I wake unwillingly, the third time in 24 hours. I’ve been in planes and airports a day now, and barely slept. It’s a brutal cycle. I’ll wake up to get something done, and stay wired until an hour before needing to move again. Then I’ll fade, tired enough to sleep despite the brutal light of the airport. But then I won’t be able to, because I don’t trust myself to wake back up. I’ll walk, eat, splash my face with water. My headache oscillates from strong to mild, but never goes away. Not until I sleep, and I can only do that on the plane. Sometimes.
There’s a special dullness in sustained sleep deprivation. It makes pleasure less fun, pain less sharp, facts less gripping. I snap out of it with an effort. I don’t have time for this shit. I’m in Santiago, and I have another plane in 80 minutes. I’ll have to go through customs, get my bag, go back through security, and board. I might have an hour. I run through the airport, and reach the line. It’s long, but I’ll do okay if it moves fast.
It doesn’t. There’s an agonizing slowness, a casualness that would be pleasant under other conditions. Hundreds of people inch along, and I check the clock obsessively. This won’t help me. I can’t control this. I stop stressing and start planning for missing the flight. I’ll talk to the airline, see if they can do anything. It was their flight from Lima to Santiago, and their second flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas. Maybe they’ll take pity, since 80 minutes seemed like a reasonable time between flights. I’ll still have to get a hostel somewhere, because it’s the last flight of the day. What a hass. I was stoked to be done with logistics for awhile.
I reach the immigration official. Acting stressed will make me look guilty, and then they’ll question me more. I have nothing to hide, but my flight leaves in half an hour and I don’t have the two minutes for a conversation. They stamp my passport without question, and I’m free. I run to the baggage area, find my bag, run toward the check in. Someone asks where I’m going, says he works for the airport. He directs me to the right airline, and goes with me.
The check-in line is long. But my helper speaks rapid fire Spanish and people step aside. He speaks to the official, then turns to me. Boarding is over. It’s too late. And there’s no more flights today. I should take a taxi into town to deal with the airline’s ticket office.
Suddenly I’m broken. I’m sick, and on my second near all-nighter in a row. My energy was high from the stress of making the plane, but now I crash. I’ll have to spend a night in Santiago or the airport, whatever happens. I want to sit and unwind, but the helper is pushing me to go to town. Something doesn’t feel quite right. I kind of want to talk to the airline myself, and see if I have any options. But I’m too beat to resist, and agree to the taxi. The helper asks for a tip, and I give it like a zombie.
The ticket agent is unhelpful. I can only change the flight up to three hours before. It will cost 460 dollars to fly tomorrow. I have a savings cushion, so it won’t break me—but that still sucks. Fuck Sky Airlines. I guess it’s a little my fault—but it seemed reasonable that 80 minutes was enough to switch planes. I’m not buying the ticket, not yet.
I wander Santiago looking for internet. It’s hot and busy and stressful; I’m exhausted and sick. I should be asleep on a plane. Instead I’m dodging traffic 3,000 kilometers from my destination. No–that’s not right. I can’t feel sorry for myself, not really. I’m still doing a three month vacation.
I find a Starbucks, and buy shit I won’t drink so I can use their internet. There’s busses to Punta Arenas! 25 hours, 60 dollars. I try booking online, and can’t. I Metro to the bus hub, and ask directly. Only one company goes to Punta Arenas, and they leave in four days. So it’s getting there in five days, or spending real money getting there sooner. Hym. I’m going to do what I should have done, and talk to the airline at the airport. If I can’t get help, I’ll make my choice.
I take another taxi, and it costs a third of the price from the airport. My ‘helper’ ripped my off. I explain my situation in Spanish, and get referred higher up the chain. They give me a free flight the next day! I take it back–Sky Airlines is great! I still have to get up early the next morning. But I treat myself to a hostel in Santiago—I’m not doing a third almost all-nighter in a row. Not when I’ve been sick for a week and losing weight already and planning to do a marathon a day for months.
Punta Arenas is calmer than I expected, without the vicious wind of Patagonia. But I’m truly in new ground on sleep deprivation. I had an insomnia spell last night, and I’ve slept seven hours in three days. This trip is turning into an endurance test, but not the way I was hoping. Somehow I’m still functioning. Minds and bodies can take more abuse than most of us can imagine.
I reach my hostel in Punta Arenas, and sleep from 3 until 7pm. Then I can’t sleep until 6am the next day, and I’m knocked out until 2:00pm. An eight hour night! If you call 6:00am to 2:00pm night. Three days of travel, and I’m almost starting.