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I made an escape from work on the pretext of visiting extended family in the states at Christmas and the ersatz millenium. On the way I planned to spend 5 days in Venezuela and another week in Trinidad and Tobago. I booked a flight on Alitalia, whose planes veer as far south as Caracas, Rio, and Buenos Aires. I had hoped to visit one of my students in Brazil but couldn't find out how, in Abu Dhabi, to purchase the Brazil air pass to get me far enough north in the country where I could make my way overland to Caracas and fly to Texas for $500. Plus, my leave request was granted for a week less than I had asked for, so I didn't have the travel-time to work my way north anyway. So, I ended up buying a ticket to Caracas via Milan and Rome and back to Milan. Why the odd routing?
My Alitalia ticket was booked open jaw Abu Dhabi to Caracas, returning San Francisco to Abu Dhabi. Bobbi and Dusty would be joining me in Houston for Christmas, where we all planned to meet on the 23rd. Glenn was planning to fly down from San Francisco on the 23rd as well, and we would all accompany him back there after Christmas. In between Caracas and San Francisco I had to make my own arrangements.
I had little luck getting help from travel agents in Abu Dhabi to help me plan my routing from Caracas to Houston. The agents there are not travel agents per se, but airline representatives, and all they can tell you is what the airlines they represent can offer. Therefore I was being quoted premium prices and inconvenient routings with few choices of carriers. The Alitalia agent told me of a flight from Caracas to Houston on Continental for $500 but when I thought it had been nailed down, he claimed I had no booking. Later when I produced a paper documenting the transaction, he recalled his colleague had booked it for me. Checking with the colleague, we found the booking was still there, but by then it was too late. I had already made other plans.
My other plans involved tickets I had purchased from http://www.travelocity.com. I was due to fly from Caracas to Port of Spain on the 16th of December, to Tobago on the 17th, and return to Port of Spain on the 22nd for my onward flight to Miami / Houston on the 23rd. I was planning to go diving in Tobago, and the dive shop had arranged accommodation for me on the island for just $10 a night.
According to the guidebooks, December was supposed to be a good month for traveling in Venezuela. It should have been the start of the dry season. But of course, while I was there, wouldn't you know, it rained every day ...
Email to my family from Aruba, December 17, 1999
Subject: Not a vacation
I don't know if you're aware of what's going on in Caracas but I just sent this message to Manta divers in Tobago and I'll copy it here to save time.
<<The rains closed the airport and I just managed to get myself out of the country and to an Internet connection today to inform you that I won't be coming to Tobago. I am very disappointed and also am not able to use the ticket I purchased from Caracas to Houston via Tobago. I managed to get a flight from Valencia to Aruba. Port of Spain was out of the question. No flights there and the roads in that direction are reported impassable. It was a refugee situation at the airport, everyone standing around for hours trying to get anything out of the country to be able to arrange orderly onward travel. >>
I have no idea at the moment how I'm getting to Houston. I just now managed to get to Aruba. I was stuck in Caracas for 3 rainy days. The country is a disaster area. I finally got on a bus and got a plane from another city. I met tourists there who were evacuated from other parts of the country, including a dutch couple who'd landed at the airport just before it closed and who had been THERE for 2 days unable to get out just as everyone else was unable to get in. They finally laid on a plane for all the people stuck there and flew them to Valencia. As everyone says about it, not a vacation.
But at the moment I'm in Aruba and safe and sound at any rate. Hopefully I'll be able to arrange onward travel without any big problems. Venezuela was impossible for that. No one answered phones and people didn't go to work anyway. Only way out was to just go to the airport in Valencia which is what everyone else had done. You can imagine the madhouse. I managed to get out after standing around ticket counters for just 4 hours. I was lucky.
Library here closes for next 2 days. That's where I'm using the internet.
I'll let you know when I've made plane reservations. Hope you're in touch with people in Houston. Hope to see you there. For the past couple of days I wasn't sure I'd manage it. It was looking grim. Looking up now though. Normal at any rate.
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