Travel

Week one in Pennsylvania and Mexico City (LATAM 2019)

So, the day has finally come. The bags are packed, the engines revving and ready to take me to the airport. One last hug with Nala, a selfie with the roomie Barbora (to celebrate the glorious day) and I’m off!

It’s not every day you get to start a 6 week trip around the US, Central- and Latin America. I’m experiencing an interesting mix of nerves and excitement. A certain calm too. It definitely feels like I‘m meant to do this.

 

I’ve travelled many times before, so in and of itself I’m not really doing anything new. I feel very comfortable with the process of travelling, in general.

However, I’ve never been away for this long. I’ve also never visited this many countries at once either. Not to mention, countries that I haven’t been to before.

I feel a little guilty as I make my way out. My friend Manuela has kindly offered to accompany me to the airport… and I’m running 30 minutes late!

Luckily, Manuela’s a very understanding person. She gives me a big hug, we climb on the bus and then head to Terminal 1.

As we arrive, security queues are building already. We arrive 4 hours before my flight. This was advised by Iberia Airlines due to current personnel strikes.

As we have a few minutes to kill, we decide to enjoy one last lunch together before our big goodbye. I’m not very good at goodbyes. They often make me cry.

I know it’s sentimental, but you just never know what will happen in life.

You don’t actually know you’re going to see the person again. Life and plans can change in a heartbeat, so it’s really best to feel and be grateful for every individual moment given to us.

Funnily enough, life decided to test that specific philosophy of mine very soon after!

 

Day 0 – The last minute delay

After saying goodbye to Manu, I pass through the security check-in like a breeze. I was a bit worried, because the lines were long, but no more than 15 minutes later I was on the other side.

My flight is apparently leaving from terminal D or E (the board can’t make up its mind just yet). I go explore both terminals to see what’s on offer.

(For anyone who wants to know… Terminal D in Barcelona is way better than Terminal E. Just saying…)

Around 5pm (2 hours before my flight), I check my email via the airport internet. What do I see?

An email sent 10 minutes ago, from Iberia Airlines. It’s telling me my flight has been cancelled and my reservation transferred to an indirect flight to New York – the next day!

All sorts of thoughts shoot through my head. You know the kind that turn up in the first moments of panic when things don’t go to plan?

  • What does this mean?
  • Why was the flight cancelled?
  • Is there a chance it will be re-instated?
  • How could they cancel it so late?
  • This is shaving a day off my journey and time with Juliane (boo)
  • Am I entitled to free food and accommodation? (yay?)
  • Do I just go home now?

I head over to Iberia’s customer service desk in the hopes of springing a free hotel night at Barcelona airport. However, after waiting in line for about 30 minutes (without the line getting any shorter), I decide to accept my fate and head home.

If I stay, it could take hours to get to the front. Who knows if the airline would even accept my claim? Going home, at least I’ll be fresh to fly in the morning.

More Nala cuddles before I leave are also definitely something to be grateful for!

 

Day 1 – More delays and airport chaos

Arriving at the airport at 7:30am the next morning, I feel hopeful that everything will go to plan. My new itinerary is a bit more complicated, so there is definitely an increased risk of things not working out.

Originally, I was flying directly to New York City (NYC), taking a train to Penn Station and being picked up from there around midnight.

Now I would be catching a flight to Madrid, another connecting flight to NYC, taking two trains to Morris Plains and then being picked up from there.

My flight was scheduled to arrive at JFK Airport at 14:30 and the train to Penn Station was leaving at 15:28.

If all went well that was plenty of time. If there was any delay though, the next connection would only arrive 1.5hrs later. Oh dear…

Luckily, the universe was on my side and I actually made all of my connections. However, not before encountering a number of unfortunate situations on the way…

Mishap Diary

  • The flight to Madrid was delayed
  • The connecting flight to NYC was delayed
  • I accidentally lost $16 while buying a train ticket at JFK
  • The MetroCard seller wouldn’t accept my remaining cash because 50¢ of it was in cent coins
  • My MetroCard was used by someone exiting the station at the same time I was entering, leaving me with insufficient balance to enter
  • My cell phone wouldn’t connect to the internet, so I couldn’t contact Juliane to let her know I had arrived well and was on my way to the pickup location

Good Luck Diary

  • The NYC flight was delayed, so the Madrid delay wasn’t a problem
  • I have a US passport, so was able to whizz through NYC controls within 15 minutes
  • A handsome stranger helped me figure out the ticket machines 😉
  • There were MetroCard machines that let me use a credit card to purchase one (and charged $1 extra for the privilege)
  • A friendly station attendant let me through the barrier after explaining the MetroCard balance dilemma
  • I was clever enough to send Juliane a text in Madrid to let her know I was likely to arrive on time at the station
  • Juliane was waiting for me – right on time!

