Getting to Brazil

As many of you know, western Oregon is going through a bit of a cold spell right now. The timing coincided with me heading off to Brazil for a week.

I saw it coming, so I decided to drive up Thursday night and stay with my friends Dan and Melody who live in Gresham near the airport. Got there by 8-ish, ate a slice of pizza, drank a few glasses of wine and learned a lot about Johnny Carson (TV program). I slept well that night and woke up to a half-inch or more of snow on the ground. The house was a bit chilly and Dan and Melody were still in bed. They didn’t look like they were getting up any time soon so I headed off to the airport about 8:30. Plenty of time to get there for a cup of coffee and breakfast. … well, maybe not. There was some sort of accident just north of the I-205/I-84 intersection. Traffic was backed up for miles and moving somewhere between 0 and 3 mph. My flight was scheduled to depart at 12:10 and I was getting worried. Eventually I was able to escape onto I-84 going into Portland and take some of the back roads to the airport. I have no idea how long the folks on the freeway took to get there.

I reached the airport at about 11:00. 2.5 hours for what’s normally a 20-30 minute drive. The good news is check-in went quickly and TSA has a new pre-checked fast track security checkpoint. It’s VERY fast and was a big win. I decided I had time for breakfast, which I did. After breakfast I leisurely strolled to my gate next to the restaurant only to find out that while I was eating breakfast my flight had been cancelled. Apparently an ice storm was moving across Dallas. I didn’t mind missing an ice storm in Dallas, but it did making getting to Brazil a bit of a puzzle.

I called HP’s travel agent and they couldn’t help because I’d already been checked in. I needed to contact American. They did say though that if I could get a flight south from anywhere else in the U.S. on American they’d fly me to that city. Plan A was to fly to JFK on Saturday morning and catch a flight there, but I’d have to work with American first.

I walked back to the ticket counter and while I was standing in line there I also got in line for American’s call center. After about 30 minutes American called me back. I was still in line for the ticket counter. I worked with the woman on the phone, who was very patient with me, to develop Plan B; leave Sunday morning when options opened up again. While I was pondering what to do with a nearly two-day delay I finally made it to the ticket counter. The woman there had Plan C in about a minute. Fly through LAX to Lima and then to Porto Alegre. That seemed kind of fun, I’ve never been to Lima before. The downside was that my layover in Lima would be 12 hours. That was ok. I still got to Porto Alegre early enough for me to go to my friend Fernanda’s birthday BBQ, which I couldn’t have done if I had departed on Sunday morning. It was still going to work.

While I was waiting at the ticket counter I discovered that my friend, Kimber, was killing time at Beaches due to a missed flight. After Plan C was setup I had a drink with her. She was on her way down to LA for a taping of a Food Network show. I’m looking forward to hearing how that went.
The flight to LAX was on a Delta commuter jet and was comfortable and pleasant. The seat next to me was vacant. LAX itself has some issues though and is not in the running for favorite airport anytime soon. The biggest issue is that there is nearly no place to eat after you leave security, which I had to do since my connecting flight was in a different terminal. Your choices are Encounters, which is the restaurant in the iconic LAX “spider”-like structure or Starbucks in Terminal 4. I opted for Encounters, but it turns out it was probably a toss-up. Service at Encounters as terrific, no complaints there. The food though was not terrific and the prices were higher than was justified. Since I didn’t finish the dishes that I ordered at Encounters I stopped by Starbucks on the way back to my terminal just to top myself off a bit.

After eating I spent the next hour or two waiting; first for the ticket counter for LAN to open, then in line to get my boarding pass then in line to go through security. LAX does not have the TSA fast track pre-checked option. Once you get through security there are lots of dining and shopping options, but you can’t go through security without a boarding pass otherwise I would have searched for dinner there. A better strategy might have been a snack at Starbucks and a meal after security.

My next stop was Lima, Peru. I flew on LAN Peru airlines 767 overnight flight. It was nicely outfitted and service was great. I love flying on non-US airlines. Contrary to US airlines they don’t act like it’s an imposition to use the service that they’re providing that you paid through the nose for. The food was actually good, you got wine with dinner if you wanted it, service was friendly and helpful, there was plenty of leg room, the screen didn’t flash advertising at you during the entire flight, and everything seemed to actually work. How weird is that! United, take a lesson!

I had big aspirations for Lima. Since I had such a long layover I was hoping to do some sightseeing. Melody had been gracious enough to do some research for me before I got there. When I got there though I didn’t work out quite as well as I’d imagined. It took me over an hour just to figure out where I was supposed to pick up my next boarding pass and that desk didn’t open until 6pm. It took me awhile just to figure out which airline I was supposed to be looking for. I learned that it would cost me $31 just to get out of the airport. Not a big deal, but I wasn’t completely sure that I’d be able to accomplish the next step. I ended up exercising the better part of valor and paid $80 for one of the VIP lounges in the airport. It was worth every penny; comfy chairs, Internet, snacks, drinks, and showers! Not very exotic, but it passed the time well.

My flight to Porto Alegre left Lima at 11pm and was an overnight as well. It was on a TACA Airbus 320 that was maybe only a third full. Once everyone had boarded we redistributed so that many of us had entire rows we could stretch out on. The service was good, the food was reasonable, and on this flight they were actually serving mixed drinks for no additional cost. Non-US airlines. Gotta love ’em.

Arriving in Porto Alegre was a little odd. On the plane they had given everyone two forms to fill out; immigration and customs. The immigration form was bilingual; Portuguese and English. That was easy to fill out. The customs form was only in Portuguese. I couldn’t figure it out and I was afraid that someone was going to have to walk me through it. It turned they didn’t even care. I never finished the form. No one asked for it. I just walked out. Too easy.

No I’m in my hotel room. Took a shower, ate breakfast, bright sunshiny day outside. The high today is supposed to be 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The power’s going on and off in the hotel due to some maintenance going on. Other than that, life is good. We’ll see what the rest of the week holds.

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