Hard Landing in Santa Cruz
06.11.2012 - 06.17.2012 84 °F
Day 1-2 Helena > Santa Cruz
Despite finishing day 7 of the Big Trek, I’m only just making my first entry in what I had hoped would be a more ongoing record of events. Oh Well, so much for the best of intentions. I guess it is just best to begin at the beginning. Day one, Monday June 11, 4:30 am up and at ‘em for a 6:00 am departure on Delta from Helena to Detroit to Fort Lauderdale. The plan is to catch a shuttle from FLL to Miami then Miami to Santa Cruz Bolivia with a 6 hour layover in Lima. Despite an inexorably long line to get through security in Helena, we managed to depart without incident. With only an hour between flights for the stateside portion of the trip it all needs to go smoothly. But with fair skies and no storms on the horizon, we settled in for a long day of travel.
We landed in MSP on time and made our way to the gate for the flight to Detroit. The kids are carrying their backpacks minus sleeping bags. Anne and I checked or backpacks along with another duffle carrying the sleeping bags, my hiking boots, Aidan’s boots and a couple of deflated soccer balls for pick-up games with the locals.
Taxiing out from the gate at MSP all seems well except for too long a delay at the end of the runway. What began as a typical travel day in the over-filled cattle cars that have been substituted for airplanes is suddenly transformed into my own personal travel nightmare spelled “mechanical failure”. The back-up generator has failed and now we are on our way back to the gate. With only an hour to spare in Detroit we are screwed. Fortunately, we brought along one of the kids trac-phones so I immediately called Delta to see if we can somehow get to Miami in time to catch a flight on LAN to Bolivia. Normally, I wouldn’t be so concerned except that with 4 of us flying I knew we would be hard pressed to find seats for all of us. I managed to get a good operator at Delta and within 20 minutes we are booked on a flight to Atlanta then Miami for all of us. But what about our bags? Delta assures us that there is plenty of time to switch them from the Detroit bound plane and they will be in Miami when we arrive. I’m not quite so confident but am not really in a position to affect the situation one way or the other.
As you might have guessed when we arrive in Miami our bags are sitting in Detroit. Our other problem is that we are traveling on a split ticket so at the end of the day Delta only really feels compelled to drop our bags in Fort Lauderdale despite the fact that we are on our way to South America. What a cluster f. But the new math for travel representatives is just to tell you whatever they think that you want to hear. At 10:00 pm they actually have the cajones to tell me that they are still hoping that bags landing in Fort Lauderdale at 10:40 will still manage to catch our LAN flight leaving Miami at 12:00.
Arriving in Santa Cruz Bolivia the next afternoon we didn’t wait around too long to see if our bags were actually coming off the plane. With glum faces as we contemplate the many creature comforts left behind, a super nice guy with LAN in Santa Cruz takes down our information and assures us that he will do everything in his power to have our bags delivered to our hotel in the next day or so. Despite his cheery confidence, the fact that I’m standing in a third world airport and our bags are some 5,000 miles away leaves me with a gnawing pit in my stomach as I wonder where I will ever find a decent pair of boots in a country where the average height is about 5’3. I’m guessing los zapaterias don’t carry much in size 12.
Fortunately, we did contemplate this possibility so Anne and I are at least carrying an extra set of clothes along with the small pharmacy we had put together to hopefully keep everyone healthy. Unfortunately, the chargers for my computer and my camera were stuck behind, so I have a really heavy camera bag with a computer and only one set of batteries and no charger. But there is another flight coming from Miami in the morning and all should be well then.
It has been a while since I have done any travelling in the third world and the ride into Santa Cruz, a city of some 2 million souls was an education for all of us. I had to laugh as I thought about the number of people that asked us if we planned to rent a car. Holy Crap! We wouldn’t have made it out of the airport parking lot. First, imagine leaving a decent sized metropolitan airport where the city has grown up around it without any street signs or other directions to indicate how to get anywhere. Then get rid of all but the most rudimentary of traffic controls. No lanes, no stop signs, roads leaving and entering from all directions, not to mention bumper to bumper traffic all going way too fast. In my finest days of San Francisco city driving I would have been chopped liver within a minute.
In the hour or so that it took to negotiate the 14 miles into the city center I was sure that we were going to crash at least a dozen times. But our driver delivered us intact to our hotel Residencial Bolivar without incident. Santa Cruz is a hard place to land after 36 hours traveling even without the stress of lost luggage. Fortunately, Residencial Bolivar was a veritable oasis and refuge in an otherwise large, dirty, noisy third world city. Near the main plaza, it is in the oldest part of the city. I’m guessing the building is well over one hundred years old, all one level with a large courtyard filled with tropical plants and a pet toucan named Simone. The kids weren’t too taken with Santa Cruz and looked like they were wondering what we had bamboozled them into. But a hotel with a pet toucan that will sit on your arm makes up for a lot.
That evening we made our way to the plaza and found a bar with a nice view. Anne and I each had a Ciaparena, and the kids had sundaes. I also discovered a really good Bolivian brown ale, Pacena Black, and despite the lost luggage, eighty-five degrees and 90% humidity (in winter), I really couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. Considering the hard day, we decided to splurge with dinner that night at Café Lorca, one of Santa Cruz’ more stylish café’s. I had fried alligator that was delicious. With drinks, the tab came to 246 Bolivianos or about $25 for the four of us.
The room at Residencial Bolivar was small but super clean with very comfortable beds and really nice staff. But for our lost luggage I might have slept well.