When 9/11 hit, I was based in Islamabad-Pakistan, and stood with one leg in a plane, ready to leave for a long assessment mission to Central and South America.. As we all knew it was going to be a busy time in Central Asia for the next six months, I cancelled my trip.
Mats has been my "partner in crime" at work since many years, so I called him to do the trip in my place. This was the story he wrote about his trip. A typical story of "us being on the road the whole time"...
I am on the final stage of my mission through our Central and South America offices in eleven countries: Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Cuba.
This mission was organised in less than a week following the Sep 11th bombing in the US. I was on my way to West Africa for another assessment mission when I got a call from HQ to re-prioritize, with departure... euh.. immediately.
I have been away for 46 days now. During those 46 days I have taken 37 different flights. I have checked in and out of hotels 20 times. In several places I woke up in the morning not recognising the hotel room, wondering what country I was in, not a nice feeling.
I have been travelling through a total of 16 countries to asses 11 of them and visited 20 different offices. 70% of the flights were before 07:30 AM, just to make sure I did not enjoy a full night's sleep or breakfast. Especially if you know that most airlines here require you to check in three hours before take-off. I guess I am now an instant "Frequent Flyer Gold Status" on TACA-airlines !
On one occasion in Honduras I flew for 30 minutes, takeoff at 0600 in the morning to arrive in San Pedro Sula to immediately continue in a car for 4 hours to reach Santa Cruz Copan. We stayed there about 30 minutes and then drove straight back to San Pedro Sula. The morning after I was back in the air heading back to Tegucigalpa. At 6 AM.
In the Dominican Republic I had a whole weekend for myself.. "Great", I thought.. Until I turned on the TV and found a hurricane was heading straight at us... So I got locked up in the hotel room the whole of Saturday!
In Dominican Republic there was no flight to Port-au-Prince as the airline was grounded due to insurance problems. So I ended up going by road from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to Cap Haitien, Haiti, a trip of about 6 hours total. The next day at 0700 I flew out of Cap Haitien to Port-au-Prince on a local airline. The morning after I was out of Haiti heading to Columbia.
In Colombia I flew to Apartado via Medellin. In Medellin you land at one airport and you have to transfer to another airport to take a small plane to get to Apartado (Apartado = far away!). Well, these airports are one hours drive apart(ado).
I lost my seat on the overbooked morning flight to Quito.. All my tickets got cancelled as I showed up as a no-show passenger on their computer... on the flight from Santo Domingo which THEY cancelled... I spent nine hours at the airport as the evening flight was delayed. Technical problems! When things go wrong they go WRONG! I could have gone back to the office but I had to spend almost two hours getting my booking for seats back on the remaining 15 flights I had on that ticket.
Heading out of Peru en route to Cuba via Panama the plane ended up doing an emergency landing in Quito as a passenger in business class had a fatal heart attack.
In Cuba I arrived with no visa.. Usually that is not a problem since I have both a UNLP [a UN passport] and a Swedish passport... But not in Cuba! Either you have a visa or you spend two hours waiting with no clue about what is going on... And they will make sure the people waiting for you in the arrivals hall do not know you are there...
In Cuba they changed back to winter time during my stay.. Well I didn't find out until almost a day later. No wonder there were no people in the restaurant at 0800 on Sunday for breakfast.. Because it was only 0700 for all the others?!
Once back in Managua it all ended up in a bit of a chaos as there were presidential elections and the security team decided to escalate the security precautions, demanding all non-essential staff to stay put.
A second Hurricane showed up during this final stage of the mission, killing at least four in Honduras before heading full speed for Cuba.
One day before my departure day out of the region I got the news that Sabena has filed for chapter 11 and Brussels Airport was on strike. Straight on my return flight route, of course! So all my return flights had to be changed to a different routing with yet one more ticket... That makes a total of 16 tickets. My travel expense claim will be interesting..
(in an airport somewhere)