The alarm went off at 2:15 and by 3:15 (having hit snooze a couple of times!) we were in a taxi to the airport. Because we want to move on earlier than our original itinerary says we have had trouble getting tickets confirmed for Quito to Miami leg of our trip. Miami to Montreal is OK and confirmed. As such we have to go on standby - a new experience for us and not one that I really want to repeat.
We were advised to get to the airport as early as possible to maximise our chance of getting seats. The taxi dropped us off at 3:30, thirty minutes before the check in hall opens. Stef's German tendencies kicked in after ten minutes. Two groups of what looked like teachers (from their uniforms) arrived and took up position by the entrance to check in. He huffed and started to grumble that it meant we were not first in the queue. We joined the queue and then were told that there were two entrances. A family of four were the only people at the other entrance so we went to join them, As you would expect, the door with the short queue was not opened for about five minutes after the door with the big queue. A full five minutes of Stef huffing!! I had checked the departures board and there were four other flights scheduled to leave before the one we wanted but even knowing this did not help to keep him calm!
Once we made it into the arrivals hall we were the first in the queue for American Airlines, by a good ten minutes. It was about another fifteen minutes before their check in desk opened. Being an American airline security was tight and Stef had his bag manually searched. Then the long wait began. We were checked in on standby for the 6:59am flight (it was now about 4:20am) but with no guarantee of seats. If that flight is full then we will be bumped to standby on the 9:40am flight. If that is full it will be the same story tomorrow.
We paid our departure taxes and went through immigration then hit the cafe for breakfast. This in itself was a shock to the senses as the place was heaving with Americans going home (one of the other flights was to Houston). Even this early in the day they were loud and obnoxious! We spent a tense couple of hours waiting to see if we would get on the flight. They boarded all passengers but there were still more than ten people left in the lounge, all on standby. We were glad we had got there early especially as we were the first to be confirmed on the flight.
Our seats were at the back and we were behind each other rather than next to each other. I spent the next five hours contemplating Stef's receding hair situation in between dozing. The back of his head is quite interesting. There are a couple of little tufty bits where I am sure the hair is growing back! His skin here is like soft leather and its a very relaxing feeling to stroke his head!
At Miami there was a noticeable change in the weather. Even in the plane you could feel a massive increase in heat and humidity. The airport terminal was not much cooler. Even thought we were only passing through we still had to go through US immigration. The main hall was packed and they did not seem to have many people on duty. My relief that we were sent through to a different room for transit customers was soon squashed. Only one desk was open and the guy behind it was probably the slowest administration person I have so far come across. A second desk opened up, equally slow, then a third and fourth. People were getting very cross and anxious that they would miss their connections.
The whole process was painful. The immigration officer who "processed" us liked to make small talk and crack jokes. Not really what you want when you are hot, tired and want to get it over with. We had our fingerprints scanned which I was not happy about as it made me feel like a criminal! Our passports were checked and stamped and we had to fill in various forms. When our hand baggage was scanned we also had to remove our shoes and put them through before walking through the metal detector in our socks.
We had a sticky wait for our connection on to Montreal. Not being the slimmest of people in the world we were both taken aback at the size of some of the people in the airport. Their systems must be working so hard to keep them going. On the flight from Quito one Ecuadorian man was refusing to sit in his seat and asking to be moved because the American woman next to him was so huge he could not get into his seat. On the first flight I had been sat next to a lady from a Christian aid organisation who sponsored children in Ecuador and ran projects to help them break the cycle of poverty. One hundred and fifty of their group had been in Ecuador over the weekend - hence the reason why the flights was so full. On the flight to Montreal I sat next to a very tanned lady who lived in the Cayman Islands. She was off to Montreal to spend them week with a friend who was coming over from Paris.
Our flight out of Miami was delayed by about thirty minutes due to bad weather. A thunderstorm was within five miles of the airport and no ground staff are allowed outside in those conditions. Our flight was uneventful. Not, as we later found out, the same story for an Air France flight to Toronto - there were problems, it broke up, set alight and created airport chaos for a while. Miraculously no one died.
|Bienvenue a Canada!|
When we collected our bags a new problem awaited us. American Airlines had managed to inflict a fair amount of damage. The bottom of Stef's was badly ripped and mine had a couple of nasty nicks too. At the airline desk we encountered our first taste of France in Canada. Their staff could not give a toss that they had trashed our bags. They were not quick in coming forward with solutions to sort the problem out - they simply said our backpacks could go into big plastic bags each time we checked them in. We had to explain a couple of times that we were traveling for another ten months and that as well as flying we would be going by bus, train, car etc so the plastic bag route was not an option. The just did not understand (or did not want to) that this was a problem for us. After being referred to as "her" a few times my patience was wearing thin. They were just so rude and dismissive. Finally they gave us the details of a company we could go to to get the bags repaired, American Airlines will pick up the tab. I think it was only our persistence that got that result. At least we had our bags. A fair number of people from our flight were complaining about lost luggage. American Airlines were equally rude and dismissive of them.
Not knowing if we would get to Montreal today we had not booked a hotel. We went to tourist information at the airport who gave us a brochure with hotel listings but they were too busy to help us with bookings, presumably due to the knock on effect of flights being transferred from Toronto. By this time it was about 7:00pm local time and we were both tired and tetchy. We plumped for a safe if pricey option (Days Inn on Rene Levesque) and took a taxi downtown.
We checked in, dumped bags and headed out for food. As we were on the corner of China Town we went for a Chinese. Days Inn + Chinese was also how we spent our first night in South America. It was really tasty food - hot and spicy soup, prawns, chicken sort of deep fried in batter with a sauce that was a cross between sweet and sour and barbecue, and lots of jasmine tea. It well and truly hit the spot and helped us to nod off quickly when we got back to our room.