The long flight home

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Thursday began early and descended quickly into a familiar kind of nightmare. We had asked the casa owner to book us a taxi to the international airport at 2:30 a.m. So we rose at 2 a.m., and half an hour later we were still leaning over the rail of the balcony, peering out along the dark, empty street.

Just as we were starting to wonder what Plan B might look like, a 1950s Chevrolet lumbered onto the cobblestones below us. We piled in with our expanded load of luggage and began our long trip home to Sydney. It’s hard to know exactly how fast the old clunker went because the speedo didn’t work, but every bolt and panel rattled as we sped through the dark streets of Havana. The driver didn’t say a word and neither did we.

…comin’ for to carry us home

When we arrived at the airport, there was the usual confusion about where to queue and what time the check-in desks might open. When we finally reached the front of the queue and handed over our passports we were informed that our names were not on the list of passengers. We explained that we had a confirmed ticket on the flight and produced our itinerary. The attendant then pointed us to an office in the furthest corner of the departures hall and suggested that there was someone there who might be able to help us.

It was dark in the office and it seemed deserted. Susie managed to ascertain through the gloom, however, that there was a person asleep at a desk inside. She tapped on the counter and this elicited some gentle groaning sounds consistent with someone returning gradually to conscious life. After what seemed like an eternity, a woman behind the counter had donned her uniform jacket and woken up sufficiently to ask us what our business was. We did our best to explain, calmly in our broken Spanish. As she listened, she booted up an ancient computer that took even longer than her to wake up. She took our passports and began typing in queries and umming and ah-ing like she was piecing together shards of ancient pottery.

We eventually surmised that Air Cubana had cancelled our flight out of Cuba because we had not arrived in Cuba on 1 May, the day we were due to arrive. We explained that we had not arrived on 1 May because Air Cubana had overbooked the flight from Mexico, and we had to wait for the next flight which left 24 hours later and landed us in Havana on 2 May. Our sleuth was able to verify all of this, and perhaps had managed to piece the fiasco together herself. In any case, she also seemed sufficiently empowered to restore our names to the flight list. And when she had done this, she sent us back to the counter from whence we came.

We had loved our stay in Cuba and even while we were battling the airline bureaucracy in the early hours of the morning, we were sad to leave.

In the departure lounge in Mexico airport I found a food outlet that had tacos on the menu and Bohemia beer on the drinks list. The prices were outlandish, but they accepted debit cards and the food and beer tasted thoroughly Mexican. We were immediately transported back to 1987 and we forgot all about air Cubana and their infernal stale cheese sandwiches. We toasted Clare who was somewhere in Mexico, no doubt munching down a delicious taco. And then we ordered another Bohemia.

Gracias Mexico

The stopover in LA airport was 9 hours. The immigration queue looked like an anatomical model of a small intestine, and there were two and a half officers on duty. Once we had passed through the gate, having been fingerprinted, photographed and thoroughly cavity-searched with radioactive probes, we had to find a way to kill time in a facility where there is not enough seats for all the poor arses lost in transit.

After some sleuthing, Susie ascertained that there was one bar in the airport. It was located downstairs on the arrivals level. So we scammed a luggage trolley and made our way there. The prices completely re-calibrated our understanding of the term ‘expensive’: the bill came to almost AUD$100 for a couple of undersized glasses of red wine, a bowl of guacamole with corn chips, and two mini-pizzas. But it gave us access to valuable real estate: we had somewhere warm and comfortable to sit for the stopover.

The final leg of the journey was the true test of endurance, however. Los Angeles to Sydney is one of the longest commercial flights in the world, and oh boy did our arses know it. Even though we had an empty seat between us, we found it difficult to get comfortable. We tried to hypnotise ourselves with films and Irish Whisky from the drinks trolley (which tastes like turpentine compared to Cuban rum), but in the end it was just an endurance test. And perhaps the one thing that was worse than being cramped was listening to all the coughing and spluttering and sneezing around us, knowing that there was no way we were going to get off that flight without a respiratory infection.

When we arrived at Sydney airport, the machines that read E-passports were malfunctioning ; we were both succumbing to the pneumonic plague; one piece of luggage was temporarily lost, and the wind blew cold rain at us as we queued for a taxi.

Ah, the jet-setting lifestyle!

It seems befitting to end this recount on a sweet note, however. This was indeed one of the best holidays we have ever had, and when we arrived home, our eldest daughter, Ruby, was there to greet us. This was an unexpected and happy reunion.

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