Our first foray across our new continent was finally shaping up. I was cradling a cappuccino in my hands, having settled into an almost-dilapidated armchair twenty minutes earlier in a small storefront that beckoned me in with two of my favorite things: coffee and cut flowers. What can I say, I’m easily sold. This cafe could have been plopped down into France or Italy or even our former home of Carmel, California, thanks to its charmingly mismatched furniture and strong espresso. Which is to say I felt comfortable here. One painting on the wall had caught my eye: a brilliant azure sky cut with tangle of red and orange curtains. It was elegant, simple, saturated with color - and it was shaking. As was I and everyone else in the room. A low tremble and light tremor shook the chairs beneath us. The air remained sucked in our lungs. We did not hear the sound of crashing glass or the wail of a siren. We did hear ourselves give a moment of silence when the shaking stopped, and then we all got back to drinking coffee.
When Jonathan and I arrived in Santiago, Chile a few days earlier it had been on equally inauspicious terms. Our journey to this sliver of a country was first complicated when the airport workers raised a strike the same day as our flight, causing a 24-hour delay to our departure. This is common in South America, so we thought nothing of it and were thankful that it didn’t truly disrupt any travel plans. Since Chile couldn’t shake us off with a strike, it would do it with a earthquake instead, which first struck as we stood in line at immigration. This earthquake did cause problems in nearby coastal city of Valparaíso, however, Santiago was left whole. We shuffled through immigration and just as I picked up my backpack from the customs scanner I realized I had left my iPad on the plane. It was then one in the morning. It was also day one of Chile’s three-day independence holiday that essentially equated to an airport shutdown. Helping an American find her iPad in the back seat pocket of a grimy airplane seat was solely on my agenda and certainly not on anyone working the graveyard shift. After at least three sets of shoulders shrugged at me, we took a cab to our hotel where I tried not to replay the incident in my head. I failed, and in the process added sleep to the things I lost that night.
I do not consider myself a loser, much less loser of things. Particularly in regard to important (read: expensive) things. My last losing incident occurred when I was 13; a gold cross my aunt had gifted me for my first communion slipped off its chain and dropped into the waters of the lake behind my childhood home. I had a Gollum-like reaction then and the same ugly, incredulous wailing came back to me in Chile. I had literally just traveled around the world six weeks earlier and not lost a thing. All of my blogging had been done on my iPad for that trip, and now I had unsuspectedly donated it to the netherworld of airline lost and (never) found items.
The good news was that we were meeting friends in Santiago and would be heading to the ill-fated Easter Island with them, so we determined to turn the misfortune into just a memory. We slept off the jet lag and ambled around the city on what turned out to be a lovely sunny day. Even though the holidays closed all of the museums, we took a cab to Santiago’s Museo de Belles Artes to enjoy the park adjacent to it. We watched as a mourning father, Daedalus, kneeled beside his fallen son, Icarus, in a sculpture depicting that old Greek legend. It is a magnificent and melancholy work, one that I failed to fully admire because I was mourning the recent loss of my iPad, my sleep, and now, my credit cards. Three rectangular pieces of plastic with my name on them and my money tied to them had fallen out of my wallet in the cab ride over. I had lost more valuable items in the last 12 hours than I had in my entire life. I wondered, what traveler had taken over my body and committed such blatant acts of idiocy? I tried not to spend the rest of the day sulking and promised myself and my husband a fresh start the next day. After all, our friends would be arriving and soon we’d be off to the part of the trip I was really looking forward to: a lonesome island with a mysterious past.
But when my husband woke me the next morning saying he’d like to go to the hospital, please, I had a feeling that Easter Island was father than ever.
And it was. We spent the next 24 hours wrangling our intermediate Portuguese into barely passable Spanish, and thanked the heavens the one doctor we really needed to speak to was trained in the U.S. It was on his recommendation that we forgo the trip to one of the world’s most remote islands to view a bunch of block heads scattered over a landscape because there were tests that needed to be done. The following day, while our friends had continued their journey over the sea, we continued ours in the hospital. All of those tests came up negative or inconclusive, and my husband’s frustrating headaches were suddenly nothing to cause immediate alarm. We told ourselves, “Better safe than sorry” and we knew it was true. But those four words were little consolation on an already unpleasant and disappointing journey.
We rode in silence home from the hospital, a plastic bag with the hospital’s logo sitting between us as the world’s worst souvenir. At the hotel we regrouped as best we could and decided to head west to Valparaíso the next day. The change of scenery helped. Instead of the Andes towering behind us, we now had the sea to welcome us, along with a maze of bohemian neighborhoods set on cobbled hills. We wandered through them, hand in hand, grateful that everything we had lost on this trip could be replaced.