Day Nine: Travels and Travails
We started the day with our final delicious Copamarina breakfast: my last omelette made by the fine omelette-chef Luis, my last pineapple juice and Puerto Rican coffee with hot milk. We finished packing and managed to grab an hour on the beach. Then it was time to say goodbye to Copamarina, hop into the rental car, and head back to San Juan.
It's about a two-, two-and-a-half-hour drive north, but it's pretty, so it goes quickly. Earlier, I had called Thrifty for directions back to the San Juan office. First of all, we discovered that the girl who directed me had left off a whole chunk of roads between Rte-52 and the highway that led to the rental office. No mind; I got out my maps and puzzled things out.
Puerto Rico is a lot like the mainland US in terms of driving, but their signage isn't quite as clear...or well-maintained. We missed our first exit because a tree was growing over the sign. (Incidentally, the same reason we ended up going the wrong way down a one-way street in Boquerón.) While I was trying to get us turned back around, we took an exit to go west on the highway and ended up on the highway going east. That was fun. Then, the exit that the girl had told me to take over the phone...well, there were two with the same name. We picked the wrong one and there was no way back onto the highway. Only because Bobby had picked up a free map at Copamarina before we left that just happened to show the tiny little road we needed (where our store-bought laminated map did not) did we eventually find our way to the rental office. Fun times.
We'd given ourselves four hours at the airport to check in, grab something to eat, and visit the shops, since we were without gifts still for many people. We went to check in with U.S. Air, and the guy behind the counter informed us that our flight was an hour delayed already. No biggie...except for the fact that we had to catch a connecting flight in Philadelphia back to Baltimore and had only an hour layover. So--as he so aptly put it--as our first flight was landing, our second flight would be taking off.
After much typing, he suggested going on stand-by for a flight to Charlotte, then on to Baltimore. The only problem...it left in forty-five minutes.
So Bobby commenced running hither and thither, trying to get last-minute gifts for everyone, while I waited to hear if we'd have a seat on the plane or would be spending the night in Philadelphia. Bobby returned, and luckily, we got our seats, and so we were on our way to Charlotte, and we were on schedule to arrive home a couple of hours earlier than expected, which was good. Puerto Rico disappeared behind us in an instant: a last glimpse of the turquoise sea and the vivid red-orange flamboyenes, and we were headed back to the bleak reality of the mainland U.S. Boo.
Because we'd planned to eat dinner in the airport, Bobby and I were both starving. When the flight attendants came around, distributing Le Petit Snacks again, we both sat with our tray tables down and our wide, hungry eyes watching their every move. Breakfast had been a lot of hours and a lot of miles ago. Let me tell you, Le Petit Fromage never tasted so good!
The pilot warned us that the beautiful weather we'd been enjoying in Puerto Rico would not be the case in Charlotte: The entire east coast had been receiving heavy rains all week. We didn't then know how right he was....
The flight to Charlotte was smooth and without problems. In no time, we were coming over land, the houses were getting bigger and the cars were beginning to come into focus on the road, and then we were landed. We had an hour-and-a-half before the plane would depart for Baltimore, so we deplaned, found a California Pizza Kitchen, and both ate like we'd never seen food before. We browsed the souvenir shops and returned to wait to board the plane again and leave.
Then they made the announcement: Because Baltimore was under terrible storms, BWI airport was not allowing us to take off until the weather cleared up. Around here, storms usually last a few minutes then blow over. But we sat...and sat. Finally, we were cleared and allowed to board the plane. Hooray! Bobby had been on the phone with my inlaws, who were picking us up, keeping them atop of the situation. They said that it was raining so hard in Baltimore that they couldn't even see to drive to our apartment, where they were waiting out the storm and for our plane to take off before leaving for BWI. The plane finally was boarded and we taxied for takeoff. We were the next plane in line and rounding the corner to the runaway from which we'd take off...and we stopped.
BWI had closed again and was again refusing to allow us to take off.
The plane had to be taken off of the runway and the engines shut down and we waited. The pilot came over the PA system and said that he hoped that because we'd literally been on the brink of takeoff when they'd closed the airport again, then they would slip us in as soon as possible. It seems that the airport was now overloaded with traffic because of the weather closures, and so they were not accepting new takeoffs.
So, patiently, we waited. After about a half-hour we were cleared for takeoff again. Three cheers! We made it into the air this time and had about a forty-five minute flight home.
BWI closed again. We were put into a holding pattern over some city I've never even heard of, can't remember the name of, and don't even know what state it might be in. For a half-hour, we flew in circles. Finally, we were allowed to break the holding pattern and continue on. Until we were put into another holding pattern over Richmond. Richmond is a three-hour drive from Baltimore and a ten-minute flight. For a half-hour again, we circled, teased by how near we were to home.
Finally, we were given clearance to land, we broke the holding pattern, and came down into Baltimore. As the pilot explained, we were lucky because we were the first flight in our sector to be allowed in, and they told us to get in as quickly as possible to expedite further landings.
As a reminder of the fact that we were back in the US and no longer in friendly Puerto Rico--where everyone isn't always huffing, speeding, and shoving about in a hurry--we overheard numerous people either 1) spinning conspiracy theories on how BWI wasn't closed at all but how the delays were some kind of ploy by U.S. Airways to make more money (???) and 2) how it can't possibly be the case that airports close for mere thunderstorms. Because being delayed a few hours is so much more of a travesty than arriving home in a casket because lightning struck the plane and it crashed.
(In the latter instance, I got to hear a flight attendant gently rebuke two stupid rednecks sitting next to me, who didn't believe that airports close during storms. She was very nice, but she rather made an ass out of them!)
So our hour-and-a-half layover ended up pushing three; our forty-five minute flight ended up taking more like two hours. But we were home. It was two in the morning, but we were home and lucky--despite it all--because our original flight from Phillie had been cancelled and, not long after we landed, the downpours and lightning storms kicked up again. My inlaws had been waiting for about two hours, but they were talking to people who had been waiting for six, whose incoming flights were cancelled and still had long drives home. Funnily enough, at lunch the next day, we were sitting behind a woman whose flight home from Baltimore had been cancelled and was hoping to fly out that day. It was a mess!
My mother-in-law told us, too, that the deluge we had coming home had been going on since Thursday, for four straight days, without hardly letting up at all. Places were flooded, rivers were high (we verified that with our own Patapsco, in the Historic District), and peoples' houses were in ruin. Washington, DC was underwater in places. But we must have brought some Guánica sunshine back with us because the rain let up considerably the next day, and it has been sunny and beautiful since.