The Odyssey, Part I

When last I left you, dear reader, I was happily typing away in the clean, shiny and bright Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima, Peru. As the hour of my flight drew closer, I decided to grab a snack before heading to the gate. The irony of paying $2 USD for a handful of Snyder's of Hanover pretzels and $2.50 for a small Coke did not escape me (I think airports worldwide have perfected the art of ripping off passengers).

After exploring the offerings at the duty free shop to kill just a bit more time, I finally made my way down to the gate. I happened to sit down next to a young woman from California who had quit her job as a teacher to travel around South America. She told me she had only gotten as far as Colombia when she found herself madly in love with a man there, and she admitted that she hadn't seen much of South America since. Determined to explore a bit more of the continent, she was now on her way to La Paz, Bolivia. We easily made conversation as we awaited our respective flights, and finally I heard the boarding call for my flight to Buenos Aires.

After being herded onto the plane, I wedged myself into the middle seat between two Argentines, one being a rather disagreeable young man and the other a pleasant young woman. I passed the time reading, watching the in-flight entertainment, chatting with my seatmate and attempting to eat horrible airline food. There was really nothing remarkable about this flight until it came time for the landing.

As we approached Ezeiza, sheets of rain began pouring off the windows and gusts of wind caused the aircraft to shudder tremendously. I have flown many times, and I had never experienced such turbulence before, especially being so close to the ground! Several times the airplane dipped in such a startling manner that many of the female passengers screamed in fright (that really didn't help my nerves). The captain announced that he was going to circle the airport and attempt another approach. Thankfully, the second time around was fairly smooth, and the passengers broke out in applause when we landed.

We now fast forward to the wait at the baggage carousel. The baggage, dampened by the whipping rain, began parading past on the conveyor belt. Out popped bag #1 after just a couple of minutes. A few minutes later, bags #2 and #3 followed suit. Just one more and I'm out of here, I thought to myself. I waited patiently as suitcase after suitcase filed past me. Finally the conveyor belt came to a halt. Dejected, I realized that my largest bag would probably not be going home with me – at least not today – and I trudged over to the counter to speak with an airline employee about my missing luggage.

The man was very kind and apologetic, and he assured me that my missing suitcase would be delivered to me in Necochea. He explained that it probably didn't make it onto my flight from Lima, but that another flight would arrive the next day at 6am and I should have my bag by that very same evening.

With just one obstacle left – customs – I pressed on, excited to see Daniel, his mom Hilda, and his stepdad Tomás. Legitimately, I had nothing to declare at customs, but I prayed that I would not be stopped by the customs officer. I was tired and I just wanted to go home. After all, I still had a five-hour car ride ahead of me. As I rolled up to customs, I flashed a smile at the customs agent (this never hurts) and I said hello. Eyeing up my cart full of luggage, he asked me if I was traveling alone (uh oh). He then proceeded to ask me a string of questions about where I had come from and my nationality. He obviously had me pegged as Argentine because he was surprised when I responded that I am American. "Hablás bien el castellano...pasá, pasá." ["You speak Spanish well. Go ahead, go on through."] With a wave of the customs officer's hand, I passed through customs unscathed and through the sliding doors to meet the smiling faces of Daniel and Hilda.

But where was Tomás?

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