so far in this trip, we’ve been pretty lucky w/ flights. we haven’t missed a flight (yet) and everything has gone pretty much according to plan. but, when you plan on taking 4 flights in just 3 days, something is bound to go wrong along the way. I knew that the 3 day ordeal we’d be going through wouldn’t be easy, and I knew that we’d be exhausted by the end of it, but I didn’t expect that there would be crazy problems at every single turn. I don’t know if I just had bad luck or what…
the plan was to get from Africa to south America for the least amount of money. after spending hours and hours and hours comparing flight prices etc online, we bought tickets and had a plan that should work. as I mentioned before, here was the plan:
fly Mombassa, Kenya to Frankfurt, Germany: 8 hours
sleep in Frankfurt airport
fly Frankfurt, Germany to fort Myers, Florida: 10 hours
rent car. drive from fort Myers to Miami, sleep in Miami
fly Miami, Florida to panama city: 3 hours
fly panama city to Buenos Aires, Argentina: 7 hours
it seemed like it might be a pain, but doable. unfortunately though, our problems started before we even started the journey.
the credit card fiasco
when I booked the last set of tickets, I got an ominous message. it said that my reservation was confirmed, but my credit card had declined the transaction due to insufficient funds and so they would have to try my card again. uh-oh. quickly I checked my bank account. plenty of funds. what the hell? something wasn’t right here but I couldn’t tell what it was. the only option was to call my bank, but calls to the US cost $2 a minute! by the time I got stuff resolved, I’d be broke. so I thought of a plan, I’d instant message my parents at home and have them call the bank for me to fix things. perfect! the one problem was that it was still 5am in California and my parents wouldn’t be awake yet. so, i decided to get a shave while i waited.
the haircut fiasco
Joey hadn’t ever gotten a shave at a barbershop, and i had told him he’s gotta try it at least once. so, neither of us shaved for a few days, and we went down to the barber that cut Joey’s hair last week. i went first. as i sat down in the chair, he asked me if i wanted a haircut vas well. i thought about it, and remembering that joey´s hair looked really good, i decided to just go for it. bad mistake. this guy had no clue how to cut hair. no clue at all. he gets out the clippers, and just starts going crazy with them. seriously, he used the clippers for like 20 minutes straight. i was beginning to wonder if he would even use the scissors at all. he even used the clippers *on the top of my head*!! who the hell does that?! unless you want a damn buzzcut, there is no reason to use clippers on the top and front of someone’s hair.
about 5 minutes into it, i realized that i had made a huge mistake. but what could i do? i couldn’t just leave after half a haircut. i just had to sit there and endure the rest of it. i watched in horror as more and more of my hair was gone. meanwhile, Joey and Caryn were making shocked faces at me in the mirror. finally, the guy started actually using scissors, but by then it was too late, my hair looked like crap. obviously this guy only had experience cutting Kenyans´ hair, which is completely different than cutting mine. ugh.
the shaving fiasco
when he was finally done w/ my hair, it was time for the shave. well, this part he wouldn’t mess up right?? wrong. he started shaving me… WITH THE CLIPPERS!! i was totally in shock. what the hell was this guy doing?! it was hurting and my neck and chin were not doing so good. i thought all barbers used straight razors? so, i turn to him and ask if he’s going to use the clippers for the whole shave. he assures me that he’s only starting w/ the clippers, and that he will change to something else after that.
i didn’t know what to do. part of me wanted to just tell him to stop and then get up and leave. but i felt bad. i decided to wait and see what happened. bad idea. once he finished w/ the clippers, he brought out… an electric shaver. what! dude, if i wanted to shave w/ an electric shaver i could just do it myself. i sure as hell don’t need a barber for that. ugh. plus, i hate using electric razors, they totally irritate my skin. so i tell him no. no thanks, I’ll just shave by myself later. he cant seem to understand why, so i tell him that i didn’t realize he’d be using an electric razor. so he says no problem, opens the drawer… and pulls out a plastic bic razor. sheeez. i tell him no. i don’t need to be shaved w/ a plastic bic.
