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The Next Adventure Begins…With a Few Vexing Moments!!!

The Ultimate Adventure

A few months ago a great friend invited me to return to Koh Phangan island in Thailand and work for him at Haad Yao Divers, where he just became manager. It seemed insane to tell people “yes I am 37 and moving across the world to Thailand to pursue my love of scuba diving”, but here I am sitting in the airport about to follow a childhood dream. At the same time another friend invited me to visit her in Slovenia, so combining the travel has me heading most of the way around the world and to some great adventures.

Seeking Flights

For some reason if I am helping another with choosing and organizing flights and travel plans I have no problem, I know what I am doing and can rationalize the choices. However, the minute it comes to myself I turn into a bundle of nerves and second guessing. Luckily, thanks to a good friend, fellow traveler and writer (Price of Travel), who is always there to listen to my crazy ravings and uncertain choices, I was able to finally make a choice.

I usually shop for flights through Kayak.com and after much looking and comparing I came across a great looking route at the decent price of $697 all booked through a budget airline called Condor, the cheapest by over $100 that I had found. Living in Eugene, Oregon I always hope to fly out of that airport, but all these flights were ridiculously expensive and so I opted for a route out of Portland, Oregon (2 hr drive from home). The flight was in late afternoon which allowed a bit of a sleep in (as much as the cats allowed) and time to visit with a friend on the way up. From Portland I fly to Seattle (on Alaska Air), on to the Dreaded Frankfurt airport, FRA* (on Condor) and finally to Slovenia (on Adria Air).

An important side note, I always book through one airline to ensure my bags get checked all the way through even if some of the flights include smaller affiliated airlines it has never been a problem…

*For those of you who have never been to Frankfurt airport, it is enormous, takes forever to get anywhere between flights, in fact they actually have guys in golf carts picking travelers up and taking them to their gate.

The Day Arrives!

Arriving with 3 hrs to spare at Portland airport, PDX, I went to get a cart for my luggage turning around mid stride when I saw it now cost $5 to take one… when did that price hit the roof?? Dad helped me drag my bags over to the curbside checkin where we all said farewell. As my turn to check my bags arrived I asked about connecting internationally, turns out I had to go inside, so turned around and dragged my bags towards the counter. The reason for dragging was because my backpack straps were zipped up, but with my dive gear and my daypack and my camera…. oi vey!

First Vexing Moment

At the check in counter I hand over my passport and my panama book, (this is the seaman’s or mariners book for people who work on ships, often allowing folks to take extra luggage or weight). The start of my vexing moments began right then and there as the conversation went something like this:
Lady: Well which passport do you want to use?
Me: Oh the US, the other one is my Panama book
Lady: Well I DON’T know what that is, you have to pay $85 for the second bag.
Me: The Panama book is for people who work at sea and usually we are allowed an extra bag.
Lady: Well I DON’T know what that is
(Obviously the end of that discussion!)
Me: ok, here is my credit card.
Lady: And I can only check your bag to Frankfurt, there you will have to collect it and go through customs
(Never have I ever had to take my luggage through customs on a connecting European flight)
Me: I have never had to go through customs and I only have 2 hrs in Frankfurt
Lady: Well you have to, I can’t do anything, do you want to see the computer???
Me: It’s ok, it’s just new, have never had to do that.
Other Lady: Maybe it’s a code share thing with Adria, maybe we should check the bags to Seattle and then Condor can check them through
(First Lady gives Other Lady dirty look)
Other Lady: or not
Lady: so $85 and you have to collect your bags and I can’t give you a boarding pass or seat assignment for anything other than our Alaska flight!
Me: ummm, ok

So unbelievably rude and unhelpful and ultimately the person who f*&$ed it up for the rest of the route. Headed to security feeling the start of that stressful sensation in the back of my neck and trying very hard not to let it creep too far.

