After five weeks and 3,664 miles of traveling with Micheal Jackson, the time came to say goodbye.
Upon arriving at the Wicked Campers drop-off location, a man named Alejandro came out to inspect the campervan and ask if we had any issues with it, which we had not. The return process was really quick and easy and everyone involved was very friendly, including a lazy dog named Rambo and a kitten who went berserk upon seeing our backpack straps blowing in the wind. Working with Wicked Campers proved to be a pleasant experience. Never once did I feel like they were a greedy corporation that would surprise us with unexpected fees or overcharge on a damage deposit for normal wear and tear. Leaving Michael Jackson behind was a bittersweet departure but now it was time for the next phase: traveling via plane, bus, taxi, and feet around the larger cities of Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Peru.
Our next destination was Buenos Aires but since there were no direct flights from Punta Arenas, we would have to fly via an overnight stay in Santiago. After a seven-hour wait at the Punta Arenas airport and a few-hour flight to Santiago, we bartered with a taxi driver and arrived at our hotel near the Santiago airport. Our hotel room felt strangely luxurious and spacious after our previous accommodations, especially having two queen-size beds available (and you can bet we each took a bed and felt miles apart by doing so). While laying in bed trying to fall asleep, I realized how many different noises I could hear and how bright the room felt just from small lights on the clock and other electronics that stay on when the main lights go out. It gave me extra appreciation for the experiences we’ve had during the previous five weeks; the opportunity to get used to nights with the only noises coming from wind, rain, or a nearby river and the only light coming from the moon.
The next morning (Tuesday, 2/14) we were on another camera-related mission. Alastair had researched options for replacing our lost camera and discovered it would be much more expensive to buy a camera in Argentina. Since our flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires wouldn’t depart until 1:00 pm, we had the whole morning to shop around at nearby stores. Actually, we only had until about 11:00 since we needed to check-in and get through airport security prior to our flight. And it was about a 30-minute drive from the shopping area to the airport so I suppose we really only had until 10:30. The initial store we found while searching online was a department store that opened at 10:00. That would leave 30 minutes to get in the store, find the camera section, find a store clerk, attempt communications about said cameras, make a purchase, find the way out of the store, and get into a car headed to the airport. Ugh, the stress.
While killing time at our hotel that morning I asked the woman at the hotel’s front desk about where to get a camera. She informed us of a mall located next to our intended department store and, luckily, it opened at 9:30! We just bought ourselves an extra 30 minutes!
By this time it was about 9:00 so we hailed an Uber and arrived at the mall just before it opened. I stayed in a seating area at the entrance of the mall next to a sunglasses kiosk with both of my backpacks and Alastair’s large backpack while Alastair speed-walked through the mall to find the camera stores as soon as they opened.
Camera store #1: This store was actually a surprise stop which Alastair hadn’t seen on the directory map. Their inventory was nothing to get excited about but at least he knew what was available as he rushed to the other stores.
Camera store #2: If we were attempting to replace a really expensive DSLR camera then this store would have been a jackpot. Alas, Alastair moved on.
Camera store #3: This store only had one option. It was cheaper and poorer quality than what was at the first store so Alastair reversed his path and headed back to where he started.
Camera store #1: Alastair returned to the first store, found a clerk, and inquired about buying his camera of choice primarily via hand gestures. The clerk’s reply was, “One hour.” Huh? From what Alastair could decipher, cameras could not be purchased for another hour although the reasoning was unclear.
Meanwhile, back at the sunglasses kiosk, my gut was getting tighter with every minute that passed, wondering when Alastair would return as the clock closed in on 10:00. I hate being late for anything and my body was going into stress-mode over the thought of rushing to the airport and potentially missing our flight. As if the dude working at the sunglasses kiosk next to me could hear my thoughts, he started playing Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” on the kiosk speaker. In college my roommate, Jackie, and I would sing and dance to this song while
wasting time studying and since then it has always cheered me up, with this moment being no exception. It was an unexpectedly comforting moment. Thank you, sunglasses kiosk dude.