i was getting out of the chair, when he finally understood what i wanted. he went in the back and got a straight razor. but by this time i was worried. this guy obviously doesn’t usually use this thing. does he even know how to do it? is it a good idea to let this guy attack my neck with a sharp utensil that he doesn’t know how to operate? i had major doubts, but he assured me that he knew how to use it… although i wasn’t sure if he was saying that he “has used it for 5 years” or “hasn’t used it in 5 years”. yikes. but, once again, i was stupid, and didn’t want to offend him by saying i didn’t trust him, and i said ok.
from the moment he started, i could tell he had no clue what he was doing. I’ve gotten a shave at a barbershop a few times now, and this guy was absolutely incompetent compared to the others. he went really slowly and it was obvious he was nervous. he didn’t even stretch the skin on my face like is required. oh god… what had i done. a while later, he was finished and shockingly he hadn’t cut me and i had no major wounds. amazing. i thought that maybe after all he wasn’t so bad… until i looked in the mirror. OMG! really, it looked like i hadn’t shaved in 2 or 3 days. a total mess. ugh.
after the haircut, we go once again to have dinner at the splendid view restaurant. damn… the chicken is just too good!
the plane ticket fiasco
after the haircut, i ran to the internet to contact my parents. the connection was so bad that i could barely talk on messenger. it took ages between messages, and i couldn’t tell if my parents were saying anything. so i ran to a different internet cafe. unfortunately, this one wasn’t any better. my dad called the bank for me and it turned out that for some reason, there was a limit on my debit card that i never knew i had. why would there be a limit on how much money i can withdraw from my own account?! isn’t that the point of a debit card, that it’s from your own account? anyways, they raised my limit so that i could buy the tickets.
i now asked my dad to call the airline company and tell them my card is fine. but, when he called, they told him that my reservation was canceled and to just start over. so, i went online, found some other tickets, and was just about to purchase them… when Caryn said i should get a written confirmation from them that my ticket was cancelled. so, i ask my dad, and to my total shock, he’s on the phone w/ the airline, and they are re-issuing my tickets!! what?! well, good thing i hadn’t already bought the tickets i was buying online or i would now have *2* sets of tickets to the same place.
while I’m waiting, i decide to check the online page for the reservation they are issuing. for some insane reason, the time on my reservation changes to 7am!! what??! the lady at the agency is changing my flight time without letting me know!! i frantically try to reach my dad on messenger to tell him to not let the lady do this. but, the internet connection is so horrible, that after typing a bunch of messages, it turns out yahoo messenger disconnected. OMG!! i frantically try to reconnect over and over, and finally get through to my dad. t his back and forth goes on for almost 45 minutes, due to the painfully slow connection. but finally, it looks like everything is taken care of and my dad has saved the day. the tickets are now fine.
the last night with Joey
sadly enough, this was the last night we’d see Joey. it sucked that we couldn’t spend more time with him by staying, but in the end, he’s probably better off to get to venture out into Africa alone and have some crazy solo adventures. the next day was going to be spent getting up early and stuff, but there was no way i wasn’t going to kick it w/ Joey on our last night here. we spent the night going to bar after bar after bar. the first bar was kind of cool but *insanely* loud to the point where you couldn’t hear yourself talk whatsoever.
so, we then went to the bar across the way. there we were bothered by the usual amount of hookers. one particularly angry somalian one, would talk to us all nice, and then all of a sudden get pissed off and start swearing at us. it was like dr jeckyll and mr hyde. nice, angry, nice, angry. at one point she says “look at this” and whips out one boob. omg! Joey frantically started telling he to put it away. this was our cue to leave, so we finished our beers and went.
next we hit up the jambo casino, where this local guy talked to us for a long time. he was a bit drunk, so he just went on and on, but what he was saying was actually interesting, so we were glad. in the end, like many other people we’ve talked to, he begged us to go back to America and tell people about his country. his country needed help badly he said. i never know what to say to people when they tell me this. what can i do? I’m just Vlad. no one in my government is going to listen to me. what, am i gonna call up George bush and tell him my thoughts about Kenya? to so many people, I’m like an emissary from the USA. i wish i could do something for them. i really do.