Second Vexing Moment

Arrive in Seattle without any problems and get lost trying to find my way to the international terminal, finally make it though and find my gate, an hour before flight. Go to the counter to get my boarding pass and ask about luggage conversation went like this:

Me: hi good day, please I need a seat as far forward as possible, an aisle seat, I have to get my bags in Frankfurt and transfer them to the next plane because of customs.
(The very sweet lady was possibly Chinese, so please read her part with that accent).
Lady: oh you no go through customs, you no probelm
Me: Yes I have to, Alaska refused to check my bags through to Slovenia I need to collect them and I am not sure why, because I booked my entire flight through Condor.
Lady: no no you no go through customs, no problem you go straight to your airplane
Me: (Handing over the papers trying hard not to respond in the same accent) See Alaska did not check my bags through
Lady: ahhh yes you go through customs, no problem you have 2 hour
Me: I only have an hour and 40min and Frankfurt is huge
Lady: ahh you no problem here I give you aisle seat, no problem
Me: ok, but if I miss…
Lady: you no problem!
Me: yes ok , but IF I miss my fli…
Lady: no no problem, you have more than 2 hour
(Apparently in her mind my time is increasing)
Me: (Just breathe) But. IF. I. MISS. MY. FLIGHT. WILL. CONDOR. SORT. IT. OUT??
Lady: you no problem all good, have good flight, next….

Vexing was an understatement. Feeling irrationally irritated, or rather rationally irritated, I called a friend to vent and after a discussion decided to talk to another agent. Her response was confusion over why Alaska refused to check my bag and her thought was that most likely there was a code share issue between Alaska and my final flight on Adria. She assured my I should be fine and if there was any problem Condor would take care of it. I felt a lot calmer after that, although annoyed that these issues were just because Alaska and Adria air can’t play well with each other. Why did I book a budget airline????? Why????

When Things Go Right

As I waited to get onboard I chatted with some of the other passengers and discovered why we had a short delay, turns out there was a plane change and this was a different design so some people had to change seats. I told them my vex and joked that maybe the “seat upfront” I asked would be right at the back… Apparently that is not something you joke about because I had the last row (the one that doesn’t recline) on my side of the plane. There was one more row for the passengers in the middle to be fair, so it wasn’t right at the back. Also my seat mate apparently had the same problem, she was continuing on Austria air and Alaska refused to check her bags, but she had 5hrs so wasn’t worried, however, she did mention they might make us pay for the second bag. Oi Vey!!!!

I immediately found a flight attendant who was very sweet and very helpful, she was also confused about the bag situation, but promised to see if any seats further up were open and assured me that 2 hours should be enough time. I hoped she was right. Just before take off she brought me a list of seats up in row 11, 15 and 16 that had an open aisle seat, also the row (2 seats) in front of me were open. I opted for the row to hopefully get some sleep.

From here things kept getting better. The guy across from me was super cool and we chatted a bit. He was from a small hickville (his words) town in Washington state and this was the first time he had ever travelled internationally. He recently became a history teacher and he figured he may as well explore a bit well he had nothing holding him down. I warned him that it is easy to become addicted to travel… Then he asked the most precious question that made him stand out like a sore thumb as a newby traveler:
Guy: so Kathy, do I just stay on this airplane for my connection to Venice or do I get off?
Me: (first looking at him blankly, then reminding myself that occasionally you do stay on a flight well others disembark, rarely but occasionally) Usually you get off and have to go to another gate, but if you show me your flight info I can double check.
He was just so sweet, so bright eyed and bushy tailed at the thought of adventure…. oh dear I fear too much travel might be making me jaded…

Just after take off I popped into the loo and heard an announcement that was music to my ears. Since Condor is a budget airline you have to pay for any extras such as a 2nd bag, movies, food etc… Well the announcement stated that movies would be free due to the inconvenience of a plane change. Woohoo!!!! The guy across me didn’t have ear phones so I loaned him my other pair. I must admit that the entertainment system was great, the screen was unscratched and a decent size, the touch screen responded well and didn’t require the

The happiness didn’t stop there, since I had been so stressed and annoyed in Seattle I had failed in my plan to buy some food to eat on the plane, so I asked the cost and choice. The flight attendant informed me that the food, too, was free!!! Woohoo!!! Although after attempting to eat the food I was very glad I didn’t end up paying for it!