Boy… what a start to the journey, eh?

 

Day 2 – A relaxed Saturday in the countryside

Saturday morning, I wake up feeling ever so slightly feverish. I don’t really think too much about this as long distance travel can sometimes put your body out of whack for the first few days.

Juliane also provides the sunniest of starts to the day with delicious scrambled eggs, hash browns and turkey sausages – yummy!

Originally we wanted to go paddle boarding and golfing today. However, the weather is pretty chilly and I don’t want to risk catching anything. Especially, paddling around freezing water all day.

Instead we decide to check out Chris’s pride and joy – the cabin! Juliane’s husband has been working on completely renovating a log cabin (by hand) for the last few years.

I’ve been visiting them annually for 3 years now. I tell you, I am so impressed by his handiwork! He’s literally done everything on that cabin. Cutting and finishing the woodwork, installing the kitchen, plumbing, bathroom, vents etc. It’s pretty impressive and looks so professional!

After that we decide to run some errands together and finish the day with a short walk around a national park nearby.

Juliane shows me the spot Chris proposed to her almost 3 years ago. It has the most incredible views across the valley – so charming!

Ending the day with tacos using fresh ingredients from the garden and you have yourself a wrap. (Pun totally intended haha!)

 

Memories…

 

Day 3 – Hiking, buffets and a familiar face

Sunday is not starting with quite the gusto I expected. I seem to have developed a persistent cough, hoarse voice and weakly feeling in my legs. Not a good sign…

Having promised Juliane and Chris to go hiking, we make our way out to a trail near the Delaware Water Gap. That area is simply stunning with its high mountains, serenely flowing river and beautiful wildlife.

We take a trail that starts so steep, I am literally climbing up it on all fours. What an adventure! Given my deteriorating condition, I must admit I’m struggling heavily though…

With some coaxing and encouragement from Juliane, I finally make it to the top of the trail in one piece. I’m glad I didn’t give up, as I was rewarded with a great view of vultures, cacti and the Delaware river.

Heading down the trail, the exercise endorphins start kicking in and leave me with a very welcome “high” feeling. Hopping down across sticks, rocks and boulders, I really appreciate the opportunity to connect with the sounds and nature around us.

After the hike, Chris happens to mention that it’s his and Juliane’s tradition to go to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet after hiking. Although it’s only 11:15am, I manage to convince both not to break that particular tradition. What a treat!

In the afternoon, Juliane and I head out to Stroudsburg to meet an ex-colleague of ours Tripti.

It just so happens that she has moved from India to New Jersey recently. It was such a delight to see her, I love it when surprisingly random coincidences like that happen!

Finally, we head home to enjoy the evening. I go to bed early as I’m still not feeling too hot and we have an early start in the morning.

(But not before I trying one of Chris’s famous home-made turkey burgers – yummy!)

 

Memories…

 

Day 4 – Welcome to Mexico City (and the Mexican public health system)

Heading out at 6am for my flight to Mexico City, I’m so excited to be heading back to my beloved Mexico. I’ve had a love affair with the country and its people for almost two years now and it doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon.

Unfortunately, my health is continuing to deteriorate. Since I am now on day 4 of ever worsening symptoms, I decide to head to the pharmacy first.

(I silently thank the universe for letting me remember the time someone told me that in Mexico they have doctors at the pharmacy, so there’s no need to find a specific medic or hospital. That memory is serving me well now!)

As luck would have it, there is a ”Farmacia Similares” literally 354m away from the hotel. I walk in, ask if I can see a doctor and 2 minutes later I am sitting in a waiting room next door waiting my turn.

There are 6 people ahead of me, so I don’t know how long this will take. Less than an hour later, it’s my turn – nice!

The doctor asks me for my symptoms and I tell him. I tell him I think it may be the flu or Bronchitis (especially, since I’ve had Bronchitis twice this year already). He takes my blood pressure, temperature and then looks at my throat.

I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure he knew 100% what I was developing. He seemed to think it could be either one of my diagnoses. I walk out with a pharmacy of antibiotics, anti-flu, anti-histamine and cough syrup though… so I’m definitely covered for any eventuality.

(P.S. I’m not usually one for over-medicating, but when on the road I’m not taking any chances!)

Arriving back at the hotel I decide to take it easy and order in. Room service isn’t available, so the receptionist recommends UberEats as an alternative source of nourishment.

Two tostadas, one orange juice and one flan de abuela later, it’s definitely bedtime. Goodnight!

 

Day 5 – Laying low in Mexico City

The extremely fortunate thing about getting sick now is that I’m sick in a city that I’m going to visit twice.

