Friday, April 27, 2018

From SCL to LAX and Out...

Last weekend, I began the end of my six-week excursion to Chile with a Sunday afternoon shuttle from Renca to Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez. There, to my surprise, I found absolutely nobody in line for the 8:30 p.m. flight to Lima, where I would transfer for the overnight flight to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and then continue to my Oakland home.
The airport shuttle line at SCL
Though I wondered, at first, whether there had been some cancellation issues, I was merely early—airport shuttles err on the side of caution and the Sunday traffic was especially light. That said, the early arrival may have worked to my advantage in another way—the single ticket agent at the LATAM counter asked whether I would prefer a later nonstop flight which would, however, get me to LAX at least an hour earlier.
It's not Peruvian, but it's still a pisco sour.
I had my own reading material, but was still disappointed to find the  SCL
The only downside would be a lost opportunity for a Peruvian pisco sour at Lima but, after the agent reissued my ticket, I passed quickly through immigration and airport security and did find a perfectly good Chilean sour (and a rather less perfect prosciutto on a baguette—on Sunday evenings, apparently, the best dining options run short). I was also disappointed with the fact that the airport’s new book exchange was empty, and that the cheapest by the glass option at the Vinum Chile wine bar was 7500 pesos (about US$12.50)—about twice what I had paid for my sour. Just a few months earlier, it had been notably cheaper.

The 11-hour flight was uneventful (I managed to sleep about half the time), but the worst part of coming home—especially since January of 2017—is going through US Customs and Immigration. In January, when I returned home from Buenos Aires, for the first time I faced the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) machines that demand a mugshot selfie from the passport bearer. It was a slow and cumbersome process and, as I have since learned through the efforts of my friend Edward Hasbrouck, it is not obligatory.

This time, having read Edward’s advice as linked above, I informed the line-minder that I would opt out of the machine entry, and got an immediate bypass to a human being. I estimate that I saved at least half an hour, and the Guatemalan-born immigration officer who stamped my passport treated it as utterly routine. US citizens and green-card holders can avoid the invasive hassle of what Edward calls the “selfie kiosks,” but non-resident foreign arrivals are still subject to the CBP’s “digital webcam-type” surveillance.
Ceviche and chips at La Cosecha, Paso Robles
When returning from South America to LAX, I prefer to avoid additional hassles from US “airport security” and, instead, I often choose to rent a car. It’s an all-day drive back to the Bay Area but, given the possibility of delays on a long international flight, I would still need some flexibility in scheduling a connecting flight north. Thus, I prefer a leisurely drive via US 101, normally with lunch in the Central Coast wine capital of Paso Robles, where I enjoyed a fine ceviche at La Cosecha, facing a central plaza that resembles some of Latin America’s finest. And with my family and dogs to greet me on arrival in Oakland, just a couple hours later than a connecting flight would have been.
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