Saturday, June 10, 2017

From Huayquique to Walmart in 32 Hours

I couldn't help myself with this alliterative title! Huayquique (pronounced "why-key-kay") is the beach nearest to our house in Iquique and although we technically were not on the beach just prior to flying, we were pretty close. Truth be told, we were in a small rented apartment several streets and sixteen stories above Huayquique the five nights before leaving. Our final view of the city was captured in this picture taken the morning of June 5th (click to expand):

the south side of Iquique between Cerro Dragon and Playa Huayquique

And what a morning it was! A last-minute run to the Zofri for a new car battery, medications for our dog Whittaker who was staying behind with friends, a visit from Elisa to do the girls' hair in preparation for travel, zipping up the final suitcases and setting the apartment back in order. Several of our kids squeezed in one more short visit with their Spink MK "cousins" (our colleagues who truly went the extra mile to help us with childcare, painting and moving in our last few days in Iquique - thank you, thank you, thank you!) The clock was ticking and the stress levels rising when we finally got all eight passengers, fourteen suitcases and nine carry-ons packed into two cars and headed for the airport an hour behind our planned schedule. 

waiting in the Iquique airport for our first flight

Yet God was good to allow us to be checked in with zero problems and even a minor delay with the arrival of our plane was a blessing! Little did we know that our first experience of hurrying to a flight was setting us up for what would be the theme of our entire trip home. There were many more blessings and surprises in store.

Because our bags were checked through to the States, we arrived in Santiago with only our carry-on luggage and promptly proceeded to the ticket line to receive our boarding passes for flight number two. All three legs of our journey had been purchased via a travel agent and through the same national airline. We knew a six-hour layover awaited us in Santiago and had promised the kids a fun dinner at Johnny Rockets in the international terminal. What we had not planned on was the rush to the airport without a proper lunch, so we had splurged and purchased some sandwiches on the Iquique to Santiago flight. That light lunch turned out to be a saving grace very soon!

in line at the Santiago airport

Just as we reached the head of the line of passengers, a airline representative approached us. "Is anyone traveling to Miami?" she asked. When we replied in the affirmative but explained we were on a later flight and there were eight of us traveling, she immediately alerted her team via walkie-talkie and proceeded to offer us a flight on a partner airline which departed three hours earlier than our scheduled one. Seriously?? Being bumped to an earlier flight was something we'd never considered! There was just one problem: our third and final flight, we'd learned shortly before leaving Iquique, had been bumped back by five hours. We were disappointed and dreading the long layover in Miami after a tiresome overnight flight, and our kids were especially unhappy about missing their planned lunch reunion with cousins. But what if this new flight could connect to an earlier departure from Miami? That would be our determining factor in accepting the offer, we decided.

travel buddies!

And so began an endless hour of waiting, being escorted to an empty counter and biting our nails as we watched the woman in charge fielding call after call on her walkie-talkie, taking her employees to task, urging on the change of tickets, ordering that our fourteen pieces of luggage be found and returned to us for check-in with the new airline. She had so many irons in the fire and not only ours, so I began to feel very anxious that she might cancel our original reservation and not be able to follow through with the new options, and particularly with an earlier connection from Miami. Our kids were troopers but they were getting tired and hungry as we watched the woman pace from one crowded end of the counters to another. Hope had almost been lost when to our wonder and joy she announced that a connecting flight had been found and we would arrive at our final destination - Philadelphia - by 9:45 AM, nearly eight hours earlier than expected!

Pedro and the kids had been praying as I talked to the agent and we prayed again to praise God for His amazing provision. Then we waited some more! It took a long time for the luggage to be found and we had to be checked in by 7 p.m. in order to be allowed on the new flight. With just 10-15 minutes to spare, we were escorted to the new airline counter with our mountain of suitcases. We needed the eight of us to be seated together and weren't sure how that was going to happen so late in the game. But the kind attendant not only seated all of us in the same row, but she also interspersed a couple of empty seats to make the flight even more comfortable! Again, amazing! Looking at the clock, she urged us to hurry as we needed to make it through international police and onto the plane in record time.

As I said, the kids were troopers. Despite their tiredness they pushed through and kept trucking along. They waited patiently as our eight passports, permanent residency cards, and their six birth certificates were reviewed by the PDI agent before we were sent on through security. After clearing security, they hurried along with us to join the last passengers boarding the flight to Miami. We were screened again and our carry-on luggage checked before finally setting foot on the plane. To our delight and surprise, the aircraft was brand-new and not full at all in our section! Individual screens with remote controls and endless movies and video games wiped away all weariness from our older kids (imagine that.) Hungry tummies were soon filled with supper service, and at least one can of Dr. Pepper was given a welcome kiss after 4 1/2 years away!

