Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Out of Cyprus Summer 2018: the first three (plus) days

I had intended to write more often. So much for good intentions. June began with a week's visit from some very longstanding friends, and continued with the usual round of increased temperatures, decreased energy (on my part), games with friends and cake. In July we had a replacement outside shed built, Richard launched his new (to him) Kingfisher yacht Liza, and we wound down the supplies in our fridge in preparation for a month outside Cyprus.

Last year our son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren set off for a couple of years on the floating bookstore ship Logos Hope. Daniel works in the A/V department. In the first six months or so they travelled around several of the Caribbean islands, doing some aid work after the devastating hurricanes of last summer, and also selling inexpensive books, giving presentations and seminars, and offering whatever else was needed by local congregations.

In the past three months they have been in Mexico; tomorrow the ship sets off for Panama, and will - in a few days - go along the Panama Canal. While we're told this is not, in fact, a very interesting experience it still appeals to Richard so we planned our trip to include this. We couldn't leave before July 18th as he was providing PA for a concert and the 19th was our 38th anniversary. We really didn't want to go through the US to get here; it requires a temporary visa (Estia) even to go thrugh aiports, and any time he goes to or through the US, he gets stopped for 'random' extra searches.

Happily, we found reasonable value flights to Mexico City direct from Heathrow on the evening of the 20th, so we planned the trip around that. To get to London we booked an early flight via Blue Air which went to Luton; that gave us plenty of time to travel across London via National Express.

So our day started rather early, even for me, on the 20th. All the packing was complete, so we set alarms for 4.30am. Our friend Sheila collected us at 5am and we checked in at the airport immediately. I had packed some fruit for breakfast, and we bought coffee at one of the restaurants inside the security area.  I decided to take photos at every stage of the journey...

Blue Air, despite being a budget airline, offers free food and drinks on most of its flights. I knew from experience that I would not be able to eat most of the food as it contains nitrites and other nasties which would give me a migraine, so we had brought some cereal bars with us. But while Richard ate both our frankfurter-type sausages, and baked beans, and a croissant and roll and crackers, the only thing I could eat was the bread roll and some cream cheese.  Even the jam said it contained a migraine-including additive.

But I enjoyed the rest of the fruit I had packed and a couple of cereal bars. And the free fruit juice on the plane was nice.

We arrived at Luton four and a half hours after taking off; I had never been there before, and Richard only once. Our National Express coach was booked for 11.20am but we had paid an extra ten pounds for the ability to get on any available coach going to Heathrow for up to twelve hours before or after. The coach station was outside, and rather confusing, but a helpful young man in uniform knew all the schedule and gates, and told us the next coach to Heathrow was at 10.50.

It wasn't a pleasant wait. Several people were smoking, including some with large metal tube things - we assume electronic cigarettes, although I had thought they were made to look like ordinary ones. I gather this is not always the case. I had also thought they were supposed to produce less smoke, making them safer for those around.  This certainly wasn't the case. I watched at least three people take puffs on these large tubular things, and there was a huge amount of smoke. Perhaps it's not as dangerous as that from ordinary cigarettes, but it was just as disgusting, and there was considerably more of it.

We almost didn't see our coach when it arrived, as it wasn't at either of the stops where it should have been, but the next one along. We heard a 'final call' for Heathrow, so presented our tickets to the driver. He took one look, then pointed out that we had booked for half an hour later.  I explained that we had paid extra to take an earlier or later coach, and he said yes, but we still had to make the change at the ticket office. Otherwise, as he pointed out, we could have printed off dozens of these tickets and distributed them to other people, who could just get on any coach. Unlikely, but I suppose possible.

However the wording on the back made no mention of having to re-book or officially change the time, and a coach official standing next to the driver said she thought we were correct; so she made a note of our details and said she would change it herself.

What struck me, as we travelled through London suburbs, was the dryness of the grass everywhere. We knew it had been warmer than usual in the UK, with very little rain. But I was shocked to see grass like this everywhere:

Our flight was from Terminal Five, but the coach didn't stop there. The driver told us to get off at the main bus station at Heathrow, and then get the free train to our terminal.  We eventually succeeded in doing this - it wasn't a regular monorail type train, as we are more used to at Gatwick, but an Underground service.

Our son Tim had arranged to meet us for a few hours in Heathrow airport, and it was wonderful to see him waiting for us when we finally emerged from the train at Terminal Five. It was about 12.30 UK time but we were very hungry, as Cyprus is two hours ahead; so we found what seemed to be the only reasonable restaurant, and had a leisurely lunch together.