after the bar closed, we went top one last bar, this one several floors up and overlooking the city. it was a really nice place, though empty, and was a good way to end the evening. we talked a bunch about the trip, how it had been, what Joey thought about Africa, etc etc. eventually, the bartender started chatting w/ us too. he had the same message… go back, tell your people about Kenya. tell them how we live. please.
eventually, we stumbled back to the hotel and went to sleep.
the next morning, i woke up totally exhausted, threw my stuff together, and headed out. Joey walked us to a cab where we said goodbye. it was sad to be splitting up. spending a lot of time together, definitely brings you closer together. having crazy experiences w/ someone definitely brings you closer together. and drinking copious amounts of alcohol does too. put all three of those together, over a period of a whole month on the road, and it was sucky to know that the next time we saw Joey wouldn’t be for a few months. oh well… that’s life when you travel.
the glasses fiasco
the previous day, when i got my haircut, i accidentally forgot my glasses at the barber shop. doh! when we swung by there later that evening, the place was shut, so my only option was to try to swing by there today on the way to the airport and pray that they were open. to my total shock, i was in luck, the place was open. i ran inside, and asked the barber about my glasses. the barber, moving at a bit slower than snail’s pace, wandered around the shop, opening drawers etc, trying to find the glasses. i was frantic, since we were in a huge hurry, the cab was waiting outside, and if i didn’t get my glasses now, i would not have them for the next 2 months while traveling. i had already lost one pair of glasses on the trip, and i couldn’t afford to spend another few hundred bucks for more.
the barber obviously didn’t share my desire to hurry, and searched as slowly as humanly possible, until finally saying that he couldn’t find them and that possibly they were locked in a desk drawer. he slowly and cautiously dialed his phone to try to reach someone who had a key to the desk. then he even slower informs me that his phone wasn’t working. i wanted to strangle the guy. first he ruins my hair, messes up my shave, and now he is being useless trying to recover my glasses. finally, i tell him that i have to leave. I tell him that my friend Joey is coming in 30 minutes to pick up the glasses, and he better have someone down here to open the drawer by then. and then i rush to the cab and off to the airport.
the missing ticket fiasco
we arrive at the airport, go through security, and rush to the airline desk to check in. they look at our passports. there was a bunch of talking back and forth in Swahili. we are asked to wait. the guy goes into the back office. he returns. “i am sorry, there are no tickets here under your names”. WHAT!!! you gotta be kidding. i tell him there must be a mistake. we bought the tickets online. we even got email confirmation from them saying the tickets would be waiting for us here in the airport. he insists we are not on any lists he has. I tell him that maybe he missed something and ask if I can check the list. he is insulted. “i work here. i check these lists daily. i *know* how to check the lists. don’t tell me you know better than me how to check”. great. what can we do now. they say we cant board the flight.
we start totally panicking. now normally, if we missed a flight, it would suck… but it would be bearable. we’d probably just work it out w/ the airline afterwards and book a flight for the next day. but this time, we were connecting to a flight from Frankfurt and then connecting to a flight from Miami. if we missed this flight, all of our other tickets would be ruined as well. this was unbelievable. how could the airline do this to us. we told the guy to call the airline. he said that no one would be there at 9am on a Saturday morning, but reluctantly he agreed to try. after stressing like crazy for another 15 minutes, he finally came out to tell us that the airline confirmed that we should indeed be on this flight. for some reason they just hadn’t sent our names in to the airport. phew. crisis averted.
a few minutes later, Joey arrived at the airport w/ my glasses. i was totally shocked, since i really hadn’t expected the barbershop to actually get the drawer open on time. so lucky!!
the postcard fiasco
i had some postcards that i had bought and needed to send off. it wouldn’t be a big deal except that I had like 6$ in Kenyan stamps that would be worthless as soon as I left the country. i had planned to have these written earlier, so i could send them off in town, but i didn’t end up doing it. i was surprised to find a post office in the airport, so i frantically started writing postcards as fast as i could. the whole time I’m running back and forth from the ticket desk to the condor office and back and running outside to meet joy, and I’m scribbling these damn postcards as fast as possible. I’m sure everything i wrote was crap, but hey, at least i got it done.