I was able to manipulate myself into some form of comfortable position for a bit of sleep, but not much. Near the end of the flight the guy across from me said “Kathy, I feel like a zombie”, shame he had managed no sleep, my reply was “welcome to the wonderful world of international travel!”.
With around 30mins to go, my amazing flight attendant said I could move to 16C, aisle seat to be closer to the front if it made me feel better. Heck yeah it did! That’s also when I discovered 16 was the last row of business class, which meant I could have been sitting there all along… Oh well I had fun chatting with the guy.

And The Good Times Are Over!!!

Things seemed to be going pretty smoothly, which is never a good sign, I got off the flight quickly, I made it to immigration and the info desk man suggested I go through the Crew side to save time if they would let me , they did! I got to the luggage carousel and the info desk man there said no problem as Adria air was right above me and gate B03 was close by after security. My bags were one of the first out and I walked up into the check in area feeling almost relieved, like this might actually be all ok…

Info desk man up in check in sent me to Lufthansa since Adria was part of Lufthansa.
Lufthansa sent me to the bag check since I already had my boarding pass.
Got my bags on the belt when the guys there realised I didn’t have the bag tag and sent me to a counter.
The guy there said no problem, then paused… again never a good sign.
The F*&^$ng Alaska lady had only marked my paid bag through as far as Frankfurt in the system, which meant I had to pay another 50 euros to check it.
He suggested I take it to Condor, since all the flights were booked through them, and they should check it through no problem… (That phrase again)
I walked all the way to Condor, only 5minutes but felt like hours.
The Condor people just looked at me and said NO, since Adria isn’t Condor, almost as if I was stupid for even considering it.
I walked back to Lufthansa, now getting very very frustrated and verge of tears.
The guy who helped me had left already and the other guys were confused why I was back. They sent me to the other check in desks.
There the guys tried to make me wait in line, but no I had 50min till my flight left and they finally figured out that I needed a check in desk NOW!!
Finally they took me to a desk, with 45min to go.

The lady at the counter looked at me in tears trying to blubber my way through all the tragedy that was happening on this flight and just said calmly. “OK let me do the bags then we look ok, now you have both arms, both legs, you are beautiful so stop this crying!”
Turns out she is married to a South African and lives in Germany but she is from Spain. A wonderful person who really helped calm me down. But, this didn’t mean things were getting better as I had to go upstairs to pay the 50 euros since it was Adria air not Lufthansa… oh joy joy, but she assured me calmly that is was ok as the gate was just after security and security was just there. I joked that it must be something about Frankfurt airport as I ALWAYS have issues when I fly through, she agreed and said the staff feel the same way.

At the counter upstairs, with 40min to go, the machine had a problem, of course it did. But finally it went through and I headed downstairs towards what I hoped would be my flight. I got through security which was right there as the wonderful lady had said, and got to the gate as they started calling for boarding, even had time for a quick pee.

And It Is All Good Again

I boarded the bus that would take us to the airplane and realised I had not let Kaja, my friend I was visiting, know that I had made it. A lovely young woman let me use her phone to text and then I breathed a very long sigh of relief and contemplated the size of the glass of wine I was going to need after this. The bus ride turned out to be a runway tour of Frankfurt, a good 10min drive, all of joking that we were actually driving to Slovenia. There is something strange about driving to your plane and having to stop for the other planes to cross your path. But we got there, and I had another great seat mate. She and I chatted most of the way and when we parted she kissed me on the cheek and promised to stay in contact.