Naturally, I won’t be able to do quite as much as planned, but the main events on the itinerary (visiting the Teotihuacan pyramids and walking the city) are still very doable.

That being the case, I decide to make this day my rest day. Eat, sleep, browse and repeat. That’s the plan.

I go down for breakfast in the morning and am pleasantly surprised. First, I receive a bowl of fresh fruits and nuts with freshly pressed juice on the side. I admit the juice is of undetermined origin though haha!

Then, I‘m handed a menu with options for freshly prepared omelettes, chilaquiles and sopas. Nice!

I eventually opt for the classic omelette. Fresh fluffy eggs with ham and cheese in the center, re-fried beans and cheese tortillas on the side. Great choice – I’ll definitely be having that again!

The rest of the day is mostly spent in bed. Sweating, coughing and feeling sick. Not great, but it happens.

I head out at one point to buy some food from the neighborhood Oxxo store. As you’ll see, that turned out to be one Facebook-worthy story…

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Day 6 – Into the green in Mexico City

I wake up feeling pretty rested. The sweats and chills seem to have passed over night and my antibiotics ration goes down today, so that’s a plus.

I get in touch with my friend Ingrid and we agree to go to the zoo together. It’s about an hour’s walk from the hotel and walking isn’t all that taxing (and one of my favorite activities!). I figure a bit of fresh(ish) air, greenery and cute animals will do me well.

As we walk around the city, I love watching the people and the changes of the neighborhoods. You see everything from old and run down to new and modern.

We pass the revolution monument and some government buildings. All the while, I enjoy the sights, sounds and smells we come across on the way.

I decide I really like Mexico City. It has a really interesting feel to it. I really like that they are trying to be “green conscious” with their landscaping, transportation and street constructions too.

They have some super innovative initiatives I heard about before arriving and I love seeing that.

The zoo happens to be free and the animals don’t look to be in bad shape. I do notice that some of the birds may have had their wings clipped though, which makes me a bit sad.

Then again animals in a cage really aren’t all that ideal… the question is whether it beats extinction though? That’s a tough one.

Finally, we head to dinner at a French/Italian style place in the Plaza Reforma 222.

 

Memories…

 

Day 7 – Pamper day on the way to Monterrey

It’s travel day again and this time my flight is going at a reasonable time in the middle of the day.

I booked a mani/pedi with Ingrid after dinner last night as I’ve never had a pedicure before and I thought it would be a fun way to spend a short morning together.

As I make my way to the store, I happen upon an interesting public transport system in Mexico City. They have elevated bus stops you need to check in and out of to hop in and out of the buses. It feels quite novel hehe.

On the way to the beautician, I get packed into the bus like a sardine, but the way back is way more peaceful.

My manicurist is a talkative young man who does a lovely job of making my hands and feet look and feel fabulous. Apparently, he also has great fun seeing me laugh and squirm as he gives me a foot scrub. Turns out my feet are extremely ticklish!

Getting back to the airport is pretty non-eventful. I look forward to arriving back in Monterrey. It’s been a year since my last visit, but it feels like yesterday somehow.

Given the number of people I know there now, it feels more and more like home each time I visit.

 

Arrival Jitters

Admittedly, I’m feeling a little bit nervous on the way to Monterrey too. I’ll be spending the first few days with a friend’s (and simultaneously my ex-boyfriend’s) family.

It’s been 1.5 years since we’ve all seen each other, and knowing myself I’m aware things could get emotional. (Remember how I said I’m no good at goodbye’s? Well, long time re-unions are an emotional event for me too!)

I adore the whole family to pieces and I want to spend some quality time with each and every one of them on this trip. I’m aware we don’t have much time together though, so I want to make the most of it!

Sure enough, as I land in Monterrey, I’m greeted with a sea of smiles as my number one Mexican Mama and Papa, Aunty and two cousins await me with a beautiful sign and flowers. I’m shaking like a leaf and close to tears, but also just so so so happy to see them all again!

On the way home, we have proper conversations in Spanish for the first time ever. The last time I saw them we had real troubles communicating as they don’t speak much English and my Spanish was broken at best. Today we have no troubles at all – what a great improvement!

As we arrive home, Papa J walks me around the new parts of the house and proudly tells me of his plans for the place. I’m so excited!

They’ve re-modeled significantly and I even get my own en-suite bedroom this time.

Eventually, I also run into my ex walking out of his room downstairs and greet him with the biggest of hugs. It’s been a long time, I’m so happy to see him and his hugs are as strong as ever.

After a big hello hug for his brother as well, we all decide to go out for dinner to a traditional Taqueria.

I’ll tell you what… the perfect tacos I was shown how to make that night never tasted better.

It’s good to be back. 🙂

Memories…

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