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Last night I was chatting with a gringo friend here in Santiago on skype, and wondering how his wife’s arrival back from the states had gone. It seemed odd to me that I’d find him on the computer if she’d only just arrived, and lo! she had not. It seems that mechanical problems had sent her plane looping back from whence she’d come, with a night in a hotel airport, to boot.

As consumers of travel services, we compare our best and brightest with our worst and most dim. We try to figure out which airlines are likely to strand us overnight, and which have a generally-accepted good reputation. Asking my friend which airline his wife had flown (or tried to fly) was fraught with excitment. Would it be an airline I never fly? (reaction: whew!). Would it be the airline I am eyeing for my multi-stop open-jaw trip to the states during the northern summer? (reaction: oh crud) Would it be the airline in this part of the southern cone which we all agree should have a theme song and hats with little round mousie-ears distributed to all the employees, so excellent is the service?

It is of this brother-of-minniemouse airline of which I am most often reminded when I consider airlines not to fly if you a) need to be somewhere on time b) need to be somewhere at all or c) need to work with a company that feigns interest in you, your itinerary or your luggage.

There are two good stories in my story quiver today about this airline. One is sad and leads to me arriving to a hospital room too late, when this airline could have told me the connecting flight to NY was a no-go, and I would have paid the money to get on another plane. But nobody wants to hear that sad story, and we’ll go with the footwashing tale, instead.

Last southern summer, I decided to explore the pointyish tip of the southern cone. If you look carefully (or even not so carefully), you will see that a sizeable island, Tierra del Fuego has cracked off the continent, separated by the Straight of Magellan. It was here I was headed. I had one flight to Buenos Aires, which would land at Ezeiza, the international airport, and nine hours later, I had another flight south from Aeroparque, the dingy little is-it-a-bus-station-or-an-airport for local flights within Argentina. I had planned a busride, a quick hostel check in, a nice dinner, a short sleep, and zoom, to the other airport.

Or so I thought. My first flight was more than four hours late, quickly shrinking my night-on-the-town to my night-in-the-airport. I shuttled to the second airport, fully cognizant that there would be no tasty dinner, no frothy beer and no sleep horizontality.

So what’s this about the foot-washing? I have a little bit of a manic side (no?! really?), and before I leave town, I like to make sure my apartment is the kind of place I’d like to come back to. I sweep, dust, launder, and I do what I like to call “dish laundry.” While I was engaged in dish laundry, and running back and forth between the kitchen and the satellite kitchen, where the dishes live, I managed to crash a green ceramic mug against a big glass bowl. The bowl broke, inverted and fell in slow motion (in Spanish called cámera lenta, or slow camera)and landed from waist height, cut-side down, onto the knuckle of my big toe, which was bare at the time.

Surely I needed stitches, medical intervention, to postpone my flight. But no. I am nothing if not stubborn, and I taped myself up, and taped myself up again, and bandaided until I couldn’t see the blood coming through, and hobbled around on my heel, wearing crocs because did you know you have to squinch up your toes to get them into flipflops? There could be no toe-squinching for me. Squinching was tantamount to purposely reopening the wound, and this I would not do.

I asked my best medical references, doctor google and a friend who’s studying to become a nurse back in Wisconsin what to do for the toe. The most important advice seemed to be, wash the wound. Twice or three times a day, with soap and plenty of water.

Which is how I found myself balancing on one hiking boot (on the good side), fully ignoring the sign that said “no bañarse” (no bathing) in the Aeroparque airport at four in the morning, with my wounded foot in the sink, washing it for all I was worth. I know bathing was prohibited, but between misdemeanor toe washing and losing the battle with bacteria, I knew I was in the right. The other foot? that one I washed just because, you know, to even things out. And yes, I did get caught, and I was given the evil eye by not one, but two homeless families that spied me. But hey. A girl’s got to feel fresh.

Oh, and the best part? The second flight was delayed, too. I could have had that beer after all.

A-e-r… Are you really an airline?… o-l-i… I don’t think I love you…