Guess what! I am back in Trinidad!
I am so happy, I can't even explain it. I'd been looking forward to coming back almost since I left, because - and I think I've mentioned this - my relationship with Colombia isn't what it used to be, but I'll write more about that in the next blog post.
The trip here was a real adventure and it's the main reason I decided to write about being back right now instead of after actually doing anything interesting here. Because it was so incredible and just showed again what an unimaginably lucky person I am. Really, unimaginably lucky, you'll see.
My last night in Colombia was first wonderful and then awful. Here's why it was wonderful: I'd been spending a lot of time in the Bellavista the whole week (more on that in the next post), and Monique had invited me to come by again on Saturday night so we could all have dinner together. So around 6PM I headed over to Marbella and joined my dear Adriana and my dear Monique at their accustomed table in the cafeteria, which is really more of an office than a regular table. We chatted for a long while, about all sorts of things, other friends living in the hotel joined us for varying periods of time and all in all it was really nice. We did a lot of catching up and, of course, had some good food. A little after 9PM I went back home, because I was already really tired from having wanted to finish packing that day so I wouldn't have to do anything in the morning. Here's when the awful began... I spent the evening like most evenings, watching a few episodes of tv series and then reading. Only, I decided I wanted a cup of hot Milo before going to bed. I knew it was a bad idea, because I was too tired to drink anything heavier than water, but I did it anyways. And then I paid. And on top of the stomach cramps and nausea (which didn't let me sleep until around midnight, when the problem finally 'resolved itself') the building's transformer had exploded earlier. Literally. There was a light flash and a really loud bang and then it was dark and silent. I had no idea what had happened, so I walked outside where a neighbour was having a shouted conversation with the doorman downstairs and that's how I found out it was the transformer. I'd just been copying flight information onto a sheet of paper, but of course I couldn't continue, because no electricity - no internet - no flight info e-mail. At least, that forced me to turn off the computer and switch to reading for a while after having my Milo (which I made in the dark). But the ensuing mixture of extreme nausea and no working fans anywhere then had me changing location multiple times: trying the bed, the hammock, the sofa and then finally the bed again when the electricity came back. On the positive side, after my stomach was emptied and the fan was back on, I slept like a baby and thus was more than ready for my trip yesterday morning.
I got up without a rush, took a shower and washed my hair, got dressed in the clothes I'd prepared for the trip and then spent an hour getting Béa's apartment ready for her return. It'd been so nice of her to let me stay there not only while she was there but also while she was gone, I wanted to make sure everything would be in order when she got back. So I washed, dried and put away the dishes, I cleaned the soon-to-perish items out of the fridge, I made sure nothing was lying around anywhere and the closets weren't in chaos. I put away the replacement pasta and cookies I'd gotten because I'd eaten hers and then double checked the lids on everything to make sure she'd get to eat her food, not the ants. Then I took out all the garbage and got my things ready. Right before I left, I remembered something in the fridge I had forgotten earlier and, unfortunately, that meant some more dishes in the sink that I didn't have time to wash before leaving - that still bugs me, actually. Turning off all the fans and lights, I locked the apartment, handed the keys to the doorman to keep safe until Béa's return and made sure he hadn't forgotten our agreement on apartment-care. Then I said goodbye to Carolyn and the building and the neighbourhood before getting a taxi to the airport. I just really, really hope I didn't forget anything, but I went over everything like three times, so I think it should be fine. I'm really just telling you this in such detail because it allows me to go over the list again in my head.
At the airport everything went fine and the flight was uneventful. I actually found the first thing I like about the augmenting tourism in Colombia: almost everybody on my flight was a US citizen, so there were only eight people ahead of me in my line at the immigration desks, and maybe four or five behind me. I was through the whole thing in under ten minutes. Crazy, never had that before. And I was also pretty much just waved through everywhere, immigration and customs. Having your documents in order really pays off!
Because my flight onwards from FLL to POS was supposed to be tonight at 6.20PM, my plan was to sleep in the airport. I'd spend some time reading and make good use of the carpet floors and free WiFi in FLL Hollywood Int'l Airport (Yay free WiFi) during the night hours, the next day I'd check my bags in the morning and meet my friend Louizis in his terminal, because he was arriving in FLL for a trip as well. So the first thing I did was hit a bathroom (the one on the plane had been stinky so I didn't go - and don't call me fussy, you wouldn't have gone either) and then go to the food area to get some dinner and some snacks for the long night ahead. Culinarily equipped, I set out to find the perfect spot to spend the night and soon found it: A corner seat on a comfy 3-seat-bench, space underneath for my large backpack and my small bags and two power outlets right behind my backrest.
