Monday, March 10, 2008

Air Canada Angel

We spent the afternoon at a hotel, grabbing some much needed rest, before heading back to the airport for our standby flight. We certainly were not anticipating getting a seat. We took a chance and stopped by the customer service desk to see if we could plead our case. You will never believe this... Not only did he confirm a seat for us in less than five minutes, but he also upgraded us to executive class. Go figure!

Air Canada Continued

The reason that Air Canada is going down the tubes like a subway off it's tracks, is because it's employees wear such uncomfortable clothes. Their garments are way too tight and their shoes are built for style rather than comfort. This makes them crabby after about the first hour of their shift.

We arrived at the airport in Santiago at 1700 hours yesterday. This was the time that the buses dropped us off. This time their were 600 people lined up because there were all of the people from the previous days canceled flight and all of the people for the regular 8:00 daily flight to Toronto. Of course the agents had not even started to check people in. Both flights were late getting off the ground. Our agent took our boarding passes from the previous day (the ones to get us to Deer Lake) and replaced them with ONE boarding pass to Toronto. When I questioned her about this she said I had to pick up my other two in Toronto. This was my first mistake. Then she told us we could not have our seats that had been reserved yesterday because there was new seating and she put Sean on one side of the plane and me behind him on the opposite side. Mistake number two was not insisting on yesterdays seating. Pay attention now so that you do not make the same mistakes that we did.

When we finally boarded, the crew were contrary due to the straight jackets and bound feet and the disruption in their schedule, so of course they took it out on the passengers for inconveniencing them. Poor Sean sat next to a woman in the early stages of Alzheimer Disease. I think that someone upstairs was shining down on her because there were 299 other people that she could have had in the adjoining seat. Sean may occasionally be a Douche Tard but he is the kindest Douche Tard I have ever met. He made surethat she did not become dehydrated and that her food was unwrapped and eaten. He listened patiently to her repetitive stories for eleven hours. Her family has no idea how lucky they were to have had such a kind and patient caregiver watching over their Mom. He, on the other hand, did not get a wink of sleep. The SCREECHING baby in front did not help matters.

And then we landed and the games began. Customs was a nitemare and that was the best part. Just outside the customs area the whole flight was lined up like cattle waiting to be re booked and there were no flights available because of the storm that just blew thru. We were shuffled from lineup to lineup until we finally got our turn with a ticket agent. I knew we were in trouble when she asked where we were going and after hearing our reply looked at the agent next to her and askedher if Air Canada flew into Deer Lake. By now we had been standing in lineups for 5 hours without being able to go to the washroom or get a drink. This woman insisted that we were delayed due to weather and not mechanical difficulty and could find no flight records on either of us. We were not in the system. After a half hour of her playing with her computer (I think she was just emailing her friends) she said her shift was over and that she was going home. The agent next to her took us over. By now, everyone else on our flight was processed and gone. And due to the weather problems any seats that we could have had were taken. The new agent started from scratch and also could not grasp that we were in this situation due to mechanical problems and kept telling us that most people were understanding about the weather. When she eventually said that we were holding up the lineup and that there were other travelers to process, I got a little testy. I think she got the point then. She put us on standby for a direct flight tonite but we know that we do not have a hope in hell of getting on. Everything else has been left hanging. No confirmed flight in the wings.... we just go back to the airport and wait.

One would think that if a few guys with box cutters could put a stop to all air traffic for a week, that 25 million Canadians could unite and bring Air Canada down. If I could afford it, I would take out a nation wide television ad, laced with sarcasm, showing how Air Canada is not happy until their customers are stripped of all dignity and at their wits end.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Air Cnada sucks in South America, too

