The 48 hours following my departure from London Gatwick had been an ECG line of exhilarating highs and stress-inducing lows. I’m sure you can guess which box the US border control ticked.
It took over an hour to get through the awfully organised and painfully slow security procedures. Taking into account the fact that I only had 2 hours from touchdown to make it to my gate, I am sure you can understand the panic that was starting to swell up inside of me as I hopped impatiently into a seemingly endless queue. The staff seemed to enjoy standing around chatting a tad too much for one of the busiest airports in the world. However, once I leaned over the security gate and explained my situation to a kind-faced Latina guard, I got moved to the front of the queue. Apparently, I should have been directed to the line which was for connecting flights…
After a sprint through the arrivals lounge and breathing in my first ever lungful of American air, I was faced with another race through the Tom Bradley terminal. The entire way I had to keep stopping to ask for directions in a panicked and panting voice, no doubt looking like a madman rushing off as soon as I had their answer with my suitcase flying through the air after me.
Coming to a screeching halt in front of the Avianca check-in deck for my flight to Bogota, the people on the other side of the desk told me that if I had been five minutes later, they would have already closed the gate! So, if I had not spoken to the female security guard and had just carried on listening to my music, I would have been spending a night in Los Angeles. Although any other day that would have sounded like a decent prospect, following the Iceland ordeal (explained in another blog post), all I wanted was to get to Medellin and did not fancy spending extortionate amounts for a bed in a Los Angeles hostel.
Thankfully, they took my luggage and I made my way to the gate, this time at a light stroll. I even managed to take a few photos and could not resist posting on Snapchat an awful rendition of the song which starts with “I hopped off the plane at LAX with a something something something”. My friend felt compelled to correct me; the official lyrics are “I hopped off the plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan”. I never thought I would ever feel so connected to Miley Cyrus!
The silver lining in all of this (other than being able to say that I have hopped off a plane at LAX) is that I was able to experience the stereotypical American air hostess treatment. It reminded me of the film Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo di Caprio, when he is pretending to be a Pilot, but with a slight hint of that cheesy Hollister attitude mixed in. However, from Los Angeles to Bogota, I was no longer flying with the American airline Wow Air. Instead, I had the pleasure of flying with Avianca (a Latin American airline). For some reason, I thought the quality of the Latin American airline would have been vastly worse than that of the famous North American one. I was pleasantly surprised.
The plane was easily the most comfortable I have ever had the privilege of flying on. As far as I could tell, the airline had exchanged the North Americans’ emphasis on in-your-face customer service for all round enjoyment. The meal that was included with the tickets that my parents had bought, following the Iceland palaver ,was delicious; although that may have been because I had not eaten for a while; since arriving in America, I had lost track of whether I was meant to be awake or asleep and how long it had been since I had last eaten. Each passenger had their very own entertainment system built into the seat in front of them and First Class had beds instead of the very comfy chair I had to settle for.
My first view of the Medellín countryside from the window of the shuttle busFinally, I had made it to Colombia! On arrival in Bogota, I met the lovely Orozco family who were also travelling to Medellin and were just as puzzled as I was by the layout of El Dorado International Airport. However, being Colombian and American dual citizens, they had a bit more of a clue. We made it to the gate and agreed to meet in Jose Maria Cordova airport when our separate planes touched down. They even went as far as offering me a lift from the airport into the city centre. It is safe to say that they made my first impression of the Colombian people a great one.
Unfortunately, the cousin of the family, Cesar, turned up in a pick-up truck and so there was no room for all my luggage and little old me. Cesar’s dreadlocks must have reached almost to the floor and whipped around his body as he walked over to offer me money for the bus into town. I tried to refuse but he insisted that he was not going to let me get cash out at the airport due to the ridiculous conversion rate in the airport. I thanked the family profusely and said goodbye, but not before Claudia had made me promise that we would meet up later in the week for drinks with Cesar.
I paid the bus driver in Colombian Pesos and got in. It was overcrowded, dark and had the windows open for ventilation. My ears popped as we descended into the crater that is Medellín. Of course, I am sure that I will have been looking through rose tinted glasses, so ecstatic was I to have finally made it to my final destination. That said, the breath-taking views from the bus window more than made up for the discomfort. It even made up for the fact that, by this point, I was completely parched and ready to crash out on a bed. Although, I was still not certain whether the water was safe to drink. I had been told that it was, but something, either the water or the food had given me stomach cramps. Not ideal, but the new sights, smells and sounds distracted me sufficiently.