Dispatch: Voyage to the Bottom of the World -- Home again

Travel Weekly senior editor David Cogswell departed for Santiago, Chile, Jan. 3 to begin a two-week adventure to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands, sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent. For the past several days hes transmitted a nearly daily Dispatch on the trip to Travel Weeklys New Jersey headquarters. This is Davids last Dispatch from the Bottom of the World.

After two days on the Drake Passage, we returned to Ushuaia Sunday night. Most of the Explorers staff took advantage of the rare opportunity to go ashore with an explosion of glee that reverberated throughout the ship.

I disembarked at 8 a.m. Monday morning with the group that was taking A&Ks charter to Santiago. The flight was about three hours long and we arrived around 5:30 p.m. A&K gave us vouchers for a restaurant where we could wait for our connecting flights. My flight to New York was scheduled to leave at 9:15 p.m.

All the Lan Chile employees I encountered were exceptionally warm and courteous and went out of their way to help. Even if they couldnt meet a request, they never gave the feeling that they didnt care.  Their warmth lifted the experience with a genuine spirit of good customer service -- I didnt meet one of the cold, uncaring desk clerks I occasionally find in an industry so bogged down with logistical issues.

Some of the airlines operational policies, however, yielded some curious results.

For example, the plane stopped in Lima, Peru, at 2:30 a.m. I had fallen asleep shortly after takeoff and was awoken by a burst of activity around me.  Two thirds of the passengers pulled down their baggage and started up the aisles. Since the next stop was in the U.S., the governments security mandates required an attendant to check every passengers passport against the governments no-fly list. I groggily handed the agent my passport.

Once that was settled, the airline started boarding the new passengers.

And soon after takeoff  --  at around 3:30 a.m. -- the airline began a meal service for the new passengers. At that hour, I didnt look upon the food with much relish. So I passed.

A man sat next to me and let out a loud hacking cough, which he made only the most casual effort to block with the back of his hand. He continued hacking and wheezing all night. His hand sometimes deflected the breeze, and I could feel it on my cheek.

We arrived at JFK at daybreak and streamed into Immigration as the early-morning sun streamed through the glass walls of the terminal. We filed into snaking lines under a CNN monitor that barked out a rapid series of 20-second news stories: a hostage crisis in Atlanta; an escaped prisoner; another execution in California.

The man at the Immigration desk was friendly and good-humored. I wasnt quite so lucky at Customs. An agent who looked like her eyelids were artificially pulled back looked at my customs form with a look that ranged from suspicion to outrage.

What were you doing in Chile? she asked, as if being there would automatically imply some sort of illegal activity. I explained that I work for a travel publication, and I was writing about Antarctica, but I hadnt put Antarctica on the list of countries I visited because its not a country... It sounded terribly suspicious even to me as I stood under her furious gaze.

She had heard enough. She put a red mark on my customs form and said, Go to line A, which I did. The man at line A seemed similarly outraged by my presence. He asked who I worked for and I told him. As he fingered my passport he said, Do you have ID?

You mean besides the passport? I asked. He asked if I had a press card, and I didnt, but I said, I could show you my business card.

I began searching my bag for my business cards, pulling things out of my bag: my deodorant, a calculator, a toothbrush, glasses case, my wallet. As the pile rose on his desk, I managed to find my business card, but by then the guy had lost interest.

Okay, you can go, he said.

It was great to be home again.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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