April 6, 2010

The Great Rio Caper - Part 1

In case you've been wondering why I've been MIA for the last two weeks, it's because we were away on vacation in Rio de Janeiro during that time. We had planned the trip last fall. Part of the purpose of the trip was to have PK visit my side of the family (most of the extended family lives in Brazil). Part of it was for grabbing a few things from my grandmother's apartment. Part of it was for dealing with some bureacratic crap. Three years ago, the last time we were down there, the hubby and I went with my parents. This time, we were also being joined by my sis and her hubby.

To be perfectly honest, I was dreading the trip. The hubby and I have been to Rio together twice before, and both trips were absolute whirlwinds. The first time we went down together, my sis and her hubby had also joined us. We were basically dragged around from one place to another by my mom, with various family commitments. We only spoke in Portuguese because of fear of being taken advantage of if the local heard any English, which meant that the boys were pretty much in the dark all the time. They ended up coining a term between the two of them called "porting". It basically means to be dragged somewhere without being told. The "port" part comes from the fact that all of this happens during a conversation in Portuguese. Pretty clever!

Another reason why I was dreading the trip was because this was the first time since my maternal grandmother died that I've been to Rio. I never made it to her funeral because PK was 2 months old at the time and I couldn't just leave her with the hubby for a couple of weeks. And I couldn't take her with me either, because she didn't have a passport. I didn't know how I would react upon seeing my grandmother's apartment again. It just all seemed very overwhelming.

And then there was the fact that the flight to Rio is a 10-hour affair, which is just an absolute nightmare in economy class, especially now that they cram everyone in like sardines (even moreso than before).

Needless to say, when people at work asked me if I was excited about my trip, I told them no. I viewed those two weeks of "vacation" as anything but.

And things started out very, very badly. It all began on the Friday before we left. I was doing the normal Friday-before-a-vacation rush. Tying up loose ends, sending out status e-mails, rushing to get some last-minute work done. As I got ready to pick up PK from daycare, I started feeling ill. Still, I managed to walk home. By the time I got home, I needed to lie down. Thankfully, the hubby was already home, so he could take PK while I rested. I felt worse and worse, and ended up puking my guts out a couple of times that evening. I began to wonder how in hell I was supposed to get on a long transcontinental flight later that weekend, feeling like that.

Fortunately, it had all subsided by Saturday, and I was able to have three meals without puking. We flew out on Sunday afternoon. There are no direct flights to Rio from Toronto, so this time around, we chose to fly through Atlanta. Since we were flying into the US, we left about 4 hours before our flight, since you have to pre-clear US customs in Toronto. Once upon a time, you could probably get away with leaving 2-3 hours before your flight to the US and still make it on time. But because of all that airline crap at Christmas, security was extra-tight. It meant pre-clearing US customs, going through security, and then going through a secondary security checkpoint where the split off the men and women and take swabs of them. Imagine doing all this with a toddler. Fun fun fun.

We finally made it through all of the security checkpoints, and in pretty good time. We had a whole 3 hours before our flight. As the flight time approached, we found out that there were mechanical problems on the Atlanta-bound plane. We had a 3-hour layover in Atlanta, so as long as we weren't too late, we could still make our connection. We kept getting updates pushing our departure time later and later. Our original departure time was 3pm. By about 4:45pm, we found out that our flight was cancelled. You can imagine the steady stream of expletives that left my mouth at that time. It didn't help that PK was hopped up on something and refused to fall asleep. She finally did fall asleep after I wheeled her around the terminal in the stroller a few times, only to be woken up by a stupid woman who backed into the stroller without looking. Effing great.

With our flight cancelled, there was still a glimmer of hope. The hubby called the airline, and they put us on the next flight to Atlanta, leaving at 5pm. This would give us a 1.5 hour connection. It was tight (which is why we didn't choose that flight to begin with), but it was still doable. But then the plane left late, because of all the people (and their bags) from our original flight who were transferred to the 5pm flight. Even with the late departure, we could still make it.

The plane took off late, but there was still hope. And then, about 15 minutes away from the Atlanta airport, the co-pilot informs us that we can't land in Atlanta due to fog. At that point, he wasn't even sure if we could land in Atlanta, because they might run out of fuel if they had to circle too long, and would have to land somewhere else. Not good. Meanwhile, PK refused to sleep, so not only am I annoyed because we might not make our connection, I've just about had it with PK.

We finally get the thumb's up to land. I've flown many many times before, and I must say that this was one of the SCARIEST landings EVER. The turbulence was terrible, so the plane was bouncing the entire time of our descent. I seriously didn't think we'd make it. PK was pretty terrified too. That's the only time during the flight when she didn't fuss. Even the actual landing was scary, because we skidded onto the runway.