In the afternoon Richard and Tim went out of the airport for a couple of hours while I stayed with the luggage and read. I was very tired by this stage and had no wish to go anywhere! So tired, in fact, that I didn't take any photos then, nor of our rather high-class flight to Mexico City, in a 'dreamliner' aeroplane. Even with economy seats, it was more comfortable and quieter than most flights, with pleasanter lighting. Two meals were provided, plus extra water as needed and - unusually for me - I managed to sleep for at least four or five hours, albeit not very deeply.

We arrived in Mexico City at 3am local time, and had a few hours to wait there. Our luggage had been checked right through to our final destination, thanks to a very efficient and helpful Mexico Air staff member at Heathrow. So we sat and drank coffee, and then ate some fruit - two days in a row being hobbit-like with second breakfasts, but then our days were rather longer than usual. We exchanged fifty euros, too, and received over 1100 Mexican pesos in return.

Our second flight, which departed at 7.50, was only about an hour and a half. But even that provided a drink and a cereal bar, and a daytime view which looked much better in reality than the photo:

Merida is quite a small airport, and we didn't have to go through any security as it had been an internal flight. As we walked to the exit, we were startled to see what looked like huge lizards; apparently iguanas:

We had been told that we could either get a taxi from Merida to Progreso, costing about 420-450 pesos, or an Uber, costing around 300-400.  Since 400 pesos is less than 20 euros, and the journey is 50 minutes, we had decided to opt for a taxi. We emerged from the airport to be greeted with several drivers offering services... we asked one what the cost to Progreso would be and he said, '650'. We shook our heads and asked someone else. He told us it would be 750.

We went to ask at the official airport taxi booth, and they said it would be 950! So we went back into the airport to try to call a Uber. We were quoted just under 400 and three of them were heading our way. Unfortunately, the first one simply drove past despite our waving at him. The second one slowed down, but then the airport taxi drivers started shouting at him. He eventually explained to us - in pretty good English- that Ubers were not allowed in the taxi area, or anywhere else in the airport.  So we would have to make our way out, which was quite some way. We had luggage, and the weather was hot and humid.

While Richard was speaking to the Uber driver, the first taxi driver who had approached us came up to me, and asked what we had expected to pay. I said, '400-450' with a shrug. 'Oh,' he said, 'My friend will drive you for 450'. I was a bit dubious that this might be an unofficial taxi (we had been warned only to get official ones) but they took us to the official taxi booth, and we paid in advance there, and were driven in one of the white airport taxis. The driver was good and the journey was under an hour.

Our daughter-in-law and grandchildren were waiting for us by the entrance to the port; the final journey was 6km along  a narrow road in the crew bus to the ship.  There were people queuing for the book fair and shows on the Logos Hope, but we were able to go in by a staff entrance. David, who is four, was very excited to see us, and showed us our cabin on Deck Two. Then it was time for lunch - usually ship lunch is bread, cheese or processed meats, and lots of salad. David didn't stop talking...

Our granddaughter Esther, who is nineteen months old, wasn't too sure about us. She was only nine months old when we last saw her, so has changed from a just-crawling baby to a lively, quite feisty toddler. She wasn't feeling too well either, as she had to have a yellow fever vaccination a couple of days earlier, and was quite clingy with her parents.

However David more than made up for her reticence with lots of cuddles, assurances that he loved us very much, and was looking forward to seeing us, and then - as always - we read him lots of books in the family's cabin (rather a nice 'suite' with two bedrooms and a bathroom).

After lunch Esther went for a nap, and Richard and I did too, setting an alarm for two hours. It was so nice to lie down after around 36 hours of travelling and we fell asleep almost immediately.

Esther was miserable after her nap, so we all went to the 'fun deck', a place with toys and swings; she's very fond of swinging, and spent most of her time there, growing more cheerful as she swung.

Jet lag when flying West isn't supposed to be too much of a problem - and on the whole I've found that to be true. We were very tired, but that was due to lack of sleep, as much as anything. Richard fell asleep at 8pm that night, and I managed to stay awake until 9am.  I then woke briefly a couple of times in the night, eventually getting up shortly before 6am. Richard slept until 7.30.

We're now settle in, less tired, and loving spending time with the family.


Cathleen said...

I'm so glad you get this time with your family on a fun adventure! I really enjoy hearing about your grandchildren, too.


alban said...

Very happy that you have found time to post this interesting story. May your time in Central America be as much a blessing for you as for the grandchildren.