I settled down, unpacked my laptop and a jamaican beef patty and as I opened gmail to tell everybody who'd asked to be informed that I'd arrived safely in FLL, my gaze drifted and fell upon the Caribbean Airlines counters ahead of me, a little to the left. They were completely abandoned aside from one of the counters, where two ladies were still working on something. I shoved all my things far under the bench, grabbed only the bag with the real valuables and headed over to ask if maybe it was possible to check my bag for the next day's flight, just so I wouldn't have to take care of it all night and all day. Fragen kostet nichts, I figured.
They were very sorry to decline, check-in a day prior to departure was not possible, but counters openend at 4.30AM and I could check-in right then and spend the day bag-free. I found that very helpful and, adequately cheerful, headed back to my makeshift camp to keep munching on my patty and writing e-mails.
I'd just sat down when I saw one of the ladies waving to me, calling me back over. My hopes went sailing skywards, because I thought that maybe they were going to offer keeping my bag in the Caribbean Airlines office, or somewhere else equally secure. I walked back over and was surprised on the verge of shocked when they told me that tonight's (yesterday's) flight to Port of Spain was delayed and therefore still in FLL and they were going to see if they could get me on that flight. I wasn't sure I'd understood and asked, "My bag, you mean? To send it ahead?" "No," the lady on the left answered, " all of you. You and your luggage together." My jaw dropped in time with the rest of my face radiating amazement, which the lady on the right correctly interpreted as assent. Immediately, she headed off towards the gate area to find out if it'd be possible to send me to Port of Spain immediately. Me and my things, that is. In her absence, her colleague kept expressing their shared astonishment at my having planned to spend the night in the airport. She just didn't want to accept that that was an OK option, even though I assured her I'd done it before on numerous occasions and it was really no problem.
A few minutes later the one who'd left came back nodding furiosly as soon as the other lady and myself were in sight, so right away we started putting passport details and visa information into the system, while she, as soon as she got back to the counter, had somebody take my backpack through the TSA check and to the baggage room of what was now my flight. Usually, whenever I fly I ask if I can have a seat by the window, but I figured they were already helping me out so much - and without me having even asked for it! - I wouldn't push my luck by asking for extras. Within mere minutes I had my passport back, my boarding pass in my hand and, still shouting (very sincere) thanks to the two wonderful ladies at the counter, was rushing over to the security checkpoints to get to the gate. It was a little after 6.30PM (original departure time had been 6.20PM) and the new boarding was scheduled for 6.45PM, so I didn't have much time, but because everything ran perfectly smoothly again, I got there walking, not running, and with time to spare.
Sitting at the gate, I remembered two things: 1) My room was going to be ready for me upon arrival - on the 18th of March. So I didn't have a place to stay the first night. Oops. 2) I had calculated my stay in Trinidad very exactly, leaving after the 90 days I was allowed to stay in the country. Only, now I was going to arrive a day early and it was going to be 91 days. Oops again, a big one this time.
I used the spare time at the gate to get online and because I'm a lucky bastard my friend Kevonne was on Facebook and agreed to be my hero and my saviour by picking me up from the airport and letting me spend the night at her place in D'Abadie. How lucky am I?
The flight itself was ridiculously great, because of the fact that not only I was in a window seat (those two angels at the counter apparently could read minds as well), I was also the only person in my entire row. So I got to sit by a window while awake and then actually sleep a while lying down. Lying down! With a blanket! How lucky am I?!
And when I arrived at the immigration checkpoint, just like in FLL, I was one of very few visitors (only five this time), so my line was extremely short. Although, arriving in Trinidad that's pretty much the norm. I'd by then figured out that I would just explain my 91-day-situation to the officer in charge and hope that he or she would understand and help me out. And he did. Guys, people are good. It probably wouldn't even have mattered if I'd said nothing, because they rarely check how long you've been when you leave, but I just really don't like lying so I wanted to tell the officer my story and see if there was anything we could do about it. In fact, he kind of laughed at my being worried. Now, the date on the stamp in my passport equals the date on my ticket back out of Trinidad. Seriously, how freaking lucky am I?!