So after finally landing, our next mission was to try to make that connection. The only problem is that we landed exactly when the other plane was supposed to take off. We hoped that because the Atlanta airport had been fogged in and because the Rio-bound flight was mostly made up of connecting passengers, there was still a chance that we could make the flight as they would wait a little longer before take-off.

I left the plane with PK while the hubby undid the carseat and then waited for the stroller at the gate. I swear that took forever. But when he finally emerged, we ran like CRAZY. Unfortunately, we landed in Terminal A, and our next flight was out of Terminal E. This meant that we had to take a cross-terminal train. To get to the train, you had to go down a long escalator (about 2 storeys down). Since we were in a hurry, I ran down the escalator with PK's stroller while the hubby ran down with the carseat in tow. Once we got off the train, it was the same rush back up the escalator. Once we hit the top of the escalator, I had no more energy left, but we still needed to find our gate. The gate was E1, which we thought would be right at the top of the escalator. Except that someone was playing a very cruel joke on us and it turned out that E1 was at the VERY END of the terminal. So we ran like crazy to the end of the terminal. Adrenaline sure does funny things to you. The hubby and I were just dying by the time we got to the gate. PK thought that this was a ton of fun, since I was running really fast with the stroller.

We finally made it to the gate, only to find out that the plane had left 10 minutes earlier. The gate agent had apparently tried to hold the flight for the connecting passengers, but to no avail. I don't know if that's BS, or if he genuinely did try. I'll never know. At any rate, it was back to another part of the terminal to get rebooked on the next flight out. These types of flights only run once a day, which meant that we were stuck in Atlanta for 24 hours. The airline rebooked us, and gave us a voucher for a hotel and three meals. We also got toiletry bags, because, as we found out, our bags were not going to be made available for pick-up, and were instead going to be put on the next flight (i.e. spending the night in the Atlanta airport). This meant that we were going to have to sleep in our underwear. Eeew. We at least managed to make it to some gift shop at the airport to a onesie for PK to sleep in. It was the most hideous thing I have EVER seen - a blue onesie with an American flag on it, and the words "Atlanta Baby" on the back. Eeew. I bought myself a T-shirt to sleep in.

Next up, was getting to the hotel shuttle. It was chilly outside. I'd say around 5 or 6C, and we must've waited for 20 or 30 minutes for that shuttle. Worst was the fact that nobody could tell us exactly where the shuttle would be. We were basically told that it might show up here, or here, or here. Whatever. It finally arrived, and after a seemingly-interminable drive to the hotel, we finally made it there. Only to find out that they had no cribs available. I wasn't about to have PK sleep in the bed with us, for fear of us crushing her, and we weren't going to let her sleep on a bed by herself since she might have fallen out. So we asked if they could find a solution for us.

After dealing with all the other stranded passengers checking into the hotel, the woman at the desk told us that another hotel had a crib, and all we had to do was take the shuttle back to the airport, and then take another shuttle to the new hotel. That's when we lost it on her and started yelling. I totally broke down. Between the stomach flu, PK being crabby, the cancelled flight, and the missed connection, this was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Obviously we didn't accomplish anything by yelling at this woman, and just wound up pissing her off. We ended up taking a cab to the other hotel, which took forever. By the time we got to the other hotel, it was 11pm. We were tired, hungry, and stinky. The staff at the second hotel were super-nice. Maybe because they got a call from the other hotel about the psychotic couple and their toddler.

PK finally made it to bed at 11:30pm, and we got to bed just after midnight, after ordering some pizza using the airline vouchers. It was disgusting pizza, but it was food. After a good night's sleep and a nice shower in the morning, I felt a lot less annoyed than I did the day before. Still, we were stuck in Atlanta until 9pm, and we needed to kill time.

We opted not to stay at the hotel, because there was less running room for PK. So after breakfast, we packed up, and headed back to the airport. We got there just in time for lunch. Then we went through security (again), and opted to walk to the terminal, rather than take the train. This was good, because PK got a bit of a nap out of it. The next few hours were a blur, but they basically consisted of us taking turns running after PK while the other person watched the bags.

We finally made it onto our Rio-bound flight at 9pm. The flight sucked, as these long flights usually do. They are long and uncomfortable. The food is served way too late, so I never really eat. PK was pretty restless, and was moaning/crying for a good chunk of the flight in her carseat. Until the hubby decided to pull her out of her carseat and have her sleep on his lap. She snuggled right in and fell asleep. I took the second shift. We later found out that while PK is okay to fall asleep in the carseat for short periods of time, she is a stomach sleeper, which means that the carseat isn't really a good place for a long sleep, as far as she's concerned.

By the time we landed, we were running on fumes. But did make it. And so did our bags. To be continued...

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