Friday, March 19, 2010

Jamie's journey to Honduras

Hi everyone! It’s Jamie. So, if you’ve been keeping up with Debbie’s posts, you know that the beginning of this amazing vacation, for me, began in near disaster. Not even my friends here have heard the whole story, so I’m just going to tell it all. This post is just about my plane ride fiasco. I’ll write about the vacation in a separate post (fyi). So, I arrived at DFW an hour and a half early on Friday. Of course I’d been preparing for weeks and was elated to finally be on my way to paradise to meet up with my friends. I was taking a different route, since I was flying on miles. It was taking me to North Carolina, where I would spend the night in a motel, then to Miami first thing in the morning, and on to San Pedro Sula to catch a 5 pm bus to Copan, where everyone would be waiting for me. So, I’m standing in line to check in, bags in hand, my dad on his way home from dropping me off at the airport….when my phone rings. Hmm, strange, the caller ID says American Airlines. I pick up and get a recording, “We’re calling to notify you of a cancellation. We’re sorry for the inconvenience, but your flight from Greensboro, NC to Miami has been cancelled.” No explanation, no number to call, nothing! Sorry for the inconvenience??!! I was completely panicking! I already knew that every flight to Miami had been booked for months, being that it was spring break. I get to the ticket counter and frantically explain what is happening to the lady behind the counter. She tells me I need to talk to the other guy there, so I walk over to that line. By this point I’m shaking, fighting back the tears. I call my dad and tell him he should probably head back to the airport. After what seems like forever, I get to the ticket counter again and explain my situation. I can tell this guy feels really bad for me….he can tell I’m trying not to cry, and meanwhile, I get 4 or 5 more calls from American Airlines with the same recorded message, and each time I get a call, I’m getting more and more pissed off. So this guy is typing away at his computer, apparently checking every flight to Miami in the entire airport, every few minutes shaking his head and looking a bit frustrated. ..not at all encouraging. Finally, he looks up and tells me that the best he can do is to get me to Honduras Sunday night at 9 pm. I lost it. I held it together surprisingly well on the outside, but at that point, I was sure my trip was over before it began. I pictured all my friends having a great time at the Mayan ruins, while I sat depressed in my little house in Denton. I was devastated. Exasperated, I told him that 9 pm on Sunday was not acceptable. I had already spent a ton of money on this trip, people were expecting me Saturday afternoon, San Pedro Sula was too dangerous for me to fly into alone after dark, not to mention that I had booked my flight months ago! He was really nice about it…kept saying that he understood, and he was really sorry, as he continued to type away at his computer looking for a better solution. By that point, I had called Jessica, and Debbie and Rob in Honduras to tell them what was happening (Jesi, Stokely, and the kids were in the air on their way to Houston at that point, so I couldn’t call them). So, after a few more minutes of extreme anxiety, the ticket counter guy tells me he a flight has opened up to Miami on Saturday, so I would get to San Pedro Sula Saturday night…better, but I still know that flying in that late is risky, and I would have to find my way to a hotel at night. He books it. My dad is almost back at the airport to pick me up. Then, the guy says, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but I can get you on standby for a flight to Miami tonight.” He tells me there are 2 more flights, one of which is already boarding. They are both oversold, and I’ll be third in line on the standby list. I ask him what my chances are of getting on. “Pretty bad” he says, but it’s worth a try. He tells me I’ll have to check my bag at the gate because if he checks it there, my bag will get on the flight, but I might not. I quickly ditch all my big bottles of liquid at the counter, he gives me directions to the gate (at a different terminal!), and I yell a very sincere thank you for all of his help as I sprint to security with my bags. I run all the way to the gate, out of breath, and still fighting back tears. I get there and not 2 minutes later, they announce that the flight is full. Everyone on standby should go to gate so-and-so where the last flight to Miami will be taking off shortly. I speed walked to that gate. Right after I get there, they announce that they need 3 volunteers to get off the plane in exchange for vouchers. I’m completely deflated. I’m 3rd on the standby list, and they’re paying people to get off the plane. It’s pretty much hopeless. A few people give me compassionate looks. I’m tearing up. I’m watching all the happy travelers with tickets board the plane, and I just want to fall on the floor and cry. They finally finish boarding, and I walk up to the counter to wait. There is a Hispanic woman and her daughter there, who also look very stressed. They are the 2 people ahead of me on standby. All I can do is pray, and I am praying as hard as I can, trying to make bargains with God to please please