Thursday, June 27, 2013

Quasi Adventures in Skydiving

On Sunday morning I woke up and decided it would be a good day to go skydiving.

Well, I have to admit the decision to go skydiving wasn't that spontaneous.  I saw a post about it on Facebook, and after talking with Phoenix about it we decided we wanted to do it.  

We were set up to go last weekend, but bad weather prevented us from going.  My Father's Day gift was supposed to be calling my dad on Father's Day to tell him I survived my skydiving adventures, but it didn't work out that way.  (Sorry Dad!)

So we rescheduled my jump for Sunday morning at 11.  As I made my breakfast that morning my legs were shaking a bit, and I wasn't sure if it was because I had a bit too much wine at the birthday celebration the night before or if it was my nerves kicking in.  In any case, I finished breakfast and headed out around 9:15.

I told Phoenix that we'd be better off getting a bus from the bus station at Universidad de Santiago rather than the Pajaritos station, as many more buses depart from there and much more often.

(Cue the laugh track)

So I arrived to the bus station at 10, and we were supposed to arrive at 11.  Phoenix was running a bit late, so I decided to get our tickets while I waited for him to arrive.  The bus ride was supposed to take about 45 minutes, so I thought 15 minutes to get a ticket and hop a bus to Curacavi (the loction of the aerodome) would be plenty of time.

(Cue the laugh track again)

At each window that I went to, they told me that they don't go to Curacavi and then recommended that I talk to the bus company next to them.  This happened with five different companies until the last one told me that I should go to the San Borja station.  The skydiving company didn't tell me about that one at all, so I caught Phoenix on his way out of the metro and  told him we should high tail it to the Pajaritos bus station after all.

By this time it was already 10:15.  Anyone that knows me well knows that I get very anxious about being late to anything, and that started to set in.  Before leaving I check their website using the free wifi and tried to call their phone number on their website.  It said the number wasn't available to accept calls.  So we started to head to the other bus station, and I scanned my phone hoping I had saved the skydiving company's phone number.  I found Marco's number in my phone.  (He's one of the owners of the company and called me about the cancellation the week before.)  Sweet! I thought.  I'll give him a call to let him know what's happening so I don't have to worry about losing my deposit.

(Cue the laugh track for the third time)

Marco didn't answer his phone for either number I had saved for him.  I then wrote a frantic text message explaining the situation and telling him that we were on our way and sent it to both numbers I had saved in my phone.

After getting to the other bus station, we bought two tickets with Pullman to Curacavi. The only problem was that that bus didn't have a set schedule, so I then frantically walked up and down the platforms looking for our bus.  Eventually I saw it!  We went to board, and then a guy with a Pullman sweater on grabbed the tickets out of my hand.  At first I was thinking, OK, I guess he's taking our tickets for us.  But then he didn't get on the bus, and I got suspicious.  It turns out the bus we were getting on was with another company, and so he went over to the Pullman window and refunded us the cost of our tickets.  This company was charging the same amount, so it worked out perfectly.

(Cue the laugh track again)

We then grabbed some seats near the back and sat down to relax for the 45 minute ride.  I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.  Now I was at least on the bus, and there was nothing else I could do at this point to get there any faster.

At this point I do have to say that Phoenix remained very calm and very understanding with as anxious as I was getting.  On the bus ride I went through my camera deleting old photos to make room for more pictures, and I came across a few old videos I recorded of the protests in August of 2011.  

I then noticed that I had received a text message back from Marco.  It turns out that I wrote to the wrong Marco.  He was a guy that I met through the TeachingChile group way back in 2010, and I still had his number saved.  So I didn't have the skydiving Marco's number after all.

Luckily Phoenix had internet on his phone, and so he scanned his emails and was able to find Marco's real number.  I gave him a call and told him what happened, and I verified the bus stop where we had to get off at.  At this point it was already 11:30, and he told me not to worry.  Then I went up to the front of the bus and asked them to tell me when we arrived, and the driver and assistant told me "No problem!"