And then it was over and there was Kaja, she had got my message. I admit I did let out a rather loud squeak of joy and relief. Never before have I experienced a trip where everything that could go wrong did and yet so much went right!!! Not sure if I will ever book with Condor again though as the whole point was to book with one airline and avoid just this rather vexing experience.

For now…. Slovenia awaits!!!

 

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Delirium and Waiting…

January 5th 2011

The plane turned out to be quite full but luckily I only have one seat mate. As we lift off I am expecting snacks and drinks, instead all lights go out and we are plunged into darkness that offers the hope of sleep.
I ask my seat mate if I can put my feet on the middle chair, “no hablo engles..”, but sign language works and she not only says yes but also tucks my feet in under a blanket. I believe I am going to like her.

Just as sleep is blissfully around the corner all the lights come on and here comes the aforementioned snack time, and sleep was just beginning to seem like a better idea. Oh well its free food and drinks.
We eat our pretzel mix and I take the chance to practice my spanish. Through a series of questions, hand motions, me whipping out my little photo album we discover the following information:
Her name is Sandra from Guatemala, she was visiting her daughter and grandchildren in San Franscico. She has 1 granddaughter
and 2 grandsons. She fly’s into San Salvadore and takes a 4hr bus ride home across the border.
She asks why I am visiting and where, I explain the route and volunteering in Ecuador (as best I can). Asking if I was a doctor, I explain that I am a vet nurse. I show her pics of my family and pets, and also my work as a vet nurse and educator at zoos. She is down near horrified that I have worked with snakes, and she fears for me and the anacondas. I tell her I am more afraid of the spiders.

During this time two movies come and go, dinner then breakfast is served and no sleep is had. On some of the bumpier sections she looks very nervous and ends up holding my hand occasionally. At one point she digs out 3 coins from Guatemala and gives them to me as a gift. She makes me want to go to Guatemala with her kind sweet nature, I know that if I showed up at her house I would be fed very well. We land at 8am El Salvador time at the San Salvador airport. As we stand and get all our things together I am motioned/asked by an old lady to get her bag down for her! Me being asked to get a bag down… I not only reached it but am asked to get 2 more bags as well. Maybe they make these plans for shorter people???

As I exit the plane I realize I am going on close to 24hrs no sleep and am beginning to feel it. Is this airport built on the ocean because I swear this is a certain amount of pitch to it as I am walking to information. As my plane does not leave for another 7 hrs a gate has not been assigned, but glory of glories there is wifi. I call my
mummy and tell her I have made it this far and I am going to go find a corner to curl up in. The best thing is that I can take off my boots and put on some slops, my feet are praising my existence. There is no air
con in the airport and it is a rather pleasant temperature, bordering on almost balmy.

Due to all chairs having permanent, immovable arms between each, I find a section of linoleum and spread out my little blanket, make use of my neck pillow, position all gear around me so as to afford maximum security and attempt a nap.

Fading in and out over the next two hours I finally reach a point where I can see almost straight, I pop into a loo (toilet) and change certain essential pieces of clothing and head in search of grub. A ham and cheese croissant and a fruit smoothie is the ideal form of sustenance, even the melted american style cheese is just a perfect level of yumminess.

Wandering around the airport there are a number of little stores, and if the arts and crafts in Peru and Ecuador are anywhere near as beautiful as these I am going to bankrupt myself. There is a super cute christmas ornament that I can resist and I figure the amount of time I am spending in this airport I can almost class it as having visited the country. Browsing the store I come across these curios shaped like eggs and by lifting off the top half you get a view of little cermamic figurines acting out scenes of everyday life. Then I notice a series with different decorations on the eggs, lifting these I discover a series of different Karma Sutra positions… I am not sure if I should be embaressed or stop and take notes. I opt for discretely putting them back and leaving, with my little mundane ornament wrapped up safely.
Dropping mum a line of skype again we chatted for a bit before she noticed that I was swaying to and fro, and here I thought I was just moving in time to the movement of the airport. But she assured me that it was unlikely the airport was floating in the ocean… I am guessing I am still exhausted. I attempt to get some sleep on and around the chairs and have just fallen into blissful slumber when I am awoken. This very friendly lady who seems to know me keeps motioning to the phones, I think, and I think she kept repeating, among other things, “momma pappa”, I was still mostly asleep and so confused. Suddenly she leaves, goes to the ticket desk, asks a question and goes and sits somewhere else. Leaving me to wonder if I was having a very lucit dream… but no she is still sitting there about an hour later when I am more awake.

