According to Wikipedia, the Americas were first discovered by outsiders when Leif Ericson landed here in the early 11th century. After this, it took another several hundred years for the remainder of the North, South, Central and Caribbean parts of the new world to be opened up. I managed to do it in less than 24 hours…
Especially relative to the location and purpose of my final destination, the Calgary to Houston flight has got to be one of the least sexy experiences around. Basically just a bunch of fat, old, white oilmen sitting around talking on cell phones and looking at bar graphs. Already finding myself having difficulty letting go of the work world and getting into vacation mode, this is exactly the opposite of what I was looking for. Luckily the next step of my journey changed that in a big way.
The waiting areas at airports than contain people going from the first world to the third world are some of my favourite places. Here, the dominating culture of the first world is overtaken by those returning to, or adopting, the customs of the third world destination. Although I was in Houston, English was already considered a second language. Gone were the oilmen, replaced by large families talking loudly, laughing, singing and generally overwhelming the entire airport concourse. I was still not even on the flight, but for all intents and purposes, I was already in Colombia. And it was wonderful.
Once in Bogotá, it was confusing about which was the first world and which was the third. The George Bush airport in Houston was old, had washrooms that were dirty or nonfunctional, and named after a mediocre president whose most famous “achievement” might very well be fathering the least popular president of all time. Meanwhile, Bogotá’s El Dorado airport was shiny, made of glass and sharp white structures. Moreover, the functionality and ease of navigation was top class. Not being fluent in Spanish, I was concerned about potentially having to navigate immigration, baggage claim, customs and finding my gate. However, one sign, and a quick Spanglish exchange with a security guard and I was in the international connections wing within minutes. Being on an intercontinental journey for non-business travel, I figured my jeans and blue hoodie were more than adequate for the occasion. Stepping into El Dorado’s international wing, I felt like a disgusting vagrant. Almost immediately, a suave young man, basked in a glow as if he had just stepped off the bachata floor approached me, hands me a white card and says, “Señor” with a tip of the head. It’s a sample of the new Paco Rabanne cologne for men, which is when I look up and notice that I’ve been squeezed into a tiny hallway that acts as more of an aisle in what is the largest perfume and fragrance boutique I have ever seen. Even more, it was before sunrise and there were hundreds of workers and shoppers filling up the place. As I continued to walk, I journeyed past shops of the finest names in the world: Dolce & Gabana, Tissot, Coach. Like I said, it was hard to see why this was considered ‘third world’.
While I was being blinded by the biggest brand names in the world, I was also simultaneously trying to orient as to which way was East. As I mentioned, it was still dark out, and I wanted to see what sunrise looked like in Bogotá. As if intentionally placed, the eastern wall of the international wing is a giant piece of glass that looks directly at the edge of the Andean mountain range. I honestly had no idea that Bogotá was so gorgeously located this close to the mountains and it made for a most pleasant surprise. With three hours to kill, and no intention of shopping for perfumes, I sat and watched the light behind the mountains grow brighter and brighter until the sun finally crested over the top of the mountains and illuminated the city in front of me.
When the sun had finally come out, I had spent nearly an hour sitting and looking out the window. With still a couple of hours left to kill, it was time to take in another one of Bogotá’s sights: la mujeres. When I was recently talking about the pros and cons of Latin women with an Argentinean friend, she turned up her nose at the idea of being considered a “Latina” because, in her opinion, “Latinas have big bums and they dress trashy”. My response to her condescension: “I fail to see the negative in any of that”. If you’ve ever watched a Daddy Yankee or Pitbull video and wondered, “Where do women look and dress like that?!”, the answer is Bogotá. Seemingly every woman was wearing four-inch heels and designer jeans that defied the laws of physics by stretching around un culo so disproportionate that it seemed unbelievable. Wonderful, yes, but also unbelievable. Every woman had gorgeously groomed hair, makeup ideal for the night club and enough jewelry and accessories to cause someone to go blind. As the passengers on my flight to Panama City walked across the tarmac to our plane, a couple of ladies, braless and with blouses liberally unbuttoned, stopped to strike a pose for each other to take pictures. In Colombia, every woman thinks she is a supermodel…and they might just be right.
Miles before we landed in Panama City, I could look out the window onto the ocean and see dozens, if not hundreds, of large tankers and ships waiting to enter the canal. It’s almost unfathomable to understand that so many of the world’s shipping relies on a single artery as such.
Once landed, I begun the true adventure portion of the journey. First, since I was still suffering a head cold, my first order of business was to depressurize from the change in altitude. As with previous flights on this trip, this required a visit to the washroom to literally blow out the collection of mucous and blood that forced its way into my sinuses. Once that fog had been cleared, it was on to immigration where I had to explain to an officer, who did not speak any English, that I was merely in transit to Trinidad and therefore did not have any accommodations planned. Complicating matters further was the fact that the boarding pass for this segment of my flight was unable to be printed in Calgary, leaving me with no official document to prove that I was not staying in Panama. When this, somehow, got sorted out, it was a sprint to baggage claim to pick up my luggage and through customs. Then it was through the gauntlet of a packed Latin American airport to the Copa Airlines check-in counter. Once again, there were issues with my reservation and I had to negotiate (in Spanglish) with the customer service agent about getting a boarding pass and entry onto the flight. With my bag finally checked back in for the flight to Port of Spain, I navigated through security and to literally the furthest gate in the entire airport for my final segment.
All of this, from landing, to immigration to baggage claim, to customs, to check-in, to security to the gate in less than 45 minutes without speaking a full English sentence! Finally as I stepped up to board the plane, the gentleman behind the counter asked for my departing immigration form. It was then that I realized that I didn’t have any sort of immigration documents with me. I had either left it at customs or the Copa check-in counter. Thus, I looked at the gentleman collecting the immigration forms straight in the face and said, “I don’t have any immigration forms”. He seemed a bit offended and retorted, “You don’t have the immigration form?” I calmly replied, “No”, to which he casually shrugged and said, “Okay”. I then proceeded to walk onto the plane, and a couple of hours later, I was stepping out into the sun and onto the island of Trinidad.