On the way from getting my luggage through customs over to the ATM I ran into Bernie, who happened to be working that night and who was extremely surprised to see me in Trinidad a day early: "Daaaarlin', what are you doing here?!" He was happy to see me, though, and even happier when I told him that a friend was coming for me and he didn't have to worry about me with the room only being ready the next night. So I got a big welcome hug and then went to get some cash and meet Kevonne outside. That dear, dear girl had seriously come to get me from the airport at almost midnight, even though she had to work the next morning. I must have done something really nice in the past or in an earlier life to deserve all this kindness.
We slept until about 6/6.30AM, although truly I didn't really sleep much because the mosquitoes were making a big fuss trying to show me how much they'd all missed me and my blood while I was in Colombia. But it was OK, I didn't mind. Have one last drink, little bitches, because I brought Nopikex from Colombia and you won't ever bite me anymore! Muahahaha.
Kevonne walked me up to the PBR and then went to work while I tried in vain to get on a maxi to Port of Spain. Not a single driver let me get on his bus, even though of course I was going to pay for two seats with that big backpack of mine. They didn't care. Probably because it was rush hour and they feared some kind of complication. Big bag, small bus, lots of people. Whatever. I called Bernie to ask if he knew if any of his drivers would be available and he suggested calling Ari, who in turn had one of his friends, David, call me back. David then came to pick me up from the side of the road (literally) some ten minutes later and took me and my not-actually-that-huge amount of luggage home through the dense morning traffic. At a few minutes past 9AM I was home.
And that's where I am now, home. I already unpacked my things and set them up all over what's going to be my room for the first month of my stay, before I get my old room back when Pedro leaves in April. I'm sad he'll go, but more than that I'm happy I got back in time to still have one month to spend with my favourite neighbour. Went to the supermarket, announced my arrival on Facebook, texted a few friends and then settled down to read a bit, practice my Portuguese on Duolingo.com and then write this here.
It is now a little after 3.30PM on Monday, the 18th of March 2013. Had those two ladies not been so incredibly nice and worked so hard on getting me on that flight, I would still be in Florida right now, at the airport, not even close to boarding my plane. Although I have to repeat that I wouldn't have minded spending the night at the airport, that had been my own idea, after all. But this is better because instead, I woke up this morning in the country where I really want to be and where, I think, I'm supposed to be right now. Why? Because my gut tells me so. And my phone, which has been busy since I landed. In Colombia, there were hardly any texts or calls in the month and a half I spent there. My own fault, of course, but that's what happens when time runs its course. However, since I switched my phone on after the plane had taxied to its final parking position (because I respect the aviation rules about electronic devices, okay) it has been ringing, beeping or buzzing almost continuously with texts and calls from and to my friends here. And I'm glad, because I missed them and it's great I'll get to see them all real soon!
And one more thing before I go - don't worry, this post won't be as excrutiatingly long as the last one: I would like to say thank you not only to those two kind ladies who shipped me home 24hrs earlier than anticipated, but to all the people I encountered on flights and in airports during all my trips over the last years.
I'll be honest, this thank-you exludes the two people I officially dislike (the jamaican officer who didn't want to let me into the country because I didn't have a ticket back to Austria even though I had one leaving Jamaica, giving me a 15 minute speech and asking me the most ridiculous and way too personal questions; the Spirit employee who forced my to buy a ticket out of Colombia on the spot or she wouldn't let me get on the plane, although nobody had ever asked for a return ticket before).
Everybody else: You Are Great.
I don't know if anybody who works with an airline or in an airport will ever see this: a stewardess or a TSA officer or a person in immigration or customs or somebody at an information desk or a pilot or a baggage handler, anyone of you really. But I still feel like this should be said 'out loud'. All of your jobs must be really frustrating sometimes; airports are stressful places and people can be stupid and very mean when under pressure and you are usually the last person they think about when they want things to go their way. Oh, why do I say 'they' when I'm one of them? I mean we. Yet, I try hard not to be like that. I always do my best to be calm and positive no matter how stressed I am, to smile and say thank you to everyone and wish them a good day/evening/weekend. I'm glad the funny t-shirt I wear on purpose when I fly made you smile or even giggle, I'm happy to see you notice that I take off my shoes at the security checkpoint without you having to remind me to, and I greatly appreciate every single time you smile back, say that I'm welcome and wish me a safe trip.