Back to the camera fiasco….
Department store: After going 0-3 at the mall stores, it was nearly 10:00 and Alastair decided to hustle next door to the department store and wait for it to open. The selection there was only display model cameras with no packaging, the prices were unknown, the store’s computers weren’t functioning properly, and nobody seemed to be able to sort things out in an efficient and timely manner. The clock was ticking, and still no camera.
Camera store #3: Alastair ditched the department store, spun on his heels and hauled it back to the mall store with the cheap camera. It was far from ideal but at least it was something. During his initial visit he was the only customer and was assisted right away. This time, however, there were about half a dozen people waiting in line to be helped. There was no time to wait as it was already past 10:30; past our time to go.
Meanwhile, back at the sunglasses kiosk, I recieved a text from Alastair to meet him at the department store so we could save time meeting back up to get a ride to the airport. Most days this would be no big deal. On this day, however, I had baggage. Lots and lots of baggage. Not only did I have my own small 10-ish pound backpack and large 25-ish pound backpack, I also had Alastair’s even larger 30+ pound backpack to deal with. Alastair’s backpack was too big to carry on my hip like a small child or in my arms like a stack of wood. My only option was to wear my own backpack as usual, then loop my arms through the straps of my small backpack and Alastair’s backpack and cross my arms over my chest, giving my biceps and forearms a major workout (I kid you not, I was sore for three days afterward). I waddled and grunted my way through the parking lot with a few necessary rest breaks, dodging strange glances from passers-by while feeling and looking like I was training for a Strongman competition.
As soon as I got word that Alastair was on his way to meet me, I fired up Uber to get a ride to the airport. I was connected to a driver who was only three minutes away but after about ten minutes of anxiety-riddled waiting our driver still hadn’t arrived. It was creeping up to 11:00 and we were getting desperate for a ride when Alastair noticed a taxi cruising through the parking lot. He flagged it down, we threw our bags and ourselves into the taxi, and cancelled our Uber ride. The taxi driver asked if we would prefer to take the main highway which had tolls, or if we would prefer the alternate route which was slower but cheaper. We both promptly answered with, “Más rápido!”
We were dropped off at the international terminal with no further delays, aside from being dropped off at the end of the airport farthest from our airline’s ticket counter. We donned our backpacks, stuck out our elbows, and speed-walked the length of the airport to the check-in kiosks and baggage drop. Then we reversed our path back to the other end of the airport to enter the security checkpoint. No further hassles were encountered, the process went smoothly, and we found our way to our departure gate shortly before they started boarding. Success!
The short flight to Buenos Aires went well and we had no problems with customs or immigration upon our arrival. After collecting our bags, we noticed a selection of cameras in the duty-free store. One of them fit the bill so we went ahead and bought it under far less stress than the morning debacle, finally ending our camera conundrum for the time being. The new camera doesn’t quite live up to the previous one but it will fill the gap until we get back to the States and likely buy a duplicate of the original. Oh, and let me know if you’re in the market for a lightly used camera next month.
From the airport, we hopped in a taxi and made our way through town to our Airbnb apartment in the Polermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. We promptly began doing some much-needed post-backpacking laundry and came up with a rough itinerary for exploring Buenos Aires. We then went out to dinner at a busy but enjoyable restaurant called La Pharmacie, where Alastair reminded me that just two days prior we were wild camping with Michael Jackson at the end of the world with no electricity or other amenities. Now we were sitting in a busy restaurant in the middle of a major bustling city, sipping wine from an actual wine glass, and eating fancy pasta while surrounded by couples and families celebrating Valentine’s day. While part of me enjoys the consistency of the modern amenities we now have access to in the city, part of me fondly reminisces about Michael Jackson and the tranquility of a quieter, simpler, slower lifestyle. This moment was definitely a turning point of the trip, which is what we had always intended during the planning process to ensure a variety of experiences as we venture through South America. So now it’s time to adjust to city life as we begin the next chapter, South America: Part Deux.