Friday 12 December was a disaster! It didn’t start too badly. When we boarded the plane in Guatemala City it was announced that no liquids could be taken onto the plane – just after we had thrown away our bottles and bought 2 more after check in (as you do). So we hurriedly put the bottles into my rucksack to smuggle on board. Then as we were boarding we were pulled aside for a random search. I prepared my innocent ‘Oh, I didn’t hear the announcements about the bottles of water’ face as they started to search Sean but they looked at me and said, No you can go ahead. Yay! We had water.
The trouble started when we got to Fort Lauderdale. They had a new automated machine for checking passports, taking fingerprints and photos. Unfortunately we, like 90% of those using the machines, were rejected and we had to join a long queue to see a person. It was very slow moving and we eventually gleaned that the systems were down. About an hour after landing we were beckoned forward by a very rude official and went through the whole process again. Only this time the fingerprint reading device wouldn’t read Sean’s hand. After a few attempts the official beckoned to Sean and said, ‘You have to come in here’ and led him off into a side room. He wouldn’t let me follow and said I had to wait downstairs. I had no idea where they had taken Sean, or why or what they were going to do. All I could imagine was him sitting in a room, being searched. I didn’t know what to think but as I got to the bottom of the escalator I saw 4 or 5 other people sitting on the floor or standing, all looking very resigned, so I could see it wasn’t going to be a short wait.
After a while I started to ask anyone in a uniform what might be happening. How long will they keep him? Oh, it could be 2 hours. Or, Could be up to four hours. Or, Depends, does he have a criminal record? What will they be doing with him? Oh, just observing, maybe search him, ask him some questions. Just check him over, could be a machine error. I imagined him alone, being searched, not knowing what was going on and worrying about me as he knows I have a fertile imagination when it comes to disasters.
I discovered I had WiFi. I suspected Sean wouldn’t be able use his phone but I knew if he was left alone the first thing he would do would be to look at it so I sent him a message via Messenger, ‘RU OK?’ not really expecting an answer. About 15 minutes later the answer came back, ‘Still in waiting room, systems down.’ This was great as I now knew nothing terrible had happened and the systems were to blame. I could also tell that he had had to write this in a hurry surreptitiously so I didn’t expect any more. I’d overheard an official saying that if anyone missed their connecting flight they would be put up overnight in a hotel so I resigned myself to missing the flight, collected our backpacks from the carousel and settled down to wait.
Three hours after we had gone through passports Sean appeared. He’d been held in a crowded room, not allowed to use his phone, simply waiting to be electronically checked one more time. He was livid, and gave vent to a torrent of colourful language and Sean has quite a range at his disposal. I just felt relieved and it looked like we might just make our connecting flight.
We found the desk and rechecked in our luggage, just managed to grab Sean a take away sandwich (we’d been expecting plenty of time to eat in Fort Lauderdake, although I wasn’t eating as I had a stomach upset) and made our flight. As we took off Sean said, ‘I reckon the chances of our bags being on this flight are 50:50.
And he was right. His bag arrived. Mine didn’t. We arrived in LA at midnight (2 am our time). We’d been travelling for 16 hours on very little sleep and I had eaten only dry biscuits in 30 hours. All I had was the clothes I was standing up in and no toiletries. I was thoroughly miserable!
We filed a report for my missing bag and settled down to the six hour wait for the next leg of our journey. It was cold; we were exhausted, hungry and fed up. Sean found a seat with a table in between, made a place I could lie down, covered me up with his coat, and we managed to get an hour or so’s sleep.
At 5 am things started to look up. We got on the shuttle to Union Station LA and it was warm with comfortable seats. It was a forty minute journey but I would have been happy for it to go on all day. The station was beautiful and, best of all, it had a Starbucks. I have never been so happy to see a Starbucks in my life and decided to risk a latte and a bagel. We also bought a toothbrush, toothpaste and shampoo. We then headed off to get our bus and we met Denise Brown.
She was our bus driver and she gave us a wonderful Tarantinoesque introduction to her bus. Here’s a sample:
The bathroom is located at the back of the bus. If you use the bathroom make sure you lock the door so they can’t see your goodies, cos they don’t knock, they just walk right on in.
You are welcome to eat on my bus. When I say drink I mean only the good stuff. If the driver can’t drink, then you can’t drink. If the driver can’t smoke, you can’t smoke. You just save your habit till you reach your destination.
This here is the escape window. This is how it works. You push the handle you push the window and you jump out. But don’t you use that escape window cos if you jump out the bus your driver’s gotta jump out the bus and I don’t wanna jump out the bus.
As we drove out of LA everything became worthwhile again. We saw the Hollywood sign and then started to get beautiful views of mountains, sometimes snowcapped, in the distance. Then the mountains gave way to plains and fields that reached literally as far as the eye could see of grapes, walnuts and cows. We’d never seen such vast swathes of flat, cultivated land.
Part of the journey was on double decker train and we reached our destination, Visalia (to rhyme with azalea), at 1.00 pm, to be met by the lovely Heather who is to be our helpx host for the next 10 days.
I still don’t have my bag but the airline have located it and I should have it within the next 2 or 3 days. I’ve bought underwear and a T-shirt. We’ve already met some amazing people since we’ve been here and things feel like they’re getting back on track.