Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Travel Tales

After our trek near Huaraz (more coming on that) we returned to Lima for a day before continuing on.

When we originally started planning our trip our return flights went through Caracas, Venezuela. That's close to the island of Bonaire which is known for it's great scuba diving so we decided to stop there on the way home. It seemed simple enough, but the reality has not been so easy.

First, flying out of Lima is chaotic. At best you have to go through four different lineups - check in, airport tax, immigration, and finally security. (not counting the lineup to board). Although we'd booked our flights through Air Canada, somehow our flight from Lima to Caracas ended up with Taca. Shelley's family had trouble with their Taca flights so we were a little nervous. We checked in online but even that was a big hassle - My booking number brought up Shelley, and Shelley's booking number was rejected. So I had to use the e-ticket number which involved an "entertaining" guessing game of figuring out which subset of the 20 digit number they wanted (not the whole thing, that would be too easy) The flight itself was ok, but the airport check in was crazy. First they told us to stand in one huge unmoving line. Then they came and moved us to another slightly shorter but still unmoving line. Finally they put us in the "special" line. There were no signs and no rhyme or reason to the various lines and shuffling. Every person checking in took forever. I have to think the system could be improved!

On the positive side, our flight was late leaving, giving us time for a bathroom break (heaven forbid you need to go while you're shuffling through the lines) and even time to pick up a coffee.

Because we'd booked our Caracas - Bonaire flight separately we couldn't check our bags all the way through. We weren't sure what to do. Shelley figured we'd have to go through immigration, pick up our bags, and then check back in. I wasn't sure and asked several people who sent us in various directions to wait in various lineups, only to finally find out that Shelley was right. At least she didn't say I told you so!

Arrivals was a zoo with a zillion people milling around. We had to leave our luggage cart and we had too many bags to carry (camping plus diving gear). So we got "picked" up by one of the luggage handlers and some other guy who babbled nonstop. Neither of them knew where our next flight check in was but it didn't stop them from running around the airport with us in hot pursuit trying to stay close to our bags. We lost the one wacky guy and the other eventually got us to supposedly the right place, although the sign said Mexicana, not Dutch Antilles Express. When we tipped the luggage guy $3 he told us it wasn't enough - he wanted $5. We gave it to him just to get rid of him. Eventually a few more people showed up looking for the same flight and we all stood around wondering if we were in the right place.

Amazingly, it was the right place. Then the charges started. $56 for excess baggage. Then $60 for one "departure" tax - a guy with a briefcase taking cash in exchange for immigration cards. Seemed suspicious but the check in person sent us to him. Then another $80 tax at a more official seeming counter. But they only took Venezuelan money so we gave in to two guys that had been following us around trying to get us to change money. Only the great rates they'd been offering suddenly evaporated and we got in a minor argument. It was nice to get back through security (two sets - army and airport) so we were out of reach of all these guys trying take a buck off you.

After a bite to eat I wanted a coffee but they didn't take dollars. I tend to make the mistake of thinking South American countries are similar but this was a good example of how they aren't. In Peru ATM's are everywhere and it's easy to get dollars or soles or change money. Here (in Venezuela) there are no ATM's and changing $40 to pesos took 20 minutes and required copies of my passport and fingerprints on multiple documents. The things I go through for a coffee :-)

On the lighter side, the people at the coffee place were highly amused by Shelley's personalized travel mug with pictures of us etc. Of course, they're somewhat baffled by travel mugs in the first place.

We took our coffee to the gate listed on the departures board, which was displaying the correct flight. But no one was there, passengers or staff, even though there was only 20 minutes to the flight. Strange. Then another passenger came along and he was even more concerned. Suddenly he said "oh, they just announced they changed the gate". Lucky he was there because I doubt we would have understood the mumbled announcement in Spanish. We rushed to the far end of the terminal and got to the gate as they were boarding. I'm still not sure how everyone else knew which gate to go to.

It's less than an hour flight to Curacao and then we had to figure out how to avoid going through immigration. Our bags were checked through this time but we didn't have boarding passes. (And Shelley was dubious that our bags would actually get transferred correctly.) We got shuffled around from person to person until we got to someone who was able to give us boarding passes.

Thankfully, our bags made it and it didn't take too long to get a taxi to our hotel where we crashed.

I can just hear Jennie saying "see, that's why I don't travel". But despite the frustration at the time, it's all part of the adventure. And besides, it provides amusement for you folks.


  1. Sounds like an absolute nightmare to me. I hope the final flight home goes a little more smoothly.

  2. And you paid for that wonderful experience! Lucky you :o) Can't wait for pictures from Bonaire!