Sometimes travel sucks. It’s absolutely a first world problem but I think we can still admit it’s not always glamorous. Flying is usually the main culprit of awful travel. Sitting crammed into tiny seats for hours on end, busy airports, and TSA can make getting to your destination a headache. I’ve traveled more than the average person I’d say, and I’ve had long flights to places like Australia and France. Without any hiccups, a few stops, and the plethora of entertainment now available, long flights can be pretty quick and painless. Sleep half the flight away, order some cocktails, watch some terrible action movies and you’re there. This has always been my travel experience and for the most part Chad’s as well, a guy that has traveled to over 25 countries.
So for some context, we aren’t just traveling with some swimsuits and t-shirts like when you take the family to Cabo. Our checked bag is carefully packed to the maximum weight allowed, primarily full of gear. Our clothes we use to wrap all the gear up and protect it. Both of us have two carry on bags, a heavy camera bag full of the most essential equipment so that if our checked bag gets lost, we can still do our job. We also bring a laptop bag that’s also been stuffed full of batteries, chargers, and hard drives. It goes without saying that carrying heavy, fragile, expensive bags like this adds a little extra stress to travel. Not to mention when going through customs with all this stuff you stick out from the rest of the crowd.
For this trip we first must fly down to Punta Arenas, Chile. It’s one of the most southern cities in the world, sitting on the straight of Magellan and often used as a base of operations for Antarctic excursions. Most famously Shackleton used it as home base as he prepared to rescue his marooned men. It is 7,201 miles south of Boise Idaho. From there we hop on a bus heading back north to Eco Camp and the Patagonia region of Chile. Our plan is to leave very early Friday and arrive in Eco Camp by Saturday evening, about 36 hours of travel. We have connections in Dallas and Santiago Chile. Punta Arenas is in the same time zone as New York so not much in the way of time difference.
We start with a 6:15am flight from Boise to Dallas, simple. In Dallas we have a long 5-hour lay over before the flight to Santiago, Chile. After 8 hours our flight is still not ready, something is broken on the plane. Around 9pm we finally board our flight, and arrive in Santiago at 8am, needing to board an 8:30am flight. Needless to say with customs we miss that 8:30 flight. Now here is where things get tricky, usually people in airports speak some English. It’s just the way of the world, and we’ve gotten used to it. No one in this airport speaks English, or no one wants to. The airport officials refuse to give us a guaranteed flight time; instead we are on standby, hoping someone doesn’t show up for their flight. Around 5pm and sick of waiting we try to find the American Airlines help desk. We can’t get a hold of anyone by phone, and the American Airlines lost baggage desk is closed. We check all the airport maps, nothing. So we start walking around back alleys of this airport, finding many places I’m sure we weren’t supposed to be, with a lot of gear, in a foreign country. Eventually we stumble across a door with the American Airlines logo on it, locked, with a call box next to it. We ring the call box and are answered by an older lady speaking minimal English, who takes our boarding passes, passports and shuts the door in our face! Now we are sitting in a hallway in the Santiago airport with no credible identification. The woman eventually comes back out and hands us a phone, with an American Airlines rep that speaks English on the other line. After finally being able to explain our situation to someone we are given hotel rooms right next to the airport, and a 5:30am flight. Since we have missed our Saturday bus, we have to make the 1:30pm bus out of Punta Arenas on Sunday to be able to shoot the guest trip we are there to document, which starts Monday morning.
The hotel is nice, and eerily gated. After some drinks, ok a lot of drinks, and a meal, we head to our separate rooms to pass out. Before heading up to the room I stop by the front desk and order a wake up call for 4:00am. Next thing I know Chad is shaking me and throwing clothes in my general direction. My phone had been disconnected which I hadn’t known since I ordered the call at the front desk instead of over the phone. Chad had been banging on my door trying to wake me up for some time now. And he finally convinced hotel staff to disregard policy and open it for him. We are now very close to missing the airport shuttle (which Chad has stalled) and our flight out of Santiago.
Fortunately we make the flight and arrive in Punta Arenas around 10. It seemed longer than normal with Chad seething next to me the whole time. As we land Chad finally utters his first words of the day to me, “Dude, what the fuck?” It’s a big sigh of relief, as we seem to be on the final home stretch now. After hopping on the bus it takes us another 8 hours to get to Eco Camp, stopping in Puerto Natales for lunch, and a quick detour to Cueva del-Milodon (Cave of the Sloth). There’s also a quick stop as soon as we enter Torres Del Paine to view a large Puma snacking on a Guanaco. For some reason when the Puma walks away we all get out of the bus to have a closer look at the kill. I still have never understood why that was a good idea. Finally a little before 6pm we arrive at camp, but sunset has begun, so no time to rest. Gear out, time lapse up, photos being taken, b-roll being shot. Once the sun goes down we pack everything back up, and hit the community domes for some late dinner before finally retiring to our dome at 9:30pm on Sunday evening. It’s been a long day 2 days, 18 hours, and 16 minutes. Time to get some much needed rest before the real start of our journey, tomorrow.