We arrived at the airport in Buenos Airies, three hours ahead of time, as we were supposed to, but of course the Air Canada ticket agents were not at their posts and by the time they did arrive all 300 passengers were lined up thruout the airport waiting. We were lucky enough to be the 7th in line because Sean is militant about time, but there were elderly people and mothers with babies who were not so fortunate. They were well down the line. We knew then that the flight would be late because there was no way that the agents could process that many people in an hour and a half. And they certainly were not in a hurry. I had already reconciled myself to the fact that we would miss our connection in Toronto and that I would miss seeing Zack before he returned to school. We did eventually get off the ground and landed safely in Santiago. It was a beautiful flight. We disembarked at the airport there and re boarded an hour later, only to sit on the runway for 3 hours while mechanics tried to fix the pressurization. At 11:00 they finally decided that it needed a new part that they didn't have in stock here so the flight would be canceled. Of course they did not offer us a drink or a cookie in all that time and there were screeching babies and women with perfume overload just to add to the aggravation. Once they did decide to cancel, we had to get off and go thru immigration and customs because there are no exceptions to the rules here. That was hell! There is a reciprocity fee here of $120US per person just to get into the country. They told me I could go on thru, but that Sean would have to line up to pay it. It took awhile, but I finally found someone (he was kind of hot, too) who could speak English and explain that the reason that I did not have to pay it was because I paid it two years ago and it is good for the lifetime of your passport. I sat down to wait for Sean who was at the very end of the 300 person lineup. You would think there would be some kind of pardon for passengers stranded due to no fault of their own, or that Air Canada would have taken care of it, but no. I was dying of thirst but there was nowhere to buy a drink and I couldn't if I wanted to because I had no Chilean pesos. I found a money exchange and changed $20 which in retrospect was a mistake because we are here for the day with no money to do anything. The hot guy saw me sitting and waiting for Sean and he went and hauled him out of the lineup and brought him over and had his passport stamped and let us go thru. Still can't figure out why unless it was because we were the only people in the lineup not freaking out. You really do get further with honey than vinegar. From there it got worse because nobody knew where we were going or how we were to get there and there is very little English spoken here. The screeching babies only added to the chaos. When we did get thru we were told there would be an Air Canada agent waiting outside to tell us where we should go. HA! Nobody. Sean stayed with the baggage while I went looking for her. I noticed a drink machine and stopped because I was so thirsty, only to find the ticket agent hiding in a nook nearby behind the stairs. She was wearing those ridiculous spike heeled shoes so her back and legs were probably killing her but I had little sympathy.... I wanted to impale here on the freaking heels! Finally got to the hotel (The Raddison which was a bit of a consolation prize) only to find another lineup of other Air Canada stranded passengers waiting to check in. When we finally got into the room I went straight to the bar to get some water only to find it locked. Sean went to locate a key and was told that it was locked because Air Canada does not cover that. We had to give them our credit card before they would open it. So guys.... Air Canada sucks everywhere, not just Atlantic Canada.

All that said, my father tells me that Toronto is stormed in anyway and I can think of a lot worse places to be stuck than sunny, scenic Santiago.

My email has been down for four days so I can't communicate thru it, but I can thru my blog, so feel free to post a comment. That remark is especially directed toward my children who I would love to hear from. Latest news is that we leave here 8:00 tonite, but I am not counting on anything.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Action in Buenos Aires at Midnite

I have yet to figure out when the people of Buenos Aires actually sleep. Nobody goes out for their evening meal till eleven at nite. The only people that you see in restaurants before ten o'clock are tourists and the streets are alive at midnite. Sean and I went to an outdoor cafe last nite for cena (supper). The streets were jammed with people and cars. We barely found a table and this city is maggoty with outdoor cafes and restaurants. At that hour, people are sitting down to a full meal of appetizers, large entrees and desserts, not to mention the wine and beer that is normal with every meal except breakfast. We have decided that the women here must throw up regularly. There is no possible way to maintain their figures with their eating habits. They look like waifs. Even the clothing in the shops is designed for a skeleton. A skeleton with boobs, of course. While shopping yesterday we noticed that there seems to be more clothing stores for men than women. Doesn't THAT say something!

I digress. At midnite there are children as young as five wandering around with arm loads of roses, individually wrapped, trying to sell them to diners. These children are everywhere. They must be making sales or they would not be at it. (An aside.... yesterday we saw a little boy who could not have been more than four, working the streets in Palermo with a case of little shooter glasses in the shapes of bears. You should have seen him sell! And we didn't get a photo!) There are mothers with infants out begging on every corner. Young and old alike are walking the crammed streets.

We went into a bookstore around midnite and the place was swarming with customers. AT MIDNITE! And EVERYBODY smokes... everywhere. I don't think there are any places off limits.

This is quite a city. As much as I love Argentina, I will not miss Buenos Aires. Too big, too noisy, too fast and far to superficial for my taste.

