Well we've been back for 2 weeks now and I believe I'm finally caught up. This was actually the best Vision Trip I've been on, partly due to the make up of the group and partly due to "refining" the trip from feed back from previous participants. It also helped that the WX in Shell co-operated so we could fly out to the Jungle on our first full day there. That takes a lot of pressure off since that's one of the primary things we want to accomplish. And the final reason was we had a wonderful place to stay while in Shell (thanks Tracey!!). I've actually already booked the place for next year's trip - let's hope they're still in business. :)
Of course the trip started out with a bang as both the American Airline flights from Miami to Quito were canceled due to Volcanic Activity. I later found out that neither Continental nor Delta canceled their flights so I did a bit more investigating. Come to find out that the Tungurahua Volcano did erupt and the ash all blew to the west, covering (and closing) the Guayaquil airport. Since American uses GYE as their alternate for Quito they had to cancel the flights b/c they didn't have an alternate available (check out the Instrument flight rules in the FARs regarding alternates!). Neither Continental nor Delta use GYE as their alternate so they were both OK to fly to Quito (UIO).
As I called around trying to find hotel rooms, I quickly realized this was Friday night of Memorial Day weekend. Our Travel Agent couldn't find any rooms at a hotel that had an airport shuttle either and I was beginning to wonder if I'd have to rent a van as well as get some hotel rooms.
But having been stuck overnight in Miami a few times before due to American Airlines issues, I remembered that AA put me up in the Wyndham. And one of those times I actually filled out the paperwork to become a Wyndham "By Request" partner. So I called the Wyndham (who our travel agent had already tried but was told they were sold out) explained the situation, gave them the magic number (actually they had to look it up b/c I didn't even have it with me!) and voila, 6 rooms! It's really true that hotels (and airlines) give preference to their "regular" guests!
We ate a quick (expensive) meal and got to bed early since our flight was scheduled to leave at 6am. A 4 am departure for the airport got us there in plenty of time and I learned something new....TSA doesn't open the screening lines at MIA until 4:30. At least we were near the front of the line! :)
After boarding it looked like we were all set to go. I figured we'd arrive in UIO at 9am (local) and only loose a couple of hours from the schedule I had planned for Saturday morning. But "Plan B" wasn't to be as we experienced a "bag pull".
For those of you who have never had that joy, let me explain. According to International regulations (probably due to the Pan Am Flight 103 - Lockerbie, Scotland experience) checked baggage is not allowed to travel if the passenger who checked it is not on the flight. Well 4 people had checked in Friday afternoon with checked baggage who didn't show up Saturday morning. The pilot guessed they were local Miami folks who didn't want to bother with having to get up early, etc. So we were held up until the baggage handlers (who are paid by the hour) unloaded all the bags from the holds one by one looking for the "offending" ones. The Captain (who obviously had been through this before) said it should take 30 - 45 minutes. I don't think he'd been through it before in MIA b/c our "efficient" baggage handlers took over 2 hours to find the missing bags.
Now you might have read about the new regulations concerning passengers "stuck" on the tarmac. After 1 hour the airline has to provide food and drink. So even though we were going to get breakfast once we were airborne (Internationally they still feed you!) we each were offered a granola bar and glass of water. We later were told by the cabin crew that the new regs don't apply if you're still sitting at the gate (that's how new the regs are - even the airlines aren't sure what they say!).
At sometime after 8:30 we were actually airborne and on our way. And for one of the very few times that I can remember, I slept sitting up on an airplane. I have slept a few times when I've had a front facing window, but usually have real problems if it's a side facing window. :)
We arrived in Ecuador just fine with all our luggage (but later found out that there were items missing from the luggage) and started our trip 5 hours behind the schedule. So after moving on to plan C (and D and E) it ended up being a wonderful trip.
I won't give too much detail so as to not spoil the surprises for anyone who might read this and then participate in the coming years. If you do have any interest in finding out what Missionary Aviation looks like up close and personal, consider going on one of the many Vision Trips that MAF offers each summer (we usually go to Kalimantan, Lesotho, Ecuador, and other places as well). Just contact your local recruiter or the MAF recruiting department directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.