Saying Goodbye to South America: A little more difficult than I had anticipated

The time has finally come for me to write my final re-entry post. I left Chile on July 14 and spent the three following weeks traveling through Peru and Ecuador on my way home (the main reason why I’ve been MIA for the past month). As I said my goodbyes to all of the friends I’d made who were returning to the US, I felt like I had it made. As the reality of returning home to the United States hit them, they were all becoming nostalgic about Chile and South America in general. Sure, I was sad to leave Chile. Santiago had become my home over the past five months. But I knew that I had a three-week adventure in front of me that I couldn’t wait to start.

The trip was great. A friend and I traveled to Lima and Cusco, spending a few days in each city. We took a four-day Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu. I *gasp* camped. Then we had a marathon trip from Cusco to Cuenca, Ecuador involving a flight and three buses. Everything was going really well. My friend and I got along swimmingly, we had great luck finding hostels and cheap food, and we even stumbled upon some great cultural events like a gastronomic festival in Lima. It was all too good to be true. Our lucky streak had to come to an end at some point. In our case, it came to a screeching halt.

We had the unfortunate experience of being robbed at gunpoint in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Luckily, we weren’t hurt and we only had four days left before returning home, so it almost didn’t matter that I no longer had cash or a credit or debit card.

Mind you, I said almost.

Fortunately, my friend had a second debit card that hadn’t been stolen, so we were able to get by until it was time to fly home. My flight was scheduled to leave at 6:30am and hers wasn’t until 11:30 that evening so she sent me off to the airport with my luggage and $40 in my pocket. Then the fun began.

The morning started out alright. The cab driver charged me $7 to get to the airport, which was a little more than I thought it should have been but I wasn’t going to fight it (after all, it was 4:30am. I probably would have charged me 75% more than I should have too). I got to the airport easily enough. I then decided to shell out another $7 to get my suitcase wrapped in plastic because after three weeks of traveling it had developed an enormous hole.

Standing in line to check in, I realized that my flight was now scheduled to leave an hour later than I had expected and I discovered that my watch had fallen off at some point between the cab and my current location. Whatever, I thought to myself, I just want to get to Miami. I’ll worry about getting to Philadelphia once I’m out of Ecuador.

I got to the counter, checked in (after American Airlines offered me $300 and taxi fare to get bumped to a flight the following morning to which I replied “Absolutely not” as politely as possible. I’d had a great time in South America, but it was now time to return home) and proceeded to the desk to pay the airport tax. Knowing that I might have to pay such a tax, I made sure I brought extra money.

So you can imagine how quickly my heart dropped into my stomach when I looked up at the sign and realized that the tax was $40.80. (For those of you playing at home, I’ll write out the math $40-$7-$7 = not enough to get out of Ecuador). Thinking I could just explain the situation, give the Ecuadorian government the $26 I had left, and be on my way, I stepped up to the counter. Unfortunately, the man at the counter, though sympathetic (at least based on his “ooh, that sucks” wince after I gave him my spiel) couldn’t help me and instead suggested that I talk to American Airlines to see if they could help.

I walked over to the counter, convinced that they would be able to help; after all they were offering people $300 to get bumped to the next flight. They could surely give me $20. Apparently I shouldn’t have been so sure. The supervisor informed me that there was “nothing that they could do for me” and instead suggested I go talk to the International Information Desk, who also told me there was nothing they could do and suggested that I ask someone on my flight for a loan. Seriously? They were all adamant that I pay this tax.

At this point, after I’d been robbed, I’d said goodbye to a really good friend, my flight had been delayed, I’d lost my watch, and there seemed to be no viable way for me to gather enough funds to get the heck out of Ecuador, I’d started crying. And this was no longer just a couple of tears. It had turned into overwhelming, hiccupping, hyperventilating crying. Talk about embarrassing.

I had no other option. I had to beg.

I got back in the airport tax line and approached the first kind looking man I saw, asking him if he could possibly lend me $5. After explaining the situation, the man then made my day by giving me the $20 I needed to pay the tax. I thanked him profusely and offered to find a way to pay him back to which he just responded “Pay it forward.” This man is my new hero. I will name my first son after him. (The only problem is that I don’t know his name and I don’t think that Really Nice Man with a Hat who Lent Me $20 at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito is a suitable name for a child but I’ll figure something out.)

I finally made it through security and got on my flight to Miami. Then reality hit me once again: I might not make my connection to Philadelphia. I only was going to have a 2.5-hour layover in Miami to begin with and my flight was now an hour late. Though I had thought earlier in the morning that I didn’t care if I made my connection as long as I got to Miami, I no longer felt that way. I just wanted to get home.

Naturally, it took a year and a day to get my bags and to get through customs. All of the American Airlines employees told me that I’d have to run to make my connection, so I took off sprinting. I tore off my sneakers and threw my bags through the scanner at security. I didn’t even take the time to put my shoes back on all the way or tie the laces as I started sprinting again through the terminal. I skidded to a halt at the gate and desperately asked the woman at the desk if I could still get on my flight. She looked at me curiously and said “Uh, we haven’t started boarding yet.” I involuntarily let out a relieved “Oh, thank God!” and collapsed in a chair to wait for boarding to begin. After an eternally long morning, I was finally going home.

Even after all of the complications, I wouldn’t have changed my trip for anything. Sure, I was sad to leave Chile and to say goodbye to South America for a while, but I think my three weeks in Peru and Ecuador prepared me well to finally come home. I started to appreciate the little comforts that I enjoy everyday in the US like the “bathroom trifecta,” as my friend deemed it, referring to soap, toilet paper, and a toilet seat which are usually found in all public restrooms in the United States. In the few days I’ve been home, I’ve missed the friends I made during the semester, the food my host mother cooked for me, and even seeing the Andes out my window every day. But then I look in my wallet and see my debit card smiling back at me and I think how good it is to be home.

About Loretta Devery

Loretta Devery is a junior in the College from Richboro, PA, majoring in Spanish with (potentially) a Certificate in Latin American Studies. She is very excited to be spending the spring 2009 semester in Santiago, Chile and having the opportunity to experience fall and winter twice in the same year while missing out on spring altogether. Thanks to Chile’s geographic diversity and temperate climate, however, she is looking forward to both skiing in the Andes (or at least learning to ski at some point in her life) and visiting beach towns along the coast (with her SPF 85 sunscreen).
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