We head for home today. I will try to add some photos to each of my blogs later. If we miss our connection in Toronto (1 hour and 25 minutes to make it) I will do it then. Everybody say a little prayer for us to make it. I want to see Zack before he leaves to go back to Fredericton.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Driving and parking in Buenos Aries

My apologies for going on and on about the driving but I can't help myself. When Jess and I traveled we were too cheap to take taxis so this trip is kind of novel for me. We took the cab ride from hell today. Picture Park Street... got it? Now picture three (not two) lanes of traffic weaving their way thru it at 70km per hour. Now throw in some motor cycles and scooters weaving there way thru that chaos... And just to get the complete picture, we will add people on bicycles. Few of the two wheelers are wearing helmets and the ones who are wearing them are only doing so because they need something to glue their cell phones to. And then there are the guys who have their dogs sitting on the front of their motorcycle with them! Now that you have a mental image of that, watch out for the guy backing out of the Poole Althouse parking lot.... everybody swerves to the left, but nobody reduces their speed. I will say one thing for the drivers here... they are in tune with what is going on around them. They are like air traffic controllers.

The parking is the coolest thing. Even tho there is a lot of green space in this city, every other inch is used. There is not a spot big enough to squeeze a dime into. Needless to say, parking cars can be a challenge. Because there is no space on the street, there are parking garages everywhere. You drive your car just inside the garage, get out, give your keys to the attendant and leave. A jack is then mechanically moved under your car and it acts as an elevator and a forklift. Each car is moved into a block so that the rear view mirrors are touching. Not enough space to open the door if you had to. The cars look like Lego blocks stacked on top of one another. A tower of cars!

The things I will miss most about Huingan-Co

-The scent of Lavender during the heat of the afternoon.
-Carito (goat) cooked in an outdoor oven fueled by wood. The best meat in the world.
-Being called the Canadian Senora.
-The breeze in the Catalpa trees. It sounds like soft rain.
-The 'Saurus' wine. A wine that has taken its name from the dinosaur bones that were discovered by the land owners where the grapes are grown.
-The nite sky.
-Meals in the mess hall and the lively conversation that took place there.
-The crisp white shirts and neatly pressed pants of the men. In a mountainside town with mud roads it is a wonder to see.
-The hitchhikers.
-The blue of the Rio Neuquen.
-The kitten that adopted me at the Troutcha (Trout) farm.
-The people of the town who all waved from their vechicles or geeted me with a friendly 'Hola' when they passed.
-The sing song speech of the spanish.
-And, believe it or not, the kissing. A North American handshake is such a cold greeting.
-The mountains. Definitely the mountains.
-Afternoon siestas.
-Sylvanie, Diego, Veronica, Eduardo, Gracila, Sabrina and Lilliana.
-But most of all, Emiliano, Andrea and Emilio. My Argentine family.

The night before we left Emiliano quietly presented Sean and I with gifts that he had purchased for us. Keychains, made from the wood of the local ponderosa pine. He chose those because he said they contained the keys to Neuquen, so that we could always find our way back.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Poor Sean

I feel like Nero. Was it Nero that fiddled while Rome burned? I have seen more of Argentina in one day that Sean has seen since we arrived. While in Huingan-Co, all he saw was the inside of the library, which is much smaller than my house. He worked from dawn till dark. The last day we were there, he started at 7:30am and finished at 11:00 pm. It wasn't till midnite that we had supper. To put the frosting on the cake, the day we left, a field trip was planned for everyone at the workshop. It was on the way to Neuquen, but it was along the scenic route. At the last moment a meeting was planned for him with the blah, blah, blah... some guys in white shirts and ties and he had to fast track back to make the meeting in time. While I was seeing some of the most phenomenal geological formations on the continent, and viewing the highest volcano (at 4000 feet) in Argentina, and watching real live gauchos, complete with black sombreros and balloon pants herd cattle, and sitting in the middle of the road while waiting for flocks (flocks? herds?) of goats to cross, and seeing the vast ranches which are breath taking, and seeing the teeny, tiniest, lonely shacks in the remotest of places complete with solar panels or windmills, and visiting a world class ski resort and gathering pine nuts on the floor of one of the last Aurucaria forests in the world, Sean was planning strategies in the highspeed truck with John and Monica. Poor Sean. He did get a consolation prize, tho. While eating supper at an outside cafe in Nuequen he saw two guys get into a fight across the street and one of them got shot. He always has to win!