You may have noticed we take a lot of our inspiration from songs. “Keep movin', movin', movin', Though they're disapprovin', Keep them doggies movin', Rawhide!” It all sounds like fun, but the stress of international travel (with 6 bags and 2 real canine-type doggies) was enormous. We're so happy to be through it!
This wasn't exactly a Murphy's Law type trip where everything went wrong, but we found that we hadn't planned any extra time in it, that's for sure. We left the condo in Roatan, Honduras at a comfortable 10 am after having cleaned it up and put the keys in the gas grill as directed. I hope nobody pre-heated the grill...
By 10:30 we were at the airport, about 2 ½ hours ahead of flight time. We unloaded our bags, paid our driver Frankie, and hauled our bags inside. A very “helpful” guy grabbed some of our bags and showed us where the American Airlines line was. On the trip across the large room he managed to drop every bag he touched (three of our six). I tipped him but I'm not sure why. After inching along for 30 minutes in the line he took us to, we found out that because of the dogs, we needed to be in a different line over at the AA counter.
The Roatan airport is on the large side for an island airport. It consists mostly of 3 large rooms, one for incoming flights (including immigration), one for ticketing/check-in (counters, kiosks, a coffee shop, ATM), and finally the terminal room for outgoing flights (including a passport and security “hallway” on the way). We hauled all six of our bags all the way back across the ticketing/check-in room to the AA counter, amazingly without dropping a single one.
Almost immediately we found this “hauling” of bags (some call it schlepping) has to be initiated in the right order. First, put on your backpack and click the waist strap and chest strap. Then put a dog (in soft carrier bag) over your head and shoulder and grab the XL rolling duffel handle with the hand on the dog side. Finally, pick up the medium size non-rolling duffel with the other hand. Each of us has this same setup. The dogs are around 10 lbs in their carriers, the backpacks around 20, and the medium duffel is around 30 lbs. The rolling duffels are now around 40 lbs due to some offloading (were 45+ when the adventures began), but fortunately we don't have to carry them. We were each walking with an extra 60 lbs of load, protecting 10 lbs of it (our furry cargo), and pulling something. And Deb will be the first to say her backpack was 2 lbs more than mine, and her dog was 3 lbs more – not sure how that happened, but it's a good thing she's in shape! 🙂
We got to the counter, paid a few hundred extra bucks for dogs and checked bags, and went through Honduras migration and security (where I had to sacrifice a small pair of scissors to the TSA Gods). Deb was surprised we still got TSA pre-check when we got to Miami! We finally sat down in the overcrowded terminal room, bought a bottle of water, and noticed our plane was boarding early. Whew, we made it! 2 1/2 hours gone in a blink. We boarded the Boeing 737 and flew for an hour and 40 minutes to Miami – just like that, yay! back on U.S. soil!
We had a 2 1/2 hour layover there before catching our flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. We didn't know how this was going to work, whether our bags would go all the way to San Juan (oh please, oh please!), or if we had to pick them up in Miami. Well, after lots of walking and trying to go the wrong way, and wondering and talking each other off of various cliffs, we eventually found out that yes, because we had to go through Customs, we had to pick them up and haul them around to re-check them to go to San Juan. The stress at that point was very high and we had to keep telling ourselves even though we didn't know what was going on, it would work out. Just breathe, trust this wacky system, keep going, and it will work out. And it did work out. We got immigrated and the USCBP (U.S. Customs & Border Protection) agent was a Puertoriqueno! He was very friendly and excited for us to go see his home. He wanted to see our papers from Honduras showing the dogs were healthy, but that was about it. We didn't get passport stamps so that was mildly disappointing – if you're going through all those hoops, you oughtta at least get a passport stamp!
Once we finally cleared all that, we were free in the Miami airport, one we've been through before and like. So we got a sandwich and a water, went to our gate, and took a seat. It was around 6 pm at this point. Once again, we saw people lining up to board early, and the next thing we knew we were on the plane to San Juan. It was the 2 1/2 hour layover that wasn't! We didn't run through either of these two airports, but we sure didn't have any time to rest. But once again on the plane, we could relax as we flew 2 1/2 hours over to San Juan.
And once again, when we got there we had to pick up our bags and haul them, this time to the taxi stand. A pleasant note for us was that the taxi stand handed us a ticket which showed our taxi would be $22 to the hotel. No watching the GPS to see if they were running us around in circles, no watching the meter as it rose and rose, we already knew the price. Actually, the taxi drivers in San Juan were all super friendly and really took some of our stress down.
We arrived at the hotel to meet a very nice young man (everyone's young to me now!) named Gustavo who checked us in and helped haul our bags up to the third floor. I had my backpack, the XL duffel with wheels (which did me no good) and a medium duffel to negotiate the narrow twisting stairwell. So I had 90 lbs of bags and I felt every one of them! At one point I started leaning back downhill and Gustavo had to push me back upright! Deb had her backpack, and the Littles so I guess she got me back for her heavier bags earlier in the day. I can say by that point I was very near exhaustion, caused by the bags, the long day, and the stress. But with a lot of huffing and puffing we made it up there. A quick settling in to our tiny room and we were off to the corner restaurant for a local beer (Medalla) and a margarita. It was 11pm and we deserved it!
But no rest for the wicked (I guess a little) and we were up early getting a muffin at a modern health food store (the fanciest store we'd seen in months). The small slice of San Juan we saw reminded us of other modern cities like Miami or LA. It had a nice vibe to it, young people jogging in the morning, coffee shops, modern hotels. This was all new to us, or new again! We had just enough time for a quick dog walk to the beach a block away. It was a windy stormy morning but still beautiful there.
