Friday, December 26, 2008

The return home

Returning home was quite the adventure. Aaron was able to fly from Mendoza to Santiago on the same day as the rest of his trip home, and except for a delay or two, and getting in a tad later than expected, seems to have had a fairly uneventful trip home. Wim and I had to fly into Santiago the day before the rest of our flights, since there wasn't an early enough flight from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, before the first leg of the rest of our flights, headed to Sao Paulo, Brazil. So, we had to actually look for a place to stay in Santiago when we got there. And, because the US apparently charges Chilean residents to enter the US, Chile has a nice little "reciprocity fee" that they charge US citizens upon entering Chile. $131.00 US dollars. It's good until your passport expires. The last time I went to Chile, I had a different passport, so I got to pay the reciprocity fee, again. Wim, a Dutch citizen, didn't have to pay this fee.

We took a taxi to a place that Wim remembered some hotels located that he discovered when he was browsing the web for places to stay, earlier. It was around 9pm, so we just took the first hotel we saw and then went in search of some street food, which we found - sopapillas! Sopapillas were round little (about 4.5" in diameter) deep-fried breads. A salsa, mustard, ketchup, and hotsauce were provided to put on top of the bread. I put the salsa, mustard (which was a tad sweet), and hot sauce on mine. They were so good that I kept going back and getting another. I think that I went back about 5 times. Wim found some meat on a stick, and also tried some mini-pizzas. I was still hungry, so we continued to search for more street food, but all of the vendors had already packed up and were clearing the streets. We found a low-end restaurant that was still open, and we shared a salad. I got to have Pisco Sour, and Wim had beer. The next morning the in-hotel breakfast was better than the Argentinian Tang + Croissant by having REAL orange juice, yogurt, and some sort of corn flakes cereal in addition to toast and jam. We checked out of the hotel and went in search of a bus to take us to the airport, but we managed to walk by the place where the airport bus left, and, running short of time, we took a taxi to the airport. We'd left all of the luggage that had our gear in it at the airport, so we picked that up and checked in. Wim and I had the same flight to Sao Paulo, but from then on, we had different flights, with me expecting to arrive in Portland around 1pm Christmas Eve, and he expecting to arrive around 8pm Christmas Eve. We'd heard that Portland airport had been closed, and other airports had had lots of cancellations, but we'd also heard that the weather was improving, so we were hoping to bypass all of the pain and agony of canceled flights, and closed airports.

I called Wim's wife while at Denver (my route was Santiago->Sao Paulo-> Toronto-> Denver-> Portland) and it turned out that Wim had been able to get a direct flight to Portland from Chicago, expecting to arrive roughly when I was to arrive. Anna Maria didn't know about the state of the Portland roads, yet, so didn't know if she'd be able to pick us up, but, whatever, Wim and I both needed to go to his place (it's where I'd left my car), so it was good news that he was expected to arrive at the same time. My flight to Portland was delayed some, but not too much, and when I went to pick up my bags, I was greeted by Anna Maria! It turned out that the roads were fine from their place to the airport, so she was able to show up to pick us up. We went down to collect my bags so that we could load up her car, but my bags didn't show up. When we reported the bags missing, they told us that they were on the carousel in Denver. Oops. . .

Anna Maria and I went up to wait for Wim. He arrived, but since his bags hadn't been rerouted, he didn't have any luggage to pick up, either - they'd arrive that night, likely. We went to Wim's. His street wasn't plowed, and in Oregon, salt isn't used, so my first test was to see if I could drive my car out of their neighborhood (there was a huge hill). After several false starts, and several incidents of getting stuck, I zoomed up the hill and out of there! I hoped that I was home free. I wasn't. The 40 minute drive from Wim's to my place took over 3 hours. While the highways were mostly ok, most cars were going fairly slowly, since there were still lots of chunks of ice, or ice/snow separating lanes, and generally, people seemed to be gun-shy after several days of treacherous conditions. The conditions got worse the closer I got to home - and by the time I got to Banks, some 10 miles from my home, I had to put on chains, as there was a sign requiring them, and the road was covered with snow, so it wouldn't have been safe without them. My chains aren't easy to put on, so I spent 15 to 30 minutes futzing with them, and finally headed toward home. One of the chains loosened about a mile later, so I stopped and corrected the situation. Then about 1 mile from my place a big pickup truck in front of me had stopped and was in the middle of the road. I pulled over and stopped, and noticed that the problem was a tree had come down over the highway. It was arched over the highway, so we all got out of the cars and started breaking off the smaller branches, hoping to create a tunnel to drive through. We got such a tunnel, that was good enough for my car, but not yet good enough for the truck, but I told them that I was taking off - I didn't mention that it was because I'd been traveling for over 24 hours with no more than 2 to 3 hours of sleep. . . The last part of the drive to my house is about 1 mile on a private road. This road hadn't been plowed at all, and the closer that I got to my place, the less traveled the road was. I started slipping and a-sliding, but was still able to make progress, all the way to the mouth of my driveway, and then the snow was just too deep, and my car couldn't plow it's way in any further, so I walked down my driveway, and entered my cold house. The power was out. The temperature outside was hovering around 32F/0C, and the temperature inside was 41F/5C. It was late, and I was tired - I called my neighbor who was watching my cat and house for me to let her know that I was back, and learned that the power had been out since Sunday, so this was now the 4th day. I got out a sleeping bag and went to sleep.

The next day I got out a camping stove and heated some water for breakfast. It was feeling a little like being on the mountain. I have a wood stove, but the stove pipe leading from the stove to the chimney is rusting out, leaving big holes through which sparks could fly, so I didn't want to start that up. I finally realized that I had to get the house warmed up, so I wrapped the stovepipe with some aluminum, and got the wood stove going. Since I have a well for water, no power means that there is no water, either. I started melting snow (there is over 2 feet of it, outside) for water to use to flush the toilets. I already had lots of bottles of water to use for drinking. I was REALLY feeling as though I were still on the mountain. The wood stove got hot enough for me to use that for cooking. I took everything out of the freezer and dumped it into the snow outside my dining room door. A lot of it was still frozen, which was very encouraging. I started cooking everything that had started to thaw. The living room and upstairs of the house warmed up to a nice and toasty 53F/12C. My neighbors got reports that the power wouldn't be restored for possibly another 4 or 5 days, so I figured that this would continue to be the life. The good news was that I finally had time to read. This was definitely a difference from the mountain - there, I hardly ever had a chance to read - there was always too much to do - either getting ready (sorting gear and food) for a carry, or having to melt snow/cook, or putting up or taking down the tent - there was always something. Here, the "tent" was my home, and there were no carries to plan, so getting wood, melting snow, and cooking were the big tasks, none of which take too much time, so I got my chance to read. (Jim Wittaker's "Life on the Edge" - memoir of the first American to climb Mt. Everest - in case you're interested. . . A very good read.) Wim called to tell me that he'd picked up my bags, and informed me that one of his bags had, for some reason, been sent back to San Francisco. . .

Today, I thought that I might start the arduous process of getting my car into my garage, but with 1/10th of a mile of driveway, it's a huge task to do by hand, but I started it, anyway. I removed the first 20 feet or so of snow. It's VERY heavy (the over two feet of snow has now consolidated, greatly, and is packed in to about 1.5 feet with a couple of layers of crusty ice). . . I returned to the house and had just stoked up the fire so that I could cook some more when the power came on!!!! Yippee! We'll see how long that lasts - so much snow is on trees that they are still falling due to all the weight of the snow. For now, though, I think that this mountain journey is now over. (Well, will be when I pick up my bags from Wim!)

Stay warm and healthy! And Happy Holidays!


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