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AC 093

Who the fuck decided it was a good idea to schedule a 10-hour flight at 9:00 am? Not only you have to get up at 5:30 a.m. and find a taxi at 6 a.m., but you waste a full day in the plane and you probably can’t doze off because of the many mundane on-board activities, from meal service to duty-free.

I like late-afternoon or night flights. You just sit down, buckle up, sleep and wake up where you’re supposed to be.

I knew I’d be leaving in the morning when I bought the ticket, but three months ago, it didn’t matter. Now it does because I’m taking the damn flight. Waiting for it as I’m starting to type this article, as a matter of fact.

When it comes to leaving places, I’m more like Mark circa daycare era then Feng, who is usually happy to go home. “It’s weird,” I explain him on Skype. “Usually I just hate you because you’re the killjoy who is dragging me back to Canada. But this time, I do want to go back, not because I’m looking forward to being in Ottawa but because I miss you and I miss Mark.”

The last two days in Santiago are bittersweet as I’m starting to detach myself from my backpacking and Latina life. I feel like an alien—I morphed into a local to fit in but now I’m morphing back into something else before going back to the mothership. I no longer shop for food but for souvenirs and for the first time in weeks, I know for sure where I will be next week even though I don’t have a booking confirmation—home.

After packing, finishing a last-minute badly timed work assignment and eating dinner, I decide to lie in bed for a couple of hours. It’s already almost 3 a.m., will I hear the alarm at 5:30 a.m.? Is it even worth sleeping?

Probably. I can’t keep my eyes open much longer and I need some energy to deal with the whole airport process.

My backpack is ready.

I’m not sure I am.

I send Feng a last email:

“I remember choosing my clothes carefully and putting on makeup when we met at the airport in Mexico, in New Zealand, in Canada…

Sorry, I probably won’t look that fresh when I arrive in Ottawa.”

I leave the windows and the curtains open, both to make sure I don’t sleep too deeply and because one last time, I want to enjoy the city lights, the noise, the feeling of being part of something—of what exactly, I’m not sure… the neighbourhood, Santiago, Chile, South America?

The alarm beeps and it’s time to go.

One last check to make sure I don’t leave anything behind. I head for the stairs as usual, then I turn around and call the elevator when I remember I have my backpack strapped to me—20 floors with it is more exercise than I need right now.

Last night, I finally met Sebastián, the property manager…. or whatever his job title is. It was my own little running joke in Santiago.

I booked the first couple of nights thought Expedia, and since I loved the studio apartment, the building and the street, I booked it again directly with my contact, “Sebastián” every time I was in Santiago. All business was conducted by text messages or over the phone—I sent tons of “Hola Sebastián” messages through Skype to confirm arrival time, door codes, to ask for lightbulbs or to report the fridge died on me.

Hola Sebastián! It’s Juliette. No recibí la confirmación de la reserva por correo electrónico del 3 al 5 de marzo (y probablemente lo extienda). No sé si la necesita, esto es solo para confirmar. Además, pagué a Daniella ayer. Gracias!

Hola Sebastián! It’s Juliette. Llegaré entre las 14 h y las 15 hrs mañana. Además, me gustaría extender la reserva hasta el jueves 7 de marzo (y probablemente hasta el 15 de marzo, voy a confirmar). ¿Es posible? Gracias!

However, I had never met “Sebastián” in person. To collect rent, he’d send “Daniela,” a young Venezuelan girl who lived on the 12th floor, and once, he sent a guy who, I suspect, was also a building resident. I kept on wondering who exactly was “Sebastián”—was he old, young, was he an employee, a rich property owner…? I knew he had kids, I heard them in the background a couple of times. He also had a made-for-radio voice and he was pretty trusty—once, when “Daniela” wasn’t around, he told me to just leave rent money on the table.

I always had to chase “Sebastián,” “Daniela” and whoever was working for him to pay rent, including on the last night:

“Hola Sebastián, I’m leaving super early tomorrow, can you ask Daniela to come around for payment?”

