No place like home

I can’t believe it. The day has finally come. Today, after being home for the past 3 weeks, I have finally updated my current city on Facebook from Santiago, Chile to Madison, WI. I am officially back home in Wisconsin.

I guess I have been trying to put this off for as long as possible, because deep down inside I really didn’t want to admit that my time in Chile has actually come to an end. But seeing as I moved back to Madison yesterday, am starting to settle into a new apartment, and will be starting classes in a day, I guess it is probably time for one last blog post- just for old time’s sake!

So I mentioned that I am now back at UW-Madison, ready for the spring semester. What I didn’t mention is that I actually have already been in Madison since I have been back… although that was not exactly a planned trip. But for that story, I better start quite a bit before- on my very last day in Chile.

So my last day in Chile was basically spent frantically packing up everything I had brought, bought, and somehow accumulated over the past 5 months (how is that not surprising?!?), hanging out with my host brothers 1 last time, and eventually heading over to the airport to start one LONG day of traveling. My host mom had to work all day, and didn’t end up getting back in time to bring me to the airport, so Felipe and Joaquin ended up being my airport escorts for the day.

So after hauling my suitcases out in the pouring rain, just barely managing to shove them in the trunk of the car (it seemed a lot easier the first time), and convincing Joaquin to leave his new most prized possession at home (see below), we headed off.

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Thanks to my grandparents, Joaquin is now one of the few owners of a cheesehead in all of South America!

Things started out fine. For about 5 minutes. Then, as soon as we turned onto a semi-busy street, things went downhill. There were cars EVERYWHERE and they were not moving. I had lived in Santiago for almost half a year, and I had never seen anything as crazy as this. Even Felipe said that he had never seen a traffic jam quite as bad, and he has lived in Santiago for his entire life! I guess the combination of rush hour + extremely insane downpour + Chileans are crazy drivers to begin with = accidents and no way to get anywhere fast. At all. Luckily we had left super early… or so I thought.

An hour later, and we were still literally inching along the street. Felipe and I were both starting to get more and more nervous as the clock continued to tick, because we had only gotten about 3 metro stations away from our house. The airport is farther than the last metro station. There were still at least 20 metro stations to go. Do the math. If we would have continued on the same road, there is no way we would have arrived in time! For international flights, you are supposed to arrive at the airport 2 hours ahead of time to go through security and get your back checked and everything. On a normal/ busy day, it should take no more than an hour to get from the house to the airport, and we had left 4 hours before my flight took off, which honestly should have been more than enough time. But somehow, here I was, in a motionless car on a busy street, less than an hour before I had to get to the airport, next to my host brothers who seemed just as stressed as me, if not more.

So, anyways, I have NO idea how it happened, but we ended up making it to the airport just in the nick of time. Felipe might have some crazy driving skills, but I will be forever grateful to him for getting me to the airport and on my flight back home! We got there with just enough time for me to check my bag, say some quick good-byes, pass through security, buy a doughnut for the plane ride, and board! No waiting is always a good thing, right?

Everything went smoothly for a while after that. My flight from Santiago went well enough, and I passed though customs easily in Miami (although I don’t know how closely the customs officers were really paying attention to me at 4:30 in the morning). After a quick delay in Miami, where the pilot told us he was ‘happy to announce we could spend an extra hour in sunny Miami… inside the airport’, my flight to Chicago headed out as well. Which is where things got really interesting.

So it turns out that of all the days I could have chosen to fly home, I chose the day of the biggest blizzard of the year. Yes, that’s right. A BLIZZARD. Which means that as soon as I got into O’Hare in Chicago I was informed that all flights to Green Bay were canceled for that day, and I would not be able to get on another flight home for at least 3 days. Fantastic. Now, Chicago is only about 3 hours from my house, so a canceled flight is not the end of the world, because I would be able to get home easily in a day or two when the roads cleared up. The only problem was, I had no place to stay in Chicago that night, no way of getting home safely until at least the next morning, and pretty much no idea of what to do!

So, after talking to what seemed like every single airport employee, the people at the flight re-booking service center, my parents, some of my friends, and an old man who seemed to be deaf in at least one ear, I came up with a plan. I was going to Madison!

Yes, that’s right: Madison! On my first night back in the United States, I was off to what is probably my favorite city in the entire world! It turns out that there are very few buses that operate in Wisconsin, and even fewer that operate during blizzards, but the bus from O’Hare to Madison runs rain or shine (or extreme snowstorm). I still couldn’t believe it. When I talked to the bus company manager on the phone, and they told me there were still buses running that day, I literally asked ‘Seriously?’ Madison was dead center of the blizzard. In fact, when I got to Miami, the first text that showed up on my phone was from the WiscAlerts system, telling me that all final exams were canceled at UW Madison that day for the storm. Crazy stuff.

But hey, if Madison is where the bus would take me, then Madison is where I would go! After all, I had an apartment I could sleep in, friends to hang out with, food to eat, and a way to get home the next morning… a winning combination to me!

4 hours later, I was sitting on a double decker bus on the highway, not moving. What is it with me and motionless vehicles these days? This time, a semi truck had jackknifed through the center of the road, and we had been sitting behind the accident for over an hour, waiting for the road to open up again. The bus driver literally told me and everyone else on the bus, “I have no idea what time we will be getting to Madison, please do not ask me.” This story just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?

One hour later, after a 5 hour bus ride from Chicago to Madison, I finally arrived at the Memorial Union in Madison. I literally cannot think of a time where I was more happy to see a familiar place. I may or may not have looked crazy as I ran through the crazy snow dragging my huge carry-on bag through the snow (by the way, throughout this entire day, my actual luggage had been lost as well), but at long last, I made it to my apartment! Home sweet home! Well, close enough!

After that, the last few weeks have passed in a blur. Christmas, reunions with friends and family, popcorn nights, Settlers of Catan tournaments, working, high school basketball games, sledding, ice skating, MCAT studying (eww), and finally packing again to head back to Madison for the start of the semester… but this time, the trip was expected!

Everyone keeps asking me the same three questions now that I am home, so I might as well go ahead and answer them here:

#1. How was Chile?

-Well, that is a little bit hard to answer in a 2 second response. Studying in Chile was the most fun, most difficult, most exciting, craziest, scariest, and most worthwhile thing I have ever done. I guess the word ‘unforgettable’ would probably be the only word that can even come close to describing it.

#2. Are you planning on returning to Chile?

-YES! I mean, I don’t have any actual plans yet, but if the chance to head back to Chile ever arises, you should know that I would be completely in favor! A small part of me will forever belong to Chile, and I am sure that some day, I will find my way back to one of my all-time favorite countries… even if it means becoming a completo vendor or an Antarctic tour guide!

#3. Are you happy to be home?

-I am beyond happy to be back, and yet beyond sad at the same time. Not a day goes by when I do not think about my crazy, wild Chilean adventures and get a little bit of ‘reverse homesickness’. But at the same time, never before have I been so excited to be back with all of my favorite people, in my life I know and love. There really is no place like home.

!Chau, Chile! Gracias por todo- ¡nos vemos de nuevo algún día!

Besitos,

Heather

 

 

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