I chat to another American girl who is heading to Guatemala to do an immersion study, she has an 11hr lay over, she wins! After 2mths in Guatemala she will enter law school and hoped to focus on immigration law, a very handy to skill to know spanish with that carrer path.
Boarding begins shortly so I pop off to the duty free and decide to pick up some chocolate for Fernando’s mom and at check out I pick up a tiny bottle of Chivas Regal for his dad. Then we board and I am thrilled to see that I can move to an entire row and as soon as we level off I am nesting into a comfy spot and passing out. You know you are a traveler when the highlight of your day is getting a row to yourself. All in all a fairly uneventful flight and we land in Lima around 8pm.

After exchanging money (2.78 soles to the $), and finally getting my bag (I think they only had 2 guys unloading bags or maybe only 1 baggage carousel could work at a time) I headed to the exit. And into a sea of Peruvian faces and very insistent taxi drivers. As I walked slowly trying to find my friend Fernando (we worked at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle), I had this sudden fear that I might not recognise him after a year and a half. After wandering back and forth through the crowd and having one particular taxi driver ask me about 10 times if I need a ride, me saying I am waiting for a friend, him then saying still no friend, he offered me his cell phone. I was super grateful and once i reached Fernando I discovered he was running late.

So I hunkered down in a corner and worked on diary entries. I also snacked on sweets I had brought from home. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed 3 little girls staring at me then looking at their mother then staring at me. So I pulled a couple of sweets from the bag and motioned them to come get them. The oldest jumped up and nervously came over. They were all super cute and so excited for the sweets. About 5minutes later their older brother came back and looked a little disgruntled that he hadn’t got one, so I gave him one too. Have never seen such big smiles. Through out the next 15minutes or so they kept giggling and staring and so I decided to offer the last 6 or so in the bag, that produced much joy and an approving nod from a nearby taxi driver. Later when the family walked past to meet someone at the gate they were all nudging the girl to say something. Suddenly she blurted out “como se llama?” (what is your name), I said “Katty” (In spanish there is no ‘th’ sound), and they all smiled and walked off. Later the boy and girl came my way and stood pretending to be interested in something, but finally got the courage to ask me a bunch of questions. I think I faired quite well, she is 10 and he is 14, they live in Lima. They ask my age, my home, how long I was in Peru etc…
All in all a great experience.

Finally around 10pm Fernando arrived and apologizing profusely gave me a big hug. We headed out onto the highway and the insanity of traffic in Peru. There are not so much the concept of lanes and turning signals and such, it is pretty much a free for all, with much honking. I think the aim of the game is to see who can get the most dents in their car. I even saw a skateboarded hanging onto the back of a combi (minivan), which in itself might not be too unsual around the world, but this was on the highway at top speed with cars weaving everywhere. Pure insanity.

We grabbed a quick dinner of roast chicken, which was amazing and then headed to the house. Fernando has moved into his mom’s second house/apartment so we have the place to ourselves. It is cute and cozy and clean. However the hot water hasn’t been connected and the toilets keep running after you flush them, until you manually manuever things in the tank. We chatted till quite late and then headed to bed.

What a crazy and exhausting day, and tomorrow has promised to be a long day of exploring starting at 7am!

Stay tuned for the next round of adventures involving stunning architecture, St Francis of Asissi and heat exhaustion…

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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