Sunday, 5 November 2017

Chile there I go

As I come down the stairs I notice a strange green glow. The receptionist is cowering under his desk.

Could this be my worst fear? Have Kristen gone full nuclear?

Shielding my eyes, I enter the breakfast room. Everyone is by the window, behind a lead shield. The only seat left is next to Kristen. I pathetically attempt to shield my grillocks with two spoons. And rotate my head from side to side to stop one side burning off. But maybe I’m just rotissering myself.

“Nice socks, Kristen.”

Fernanda and Carlo are taking the same car to the airport. It gives us a little longer to chat. We part inside the airport.

Once I’ve dumped my check in bag, I pick up some sweets for Alexei. It’s a good way of getting rid of the $5,000 note.

Just as I’m approaching the immigration booth someone shouts "Ron, Ron." It makes me jump a bit. Do they realise I’ve two keys of coke in my carry on? I look around, nervously. It’s two of my fellow conference attendees in the queue.

We bump into each other in the duty free. They’re tasting whisky and invite me to join them. They’re both Argentinian heading back to Buenos Aires. The one has a brewery there. Very tiny. But he’s also studying.

One tells me the simultaneous Spanish translation of my talk wasn’t great. They missed out all of the swearing. “It totally ruined it.” I believe him. The swearing was an integral part. Like the mortal in a wall. The thing that holds all the boring bricks together.

I ask if they fancy having a drink. As you do. But they’re cutting it really fine. Their gate closes in 20 minutes. I walk with them towards their gate a bit, sussing out my bar options. We say our goodbyes and I plonk myself down at the bar of Ruby Tuesday. I know. But it’s here and has alcohol.

I order a pisco sour. The barkeep says something. I don’t quite get it. She repeats it then, realising I’m an idiot or non-Spanish speaker, points at the menu: “Alcoholic drinks only with food” in English. OK.

I order the smallest portion of deep fried mozzarella sticks and a pisco sour Peruano. Which she makes I front of me? What is that powder? There’s still loads left in the mixer after she’s filled my glass. I wonder what’s going to happen to that? It doesn’t look very efficient.

Everton Arsenal is on the TVs behind the bar. Depressingly, the Arses are winning. And are playing quite well, much as I hate to say that. It’s much like being  in the US, with the tellies behind the bar showing games.

When I’m half way through my 8 sticks, I order a second pisco sour. The barkeep just pours more stuff into the mixer.

This time the leftovers don’t stay in the mixer. It’s need for something else. She pours it carefully into a cup. Then makes some sort of drink from fresh strawberries and a shitload of sugar. She tastes it by using a straw as a pipette. No more adjustments, so she must have got it right first time

Six sticks in, I order my third pisco sour. She pours the leftover mix in the mug into the mixer and adds more shit. I’ve no problem with that. I wouldn’t want to see booze thrown away.

I’ve still half a cheese thing when I order my fourth pisco sour. I really don’t feel like eating any more, but I force it down. My drink, miraculously, lasts until it’s time to head for my gate.

I picked up two bottles of pisco in the duty free. One for Andrew, one for Alexei. I hope they enjoy them. And that Dutch customs don’t notice that I’m over the limit.

The camera in the nose is working for takeoff. You can see the runway speed by. After the traditional interminable taxi. Unfortunately, the views it gives of the Andes are a bit flat.

Soon I’m up to my earpits in crappy, light films. My usual diet on planes. We’re fed some not very good food, I grab a port, a wine, a champagne and a cognac with it. To take away the taste, honestly.

Four hours into the flight, when the cabin lights go out, I decide its kip time. I manage to drop off reasonably well. Not the most restful sleep I’ve ever had, but good enough. I get up an hour or two before I expect breakfast to be served. And watch another film. Some crap about an American family smuggling weed from Mexico. It passes the time in a numbing way.

Thirty minutes before brekkie, there’s an announcement. First in French. Unfortunately, I get the gist “Urgence médicale” is pretty obvious. Medical emergency. We’re diverting to an airport whose name I don’t quite catch in French. When the announcement is made in English, I still don’t get the name. But I can where it must be on the flight tracker: The Azores.

It takes us about 45 minutes to get there and land. Another 30 minutes to offload. Then they tell us we’ll have to get off while they refuel. Buses take us to the terminal. Where nothing is open. Unsurprisingly, as it’s the middle of the night here, around 3 AM.

I hear someone say” “So you’re on the same flight, Ron.”

It’s Dorothea Wächtler. She sits next to me and we start chatting. Should make the wait go more quickly.

“Refueling will take at least an hour.” I say, trying to be realistic. “I know that I’ll miss my connection.”

Dorothea has a connecting flight to Munich, which she’ll also miss. Then she has to drive to Bamberg. I don’t envy her.