the second missing ticket fiasco
after 8 hours on the plane, we arrived in Frankfurt. we decided to go and get our boarding cards for tomorrow’s flight so that we wouldn’t get any early morning surprises like last time. well, surprise, they didn’t have our names in the computer. again. seriously, i don’t know what is wrong with his damn airline. how could they mess up our tickets *twice*. after the guy left for a while to go check w/ the office, he came back to say that we were in the computer, just our first and last names were reversed so he couldn’t find them. he issued our boarding cards.
the Frankfurt airport fiasco
at this point we had a dilemma to figure out. Frankfurt is not a cheap city. it would cost like 20$ for us to take the train into town, and then another 60 to 70$ to get a room. that seemed like a bit much to pay for this stopover. so we decided that we would just stay in the airport till the next day when our flight left. i had always kind of wanted to sleep in an airport just to see what it was like, so here was our chance. we had some McDonalds, got on the internet to take care of some reservations for Miami, and then went to look for a place to sleep. Caryn had done some research on the web for good places to sleep, and we followed the directions to a long and fairly deserted hallway. nice cushy seats with no armrests so you could just lay across the whole thing. i usually have trouble sleeping, even in comfy beds, so i worried that i might not get a good night’s sleep. but i just shoved earplugs in my ears as far as they could go, and with the blaring airport announcements sufficiently blocked out, i put on my sleeping mask and passed out.
i while later, i woke up from the cold. do i wear my pillow (sweatshirt)? would i rather be warm or comfortable? luckily though, Caryn found some airline blankets and pillows, and soon i was asleep again. other than being awakened once by the cleaning zamboni, i slept really well. surprisingly well. i finally woke up in the morning, and discovered that our deserted hallway was full of rushing people, walking to catch their flights. I’m surprised I slept through it all. i got up and walked through the airport to go wash my face. i started thinking how weird it would be to run into someone i know here by accident. ” oh hi! how’s it going. sorry i look so disheveled, I’ve been sleeping here on the airport. yeah, I’ve been on the road for a year and I’m taking off for Buenos Aires in a few hours…”. what a life!
the guidebook fiasco
we still didn’t have a guidebook for south America. actually, we still had no clue what we wanted to do in south America at all. we had been hoping to get a guidebook to read on the plane, but no luck. we tried 4 or 5 different bookstores in the airport (yes, the airport is HUGE), but although they all had *tons* of lonelyplanets, none of them had one for south America. it really sucked that we would be arriving in Buenos Aires totally clueless. then, I noticed this little machine thing that had an electronic listing of all the shops in the airport… and it had a phone!! so, we picked up the phone and started calling all of the bookshops here (there were at least 25) one at a time. sweet! one of them had the book we needed. so, i rush off to go get it. of course, I get totally lost, it takes me forever to get the book and then the security line is long as hell to get back in. for some reason, we have to go through security *3* times to get to our flight. by this point we’re running really late, and freaking out a bit.
the wheel fiasco
we breathlessly run up to our gate, only to find out that our flight is delayed. there is some issue w/ one of the wheels. half an hour later, they announce that our flight will be delayed even further. arrghh! eventually though, we finally board, and we’re off. the flight was 10 hours. even normally that would be a really sucky flight, but having it the very next day after an 8 hour flight, made it all the more crappy. humans just aren’t meant to sit still for that long.
the Fort Myers airport fiasco
we stepped off the plane in Fort Myers, and it felt really crazy to be there. wow. after a whole year abroad, here we were, back in America. first we had to get through immigration. I’ve crossed a lot of borders during this trip. I’ve entered at least 25 countries by now. but I’ve *never* seen he kind of measures they have here. fingerprinting and photographing?! sure, i mean, i understand the reasoning for this etc, but it was still so weird to see. no other country does this kind of thing. if i was a foreigner coming into America and had to deal w/ this, i gotta say I’d probably be annoyed. the immigrations official asked me if i was carrying over $10,000 on me. ha!! yeah, right. i wish.
