Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Trip Home

It was a long trip.  It went well, but it was long.  We had decided to fly out of Honduras rather than Guatemala City.  We had heard the airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras was closer, but we are not sure it is now.  Also we are charged an additional airport exit fee that we would not of had to pay had we flown out of Guatemala.  The cost of a private shuttle to either location was the same cost.

We were up too late the night before, but that was to be expected.  Last minute checking over everything.  I had gotten all the packing done earlier, but to leave the boat for 6 months is a long time, and there is a lot to prepare and check over.  And then I ended up spending a few hours on the phone with the airline as their new online system wouldn’t check in half of us. 

After getting a few hours sleep, the alarm was too soon.  At 4am, we were up and unloading our bags from the boat and taking care of all the last minute things—turning off the fridge/freezer and any other power source that was not needed—have I mentioned how expensive power is there?  Anything source not needed had a breaker flipped to stay off. 

Our driver arrived at 4:30am and started loading our bags.  Suzie took all the kids out to the van and attempted to find seat belts for them.  Compared to our last shuttle van to Tikal, this one was smaller and older.  It was clean, but we barely fit.  And we only found 5 working seat belts, which thank goodness was enough for the kids.  I know it is a different culture and seat belts are quite unused there, but when we are driving on one lane roads, passing cars and trucks for hours, I prefer a seat belt.  I was happy each kid had one.  The Marina had arranged our shuttle, when we come back I will need to make sure they know we need something bigger, with seat belts that work.

By 5am we were on the road.  The sun was starting to come up and there was a lot of traffic—but not in cars.  We passed dozen after dozen of people on bikes headed to work I assume.  There were also dozens walking on the road, some with machete in hand, I guess headed to the fields for work.  We passed a palm tree farm—maybe they grow pineapples?  And we passed a big banana farm. 

We thought the airport was 2.5-3 hours away, but it was much closer to 4hours by the time we arrived.  We had to stop at the Guatemala border to clear out, and then the Honduras border to clear in.  This was not expected, as I had read that they had an open border.  But if this is an open border, then I wonder what it was like before.  The EU has open borders, you literally just drive thru, like in the US from state to state, nothing to stop at.  Not the case here.  Clearing out of Guatemala was easy, but took about 20 mins.  Clearing in to Honduras wasn’t too hard, but it took a little longer because we had to refill out 8 visas—identical to the ones we already had for Guatemala.  The top of the Visa says it is for Central America, it does not list one particular country, so why we had to fill out another, I don’t know.  The border patrol did not speak English, so I couldn’t ask.  We also had to pay an entrance fee of $4US each.  They wanted Honduran Lempira, but we didn’t have any because we weren’t expecting any fees at an open border.  Luckily they accepted our Guatemala Quetzals, and luckily we had enough extra to pay, we still had to pay our driver, and Guatemalans don’t like to be paid in USD.  

After we left the Border, we drove about 50 ft.  then stopped for them to spray down the outside of the van with I am guessing pesticides.  Another 100 ft and we had to stop again at a police barricade, where they checked our passports and walked around the van.    Another mile down the road we were stopped again at another police barricade to check passports, again. So much for that open border. Finally on to the airport, it was still a little over an hour away. Our drive thru this part of Honduras looked a lot like they area we had seen in Guatemala.

It was a small airport, reminded me of the one we flew from in Krakow Poland.  We were able to get our bags all checked in easily.  We then had to go to the bank in the airport to pay our $38 USD per person exit tax.  This they wanted paid in USD.  They stapled receipts to our boarding passes.  We then headed to the security check point.  They checked our passports, then we stepped thru a doorway where they checked our receipts.  Then up an escalator, where the security screening was, and they checked our passports again.  Then on thru security like the US, where they screened our bags and shoes and so forth.

Just before boarding one of the airline agents came looking for David.  TSA wanted to search one of our bags but they wanted him to supervise.  We think they thought we had a bomb in one of our bags.  When he came back he told me it was our water pump that we were bringing back.  One our water pumps quit working on us, and we planned to return it since we’d bought it less than a year ago.  It may have still had a little liquid inside it too so they wanted a closer look at it.

About 30 mins prior to take off, they started boarding the plane, at which point they notified David that he had been upgraded to a first class ticket.  I had already been upgraded when we checked our bags—I have higher priority with our mileage program over him.  But they wanted to know what our plan was with all the kids.  We let them know we had a 3rd adult with us to sit with the kids.  They wanted to know how old the adult was.  I would think the work adult would suffice… but we informed them she was 30.  They okayed the “plan” and gave David his upgraded ticket.  We all headed down the hall to the plane they first did a visual search of all bags entering the plane, we even had to re open our carry on suitcases.  And then they needed to collect our departure tax receipts that had been stapled on our boarding passes.  One or 2 had fallen off earlier—it’s a good thing I had held on to them, I didn’t know we’d have to turn them in to get on the plane.  I thought they had already checked them back before security. 

David and I had seats in the back of first class, and the kids were 3 rows behind us.  We helped get them situated and started on their school work with Suzie and then settled in for a 3 hour flight to Houston.  Matthew even went right to sleep for half the flight.  Shortly after take off I looked out the window to see the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean below,  I could see a few islands of Belize and the reef.  The colors were gorgeous and calling to me.  After the month in Guatemala I was missing the islands and Caribbean blue.  It really does call to my soul.  I told David to lean over and look, and of course he had to pull out his phone and chart program to see where we were—flying over the Sapodilla Islands of Belize, which I had guessed. (we missed them on our way to Guatemala, but plan to stop in the fall on our way north)  He agreed it was just beautiful and like me, wanted to be there, below.  It is interesting how the water just tugs at us.  Ten years ago, or even five years ago, neither of us would have ever thought we’d find ourselves traveling on a boat.  I have always loved the water and swimming, but sailing or motoring thru Islands as more of a lifestyle, than a vacation, is nothing I ever imagined we would be doing, especially with our young family.  It is something we never knew we would enjoy so much.