(Cue the laugh track again.  Later you'll see why.)

At that point about half an hour had gone by, so it should have only taken about 15 more minutes.  I sat back and relaxed.

I remember us passing a sign and seeing the word Aerodomo on it, so I said to Phoenix "I just saw a sign for where we need to go.  We must be getting close."  We both felt relieved.

So after a while, I looked at my watch and almost an hour had gone by.  The assistant started going around to check everyone's tickets, and I asked him how much longer it would take for us to get to the aerodome.  As he looked down at his paperwork he mumbled to me indifferently "Pasamos".  (We passed it.)

(Cue the laugh track yet again)

My eyes turned wide and I was flabbergasted.  I told him how I asked him to tell me, and I ran up to the front of the bus.  When I told the bus driver what happened he banged his hand on the wheel and muttered about too many people getting on the bus for him to remember "such a minute detail".

I got on the phone and called Marco, and the bus pulled over and left us at the next stop.  We were in the middle of nowhere.

Well, that's not exactly true.  The signs told us that we were in El Quillay, but since I had never heard of it before I qualify it as the middle of nowhere.  

You can see our bus in the distance.
This sign gives us the clue that we are at the Zapata Tunnel.
I still have no idea where that is.
Marco told us not to worry and that he would come and pick us up.  While we were waiting Phoenix walked around the area and snapped some pictures, but I was too paranoid to miss Marco driving by that I was ready to flag down any car that was driving by.

About 20 minutes later, Marco arrived.  We ran to the car and started thanking him and apoligizing, and I explained the events that had transpired on the bus.  It was a 20 minute drive back to the aerodome where we were supposed to get off the bus.  Well, I'm definitely not traveling with that bus company again!

We arrived at 12:30 and after having met the staff, I went over to pay the remaining balance.  After that, Marco gave me and two others a demonstration as to what we would be doing for each step of our jump.

At this point I should clarify that I signed up for a tandem jump.  That means that I would do my jump with a professional attached to me.  It turns out that he's also the one who gives the push that makes you jump out of the plane.  

After demonstrating and practicing, we then had to wait my turn.  (Phoneix came for moral support and to ask about the possibility of doing a skydiving course).  Since there was only one plane it seemed like the process went pretty slowly.  

While I was waiting I got to see a video of someone skydiving.  They stepped out of the plane onto the supports and then held their arms onto the side, and then they just jumped backwards. It was amazing yet so crazy to see.

I killed time walking around and talking with Phoenix, and then the instructor that I was going to jump with landed from his previous jump.  We started speaking in Spanish, but then we switched over to English.  His English was really good, and while he was preparing the parachute I chatted with him.  When I asked him how long he had been doing this, he said with a straight face "This is my second week."  I then laughed and realized he was joking and that I had set him up perfectly for that one.  He then went on to tell me that he was one of the owners of the company and had been doing it for years.  

The trusty airplane
Carlos preparing our parachute

Safety recommendations

The view inside the hangar
The other side of the hangar
"Is this going to take much longer? I'm getting a bit impatient!"
Eventually the person in front of me in line was suited up and ready to go, and then I noticed that Carlos and Marco had disappeared for a while.  It was now 1:30, and I was feeling pretty antsy. 

Then Marco and Carlos walked in and motioned everyone over to the reception area.  They then explained that the electronic box that they use to indicate their position in the air to other aircraft had malfunctioned, and after trying to replace it they were unable to get the new one working.  Carlos explained that the electronic box helps other aircraft see where they are located in the air to prevent midair collisions, and that the electronic box is required by law to fly above 5,000 feet.

Due to that, they had to cancel all jumps for the rest of the day.

(cue laugh track one more time)

After all the we had gone through to get there, I would be lying to say that I wasn't disappointed. At the same time, I knew that it was a situation out of their control and that the cancellation was in the interest of our safety.

We were given the option of a complete refund or to reschedule for another time, and so I rescheduled for the following Sunday.

So the first time didn't work out due to bad weather, and this time was because of the mechanical failure.  They say the third time is the charm right?

