Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Getting to Guayaquil

The upside about our connecting flight from McAllen to Houston: It saved us a few hundred dollars. The downside: We had a very early flight time and a lengthy layover in Houston – nearly seven hours - before our scheduled connecting flight to Panama City, Panama.
Our flight to Houston was short and uneventful. As anticipated, there were no snow delays. No deicing of wings. For the first time we didn’t travel with winter clothing.  Nirvana.
Ever since 9/11 travel days have become far less enjoyable. On the other hand it is what it is so we make the best of it. Thank goodness for technology – iPods and Audible Books. And Starbucks.
Our fellow travel companions had also made their own travel plans to Guayaquil. The Reischels were flying from Chicago via Miami. The Honeths were making their way down the east coast from Boston via Atlanta. Richard of course would find his way from Costa Rica.
Marge, Melissa and Claire flew from Milwaukee as a group and would meet us in Houston. Risé would join us having flown in from Colorado.
As the time to board approached, Melissa and Claire arrived at the gate without Marge. During their dash through the airport, Marge had stopped mid-dash and made physical gestures similar to what was best described by Melissa as “the Macarena dance.” Marge had suddenly realized she no longer had her purse with only a faint glimmer of where it might be! The bottom line: no money, no credit cards, no airline tickets and no passport. No purse, no flight.
As Melissa and Claire left a panicked Marge, Melissa convinced Marge to borrow her cell phone so at the very least we could stay in touch. After hearing about Marge’s problem Carol went to the Continental desk to inform them of Marge’s dilemma. There were a few frantic phone exchanges with Marge as she searched in vain. Eventually the plane could only be held so long. We had to board without her, not knowing her fate. We could only image how Marge was feeling. What a terrible way to start a trip!
We also realized we hadn’t seen Risé at the gate either but when we boarded, found her safely inside the plane. Once we left U.S. air space our cell phone would be of no use. During the flight, Tom composed an email message using his iPod Touch. If there was free wi-fi in Panama, an email containing the cell phone number would be sent to Jerry, Carol’s ex-husband. He would at least be able to communicate with Marge and assist her if needed. With the possibility of no money, no ID and stuck in Houston – she would need a friend.
Since Jerry doesn’t always check his email, as a backup, the note would be cc’d to Robyn, our daughter-in-law in Colorado who regularly checks email. She in turn could call Jerry and alert him to the problem. All this hinged on the ability to use free wi-fi at the Panama City airport.
Landing in Panama City and with little time between flights, the email was sent. However we had to board our flight and take off before knowing if the email had been received. The flight to Guayaquil seemed particularly long as we surmised different scenarios for Marge.
Eventually our plane touched down in at the José Joaquin Olmédo International Airport pretty much on schedule. The usual flurry of clearing immigration and customs followed. One not so minor issue was that Marge’s checked bag had made the journey. Suffice it to say not having a claim check for her bag presented a bit of a problem but luck was on our side. The fellow checking claim tickets didn’t bother to go beyond the two claim tickets we had for our bags. We must have looked very harried. Probably because we were.
The Reischel’s and the Honeth’s flights had arrived at about the same time. Shuttling to the Hotel Continental began. I was in the first taxi to arrive at the hotel (note: taxi drivers – for that matter drivers in Guayaquil in general - do not pay any attention to traffic signs or speed limits).
While I checked in at the hotel, a printed copy of an email was handed to me. Good news! Jerry had written to say that Marge had recovered her purse and would be flying down the next evening! Robyn had gotten our email, phoned her husband Chris who in turn called his dad. Jerry was able to phone Marge and kept the communications open. Free wi-fi. What a terrific thing to have.
As others arrived the good news was shared lifting everyone’s spirits. Carol in particular was relieved her little sister would be able to make the trip. Eventually we fell into bed around 1:30 AM having been up since 3:30 AM the day before. Nothing like a little pre-birding trip drama! This is the stuff soap operas are made of.