As the plane landed in  Houston we were happy to have all of us near the front of the plane as we had a short layover and needed to get thru customs.  As we arrived at Houston and headed to customs, it was empty.  We were able to walk right up and clear in easily.  Have you ever had a customs agent smile at you?  I never have, the US customs agents at the airport are always so serious.  I am always making jokes and they just look at me with their so serious face.  David ends up shushing me because my jokes aren’t that funny to begin with and are even less funny with a serious customs agent staring at me.  We answered their short questions and went to collect our luggage for inspections.

This is where we spent most of our layover, waiting on our bags.  Once we had them all we walked thru inspection, turned in our form and redropped our bags on the other side.  Very uneventful.  Off to find our gate, as our flight was suppose to leave in 15mins.  We had to pass thru security yet again before reaching our gate.  No time to stop for a bathroom or water break.

At the gate they again told David he had been upgraded to first class.  So we again had 2 first class seats.  After pushing back from the gate and taxing out to the runway the captain informed us that the plane had a weight and balance problem and we had to return to the gate and off load a few passengers.  I think they had let a bunch of people on that were flying standby.  They removed 5 of them and said that the weight would now be okay.  Then 5 minutes later they came back on the plane and said they needed another 10 to get off.  During this time I asked one of the economy flight attendents if they could fill up one our water bottles as we had rushed thru the airport and the kids were all thirsty—they told me No, they were too busy.  And then proceeded to stand at the front of the plane chit chatting waiting to be told that their weight and balance issue was resolved.  I finally had David go ask again, he asked the first class attendant who politely proceeded to get us 5 cups of water.   I had traded seats with Savannah, letting her sit with David in First class for take off and a bit, while I sat with Isabel and Matthew—who does not seem to like seeing the ground go out from underneath him.  (He had problems with rides at Disney World too)  With the window shade closed he would do okay, but with the plane speeding up at take off I think he could tell what was going on and he did not like it.  He is a little different in this way from the rest of our kids, who count down to blast off.  Once in the air he was just fine.   After an hour of waiting and deplaning passengers they were ready to really take off. That would leave us with a 50min layover in Chicago. 

United recently merged with Continental, and I am pretty sure this was a Continental plane and crew, just not as nice as United.  The first class attendants were great, but the economy attendants were completely upset with us wanting to check on our kids sitting again 3 rows behind us.  They told us it was unsecure for us to go back and forth.  I only went up to the front where David had his back pack with had our IPAD and IPOD for the kids to use to watch shows on or play games with.  I guess if they would rather the kids be loud and obnoxious because they are bored, than we could do that.  The first class attendants had no problem with it, at one point they offered a couple blankets to give to the kids because it was soooo cold on the plane.  An hour into the 3 hour flight I switched with Savannah.  She enjoyed her time up front with Dad, getting a blanket tucked over her legs and being served warmed a warm cloth to wash up with and a bowl of warmed nuts to munch on.  She thought it was great.

Luckily our arriving gate was somewhat near our departing gate in Chicago and we arrived before they started boarding.  I thought it funny that our longest flight, a little over 3 hours was on the smallest plane ( 2 seats on each side).  David again was upgraded to sit in first class with me.  This time he traded the first part of the flight with Calvin, so he could sit with Matthew thru take off.  As soon as the plane was in the air Matthew went to sleep, it was aft 8pm at this point and it had been a long day.  Benjamin laid down in his seat and went to sleep and so did Isabel.  Savannah I think even slept a bit too.  They were all quiet and taken care of.  Calvin loved sitting in first class with me.  On this smaller plane it is not as roomy and no early snack, but he thought it was great sitting in the very front row.  He told the flight attendant all about our trip and all the countries we had been to, and how excited he was to go home.  She had to ask how long we had been gone as it sounded longer than a simple week or 2 vacation.  Calvin just chatted away.

David joined me after an hour in first Class, and Calvin was sad to return to his seat next to the sleeping Matthew.  They were again just sitting 4 rows behind us, so we could hear if there were any problems, but they were all so quiet.  After we landed this lady in the row behind me remarked how terrible we were to leave 5 children back there all alone.  I mentioned to her that their aunt was sitting with them- did she not notice the 30 year old adult with them.  I guess in her judgment of us, she had only heard we had 5 kids in the back, and had missed knowing that Suzie was sitting with them.  Not to mention how well behaved the kids all were in sleeping thru the long flight.  They all awoke for landing, and were sooo excited we had made it to Idaho!

It was after midnight by the time we pulled into our driveway.  20 hours of travel.  It was a really long day, but we were glad to be home in Idaho.  We have thru our time away, as the kids have talked about “home” reminded the kids that where ever we go, if we are together than we are “home”.  Home is where our family is.  But we were all excited to be in our house in Idaho, and home together. 

I will note—those 20 hours of travel took 4 days of recovery.  I must be getting old, and 8 months pregnant with sore kidneys made it a hard trip on me.  So grateful for family nearby that are thrilled to have the kids around again.

1 comment:

  1. Jen!!! Are you really in Idaho? I know you're busy and tired and ready to have this baby but will you call or email me? I have a gazillion questions for you! 697-1657 or

    I have LOVED your travel blog. Wow. Wow. Wow.