I arrived at the airport with two bags, one oversized backpack, and a giant yellow pillow that was slightly lumpy as I’d stuffed the case with a towel and a couple jackets that could not be wrestled into my suitcases. The time was 7:10 am, a whole two hours before my flight, guaranteeing that I would be able to leisurely stroll through security and clam my nerves before the plane.
It was finally happening. After months of planning, two weeks of sleepless nights, and 18+ years of wanting to go, I was finally going to get on a plane and go south to study. Naturally, since I had wanted it for so long, I was filled with doubt that I would ever actually arrive in Chile. The plane would crash, the consulate would change their mind and revoke my visa, space monkeys would invade to harvest our organs for pizza toppings, etc. But they called the groups, we boarded the plane, and I relaxed enough that I fell asleep the second I hit my seat, believing I would wake up in Miami and then continue on to my final destination.
I was vaguely aware of the flight attendants instructing us about water landings and cabin pressure, and the pilot coming over the speaker to wish us a pleasant flight. I was drifting off into dreamland, hugging my yellow pillow as the wheels left the runway.
But after about five seconds of being airborne, the whole plane crashed back down onto the tarmac. Someone in the back screamed. I threw open my window and watched as the pilot turned the plane in a circle to face the runway again. No one from the flight crew said anything and I had the terrible feeling that he was going to have another go at it. But after doing a few laps around the tarmac we went back to the gate. Our left engine had failed during takeoff and we were being reassigned to a new plane.
Three and a half hours, one comped Chile’s lunch, and a “plane crash” later, I was back on a plane headed for Miami.
I have to admit that my nerves were rattled getting back onto the plane. But thankfully, a six-year-old (maybe younger) child sitting behind me narrated the experience for the entire plane. For every bump and screechy engine noise outside, he would turn to his dad and say something insightful like “does that mean the plane is out of fuel” or “if we crash now, the water will keep us from exploding” (I’m not kidding). He even topped it off by saying goodbye to his loved ones as the plane dipped for landing, telling his father and sister that he just wanted them to know that he loved them very much.
Despite its rocky start the trip ended up fine. The plane to Chile was empty so I got to stretch out, and two people even mistook me for being Chilean or at least Spanish speaking. It was smooth sailing all the way down.
The greatest feeling in the world was when the plane dipped below the clouds so we could see the sun rise over the mountains. Those are the Andes, I thought, and I’m in South America.