next step, baggage claim. we wait for our luggage. and wait. and wait. 30 minutes later, we’re still sitting there. there is no more new luggage on the belt. what the hell happened to our bags??! eventually the conveyor belt stops. that’s it. 20 or more people, including us, are still standing around looking confused. where the hell are our bags?! people are throwing tantrums and yelling at the airport workers. finally, it turns out that there is a whole other pallet full of luggage on our plane that they just happened to not notice. a huge thing full of at least 30 suitcases?!! and they just didn’t notice it?! finally, later we get our bags and go.
the driving to Miami fiasco
we picked up our car, and moments later, we were rushing down the freeway on the way to Miami. wow, this was so weird. first off, it was weird to be traveling like normal people, i.e. renting a car, having a real hotel with a reservation and everything. second off, it was SO WEIRD to be back in America. all the things that had been so familiar before, now seemed foreign and bizarre. where were the dirt roads, the cows, and everything else we had been used to for the last year. what was this bizarre and strange country we were in? everything looked so clean. huge 6 lane freeways. everywhere we looked there were strip malls, Target, outlet sores, Bank of America, etc etc. honestly, i gotta say that being here was very surreal. it was strange to be driving around and seeing lots of cars… but no people. in any other country, if you are on a major road, there will be people everywhere. not here though. the only people around were isolated and hidden i their cars. and the cars themselves! so *new* looking and shiny! nothing like the dirty rust buckets we’ve been looking at all year. all year, most cars we’ve seen were all banged up, unwashed and old. here they were all so spotless. and so huge! SUVs everywhere.
all of this was just too weird. all these things that had been apart of my life for so long when i lived here, just seemed strange and foreign to me now. i had almost forgotten that this was how my country is. even just driving around in a car seemed weird to me. somewhere, in the back of my memory, it seemed like this should all be familiar.. but it really didn’t feel like it was. i felt like i was leading someone else’s life.. but that someone else was just a past version of me… a past version that i was no longer completely in touch with. driving up to gas stations, asking people for directions, or asking to get change to use the phone, all these things that I’ve done a million times before, now seemed weird to me. i was nervous and apprehensive. i was a bit afraid of talking to people. who are these people? and, believe it or not, after feeling perfectly calm and ok in nairobbery and other crazy 3rd world towns, for the first time in a long time i thought “is it safe here? am i in a sketchy part of town?”.
we drove through Florida as fast as the speed limit would allow towards Miami. the highway we were on was called “alligator alley”, yet there were no gators to be seen. we were tired. no, not tired, exhausted, and overwhelmed too. it had been a long two days. we just wanted some food and sleep. yet, the 2 hour drive to Miami seemed to take ages. another problem was we didn’t really have a map. the sorry excuse for a map the rental agency had given us didn’t have most of the highways marked. eventually we made it to Miami, and then stopped and got directions to Miami beach where we would be staying.
if i thought being back in Florida was weird… Miami beach was a million times weirder. it is such a *scene* down there. everyone wandering around and strutting their stuff. it seemed almost comical and a bit bizarre. this was no where i would like to spend my one and only day back home. but we had no choice. we checked into our hotel, which conveniently had no parking so we had to feed a meter quarters till midnight. we got some food at jerry’s deli although we were too tired to enjoy it. well, almost top tired to enjoy it, i still was really glad to have a Monte Cristo sandwich, although the super chipper and chatty waiter was driving me crazy and i could barely follow what he was saying. finally, we went back to our room. wow! we actually had a room w/ cable TV and everything… but we were just too exhausted. we passed out w/out even turning the TV on.
the resort fee fiasco
we had to wake up at 9am to feed the meter. well, it was actually a good idea to wake up early anyway since we had stuff to do. the guy at the hotel desk tried to charge us a resort fee of 5$, even though we had paid a 10$ resort fee when we made our reservation online. what the hell? why is it that every single thing we had bought online had issues?!