Silas was not quite a fan of airline seats and even less of airplane seatbelts. But he, too, enjoyed a few minutes of watching vehicles race on his little screen as he grabbed an imaginary wheel and daringly drove along! Thankfully, he fell asleep fairly soon and got at least some rest amidst tossing and turning throughout a short night. By 4:30 a.m. were were landing in Miami and gathering our group for one final push to the end. Navigating new digital passport checks for eight people (one of whom the machine resisted photographing over and over again!); watching the clock as the customs computer crashed and had to be tediously restarted (no fault of the agent who was as nice as could be); struggling to move our luggage mountain yet again and grudgingly paying ten bucks for two carts to push them all just around the corner and onto another conveyer belt. Then hurrying through multiple elevators, escalators and trains; quick bathroom stops; and long hallways to finally arrive at our last flight in the nick of time! Only it, too, was delayed (due to lightning) and that final flight always feels the longest. Every one of us fell fast asleep through most of the final air miles to Philly.

reunited with the Rubins

Uncle Mark and cousin Matias were waiting for us in the luggage terminal, where many hugs and smiles were exchanged. Pedro quickly took a shuttle to the rental agency for what turned out to be another waiting game to pick up a rental van. But at last we were on the road again, this time for family time and steak and sub sandwiches with the Rubins in Delaware! Cousins caught upon the latest news and games and who is taller than whom, while Pedro and Mark set off to set up cell phones and debit cards. Squeezing a lot into little time, we eventually had to hit the road again for the final drive to our furlough home in Ephrata, PA (about 1 1/2 hours' drive.) There we were met by the gracious owners of the home and our own sweet Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop. After a house tour, signing the rental contract, unloading suitcases and a short while to talk, it was evening and the day was drawing to a close.

Together we drove to Wendy's for spicy chicken sandwiches and the entertainment of the newest in drink technology, a touchscreen machine which allows the customer to choose from myriads of combinations which fascinated our children! Mom-Mom was the instructor and we were glad that we were almost the only customers that rainy night as we certainly must have been a spectacle. Our kids held out the small soda cups in wonderment, exclaiming over the fact that a small size in the States is practically a large size in Chile. It was a fun memory laced with the final adrenaline of our long voyage. We said our goodbyes outside the restaurant and got lost on our way to Walmart, finally asking directions of an Indian gas station owner who chuckled and cried, "Ho-ho! Walmart shopping!" before pointing us in the right direction.

Walmart shopping at 10 o'clock

Call us brave or call us crazy (we've heard both!) but there were some items that had to be purchased before morning. Our kids eyes were wide as they beheld the vast options before them, but our best efforts were made to keep everyone focused and restrict wandering to extraneous aisles on this particular visit! Pedro was ever so happy to find ready-made half-n-half creamer. Eva was quick to ask for cheese sticks. Owen wanted Lucky Charms cereal. Bagels were a must-have item. Because Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop had already thought ahead, we had no need to buy Pop Tarts but they were definitely on the kids' list! Although the bulk of our time was spent among less exciting toiletry items, the sheer volume of possibilities was amazing. Best was buying an over sized bar of deodorant for about a third of the price we would pay in Chile! Sometimes it is in the "little things!"

Announcements were made that the store was closing at 10 p.m. and that was our cue to finally draw this day to a close. We had one moment of hilarity when while putting groceries away, a child held up the hefty Jimmy Dean sausage package and thoughtfully observed, "This is a big pâté!" (We hastily assured said child it would NOT taste good uncooked on bread!)

Despite protestations, Mommy insisted on showers after our long, stinky travels and the last of us dropped into bed after midnight. The next day would start early for Pedro, who had a scheduled departure around 6 a.m. to head back to Delaware and then the Philadelphia airport with brother-in-law Mark. Together they would fly to Detroit to receive a vehicle and drive it the ten hours home to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, a school visit and massive unpacking topped the to-do list at home - because the following day, we would hit the road again!

For such is the life of a furloughing missionary. From Huayquique to Walmart in 32 hours, and to many, many more destinations beyond. But we serve a mighty God who has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. As a family, with Him, we face each new adventure together!


Unknown said...

I am thankful for the way God worked in your lives and on your flights. I am Andrea (Carpenter) Schmidt's (BBC) mom and knew your parents from Faith Baptist Church in Delaware back in the 60s and 70s. I have enjoyed following your family over the years and love your sweet spirit. We now live near Clarks Summit near James and Andrea. Your parents look great as well.

Love in Christ,
Ruth carpenter

Anonymous said...

This in insane! You are amazing! I would have cried from exhaustion!
Love hearing about your adventures! Can't wait for more stories!

Unknown said...

Wow!! HUGE!!!