December 5th, 2003

Atacama

[BCDC] Day 1

Thursday, November 20

Got up early in the morning and had tea with the marmot. I'd already packed the night before, but Dan hadn't quite finished packing. To be fair, it's far more difficult for him as he owns a lot of things that I don't: a laptop computer, a PocketPC, a digital camera, a bunch of plants that need watering before you go on vacation... That, coupled with the fact that his work is more demanding than mine, means that he's faced with a much bigger challenge whenver we're to head out of town for any length of time. My task is simply to stay out of his way and not remind him in any way that we have a deadline approaching.

Our friend Mark arrived right on schedule at about 9 AM... but Dan was still packing. Mark and I waited patiently for about forty minutes and then loaded everything into the back of his truck. The drive to the airport was uneventful; there was a light rain and folks were mostly keeping it at the speed limit.

Once at the airport, all we needed to do was check our luggage. Unclear as to whether or not we could do so at the curbside check-in, we decided to wait at the self-service luggage check-in line instead. That didn't move very quickly, largely due to the fact that everyone else in line were seniors who became befuddled at the sight of anything that was self-service. I imagine fifty years of other people doing all the work for you is the main reason why everyone got stuck the second they got to use the self-service check-in machines. Needless to say, Northwest had one employee assigned to each machine to basically check in customers, which was kind of amusing. The biggest time waster was having to key in your passport number, I guess; we'd already done this online the day before, so it didn't block us. The woman in front of us was a senior flying to Hartford, CT to see her grandkids, and she was drifting in and out of a panic attack at the propspect of having to use these infernal machines.

I wonder if people will ever adapt to a DIY world.

Oddly enough, the self-service check-in seemed to malfunction for us; it didn't spit out the three checked luggage tags it was supposed to so, so even we had to rely on an actual NWA agent to get out bags checked. No problems there, so we ambled around the airport for a bit admiring all of the recently completed facilities upgrades [as well as some awful 1970s stainless steel sculpture gracing a hidden corner of the terminal].

Now, international flights from Seattle all leave from the south satellite terminal. This means you have to head downstairs to a crowded security check before getting on the train that takes you to the satellite. Strangely enough, today's staffers seemed to be either old white men or nubile young Hawai'ian girls wearing leis. Go figure! The Hawai'ians directed traffic; the geezers shouted at us [I guess they were hearing impaired] to PLEASE TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF, SON, which of course we did. As is the norm for us, I breezed through and waited a few minutes for Dan, whose wallet sets of alarms and who is of course travelling with many electronic devices, all of which must occasionally be turned on to satisfy guards' curiosity. No problem.

A short train ride later and we were sitting around the departure lounge, waiting. We were going to get a Whopper Jr. but decided that we'd save the money. In any case I'd packed two peanut butter and honey sandwiches, which did the trick. Today's flying public were mostly morbidly obese twenty-something Americans, most of whom were probably going to Amsterdam for the Cannabis Cup. Yuck. Nothing like seeing the groaningly fat chowing down on Double Whoppers to remind you that maybe you don't really need to eat so much. At least there was a very handsome Bear to watch in the crowd; a man in his mid-thirties with a fairly long van Dyke and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

Once on board, there was really nothing left to do but sit down and wait for nine hours or so. The flight was wholly uneventful; everything went according to schedule. I took an Ambien and wondered where those four hours went. I didn't feel like I'd slept or rested, but I did feel shock that so much time had elapsed. [I now know that Ambien isn't the solution either - you don't really sleep, you just aren't awake for some time. They didn't help with the jet lag at all.] Compared to other airlines, Northwest's international service was sub-par, but still acceptable. No individual screens, no video game, no menus, no amenity kits, nothing - but a comfortable enough seat and enough to eat is good enough for me.

I'd brought along my copy of The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium as reading material, which again proved to be a mistake. I didn't get more than four pages further than the last time I brought it along, which, judging by the receipt still lodged in the book, would've been Bear Pride 2000. Ah well.
Atacama

[BCDC] Day 2

Friday, November 21

Sitting in seats 10A and 10B has its advantages: we bounded off the plane the second all of the Business Class folks had exited. Judging by the smell, Schiphol had finally gone mostly nonsmoking; for the first time in my life, I wasn't assaulted by a wall of hazy smoke the second I got off the plane. The luggage arrived immediately; Customs wasn't a problem, and so we were walking towards our appointed meeting place when we ran into Chris, who looked remarkably perky for having sat on an overnight flight from Atlanta. However, we could not find nonsmoking seating for 3 at Café Le Grand, so we wound up commandeering some extra tables nearby. I fetched us three koffie verkeerd and we sat down to wait for Brian, whose flight was set to land about an hour later.

Now, earlier on in the week I suggested to Brian that he just get to the hotel by himself as we might not wait around for him, but after thinking it over, I realized that it would've been extremely lame of us to have done so. After all, it was his first trip to Europe, and he had the longest flights of any of us, so duh, we should wait around for him and all go into town together. Thankfully, his flight landed a little bit early as well, so we all marched straight on out to the bus stop to wait for our bus to the Leidseplein. Not five minutes later, the first stoned query from American tourist hit us... something about if this was where "the bus" left from. Now, hmmm... let's see... Do you think there's only one bus from a major international airport? Do you think that maybe bus stops look kinda similar the world over? Let's just say that stupidity + marijuana + never having been out of the country before makes for some really, really stupid questions. However, I decided to play nice and show them how to read a bus stop timetable. Chris and I smoked to pass the time, our bus arrived, and we road in luxurious and cheap (€2,60 per person) style to the Leidseplein. I'd never taken the bus before, but whoa, that was SO much better than taking the train! Much faster, more comfortable, and plenty of room for my luggage. When we got out at the Leidseplein, I even managed to correctly remember where the Golden Bear was, so we checked into our rooms in record time. Our room seemed to be the nicer one [OK, it was - bigger and more up-to-date] - but Brian and Chris's room across the hall was much nicer in terms of actually being able to sleep. It faced the tranquil inner courtyard; ours faced a public street filled with partygoers up until about 4 AM every night. Yikes.

After this point I don't remember anything from the rest of the day, somehow. I must consult the other three to jog my memory. I believe we walked to the train station to organize weekly tram tickets [after Chris and Brian got passport pictures for €4], buy the Herfsttoer tickets for tomorrow, and then walked through the Red Light District looking for food. We stopped at Het Karbeel, decided it was too pricey and unappetizing, and then wound up at a distinctly lame pancake house. Nothing says quality pancakes like square Danish ham with Aldi gouda, but it did hit the spot nicely and wasn't TOO overpriced [OK, the beer was a gouger at €4 a glass, but it was still better than standing outside in the rain]. Afterwards, I believe we went home via Coffeeshop the Otherside, which led to a very nice evening back at the hotel, complete with strange, strange comestibles.