But the day's adventures didn't end there.

Carlos had mentioned a nice restaurant down the road, and since it was almost 2:00 we decided to grab lunch there.  

As we made our way down the street (ok, it was more like a highway), I realized that Carlos had never specified which side of the street the restaurant was on.  And of course it turned out to be on the other side of the street, with no type of pedestrian crossing in sight.

(you guessed it, time for that laugh track again)

Phoenix and I decided that there was enough space at the median for us to safely hop the divider and wait until the coast was clear to dash across the highway and stay in one piece, so we did just that.

We made it across in one piece.  Both of us.
The restaurant was part of a hosterĂ­a, which my best deduction tells me means that it´s a hotel with a restaurant attached to it.  It was pretty old and lunch wasn´t spectacular, but at this point we were just happy to sit down and eat.  While I was eating I noticed that I had received a text message.  It was from poor Marco.  He responded to my other text message expressing his confusion and wondering why I was writing him.

an overcooked ham and cheese omelette

It was about 2:45, and now we faced the challenge of getting back to Santiago.  Well, we knew two things:

1. We had to take a bus going in the opposite direction on the other side of the highway from where we came.
2. We weren´t going to take the same bus company back, for fear of going all the way to Mendoza or ending up in Peru.

We crossed a pedestrian bridge, and when we saw a bus stopping right where we would get on, we broke out into a run to try to catch it.  A man got off, but even though we were there and had flagged tbe bus down they left without us.  

This at least gives me an indication as to approximately where I
need to get off the bus for next time.

Phoenix was the cameraman for most of the day.
I asked the man if many buses passed by that stop, and he advises us that the buses that stop there charge over 5,000 pesos (about $10) to go to Santiago.  (We had paid 1.200 pesos to get there, or about $2.50).  He then told us that if we go further up the road and cross the street we could get buses for 1.200 pesos.  

We decided to go that route but seemed puzzled that we would have to cross the street and be on the same side as traffic going away from Santiago, but we decided to trust him.

Sure enough, we got to a bus stop where buses stopped and looped around to go back to Santiago.  Some buses also came up the side street and stopped there to pick up and drop off passengers.

Around 3:15 we got on a bus.  We eventually made it back to the bus station and hopped the metro.  At the Baquedano station an expat couple I had met back in February got on, and so I chatted with them until my stop.

By the end of the day, I arrived home at about 4:45.  It was a long day.  I didn´t get to go skydiving, but I still had an adventure.  Skydiving can wait a week.

Some lessons learned:

1. Always have all information that you need written down, including addresses and telephone numbers.  Don´t depend on technology or phone numbers on websites to be accurate!
2. Just as you shouldn´t trust advice when receiving customer service, don´t trust bus drivers to let you off at the right stop.
3. I enjoy being adventurous more so than I give myself credit for.  Adventures are one of the spices of life and a nice way of breaking out of your usual routine.

Thanks for reading and barring any major problems I should have an update about my real skydiving adventures next week!

I saw this on the metro on my way home.
Chorillana flavored potato chips?  


  1. Sunday was such an awesome day, and for the record, you didn't freak out that much :P

    I was wondering what the 'mechanical failure' was. I had just assumed that one of the wings fell off or something like that.

    Oh, and good idea not cursing out the weon who was supposed to tell us where to get off... there's no telling where they would have dropped us off if we'd done that!!

  2. I'm sorry you didn't get a chance to skydive. I have to say you're a braver man than me. I'm terrified of heights and I would have probably passed out on the plane. Are you planning on doing it again soon?

    Regarding the LAYS potato chip sign: I'm still waiting for Ruffle's in Argentina. So far I've seen Lay's Potato Chips (which include some flavors I've never seen in the States) and Doritos. That's all.

  3. Thanks Jorge! I didn´t notice your comment until now, and as you´ve probably read I got to go on Sunday the 30th. The 3 flavors they are advertising are very interesting. I purchased the chorillana flavored chips and can tell you from personal experience that they´re not anything to wet your pants over.