As Jude continued to suffer a dodgy tum, we took shifts keeping him company in the additionally booked room in Hostal Rio Amazonas.
Sarah and Alfie visited Plaza de Armas, the cathedral and a couple of dicey contemporary art museums while Jude and I caught up on star wars IV and V. We reprised yesterday's supermarket sweep, concentrating on the bare essentials; bread, ham, cream cheese, olives, water, crisps. chocolate and, curiously, a packet of Waitrose biscuits.
Sarah, Alfie and I then went to the top of Cerro San Christobel via funicular railway, while Jude watched Home Alone ... No, not really, but it would have been poetic wouldn't it?
Sarah and Alfie then visited Pablo Neruda's house while I headed back to try and make some sense of the tangled web of bus ticket emails that have been innocently spun since over-buying via the TurBus website in late June.
[imagine wobbly screen visual effects denoting going back to an earlier point in the story timeline]
I bought 4 premium (lie-flat) tickets for tonight's 22.40 departure from Santiago to Copiapo, and another 4 (standard) tickets for Monday evening's bus from Copiapo to La Serena. All appeared well except the message on the turbus website that on screen after PayPal completed saying there had been a problem. Checking PayPal shows money has left my account but after 24 hours no further comms are forthcoming.
Fast forward to mid July, one week before departure to Peru ... I remember I haven't had anything tangible for my money and (foolishly) buy 4 more tickets (semi-cama, or mostly reclining) for Santiago to Copiapo to check whether it's user error or something more sinister. Turns out it's the turbus website baulking at something, so I open a PayPal dispute for each of the now 3 separate transactions that have not provided any tickets.
Quickly I get s response from one Denisse Bslboa saying resend my email address and I'll get the ticket vouchers. I do and I do. So far, so good.
Next I move into the deeper waters of requesting a refund, and this is where things start to go a bit Pete Tong.
Denisse in her enthusiasm refunds the 8 tickets bought in June, despite those being the ones I actually wanted, leaving me with 4 semi-cama seats to Copiapo from La Setena, and apparently none from Copiapo to La Serena. I ask Denisse to reverse her cancellation and refund actions and head to Peru in a state of mild apprehension.
When possible I email Denisse from points in northern Peru and Santiago and each time receive reassuring emails - it's all good, check PayPal to assure yourself of the refund, etc.
ALL YOUR TICKETS ARE OK is the friendly title of her last missive on the subject this morning, but I'm not buying it. No sirree, Bob!
Just as well I listened to my spidey-sense and scheduled our arrival at the terminal 90 minutes early using Antonio, the van driver who collected us from Santiago airport.
Alfie and I approach one of the many the turbus desks at the terminal and are pointed to the next window. There the lady enters our transaction code and tells us the tickets have already been printed by the system. We are rather taken aback at this and deny it vehemently. She swivels the monitor to show us that her system states that this transaction code has been used already. Weird!
Midway through the dialogue Antonio materialises at our elbow and aids the translation process from rapid-fire Chilean Spanish to post A level, been in Peru for 6 weeks Spanish.
I trawl through my emails to find the transaction codes for all the ticket purchases, wanted and unwanted, and mention Denisse's name.
The lady's colleague joins in as does the supervisor who motioned us away from his desk initially. My travel itinerary folder is sequestrated, unbound and has pages forcibly removed and drawn upon, indicating the lack of validity of any of of my travel vouchers.
Passports are requested and flourished, numbers entered into new, previously unseen computer screens that indicate that, yes indeed, this code has been cancelled and 3 of 'my' 4 premium seats' tickets printed out. We counter with why would I do that and them come here to check in?
I relay the tale of the use of the Internet and there is a collective sucking of teeth and shaking of heads ... Don't ever use the Internet they say. Buy your tickets in person and in country they say. I have to let this go, but Alfie and I agree a pact to use Cruz del Sur for all our future South American bus ticket needs*
Then I find another transaction code that works! Well. At least it's valid and hasn't already been used by someone else.
Antonio's intercessions and our gringo befuddlement and an uncancelled code magically produce a stream of flimsy tickets, but now, as Alfie walks them through the sorry tale of Denisse's involvement they become concerned I am the victim of fraud.
At this point a google translate page is launched and each side takes turns st the keyboard as the conversation speeds up as passions rise.
Eventually Antonio establishes that we will make the overnight bus as the Santiago to Copiapo tickets are pukka as are those from Copiapo to La Serena. All this while briefing his wife and daughter who were in the front of his van, presumably on the way somewhere a little more salubrious than a honking great bus terminal is a dodgy part of town.
The fraud fear is based on the price of each ticket on the voucher - 138,000 peso, or 160 GBP. This is not a ticket price they recognise for the journey 'booked'. Digging further the system ID of the person who refunded the money is not the same as the person who cancelled the transaction. Final, clinching proof that Denisse is indeed a crook comes when she fails to answer her phone!
Knowing glances are exchanged between the counter team and a palpable concern that I've been robbed of 552,000 pesos leads them to suggest I file a complaint with the PDI, a Chilean police unit of uncertain provenance, to pursue my claim.
I try to reassure them that I believe I have been fully refunded and possibly over-refunded (I have tickets for Copiapo - La Serena in my hand that I think I was refunded on, but I am now utterly bewildered and simply clinging to the fact that I have at least some tickets that stand a fighting chance of getting us within spitting distance of where we wanted to go), but to little avail.
They rebutt my suggestion that 138,000 divided by 4 is 34,500, or the price of a premium ticket for this journey. Once an idea takes hold, it's dangerously difficult to shift it.
Just as I resign myself to another chapter in this sorry tale the bus is called on the departure board and we are urgently advised to scurry off and climb onboard.
Handshakes and smiles all round - mine of relief and theirs of, well, a different relief I imagine.
Antonio scoops us up, finds the bus bay that now contains our bus, establishes that it is indeed going to Copiapo, hugs us all and waits until our tickets have been reviewed and approved by the turbus doorman.
From demeanour of the turbus gentleman I could have handed him any old piece of paper, just so long as it didn't have any s*** on.
I am very grateful to Antonio but can't remember if he is the patron saint of travellers or lost causes, or both. Either way, whatever made him get out of his van and find us in this barn of a terminal building, it did us a power of good - muchas gracias Antonio!
Alfie and I have a good laugh about this and try to make sense of what happened for Sarah and Jude, but it's late, they're distracted and we're not entirely coherent, so it's seats back and blanket on as the bus pulls out into the night!
* subsequent research suggests their internet-phobia is well founded. Many (well, a few really) other travellers have stated it is not possible to buy online tickets for Chilean buses. Quite why I don't know as the site had a space for my passport number, my country of residence, email address and credit card details. Perhaps they could learn a thing or two from cruz del sur's peru operation?
Regardless of the trials of the past hour and a half, it is possible to buy Chilean bus tickets online, but maybe just not wholly advisable.