Finally, after eighteen months, I’m back in Chile! The trip was long, as it always is. First flights, then immigration, baggage and customs. Then two more buses before I arrived in Viña del Mar. And I still needed to get to my friends’ apartment. My brother commented that I must really love it to go through all that it takes to get here. He’s right, of course – I absolutely love it here.
My brother also asked (rather, commented), “How’s your Spanish?” with a hint of good-natured mockery in his voice. Ha. My Spanish has dropped off considerably. I haven’t practiced in a year. Made no effort whatsoever. To be truthful, I was a bit worried. However, I replied to him confidently, “If I could arrive in Chile with only ‘hola’ and ‘gracias’ (3 years ago, when I knew zero Spanish), then I am confident that I can get by with whatever is left of my Spanish.”
This belief got tested almost the moment I stepped into Chile.
I arrived at the new international terminal, tired from the overnight flight (really? why is the flight to Chile – both ways! – an overnight flight?) and hungry from not eating the airplane food. The fourteen minute walk from the new International Arrivals terminal to Immigration (no, I’m not kidding – my iWatch helpfully asked, “It seems like you’re walking, would you like to record this walk?”) gave me some time to practice a few phrases. Because I found myself surrounded by Spanish.
My first chance to practice came at Customs. Sigh. One of the dogs sniffed a non-existent orange in my backpack. Of course, I had brought food on the plane. But I’d eaten it all! Evidently, the orange leaves a scent behind. So I got to speak with the (admittedly very friendly) Customs agents.
This bit of Chilean friendliness led to another. As I walked out of Customs, my tired mind and body searched for the first bus that would take me to Santiago. I started to stand in line but noticed that everyone else seemed to have a ticket already. I asked the gentleman in front of me if I needed to purchase a ticket first (in Spanish! And it just came to me!) and he replied yes, pointing in the direction of the ticket office.
I left the line, bought my ticket (fighting the crowd, their bags, the heat and dust the whole way). I returned to the end of the line, sighing internally. It’s so frustrating to lose one’s spot, even legitimately. But then I noticed – the gentleman who had directed me to the ticket office was waving back to me! He had held my spot. This bit of friendliness was so welcome, and so unexpected. Then I remembered, of course, Chileans always struck me as very friendly. (aside from the occasional supermarket cashier or bus driver) As I settled into my seat, I let out a small sigh of relief.
After nearly 24 hours, I finally arrived in Viña. My friend Gerard was waiting for me, and shouldered a couple of my bags for the walk home. He and his wife Julie had offered a place to stay, for which I am so grateful. And so happy to give them both a hug!
We stopped for arepas on the way home. Oh, yumminess! After food, a shower and a nap (in that order), I felt like a new person.
Good thing that I did, because I still had an evening in front of me! My friends Janne and Steen had concocted a small Welcome Back dinner for me. (pictures below) It’s difficult to imagine how much can change in such a short amount of time. Sitting on the balcony, watching the sun set into the Pacific Ocean, sipping homemade pisco sours (thank you Steen!) and eating delicious homemade food (thank you both, for it all!) with friends I hadn’t seen in such a long time was a bit surreal. Had I really been in the US just the day before?
Have you ever missed a place so much that when you finally returned, it didn’t seem quite real? Have you ever so longed to be somewhere that it took a few days for it all to sink in again? That you found yourself breathing in the happiness with remembered sights and sounds? This is how much I missed Chile, how much I missed my city by the sea, my lovely friends who couldn’t wait to see me again.
But I had one more thing to do before I really felt like I was back in Viña. I had to go for a run.
My soul positively sings when I run on that beach. I’m sure you can see why (just look at the pictures!). Everything seems possible, and my worries fall away as the pavement slips beneath my feet. The gloriousness of the life I’ve built for myself hits me in those minutes – all of it – the freedom of movement (literally and figuratively), the beauty in front of me, the possibilities for something new.
At dinner Friday evening, we named 2020, The Year Without a Plan. The year IS full of possibility, even if I’m not at all sure what that might include. I will take this year one day at a time. I will remember to be grateful. I will remember to run in the sunshine, and keep that beach in my mind. Until next time!