We’re not gonna make it…

I’m late. I’ve missed it. There’s no way I can make this flight.

It’s my fault. I slept in, but the taxi ride also didn’t help.

Upon waking, I’d slowly cleared the sleep from my eyes and glanced nonchalantly at the clock. Then, In one terrifying instant, I realised I had about 65 minutes to get on the plane to Easter Island. Not 65 minutes to arrive at the airport with sufficient time to check in and drop off my luggage and walk to the departure gate and spend my life savings on an airport coffee… 65 minutes until take-off.

That’s impossible.

How did I not wake up? Did I not set the alarm, did I sleep through it, was the room too dark, was it too quiet – how, it was in the middle of Santiago, the bustling and busy capital of Chile?

Anyway, I didn’t have time to ponder. I had to get to the airport- fast.

Luckily, I’d packed my bags and left out essential items the night before – including my now redundant watch. I threw on some clothes, threw the key at reception and raced outside to find a taxi – in the middle of Santiago, the bustling and busy capital of Chile.

I’m not gonna make it, I’m not gonna make it…I kept repeating in my head. Idiot!, stupid fool! I’d paid a lot of money for this flight to see one of the true wonders of the world. It was one of the destinations around which I’d arranged my nine-month round-the-world trip, and now I was about to miss out.

You fool!

Taxis flew by ferrying Chileans to work, and I tried in vain to catch the attention of one taxi, any taxi. I was having as much luck hailing a taxi as I do hailing waitstaff at cafes – then my stomach growled. Taxi after taxi streamed by, until one finally crossed two lanes of traffic and stopped abruptly at my feet. Horns honked and motorists shouted abuse, but neither the taxi driver nor I took any notice. I needed a ride, he needed the fare. I threw my pack on the back seat and jumped into the passenger seat.

He said something. I didn’t understand.

He said it again. I still didn’t understand.

Then I saw it.

As I glanced up from my daypack and the seatbelt buckle, I noticed his face. He had a cleft lip and subsequent speech impediment. That in itself wasn’t a problem. After all, this good man may have just saved my bacon, because although I wasn’t hopeful of making the flight on time, it was still mathematically and physically possible.

The problem was that his cleft lip made his speech very difficult to understand, and my Spanish was rudimentary at best. This would complicate matters.

I deduced from context that he’d asked where I wanted to go,

Aeropuerto! I said, hoping that we could at least set off in the direction of the airport while we tried to provide each other with the details.

“And I’ll give you another 50 if you get me there on time,” I was about to say, but this was no time for Hollywood cliches. Somehow, though, I managed to communicate to him that I was running late – very late.

He spoke again – I had no idea what he said. He tried again, and the whole time the clock was winding down. On his third of fourth attempt, I think I heard the Spanish equivalent of ‘international’ and ‘domestic’.

Good question.

Domestic, I proffered, and he changed lanes in the direction of what was hopefully the domestic airport or terminal.

Wait- is that right, I asked myself. In my highly flummoxed state, maybe I’d confused myself. Easter Island is technically part of Chile, despite lying a long way from the mainland. This fact could save me, because I wasn’t required to arrive at the airport so early…

On the other hand, it could be an international flight. I couldn’t remember. LAN Chile was carrying me to the mythical island (if I made it) and the national carrier sometimes stopped at Easter Island before continuing to Pape’ete, and Auckland on its way to Sydney. So, was it international? If so, was that a different terminal or a different airport? We were heading in the direction of the domestic terminal, I think, and requesting a change of direction in my woeful Spanish would have been very difficult. I’ll just leave it. It’s too late now.

But what if I’m wrong?

Then my stomach growled again.

I was about to dive into my daypack for my itinerary and or my Lonely Planet when the driver asked me another question.

I didn’t understand a word. Again he tried. I apologised that I didn’t know what he was saying. I could sense his awareness that his cleft lip was hindering communication as much as the language barrier. I could also sense he was becoming annoyed as he thrust his old taxi more aggressively in and out of traffic to the displeasure of fellow motorists.

I felt insensitive and incompetent. I should have set two alarms.

I fished for my itinerary, because this was in the days of paper flight tickets – remember them? I found the paper and searched for any information which I would relay to the driver which might allow us to pull off a miracle.

LAN Chile, I said, before reading out the flight time, the terminal, the destination and any other information I could find. I don’t know how much of this was necessary, but at least this stopped me from looking at my watch every two seconds. He seemed satisfied and he stepped on the accelerator and tore through the traffic. Even if I don’t make it, this guy deserves a tip, I thought. He can use it to buy himself a drink, or pay a speeding fine.

Soon, my spirits lifted as I saw signs for Aeropuerto. Still the driver swerved through traffic with reckless abandon. I still wasn’t sure if he was committed to delivering his passenger on time, or just releasing his frustration via the accelerator.

Closer and closer we crept and somehow the traffic seemed to clear. He kept his foot planted and his eyes fixed on the road and I saw planes circling, landing and taking off. We might just make it; or that LAN Chile plane I just saw could be on its way to Easter Island.

We tore along the expressway and soon approached the airport entrance. The driver said something which I also didn’t understand, but I determined he was asking me if I wanted him to drop me at the airport entrance or continue to the departure gates. I think the answer was obvious, but he signalled money.

Don’t worry, you’ll definitely get a tip.

He snaked his way through the clogged traffic of the drop off point and stopped the cab in the middle of the road, with hazard lights blinking. I threw him a wad of cash, which he indicated was sufficient, then I grabbed my pack, thanked him profusely and sprinted towards the check in.

In the space of a few minutes, I somehow managed to push my way to the front of the check in line, dump my pack, pass through security and dash to the departure gate. I sprinted through the airport gates past bewildered passengers, with barely enough time to flash my boarding pass at airline staff and squeeze through the closing doors and on to the plane.

That’s one way to avoid spending your life savings on an airport coffee.

Image: Ulvi Safari