BTW, both taxi drivers were super friendly and proud of their Puerto Rican home. They brushed off the loss of power for themselves (San Juan is pretty well energized now) but showed concern for other citizens who are now still without it 4 months after the big storm. We think we're going to have a lot of fun learning Puerto Rican Spanish since just understanding their English is a challenge! It's a very flowing style, in Spanish or English, where words are smoothed off, everything runs together with soft consonants, and at a fairly high speed.
The taxi in the morning took us back to San Juan International airport but this time we were flying on Cape Air, a regional airline that started in Cape Cod I believe. We were on the mainland of Puerto Rico and we needed to get over to our little island of Vieques. It's off the east cost of PR, near the US Virgin Island of St. Croix. There are many ways to get there, including at least two other small airports as well as a ferry, but this was the simplest way for us. While waiting for our plane in the terminal, we weighed ourselves on the scale at the gate counter (we hadn't seen a scale since September). Deb had lost 4 lbs and I had lost 5 lbs from all of our walking the last 4 months. It's actually more like 6 and 7 lbs, because we left our clothes on. The lady was nice, but she drew the line when I started undressing (nobody minds when Deb does it!). This put me at my lowest weight since maybe my late 30's. I guess all that walking is paying off!
Cape Air flies small twin-engine, low-wing Cessna 402s in this part of the world, seating 8 people, depending on how it's configured I suppose. It was us, the Littles, and one other guy. He got co-pilot status and we were in the back to balance the load. No worries, that's where the pilot wanted the dogs and we were happy to stay close to them. The small number of passengers was great because our big bags were designated as “non-priority” which means they give their best effort to get them on the flight but don't guarantee it. A non-priority bag could come later in the day, the next day, or whenever they have space. So off we went, starting out over the northern beaches of PR and then angling inland toward the eastern mountains. I was only a little concerned as we were approaching a high ridge. I was sure we would clear it, but damn it was coming up fast and then the updrafts and downdrafts started. It was pretty rocky for a while, but I bet we made it easily by 500 feet or so. The big bags made it also and guess what? We got to haul our bags through yet another airport! But this was just the small Vieques airport and we were in the back door and out the front in seconds.
Jenny, the lady from Rainbow Realty (of House Hunters International fame) picked us up and took us “home”, after a short stop at the colmado (local term for pulperia, mini-mercado, bodega, etc.). The cool thing is that they have a bar inside our neighborhood colmado and we walked through with the Littles to great fanfare from the local guys who were throwing back a few beers. Friendly people here! 🙂 Our house is in a neighborhood on the north side of the island near the main town of Isabel II (Isabel Segunda, or Isabel the Second). This part of the island has power now and has had it for a few weeks. Much of the rest of the island isn't so lucky but the linemen are working every day to fix that. We have 2 bedrooms, bath, kitchen, dining room, living room, and the star of the show – the back porch. It used to have a view of tropical foliage in our yard and the neighbors', it was a jungle scene before the hurricane. Now the big trees are down and the houses behind us are exposed, but at least there is a new peekaboo water view so that's not a bad trade-off. Oh, we just found out we lose some of that water view on laundry day, when the neighbor's drawers and t-shirts cover it. 🙂
Kirby and Maxwell were good little travelers again, although Maxwell had more trouble relaxing on the first flight than on the original ones. But the sound of the engines drowned out his whimpering until he fell asleep and he was better on the next two flights. Of course Kirby was as quiet as a church mouse the whole time. Oh, and people loved them - we lost track of how many times we heard “Que lindo!!!” on this journey. And there were 3 or 4 conversations the first day alone, from people who were just so curious how we travel internationally with the dogs. One American guy in Roatan wanted the whole story, costs, paperwork, vet tests, etc. An older Scottish couple in Miami probably still think I'm rude because I had to cut them short. They kept quizzing me about traveling with the dogs, but I needed to get back to Deb so we could get in the line! Someone asked the question, “You took them to Honduras and the US let them back in?” Haha, yes they did! And there were others – those boys travel like rock stars!
So all said and done, we made it – a long, hard, and stressful first day followed by a short and exciting second day. The whole trip went something like this (try to imagine the little cellphone icons): haul bags, taxi, haul bags, jet airplane, haul, jet airplane, haul, taxi, haul (up 3 flights of stairs), hotel, haul (down 3 flights of stairs), taxi, haul, prop plane, haul, car ride, haul, and into our new house. We can laugh now at how our legs were shaking going down those hotel stairs the second morning. That fatigue was real!
We left our place in Roatan, Honduras at 10 am on Saturday and arrived at our new rental house in Vieques, Puerto Rico at 1 pm on Sunday. It feels super good and we are very happy to be here. It's not without risks, such as power going back out (more on that in a later post) and the spotty communications.
I'm being too kind with that word “spotty”, it's really non-existent (looking at you T-Mobile, but there are MANY others). We lost cell coverage the instant our plane touched down, and it hasn't shown it's face yet. That has been a challenge because we're now trying to set up yes, new cell coverage, Internet, US mail service, a rental car, and generally just find things on the island. And we don't just want cell coverage and Internet to watch Netflix and blog (although that would be nice). We want to be able to stay in touch with people outside of this little island, our friends and family. We're exactly where we want to be, but we don't want to lose track of everyone! Until we solve the communications problems, we have to go drinking and snacking at bars (sad, isn't it?) to pay for their “free” Internet. That's fun but expensive – we can't really spend $25 a day long-term just to get connected, so we're working that angle pretty hard (and making progress!). In the meantime, we've resorted to going to people's houses and places of business to talk with them. Bet you didn't think of that, huh?
That's it for now. It's time for a nap in the shade. We're already collecting lots of “first impressions” of Vieques and can't wait to share them (hint: the place is beat up – it's good though!). Stick with us, this journey has only just begun!
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Key's in the Conch Shell, by Kenny Chesney. Come on in!