Romance of the skies… Fail to plan, plan to fail etc.
I’m a sucker for the romanticism of air travel. I still cling to this despite it being thoroughly beaten out of me on every trip full of farting, grumpy seatmates and the nugget in front dropping their seat onto my knees for the sake of 2 degrees more recline in their seat. In fact the last guy who did this was on Viva Colombia. Not the biggest seat pitch in the world anyway but then his seat was actually resting on my knees. Every so often I had to change position which involved significantly disturbing his seatback, but he still didn’t get it. When he stood up he was all of 5’6. Yep great, hope you enjoyed the extra legroom. You muppet.
I remember back to my Peru trip in 2013. I had a GREAT set of flights lined up. Heathrow to Miami with British Airways in the morning, lovely 747 too. #planegeek then 6hrs until the next flight to Lima. A sunny afternoon and evening. Leave the airport, get a cab to South Beach, enjoy some dinner. Gringo in the sun. A holiday within a holiday.
No no and, indeed, no. Almost two thirds of this layover was consumed queuing for immigration, collecting my bags, clearing customs, rechecking my bags and generally just standing in lines at the whim of the American people. I did manage a burger .and a pint of Blue Moon though so all was not lost.
I had similarly romantic notions about my trip from Cartagena, via Florida, to Cuba. Lovely civilised afternoon flight, arrive at 7pm, relax at a nice hotel and then have a leisurely breakfast before hitting the airport at lunchtime. Holiday within a holiday.
Whatever happened it was by far the cheapest routing anyway, so nothing lost, however a month before the flights, once my pleasantly early evening flight had been moved back an hour and then my leisurely midday flight the next day had crept forward to 10am I sussed that all was not well with my carefully hatched plans. When, a few days prior to the flights, I learnt that I had managed to randomly choose to fly on Thanksgiving, or in other words the busiest, stupidest possible time to go anywhere near the US, I knew I was royally fucked.
Escape from Cartagena
Actually getting to the airport went like a dream. Cartagena’s terminal is really close to the centre, and I managed to find the collective taxi stand near the hostel so my airport transfer cost me a princely 2000COP (60p) in a nice cab with a lovely driver who wished me well as I left in a kinda genuine manner. And indeed some entertaining cabmates. I freaking LOVE colectivos.
I hadn’t quite realised how much of a deal it was flying to the US now, with a real interrogation at the check in counter about my travel plans, etc etc. And indeed several more interrogations en route to the plane, with my boarding pass/passport checked no less than twice AFTER leaving the gate. Jeez.
Boarding the Embraer 190, Captain Dave informed us that he’d broken his seat so we couldn’t take off. Luckily maintenance sorted that in quick order. Then we took off, immediately routing in a wide arc around a hurricane. So far, so doom-laden.
Arriving at FLL, we were then parked on a remote stand. The terminal was full, customs couldn’t cope, so we had to wait. For over an hour. Entering the terminal I then managed to get myself stuck in the wrong line for about 30 minutes. So far, so unmitigated disaster.
At least I had luck with the hotel shuttle- By divine providence it was just leaving from outside the terminal. So, on our way. 3 hours later than planned. And to be fair the hotel was pretty nice. A serious reverse culture shock after a year in South America to be speaking to people in English, and seeing all kinds of exciting AMERICAN STUFF. Yes, I pulled up my seat at the hotel bar and was engaged in conversation by a couple of guests. I had a great beer in my hand. People, I had ARRIVED.
That was, until I got back to the room. Hey, my sleeping mat has moved. Yep, everything in my bag has moved. Maybe the TSA searched my bag? I wonder if they found the $100 emergency money in the bottom of the case. Er, yep. My suspicions lie firmly with Colombian customs, but one way or another I had been robbed. Grr. Actually the more I think about it, it was definitely customs. Dodgy baggage handlers make an effort to hide their tracks, these light-fingered fuckers had searched the entire bag, broken a zip toggle etc. They probably thought the money was a bribe for well concealed naughty stuff.
So, in bed and wound up at 1.30am. This is not going to be a good night’s sleep!
Vamos a Cuba…maybe
The next morning my flight was at 1047, so I’d booked the 8am hotel shuttle. Until I realised that I hadn’t actually checked the check-in times for Cuba. JetBlue website said 4hrs before. Shit. Very quick packing and a stuffed breakfast and I was on the 7am shuttle instead.
Of course, the 4hrs really weren’t necessary, no queue to check in and just a tourist card to buy in order to enter the country- It’s like a visa and allows you to stay for up to a month (If you can, get this or a visa ahead of time as JetBlue charges a slightly ridiculous $50 for it).
At least the wifi at FLL is absolutely top class, good blogging whiled away the time pretty fast. Real disappointment however with no McDonalds to be found airside. My craving for a Big Mac is now 7 months old and grows stronger every day.
So, bang on schedule at 12pm and we land in Cuba. What’s next?