please get me on that plane! Then I hear my name. My name! I think I screamed. That’s me!! Can you get me on?? Please tell me you can get me on! The lady tells me to come around. She’s got my boarding pass in her hand! I’ve never been so elated in all my life. She tells me they’ll have to check my bag. “Just take it!” I say, “I don’t care!” “Go!” She says. I run to the plane, so freaking happy!! So, I get to the plane. I call Jessica to tell her I’m gonna make it. I step on the plane. As I’m telling Jessica that I got on, the same lady runs up behind me... “Ms. Schwartz, come back.” What??!! She tells me that I might not get to go! She tells me that she’s really sorry, but there’s a guy that they thought was on the plane that might not be. The reason I got a seat ahead of the Hispanic lady and her daughter was because there was only one seat, and they couldn’t split up the mother and daughter, but if he’s not on the plane, they will get the extra seats. I went from elation to utter despair in a split second. I stand there for a minute or 2…back to praying. Then, a flight attendant comes up from the back of the plane, and says that he’s there. The lady that gave me my boarding pass gave me a big smile and told me to get on. I walked to my seat as fast as I could and sat down, shaking and half crying from all the stress and emotion. I smiled all the way to Miami. It was a freaking miracle. I felt like the luckiest person on Earth. Disaster averted….or so I thought. Well, actually, the rest of my traveling problems were really nothing in comparison to the drama that I had just been through, but the rest of my journey was far from stress-free.

My flight arrived in Miami around midnight. I got my bag from baggage claim (it was one of the last ones off, which is always a little nerve racking). I went to the airport phone that calls hotels to try to find a room for the night. After the 5th or 6th person told me they were completely booked, I realized that I might be sleeping on the airport floor. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but it wasn’t the end of the world…at least I was in Miami. After a few more calls, a guy walked up next to me. “How many have you called?” he asked. “Pretty much all of them,” I said. He told me that he knew of one hotel with rooms, but it would be a $50 cab ride to get there. He said his wife was really tired and upset, so he was thinking about just paying for the cab. Would I like to split it with them? I said sure, as long as they had a shuttle to get me back the next day. He called, and they said they had a shuttle, but it might be full. I’d have to call in the morning to find out. I was tired. I decided to chance it. I took the cab with Greg and Michelle, who were on their way home to Cincinnati from their honeymoon in the Florida Keys (they had missed their connecting flight, along with lots of other stranded travelers, due to a storm in Miami). After a 20 minute cab ride, we made it to a cheesy casino hotel, whose name escapes me now. I didn’t have the voucher that Greg and Michelle had for the discounted rate, but Greg was nice enough to talk the hotel staff into giving me the same rate. We wished each other good luck and parted ways. The room was comfortable, aside from the foam blanket (wtf?) I woke up at 8:20 and decided I’d better call about the shuttle, even though my flight didn’t leave until 1:45. They told me there was one leaving at 9, so I’d better hurry if I wanted a ride. I took a super quick shower and headed downstairs to check out. I met another nice couple on the shuttle (I can’t remember their names), who laughed about the weird hotel with me and told me about the pizza they ordered that arrived half frozen. I arrived back at the airport, 4 hours before my flight, but that was ok with me. I love airports. I’d never been to the Miami one before, and it’s very nice. I checked in, found my way to the gate, got a grande skinny vanilla latte from Starbucks, found a sunny spot by some big windows, laid my head on my backpack on the floor, and put on my headphones to listen to my ipod and people watch. About an hour before I was supposed to board , I got up from my spot to go to the gate. I was at the wrong gate (it was 2 not 21). I found my way to gate 2, plugged my ipod into the charging station and sat down. We were scheduled to start boarding at 12:45. The flight was scheduled to take off at 1:45 and land at 3:05, which would give me plenty of time to get through customs in Honduras and get on my 5:00 bus (the last bus of day to Copan). Around noon, they changed the status…delayed until 2:30. Ok, I was definitely concerned. I’ve been on many delayed flights, and they are rarely only delayed for 45 minutes. I did the math in my head. I’d gain an hour in the air because of the time zones, so the flight should be about 2 and a half hours, give or take a few minutes. As long as we left by 3, I would still have a chance of catching my bus. Jessica, Jesi, Stokely, Hannah, and Rae landed in Honduras at 12:15, so I called Jesi at 12:45 to let her know that I was delayed. She told me that they got through baggage claim and customs in 15 minutes, so I would probably be ok. 1:00 rolled around, and there was still no plane. Oh god, here comes the stress again. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I don’t deal well with stress, especially in situations that are out of my control. 1:30, still no plane. Now, everyone at the gate was looking stressed. I saw a lot of people on cell phones. I heard a guy call someone to tell them that he would most likely miss his 4:00 flight to Roatan and would have to find a hotel in San Pedro Sula. It was some comfort knowing that I wouldn’t be the only person stranded in San Pedro Sula if I missed my bus, but I was still very worried. Everything I’ve read says that there are gangs and violence there, and you should never be out in the city after dark, especially not alone. Since my 5:00 bus was taking me to the big bus terminal in the city to catch a 6:00 bus to Copan, I figured I might be able to get a cab from the airport to the bus terminal and still make the 6:00 bus. I called Jesi again, and she told me she would find out how to get a cab and call me back. She called back a few minutes later with very detailed instructions, so I felt a little better. $16 she said. I knew that was a ripoff, but it was the least of my concerns. They announced at the gate that our plane was late flying in from Columbia. It would be there soon, but it would have to be checked out by customs before we could get on. Everyone was on pins and needles. There were at least 3 babies were crying. It was tense. 1:45, the plane finally arrived. I approached the counter and asked what time the plane was really taking off. She said that it should be around 3:00. There was no way I was making that bus. I called my mom, who reminded me that there was nothing I could do, and at least I would be in Honduras. She was confident I could handle it. I wasn’t so sure. I watched very impatiently as they deboarded the plane, got the baggage off, and got it set up for our flight. By that point, the flight had been officially delayed until 3:10. We got on, and I sent Jesi a quick text to let her know we were about to take off. That was the last time I would be able to use my phone. It wouldn’t work in Honduras. I had my Dad’s blackberry, which I was told would get internet access (no phone service), but even that was iffy. I would be virtually incommunicado once I left the States and basically on my own. There was a definite sense of relief once we were in the air. There was no turning back, and I would have to deal with whatever happened. I struck up a conversation with a girl across the aisle, who had lived in Honduras and was returning to visit. She told me that the flight was short, and I should be able to catch a cab to the bus terminal if I missed my bus. That set my mind at ease a little. I also told a flight attendant that I was afraid I’d miss my 5:00 bus, and she told me that there was another girl at the front of the plane who was supposed to be on that bus as well. I was still anxious, but I was pretty sure I would at least be safe with other stranded travelers from the States. By some miracle (I think it was the 3rd in 24 hours), the plane touched down at 4:30. I took Debbie’s advice, threw my manners by the wayside, and pushed my way past as many people as I could to the front of the plane. I bolted to baggage claim, where my bag was already on the carousel, made it through customs, and was in a short line of very relieved travelers to get my bus ticket by 4:45. I could finally breathe! Everything was going to be ok. I emailed everyone as soon as I got on the bus to let them know that I made it. It was a short ride to the bus terminal, where I bought a Coke and waited to board my bus to Copan. I guess the 6:00 bus to Copan isn’t too popular because I was the only person on it! I stretched out on the roomiest seat I could find, put a movie on my laptop, laid back, and enjoyed the 3 hour ride across Honduras. I felt I deserved the break! It was quite an enjoyable ride, most of it in pitch blackness, aside from the light of my laptop. I arrived in Copan promptly at 9. My friends weren’t at the terminal yet. I was offered a taxi (by tuktuk), and I tried to explain with the few Spanish words I know that my friends were coming to get me. One of the men offered me his blackberry to call them…so friendly and helpful! I called, and Rob told me that he was on the way. He and Stokely arrived a few minutes later in a tuktuk, and we were off! I was so giddy with excitement, I could barely contain myself. A few minutes down the road, we came across the rest of the group walking back to the hotel. They practically pulled me out of the tuktuk, and we all hugged and proceeded up the hill to the rooms. It was then that I found out that my emails had not gotten through to anyone, and they had all been worried for hours about whether or not I had made the bus! I felt terrible to have put them through that, but we were all just so happy to finally be together, the anxiety of the day melted away. I was so elated to be with my friends, I could’ve cried. So that’s my story. Let me tell you, I’ve have some stressful traveling experiences in my life, but that one takes the cake, hands down! I’m not complaining though. I am so incredibly grateful to be here, words cannot even express. I’m sure I would not appreciate it as much had I not come so close to missing it. I had friends, family, and forces beyond my control looking out for me that day, and I will not soon forget it.