114: Climbing the Inca Trail: Some final thoughts, Murphy’s Law, Jody Hanson and an Unexpected Trip to Colombia

Hello all,

P & I had already had our fair share of interesting and trying experiences in Peru and we were exhausted. Little did we know that our worst luck was about to strike as we were trying to make our way home.

Our journey ends with a conversation that we had with one of our fellow passengers on our ever-delayed flight from Bogota to Toronto. We conversed while waiting for our bags at Lester B. Pearson airport over 24 hours after we left Lima for home – a trip that, in theory should have taken roughly 12 hours.

J was traveling with his wife D and others from his church on a mission trip throughout Latin and South America. J told me the story of his life and I found it to be the most extraordinary and shocking thing I had ever heard.

He met his wife, D, at a homeless shelter where she was volunteering and he was staying. He saw D and approached her. His icebreaker?

“God told me that you will be my wife.”

“Well, I’ll let you know if God let’s me in on that plan,” D replied. I loved this woman from the second I met her, but this endeared her to me even more.

When J was a boy he was beat by his father with a baseball bat and his entire body is covered in cigarette burns. He left home at 10 and began living in different parks in Toronto. He was approached by a man who offered him dinner and after J ate the dinner the man told him that it did not come without a price. That man raped J and then acted as his pimp.

J robbed a bank in Hamilton a few years later to procure booze. When the police arrived on the scene he was honest with them about why he did it. They ended up knowing  who he was and bought him a beer and then brought him to jail where he served five months.

At 17 he was convicted of murder and was sentenced to 10 years but only served 5 for good behaviour. He told me that he and his friends were playing Russian Roulette and his friend shot himself in the head, dying instantly. In a moment of panic J grabbed the gun from his dead friend and, because the rest of his friends fled the scene, J was accused and convicted of murder.

Shortly after he met D at the homeless shelter, and they dated for 4 years before getting married. He was an alcoholic before meeting her but has been sober since they met. D, a teacher, also taught J to read. To this day he can only read at a grade 5 level, at best.

I told him that I thought that his marriage to D was beautiful and that it would appear that his life changed when he met her. He assured me that God, not D, was the one who changed his life. He said,

“God takes all of the anger and the bad and he takes it on himself so that we can let go.”

Regardless of where you stand on the spirituality of it all, I thought that it was a pretty moving notion that a person can go through the trauma and struggles that J faced and be able to move past what happened and live out a beautiful life desiring only to help others with his wife by his side.

And then, he just went and made me laugh. J doesn’t really go to church: “Some people go to Church and ooooh and aaaaah but that’s not fucking me baby, no way. I fly fish.” The lake is his church.

But P and I would have to go through a number of obstacles before we would have this conversation with J. And, of course, every single thing that could go wrong on our way home did. Murphy’s Law.

When we dismounted our train that took us from the quaint hot springs town back into Cuzco we found our pre-booked transportation back to our hostel and we were on the road. For about 20 minutes. Our van broke down on the highway on the side of a mountain. We exited the vehicle as our driver told us in broken English that it shouldn’t be long until another van would be by to pick us up.

If you read my post about our time at Machu Picchu, you’ll know that our tour guide Raul was probably the last person on the face of the planet that I wanted to run into. We shivered by the side of the road in the pitch black waiting patiently for our working van to pick us up. When it finally arrived some time later none other than Raul was sitting in this new van. I felt a sense of relief when Raul had to give up his seat – along with a few others – to accommodate those of us who were passengers in the broken down van. Thankfully, he avoided all eye contact with P & I. Finally we were back to our Cuzco hostel (after another short, unexpected cab ride).

The following day we spent some time in Cuzco (read about it here) and then headed to the airport to catch our plane that would take us back to Lima. Due to extremely high winds, we sat in our plane on the tarmac for approximately 3 hours before we took off. By the time we arrived at our hostel in Lima, it was far too late to go out and have dinner in a restaurant. So, P & I ordered some pizza and relaxed whilst watching the only two English television shows on in Peru during our trip: The Big Bang Theory and Two & A Half Men.

A short, sweet sleep was followed by deliciously hot showers and a quick trip to the airport. It was pre-sunrise when we arrived, checked our bags and headed for our gate. The flight to Colombia was short and painless (as painless as flying can be for me, anyway) but we knew that we were in for a 6-hour layover in the worst airport of all time (Seriously, there is NOTHING to do or eat at the Columbia airport and nowhere to sit).

It was here that I met PhD, published author and travel writer Jody Hanson. I’ll let you hear things from her perspective – she’s a lot nicer about the experience than I would be.  She has graciously allowed me to use her piece on my blog. Thanks, Jody!
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Stuck with Air Canada: 62 Hours from BOG to YXE

“If you are on the Air Canada flight to Toronto, come with me.”  Tim Bridges took it upon himself to go through the airport and muster the passengers of the cancelled flight 963 from Bogota to Toronto.

The benign chaos reminded me of living in Nigeria. The first indication of a flight being delayed or cancelled was that the airline staff would quietly go into hiding as nobody wanted to cop the flack. But this was Colombia and if it hadn’t been for Tim taking charge, people may well have been stuck in the airport overnight, afraid to leave in case the flight was finally called. The frustration was that there were no Air Canada representatives to be found, no announcements and no attempt to locate the stranded.

