There and Back Again…

250px-Flag_of_Costa_Rica_(state).svgThe trip to Costa Rica has come to an end.  And what an end it was.  After a two-hour delay in the terminal before being allowed to board our plane (our flight was to have left at 2:40pm), we had another two-hour wait onboard while the ground crew worked on a “maintenance” issue (by now it is getting close to 5:00pm).  As it turned out, there was a small chip in one of the jet engine fan blades that the ground crew was trying to file smooth.  After finishing their handiwork, they sent pictures of the final masterpiece to US Airways command central who promptly grounded the flight.

So…more than 4 hours past departure time, 200+ people got off the airplane, gathered their luggage from the luggage carousel, and were asked to gather at the check-in counter in the main lobby.  Liberia, Costa Rica is a very small airport…probably smaller than Harrisburg’s.  Sunset in Costa Rica at this time of the year is about 6:00pm.  The airport literally closes down after the last flight leaves and some maintenance person must have had no idea there were 200+ people standing in the lobby.  Like clockwork, at the daily appointed time, all the lights went out in the airport !!!  There we were with luggage in hand, not a clue about what was to happen next, and standing in the dark.

The lights were finally restored, but little information was forth coming from US Airways.  Unknown to us, the Costa Rican staff was working feverishly behind the scenes to find hotel space for everyone for the night.  Consider that Costa Rica is not like the USA in that there is a hotel on practically every corner surrounding the airport.  The one or two that were there were already full.  The airline made arrangements for four large buses to transport passengers to hotels where they could find space. By this time, everyone is a bit cranky.

I overheard a bus driver telling a taxi driver that he was instructed to take his busload to Tamarindo.  Now just having spent two months traveling the countryside, I knew that Tamarindo was about a 1.5 hour bus ride…in each direction…from the airport.  Those poor folks would have to get up at 3:30am in order to make the trip back to the airport as we were told to be there at 6:00am.  I didn’t intend to be among them.

Tourism is Costa Rica’s number one industry and it seems like everyone in the industry knows everyone else (it’s a small country).  So…instead of enduring a torturous bus trip, I walked over to a taxi driver and gave him $20 to call any local hotel he knew of in Liberia (close to the airport) where we could get a room for the night.  Not surprisingly, as it turned out, he knew a guy, who knew a guy, that had a cousin who owned a small hotel ten minutes from the airport.  Within 15 minutes, we were at the front desk of the hotel (very tiny, spartan, but exceptionally clean).  I gave the taxi driver another $40 for saving us from a bus trip from hell.  The room was $55.  Although we didn’t get the airline vouchers for meals, a few bags of Lay’s potato chips, Doritos, and some diet Pepsi (Pepsi Light in Costa Rica) from the hotel lobby and we were just as happy.

The proprietor even made arrangements for a “taxi” at 5:00am to get us back to the airport…I’m sure another cousin.  As we were pulling out of the parking lot onto the main road to the airport, I noticed the taxi driver crossed himself and said a silent prayer.  It felt slightly foreboding but I was hoping for the best.

As the buses arrived around 6:00am and started to disgorge their passengers, again 200+ people gathered in the lobby in front of the airline check-in counter.  As if the events of the day before weren’t enough, the airline gods smiled down upon us one more time and made the entire computer system go down…that is not work, zip, nada, nothing.  No reservations could be pulled up on screen.  In fact, the screens appeared blank.  Now the Tico people as a society are some of the kindest, gentlest souls you’ll ever want to meet.  In all the time we were there, nary an angry word was heard.  With their usual smiling good nature and doing everything they could to help we poor, lost folks, they managed to check everyone in manually using their cell phones to talk with the US Airways gods…for each and every passenger.  Frustrating as it was, the ticket counter crew could not have been nicer in the face of a lot of angry people.

Through much hoopla, angst, and not a small amount of frustration on the part of the passengers, our plane finally showed up…and you guessed it, late.  We never got off the ground until 10:40am amid cheers from the weary folks as the wheels went up.  We arrived in Charlotte, NC about 5:00pm and had to clear customs.

Having had more than enough of the airline’s hospitality and being herded like cattle through airport chutes, we decided to rent a car in Charlotte, NC and drive the final leg to our son’s house in Ashburn, VA about six hours away.  As it turns out, it was a smart move.  Unknown to us at the time, our connecting flight was further delayed 6 hours (i.e., we’d be sitting in the airport yet again), and never left Charlotte until 10:59PM.  In the end, we arrived at our son’s house just minutes (literally) after our connecting flight touched down at the Dulles Airport.

Rough ending to our trip, but we made it safe and sound albeit a bit frazzled for the wear.

Bilbo would be proud.  Although we encountered no trolls, no dragons, and did not return with a hoard of dragon plunder, we had an adventure…a very un-Baggins thing to do.

Pura Vida !!!