Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer Travels Part 2.5: Travel Troubles

The defective cab looked a lot like this
Waking up early on a Saturday, I quietly gathered my things and slipped out of the hostel dorm room so as not to wake my anonymous roommates. After paying my bill, I asked the hostel receptionist if she could call me a taxi.

“Oh, we can’t do that,” she said.

“Why,” I said.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

Slightly irritated, I threw on my travel pack, now weighed down with alpaca attire, and headed out to try my luck hailing a cab on the streets. Loitering on a busy street corner, I attempted to hail the passing taxis, but to no avail.

Like a lost duckling, I wandered further down the street and came across a doorman for a nice-looking hotel.

“Buenos días,” I greeted him with a smile, “Me puedes llamar un taxi?”

“Claro,” he said, turning to look down the street. He held out his hand and a vacant taxi miraculously appeared, pulling to the curb.

“Él es mi amigo,” the doorman assured me.

I nodded and said, “Mil gracias, Señor.”

I threw my bag in the back and got in. Looking at my watch, I was pleased to see that it read 8 a.m. My flight was at 11 a.m., so I should get to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

Over the next ten minutes, the taxi navigated the Lima maze, speeding ever closer towards the airport. Like most taxi rides in Latin America, it was faster and more reckless than the average gringo was comfortable with, but after seven months in the region, I was used to it.

Suddenly, my head whipped forward when the driver slammed on the breaks and nearly rear-ended a bus, killing the engine. When the driver repeatedly failed to restart the engine, he got out and popped the hood. After a few minutes of messing around with the engine, he got back in the car and once again failed to restart the car.

The driver got out and pushed the dead car to the side of the road. I debated whether I should get out and help the guy, stay where I was or get out and try to find another, less broken taxi to take. I decided to stay where I was and give the driver another couple of minutes to get the vehicle running.

Jorge Chavez Airport, Lima
Again, the driver popped the hood, doing God knows what to the engine. Much to my delight, this time when he turned the ignition, the engine roared to life.

With the same reckless abandon as before, the driver floored the accelerator and we were off. Twenty minutes went by and I knew we had to be nearly there. Praying to the automotive gods that the vehicle would make it the rest of the way, I cursed them when the engine died, yet again—this time in the middle of a busy thoroughfare where a speeding bus could kill us at any moment.

The driver got out to do his thing with the stubborn engine and after three failed attempts, finally managed to get it running. I glanced at my watch and winced; it was almost 9 a.m. and I had an international flight to catch.

I would be cutting it close.

Much to my gringo delight, the Jorge Chavez International Airport finally appeared and the taxi dropped me off at the international terminal.

Entering the terminal, I was horrified to see an enormous line running way passed the check-in area and nearly out the door. Getting in the back of the line, I feared I wouldn’t reach the front in time. As the line slowly inched forward, I happened to look up and noticed the flight departure screen.

Next to my flight number it read: demorado.

My flight was delayed.

Although I was at first relieved, it soon turned to worry when I realized that I couldn’t afford to have my flight delayed—I only had an hour and fifteen minutes to make the connection to Costa Rica in Bogotá.

By the time I had checked my bag and made it through security and customs, it was 10:30 a.m. With my flight now delayed, I headed over to a random gate to sit down and watch the flight information monitor.

Bogotá Airport International Terminals
After 11 a.m. came and went and the screen continued to read demorado, I grew more and more impatient. I figured that as long as the flight left by 11:45 a.m., I would still be able to make my connection in Bogotá; however, every passing minute made it more likely that I would be quite completely screwed.

Sure enough, noon came and there was still no change in my flight’s status. At 1:00 p.m., the monitor finally changed, telling me which gate my flight would depart from.

When I arrived at the departure gate and asked what had happened, they simply told me that the plane “had arrived late.” I told them that I would be missing a connection because of the delay and they told me to talk to their people in Bogotá to rectify the situation.

I sat down, bubbling with frustration, and another hour passed before the airline made the first call to board. We finally took off just after 2:00 p.m., three hours after we were supposed to.

A few hours later when we landed in Bogotá, I had missed my connection by nearly three hours. Exiting the plane and walking down a long corridor, I came to a crossroads: customs or connecting flight?

Although I wasn’t sure who exactly I needed to talk to, I decided it was best to stay in the departure area, so I passed under the connecting flight sign. Entering the international departure terminal, there didn’t appear to be anyone from the airline to talk to. Luckily, a helpful security guard directed me to a departure gate where there were people from the airline working.

I approached the desk and mustered every bit of my Spanish abilities to try to explain the situation and ask if they could put me on another flight to Costa Rica. The attendant called her supervisor and told me to wait for her to arrive. Since the airline people were distracted by a flight they had just begun boarding, I sat down to wait for the supervisor.

The luggage I lost
Thirty minutes later, the supervisor was nowhere to be found and I once again went up to talk to the airline attendant. With unmistakable annoyance, she told me to wait until they had finished boarding the flight and then she would help me.

I took a deep breath and nodded, figuring that getting mad wouldn’t get me what I wanted.

After what seemed like an eternity, they finally finished boarding the plane and I returned to the desk. I stood there for a moment like an idiot, waiting for her to acknowledge my existence. When she didn’t, I again told her what I wanted. She took my boarding pass, passport and luggage claim ticket and spent the next fifteen minutes pattering away at her keyboard. She printed out a new boarding pass for a later flight and handed it to me. When I asked her if my luggage would also make it on my new flight, she nodded in reassurance that it would.

With my travel troubles apparently resolved, I spent the next three hours killing time in the Bogotá airport. At 9:30 p.m., I finally got on the plane to Costa Rica.

The plane landed in San José, Costa Rica just after midnight, sixteen hours after I had left my hostel in Lima. Exhausted, I trudged through customs and made my way to baggage claim. I waited, chatting with a girl from New Zealand I had met on the plane, but twenty minutes passed without any luggage coming out.

At 12:30 a.m., the conveyor belt came to life and I watched intently for my bag to pop out. As the passengers began to filter out after claiming their luggage, soon only me and New Zealand girl remained.

Eventually, the conveyor belt turned off and a man from the airline came over to tell us that our luggage had been lost.

Finally arrived in Costa Rica!
At this point, my eyes should have turned green, my muscles exploding through my shirt as I mutated into the Incredible Hulk. But rather than breaking into a furious rage, I instead began grinning like an idiot.

Having already been damned by the automotive and aviation gods, it made perfect sense that the gods of baggage reclamation would also forsake me.

After filling out a lost luggage form, I left the airport with nothing but my small carry-on backpack filled with a few books and an alpaca scarf I’d purchased in Peru.

Just before 2:00 a.m., I finally arrived at the hotel where my family was staying.

Por freaking fin.

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