To backtrack for a moment, when I left the hotel at 10:30 a.m. there was no message from Orbitz of a delay. But when I checked in at the airport half an hour later, however, the woman at Air Canada announced that the 14:00 flight had been postponed until 17:30 and handed me a lunch voucher.

I wished she hadn’t. The Presto restaurant is best described as disgusting and about the only thing on offer is hamburgers. I was hungry, so I ate one. Bad decision. Almost as soon as the somewhat-off grease hit my stomach it made an upward rebound. And when it tastes the same coming up as it did going down you know it is truly revolting. It is not that there are a shortage of restaurants at the airport, rather it is that Air Canada opts for the most el cheapo one available.

When I got to the Star Alliance lounge and checked my email there were six messages from Orbitz each postponing the flight longer. The final projection was for 22:13, a mere eight hour and 13 minute delay. Still contact of any kind from Air Canada.

I used Skype and talked with Linda at the Air Canada help desk in Toronto. She informed me that the problem was “awaiting inbound equipment.” Neither of us could figure out what that meant. I inquired about the flight at the lounge desk and the staff replied there was no word from Air Canada and they weren’t answering their phone. Eventually I went to the desk with the “flight cancelled” message on the laptop screen. Shortly after, Oscar – finally an Air Canada representative who was helpful – appeared and we were taken to the Holiday Inn at about 20:00, six hours after the flight should have left.

Nothing makes people bond faster than a common unpleasant experience. Rumours about what had happened abounded. The leading contender was that the flight had left for Bogota, but a passenger had gone ballistic so the plane had returned to Toronto. The runner-up was that it was mechanical problems and trailing in third place was that there had been a storm. The mute representatives from Air Canada would not offer an explanation. Did they know or does Air Canada management regard reasons for delays as corporate secrets?

Landed with a couple of hundred – or so it seemed – unexpected guests, the staff at the Holiday Inn were overwhelmed and kicked into a go-slow mode. After a fast shower to wash away the grime of the airport, there was only one sane and reasonable thing to do: Go to the bar and drink Scotch.

Our flight was rescheduled for the following afternoon at 14:00, 24-hours after we were to have departed. The line-up was ridiculous and the check-in speed next door to dead-stop. The bumped passengers and the ones booked on the flight for the day milled around. Boarding cards were replaced and we eventually ended up in the waiting area, hoping the plane would actually leave.

And we all had a story. Danielle Gutstein reported that she had been told to “wait here” for food vouchers for dinner. The representative from Air Canada disappeared and didn’t return for three hours. And when she was spotted – given away by her uniform – she made a studious attempt to avoid the passengers clamouring for her attention. Another passenger and her fiancé had come in from Lima to catch a connecting flight and never wanted to stop in Colombia as they had heard it was too dangerous. They ended up with an extra passport stamp they hadn’t counted on.

The scheduled for 14:00 plane didn’t leave Bogota until 15:10. Even though my math skills are questionable, it didn’t take rocket science to figure out that with an hour and a half to make the connection to Saskatoon it wasn’t going to happen. Consequently, I had to spend a night in Toronto. Worse, I struggled with the luggage I had planned on throwing on a conveyer belt to be collected in Saskatoon. And totally reprehensible was that there wasn’t even a bar at the hotel for some soothing Scotch.

The Air Canada representative booked me on the 16:10 flight to Saskatoon. The next morning I checked online and discovered I could have been on the 11:00 or the 13:00. However, by the time I got through – it took 27 minutes – it was dodgy to make the 11:00. And I would be wait-listed on the 13:00 with no guarantee I wouldn’t get to spend an additional three fun-filled hours at the Lester B. International. Pass and opt for a late check-out.

When I finally emerged from the plane in Saskatoon I’d chalked up 62 hours from the time I’d arrived at the airport in Bogota. It was difficult, but I managed to restrain myself and not kiss the ground like John Paul 2.

About the only good thing I have to say about the trip is that at least my bags arrived, although both of them were damaged. As an aside, I’ve quit counting the number of times Air Canada has lost my luggage. One of the more memorable recollections was on a direct flight from Saskatoon to Toronto. The agent insisted I check my carry-on bag as they had made new rules about the allowable size. So when both bags disappeared I was left with only what I had in my handbag for two days. Air Canada wanted me to continue on to Panama where my bags would catch up with me. However, I firmly refused as spending a month in Central America without clothes or toiletries didn’t appeal.

Given my consistently annoying experiences with the airline, the obvious solution is to avoid Air Canada. Alas, when you live overseas, book your tickets online and have to get to central Canada to visit your ageing parents it isn’t much of an option.

So let’s just hope that passengers like Tim Bridges continue to do Air Canada’s job.
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Ultimately, the only difference between Jody’s experience and the rest of us was that Jody was served food immediately. The group of us that bonded together was told that we would get food vouchers after the first flight delay and we did not end up actually eating until 5 hours later.

We were all put up at Holiday Inn together and it was a welcomed departure from some of the hostels that P & I stayed at during our time in South America. However, when a group of us asked the concierge where we might go to see the sites of Bogota while we were stuck here, she replied, “Well, you are white and it is almost nighttime, so I would advise against leaving the hotel.”

Yikes.

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting back on my time in Peru and I’m extremely grateful to have crossed off 114. Climb the Inca Trail from my Bucket List and to have had all of the wonderful and crazy experiences that came along with it.

Keep Wandering,

W

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