“I’m not worried. There are plenty of flights to Amsterdam. I was much more careful on the way out, leaving myself 5 hours for the change.” I shouldn’t tempt fate.

“How did you get into beer? When was it?” She asks when we’re sat on the bus back to the plane.

“Ages ago. In the early 1970’s. I went to the first modern beer festival, Covent Garden in 1975.”

Dorothea is either impressed or appalled. It’s hard to read her face.

“Then I read Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer and my life changed forever.”

There’s that look again.

There’s nothing but apples and bread that I’d eat from the breakfast. The pancakes struggling under waves of sweet gunk aren’t going anywhere near my mouth. The orange juice is unnaturally sweet, too. My body is longing for eggs and bacon and I get this crap.

I tell the stewardess I’ll miss my connection. “What should I do?” “Go to one on the transfer machines and book another flight.” Great. That doesn’t sound too bad.

We land at just before 11:00. I’m feeling a wee bit knacked. Despite the sleep.

Pretty soon I’m on a machine, my passport scanned and looking at the rebooking options. The earliest is at 15:30. But that’s changing in Toulouse. Which is just about 100% in the wrong direction. Next soonest is via Birmingham. The earliest – and only – direct option is a KLM flight at 20:15. Fuck. I’ll be in Charles de Gaulle all effing day.

OK, that look like the only option. I start going through the rebooking process. It allocates be a middle seat. I hate that, so I try to change it. But there are no other free seats. It looks like I got the last one. I got the print boarding card panel. But instead of a boarding card it spits out a piece of paper saying “irregularities with checked in baggage – go to desk”.

Magic. Is my seat booked or not? There’s a crowd of 40 or 50 people queueing at the desk. But luckily I can use the Sky Priority lane. There only seven people waiting there. But most of the people behind the desk are on the phone, trying to sort out something. It takes ages for each passenger. It’s 40 minutes before it’s my turn. I hope there’s still a seat.

I have been rebooked. Don’t know what that shit about luggage was as they just print my boarding pass and give me a 15 euro food voucher. Then I’m off to pier 2F.

But, as I’m passing from non-Schengen to Schengen, my luggage has to be scanned. They test my duty free in some weird machine. Without opening it they can tell it’s just booze and not an explosive or some other nasty.

Once I’m through passport control it’s a short jump on the little train. Then a convoluted walk of around a mile up and down stairs and along weird corridors. With nothing as civilised as a moving walkway. This airport is so utterly and totally dreadful.

2F has even fewer options than 2E, where I spent a miserable 5 hours last week. This is shit. The only refreshment opportunities are two cafeteria-like places. And the shop. And the duty-free.

I get a couple of cans and two baguettes in the shop. It comes to 17 euros. That voucher didn’t last long. I find a random seat and power up my laptop. I ought to tell Dolores what’s happening. After a bit of fiddling around, I get online and email Dolores. Then go on Twitter to say how crap Charles de Gaulle airport. Plenty agree with me.

Every time I need to have a waz, or buy a beer, I have to pack up my laptop and lug all my crap with me. I had two bags to start, now I’ve one with sarnies and beer in it. What a pain.

I’m thinking of buying some miniatures, when I notice they have 200 ml bottles of Bell’s for 7.20 euros. That’s not bad value. I get it and a half litre bottle of diet coke from the shop. I’m very health conscious, me. And a couple of cans and a sarnie. That’s me set.

Back at another random seat. Somewhere quiet, I guzzle down half the coke and discretely refill with Bells. He presto. Coke plus. That’ll keep me warm through the next dozen episodes of Rick & Morty.

The wifi is weird here. Quite crap, varying from zero to bugger ale bandwidth. And it keeps dropping out altogether. It’s as if they’re trying to encourage you to choose the pay service. Why would they do that?

Watching Rick and Morty makes this whole experience bearable and fleeting. Exactly what I wanted.

The grandiose concrete crap reminds me of the Washington Metro. Which can be equally impractical (ludicrously far underground at points, probably to act as a nuclear bunker. Ditto the huge spaces underground.)  Though nothing can match Charles de Gaulle for form over function, pretence over practicality, pride over prejudice. Crap in just about everything. Including the placement of the bogs: downstairs. Very wheelchair friendly.

The time doesn’t drag too badly. Especially after my whisky investment. Now I think about it, the lack of a bar has probably saved me 70 to 80 euros.

I have to change seat once, when the wifi disappears and refuses to reconnect. What fun it is.

At least my flight is on time. Even better, my bag is already on the carousel by the time I get there. This part of the journey has gone to plan.

I jump in a taxi. No way I’m getting the bus. I’m way too tired for that. Dolores seems relieved that I’ve made it home. The kids look pleased, too. After I give them their pisco.

What a nightmare of a journey. 30 hours from leaving my hotel to falling through my front door. It was worth it, mind. Chile was ace.

My trip was paid for by Copa Cervezas de América  

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