserved a beach cottage in El Tabo. The pictures online looked charming and the price of about $60 per night was terrific for the four of us.

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Charming. Right? Things are not always as they appear to be!

In my life I have gone camping and also, I have stayed in rustic cabins. Iron Springs and Kalaloch on the Washington Coast come to mind. I am very glad for my Montana upbringing and all of the times we camped or I would not have had a clue about how to deal with the few days in El Tabo. When we arrived and Juan Carlos showed us around, I kept saying to myself, "we are camping; we are just camping....in Chile." The website had shown two bathrooms and I could not see where the second bathroom was until Juan Carlos revealed a four foot tunnel/hole in the kitchen wall to crawl through. At that point, I started to laugh. "Ok, we'll be ok. How bad could it be?" I decided this would be my personal bathroom but after two days of crawling through the tunnel, I ended up with a back ache and bumped my head a couple of times.

Actually, this casa was luxurious compared to how a large percentage of the Chilean population lives so how could I complain. I decided it was God's idea of a joke for me to pay penance for having our bathrooms remodeled. In other words, before I was allowed to truly enjoy my new bathrooms in Mukilteo, I needed to have this experience.

The sinks had no hot water at all. The showers had hot water via a calephon which is like a big propane tank. This is typical in Chile and Lucas' house in Melipilla is equipped the same way. Needless to say, the showers were a little unpredictable with both heat and water. If you flushed the toilet, no water would come out in the shower. Likewise, if you turned on the kitchen faucet, the shower would stop. It did not matter that we had two bathrooms because only one of us at a time could use a toilet, sink or shower. If we cooked anything and needed to do dishes, we had to heat water on the stove--not unlike camping like I said. Washing your face at bed time was with cold water.

Another quirk about Chile is that they do not flush toilet paper---used toilet paper--down the toilets for fear of a methane explosion. Luckily, Lucas is able to flush his toilet paper in his nice little house in Melipilla. I now believe this to be a luxury and have enjoyed my morning here at home flushing away toilet paper in my new Toto toilet. Sorry, but I could NOT get used to this. Between the four of us, we were filling up a couple of grocery bags a day. It was disgusting. Even an outhouse allows a person to throw the paper down the hole, for heaven's sake.

I learned from the guide books that very few Chileans have central heating. Even though the temperatures were in the forties at night and fifties during the day, we had no heat in our casa. Dave and Lucas managed to find a place that sold scrap lumber just for this purpose. It was dry wood but took quite an effort to start a fire because the fireplace was wet with rain water and we had no dry kindling. They managed to get a fire going and felt accomplished to say the least. Unfortunately, all of the heat went right up the chimney and unless you sat immediately in front of the fire, it did not heat up the house. In retrospect, we should have purchased a portable heater and left it with Lucas. He has no heat either and by e-mail today he told me he did just that and his house is much more comfortable now that he doesn't see his breath in the mornings. The mornings and evenings were spent in our casa wrapped in the infinite number of alpaca blankets they provided.

When we arrived, the rains had begun. As a result, in addition to the coldness in the cabin, it was damp. Poor Dave had a low grade fever and kept getting the chills. Kaley spilled some water on the floor and even after wiping it up, it did not dry the whole time we were there. But the worst part was that the cabin was dirty. I do not know how long it had been since anyone had stayed there but the bathrooms were filthy and one of them was crawling with ants. In one of the sinks, as I brushed my teeth, I spotted cigarette butts in the drain and I almost threw up. The floor had not been mopped in years. We could not wear our shoes because they were all covered with mud from our outings. Our socks were literally turning black. The first thing I bought in Chile was several pairs of socks. We bought bug spray and tried to clean the bathrooms as best we could for our own use. I washed the dishes in the kitchen before we used them. Kaley's room had mice and crickets which bothered her during the night. Luckily, we had brought our own clean sheets and towels. Even though the beds were damp, because of the ample blankets and our own sheets, all of us except for Kaley slept quite well.

Oops--I forgot--an update: Of course, we had electricity but no TV and with the different currents, we did not even bring hair dryers or curling irons. This was a challenge for both Kaley and me because we tend to have out of control hair. Dave was able to charge his lap top and we watched some DVD's I brought on three different nights and this was really fun! On the first night, the rain was a deluge and the roof leaked onto the floor upstairs. Kaley turned on the bathroom light and got hit with a full body shock. Um, this wasn't good.

Our plan was to stay in the casa for a week. I thought I'd get used to the new way of life but instead I began dreaming about a nice warm hotel room where I could flush my used toilet paper. We decided to blow our budget and the last two nights of our trip to Chile, we stayed in the newly renovated and gorgeous Radisson Hotel in Santiago. The shower I took when we checked in was one of the best showers of my life!

How lucky are we that we could choose to leave uncomfortable living conditions? How many people in the world suffer everyday without heat or adequate facilities? How spoiled are we that we could not even take a week out of our lives to struggle a little? I wouldn't change our decision to stay in the casa. The location was great for our sightseeing and proximity to Lucas. It was part of seeing how Chileans live everyday without even thinking twice about it.

But I really liked the hotel!