the errands fiasco
our flight was at 2pm and we had tons to do. we needed to mail a ton of junk home since shipping should be cheaper from Miami than from a foreign country, we needed to eat, and we still needed one more guidebook. first stop, Taco Bell. ok, i find it a bit bizarre and distressing just how utterly excited we were to go to taco bell. no normal human should be this excited about taco bell of all things. and yet we were overjoyed. we couldn’t wait. we got directions online, and drove there, talking the whole time about how excited we were. we agonized over what we would order since this would be the only time we get taco bell in a year. we got our food. my first thought was that this would be a huge disappointment. after all, this was *just* taco bell. how good could it be? I’m sure we must have somehow hyped it up in our minds a lot during our one year’s absence. but you know what, we weren’t disappointed at all. it was DAMN good. it must be the hot sauce. they must put crack or some other addictive substance in the hot sauce, cause it just aint right to crave this stuff so much.
next we hit the post office. they didn’t have any normal boxes, so we had to buy a gift box, and we quickly tried to pack things as fast as we could. ion the end, it turned out that it’s really damn expensive to send stuff from the US. and, bizarrely enough, it would be cheaper for us to send this priority mail than regular. w/ priority mail you get a free box, but since we had already used their box, we still had to pay for their damn gift box. after spending too much $$, we went to the bookstore to buy some guidebooks. eventually, we were ready to set off for the airport.
the “Miami just went insane” fiasco
the last thing we needed to do was get gas for our rental car before dropping it off. we drove to the gas station. holy crap!! there was HUGE line to buy gas. the next gas station also had one, and the next did too. everyone was frantically trying to buy gas. huh? I’m still not sure why. the news had announced that gas prices had dropped 8 cents. were people really that desperate to save the 80 cents that they all needed to stand in line for a long time?! after waiting forever, we got gas, but to leave the station, we had to drive through a grocery store parking lot. the place was totally gridlocked. everyone was buying groceries. it was the middle of the day on a Monday. what the hell?? was everyone preparing for the hurricane that might be headed to Florida? I don’t know, but it was crazy. the parking lot had become… well a parking lot. you couldn’t drive through it. too many shoppers and too many cars. arggghhh! get us the hell out of here!! finally, we escaped and drove to the airport.
yet another airport fiasco
our airport woes were not over of course. we tried to check in at copa airlines. the check in area seemed to be a mess and it took forever to get to the front as all the working people seemed to be on the phone or not helping customers. when we checked in, it turned out that for some reason, even though we had chosen seats online, the airline had no record of it. and, they did not have anymore seats together, so Caryn and I would be sitting separately. grrrrrr! this was for the first leg. on the second leg, we could sit together, but couldn’t have the window seat we asked for. sheez. so we finished checking in, and our baggage was hauled off to security.
we proceeded to security, where the chick marked us both for the “random” inspection. how is it random, if we both got sent there? sounds like we were flagged to be searched for some reason, but i don’t know why. i haven’t flown through an American airport in a while, but the searches were crazy! the girls had to spread their legs and then get felt up everywhere including around their breasts and then the guard asks them to pull their pants out so she can peek inside. really, it was like some lesbian prison movie or something. crazy.
we get on the next flight. it’s just 3 hours to panama. we disembark. we wait around for another hour. we get on our last flight. this one is another 7 hours. by this point, i just cant take it. I’m completely spent. absolutely exhausted. 28 hours on planes in the last 3 days. i couldn’t sleep cause i wasn’t comfortable, but i couldn’t coherently stay awake either. i was miserable. i was beat. i just wanted off this damn plane. would this never end?! what were we thinking when we decided on this route. argggghhhhh!
our final airport fiasco
we finally landed. i was so happy to get off the plane. but tired. oh, so tired. we got our bags. huh? our locks were jacked. apparently, our luggage had also been marked for a “random” check. they had opened our locks, mangled Caryn´s lock, and being unable to open one of mine, had been kind enough to just completely chop off the zipper on my small backpack. now there would be no way of locking it for the next 2 months. thanks USA! thanks A LOT!
so, it’s 5am, and we’re in Buenos Aires. it’s still too early to go into town. so we go to the airport cafe to kill some time for an hour. so tired, but we somehow manage to wait the hour. then we call, reserve a room, take the 45 minute shuttle into town, and collapse on our new bed. oh my god…. it was SO nice to have finally arrived. what an ordeal. i couldn’t believe we were actually here….