Friday, April 5, 2013

-- South American turnaround (part 1) --

It is that time of the year, when being away from my family starts taking its toll on my thoughts and wandering about what they do at every minute becomes my obsession for hours.
Moving overseas can be tricky sometimes and I am pretty sure everyone that has and reads this blog knows what I am talking about. It is a sensation we can become used to but our minds will never embrace.

For this reason , I had decided to buy a plane ticket to see my family on what I called a quick "South American turnaround". Not exactly the wandering around the American continent I did last year but a sharp and grueling 30-hour plane journey each way to enjoy two weeks of quality time with my beloved ones.

I leave for Dublin Airport in the rainy and dark winter morning. I arrive to the check-in counter to find a short queue which ,surprisingly takes nearly an hour to clear. By the time this is done, it is nearly time for boarding while I manage to grab a quick Irish breakfast and I clear customs and security formalities.

Memories from Terminal 1 come to my mind , and many journeys that have started and ended in old and outdated part of Dublin Airport. It is still dark when it's announced that , due to bad weather conditions and snow in Paris, our flight will be delayed for fifteen minutes, which then became thirty, which then became an hour with no explanation whatsoever.
We are led to board the cramped Bae-146 to sit on the tarmac for another twenty minutes with an apology and a promise that all flights in Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport had been delayed and connections won't be missed.

The plane finally clears the runway and we are on our way to continental Europe, overlooking Wicklow Mountains and St. George's Channel. Then a thick layer of white clouds cover the landscape and a strong morning sunshine invades the cabin while we are served a carrot muffin and a bit of hot tea. The flight it's nearly an hour and a half and before I notice, we start our descent to Paris. One hour and a half behind schedule.
I can see the anxiety in everyone's faces. In the end, most of the plane were due to be on connecting flights rather than flying straight to Paris. As we descend, the thick layer of clouds darkens the cabin and we can't see anything for several minutes.
White fields are seeing and seconds later , the runway and hangars. We touch down sharply surrounded by a layer of snow and an announcement of freezing conditions outside followed by several minutes of taxying.

By the time we finally reach one of the gates at Charles de Gaulle, passengers rush to the doors and a marathon of desperate travelers begin with people running across the cold terminals to catch their connecting flights. I can't see mine on the main screen which it's confirmed by a gate agent: my connecting flight to Sao Paulo is gone and I have missed it for 5 minutes.
I am led to a Customer Service desk, along with other frustrated passengers bound for different flights and I am handed a meal and a snack voucher to survive for the day while I am scheduled on the next available flight , departing at 23:30pm, only 13 hours apart from my original flight.
As I look around me, I see a rather modern and new airport. It doesn't last long when I notice the lack of entertainment, food or even shopping options. For one of the capitals of the world, it is indeed a dreadful airport full of rude staff.

As the hours go by and gets colder in the Parisian capital, the "modern" architecture of the building reveals a big flaw and its poor isolation makes shiver in cold to the toughest Scandinavian in the terminal.
I make friends with two Brazilians who had also missed their flights and we get to chat with another couple coming from Poland who were on the same predicament. It helped ease the long waiting while talking about life in general, places and holidays.

Our flight is finally announced to departure and there isn't a single space available on the plane. A cramped and old Boeing 777-300 becomes my home for the following 13 hours. Flight is delayed again at the gate, followed by a round of de-icing on the runway and a final late night bumpy departure.
I am tired after a long day at "The Terminal" and collapse in my cramped seat shortly after dinner, waking up for the odd Equatorial turbulence and for breakfast two hours before arrival.
My foot is sore and my legs are a bit swollen. The sight of the Brazilian plateau can be seen as we fly over Belo Horizonte and start our final descent into Sao Paulo Guarulhos Airport. The mountains of Cantareira becomes the frame for the entire descent as we struggle with fog and crosswinds. A heavy landing follows and the Air France nightmare is over, at least for now.

I am struck by warm breeze as soon as I leave the aircraft, it is humid and hot despite being early morning. Memories boil in my mind, it has been three years since my last time in this city. I clear customs and immigration and I meet with my ex-colleague Tania and her French boyfriend. A massive update takes place as I wait for 5 hours for my connecting flight to Bolivia.
Summer afternoon rainfall completes the experience when I depart on my Boliviana de Aviacion flight Santa Cruz de la Sierra bound and have a nice chat with the person seating besides me. My foot is swollen and red and can barely move it but my spirits are high.


My heart beats faster as we approach Santa Cruz Viru Viru International Airport, a flight I used to take pretty often when I was living in Sao Paulo. A deja vu, a landing in the lavish green lowlands. Palm trees surrounding the runway. The warm and humid air striking my face and the old-fashioned terminal.
All of it happens very fast until I see them again. Their smiles make my eyes teary in relief for the long wait and in happiness because I know that for the next two weeks, I will feel complete again.