“Give me ten minutes.”

Half an hour later, the doorbell rang. I opened the door, expecting Daniela but I found myself face to face with a Benicio Del Toro look-alike.

“Hi, I’m Sebastián.”

“Oh my God, you actually exist!” I said.

“Oh my God, you’re so freaking hot!” I was also thinking.

Okay, I could leave in peace—I had met Sebastián, my last Latino mystery was solved.

The taxi is waiting for me downstairs as promised. Chileans are very reliable people.

I let out a sigh—the driver isn’t chatty, I can relax, I’m not about to be quizzed about my travel choices in Chile (“But why didn’t you go to lovely-very-remote-city”?).

Two seconds later, he turns the music one and Green Day starts to play at full blast as he speeds away in the empty streets. Not exactly the quiet, relaxing ride I was expecting but we did get to the airport in record time and it only costs me 14,000 pesos (Sebastián had guestimated the ride at 18,000 pesos).

For once, it’s colder outside the airport than inside—with the air con, it’s usually the opposite. I guess Fall weather is coming in Chile. All those who were complaining about the heat are rejoicing, while thousands of Venezuelan newcomers are bracing for winter temperatures in July—“I’ve heard it could be close to 0⁰C,” they whisper, eating arepas.

I join the very long queue for the AC 093 flight to Toronto. Accidentally, I freak out a few travellers from Calgary. In the queue, as we’re discussing our respective connections in Toronto, I mention it may be a bit of a mess with all the 747 Max grounded. They look confused—turns out they didn’t know about the crash.

“We don’t speak Spanish, we don’t watch the news! How many people died?”

“Ahem… all of them,” I have to reply.

Anytime you need to kill the mood in a long airport queue, just call me, eh.

I get my boarding passes—one for the Santiago-Toronto leg and one for the Toronto-Ottawa leg—and I step outside to watch the sun rise over the Andes.

Going through immigration and then through security takes about five minutes. I kill another ten in the duty-free shop, where I’m suddenly inspired to buy something for my father-in-law—food in a nice box, the perfect present approved by billions of Chinese!

Boarding the damn flight takes about an hour. I’m zone 5, aka “stand around, we will call you when all the suitcases are properly stored in the overheard bins.”

I just want to sleep.

It’s a full flight and the aircraft is old and cramped. I’m pretty sure the seats are smaller than usual because my knees are touching the back of the seat in front and I didn’t grow an inch. My seatmates, Chilean grandparents who have been living in Montreal for 30 years, are both pretty big people and they complain they don’t fit in their seat. I feel for them because they aren’t unusually large. I have the aisle seat and they politely wake me up every time they need to move or turn.

Instead of eggs for breakfast, we get some chicken breast. Then instead of pasta, we get more chicken breast. I’m guessing there was a slight issue with the meals today…

Eventually, I sleep for more of the ten-hour trip and after declining a chicken sandwich, we land in Toronto.

“Juliette?”

Huh?

“Gagan.”

Oh, my God, kind, sweet Gagan, also waiting for his suitcase! He emailed me a few years ago, before immigrating to Canada, then we met when he settled in Ottawa. He is coming back from a business trip to Mexico and we’re on the same flight to Ottawa. It’s a small world…

I see Feng right away in the Ottawa airport arrival hall. It’s like in one of these movie scenes, I’m on the elevator, he’s standing in the middle of the small crowd…

It could be awkward but it’s not.

“Mommy, I like you better in real life,” Mark says later, after a long, long hug. “You get very blurry on Skype, sometimes.”

And here we are, the three of us together again—my two guys, for better and for worst.

Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez, 5:30 a.m., Santiago
Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez, 5:30 a.m., Santiago
Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez, 5:30 a.m., Santiago
Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez, 5:30 a.m., Santiago
Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez, 5:30 a.m., Santiago
Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez, 5:30 a.m., Santiago
Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez, 5:30 a.m., Santiago

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