Sunday, September 14, 2014

Concluding our Camino

Hello, everyone.

At this point, having gone over the Walk, the bus/train tour, and the visit to Madrid, it's time to run over our trip home at the end of our pilgrimage. (After that, I'm sure there will be ruminations. And considerations of future travel. And possibly we will go hiking in other places--day hiking, that is--and that will appear. And cooking, and crafts, and so on.)

Our plane reservation was for July 3. We checked out of our pension, having tossed all manner of little bits that were broken and just making our packs weigh more, and walked out the door onto Madrid's street for the last time. We thought. It was 6 in the morning. The sun wasn't up yet, but we could see some clouds building. In fact, it started raining just before we passed the government office buildings on the way to the bus station. I ducked into the nearby door of a bank and pulled the rain poncho out of the pack. It was hard to put it on by myself, but my sweetie hadn't noticed me steppign aside. (Love that taffeta swish in your ears!) About a block later he figured out that I wasn't right behind him. I got to see him start turning back to try and find me. So I called to him and we joined up again.

It was raining and it was dark and we were two dark clad poncho covered figures walking down the street, obviously carrying big things under our ponchos. The passing police cars didn't even look twice. Maybe they see a lot of tourists wandering the street at that time with backpacks? I don't know.

We got to the bus station, repacked our ponchos and boarded the express bus to the airport. A little while later, we got off at the last terminal of the four. Oops. We should have gotten off at the first one. So we rode the inter-terminal bus back around and found our airline. There was already a line. (We later learned that during our weeks of no-television, the US government had decided to have an official sense of concern about people who might have disappeared and then reappeared and had US passports.) The lady handling pre-checks took our passports, had a conference with another security lady, and asked if we had our Camino passports. As happened, we did. (Crystallized effort in those little bits of cardboard. We were taking care of them!) We did our little dance of opening each other's pack and pulling out the document and handed them over to her and she had another conference with the other lady. Then she came back and stickered our packs as being pre-approved. We figured we were doing fine and had judged the length of line we'd be in right and all was cool. Then we realized that the line at the United Airlines desk was moving v-e-r-y slowly. Each and every passenger group was getting an interview at the desk. When we got up there, we realized that the poor reservation agents were having to reschedule everybody. (The prior day's storms in the eastern US had made a hash of their schedule. And apparently they had no functional contingency plan that didn't involve days on end of fooling around.) They conferred with us--forecast an arrival two days later than originally planned--and kept our original reservation in place while also making just-in-case reservations so we'd get home somehow. Somewhen.

We got coffee and roll. (As usual, we'd delayed eating anything until the morning was well started.)
We went through the assorted collection of security gates. At some point we were informed that because of flight delays, the airline would feed us lunch. So we reported to the lunch zone and had a sandwich and bocadillo and drink. (At least I think it was both sandwich and bocadillo. I remember thinking that it was basically two sandwiches.) We hung around for a while, got the lucky number for pat-downs, peeked out the window at approaching dark clouds, boarded the plane. Our 11 am departure had turned into about 3 pm but we figured we were still okay. Then we heard the roaring on the roof of the plane. Madrid was having a historic hailstorm.

From bus window

Piles of hail in drifts all over

And of course it all happened at the start of rush hour.

First the pilots had the mechanics come out and look the plane over. Then they got a spot in the departure line. Then we got into the line and were #2 when the pilot crew looked at their watches and schedules and cancelled the flight! >:-(

Apparently they'd been in the plane so long before getting in the air to come over the water, and been delayed so long at the gate from the storm, that they would exceed their regularoty maximum time on duty before the plane would be landing in the US. (Don't you think they could have figured that out before pulling back from the gate?) So we deplaned and followed an airline person to a bus and rode down the road to the Trypp by Windham, which was brand-new and quite nice.
A little sitting area, with a TV
Twin beds

There was a renta-a-comp in the lobby. We used it to email our family that we weren't going to be in on time and to look on the weather news and figure out what had happened to us.

The hall. With one of those electric
circuits you have to plug your key into.

A dryer and some toiletries on the sink
 (Dinner was cafeteria food, and one of the few not-very-good glasses of wine I had in Spain, but it was there. We'd learned a lot on our pilgrimage. We weren't sharing our room with 90 other people, which was something.)

Even fancy facilities and a real tub

At 5 am we all got back onto the bus and went back to the airport. Where the long-suffering reservation desk attendants had come in early to try and redo all of an entire planeload of passengers' reservations. Again.
We went through the security zones again. They opened the very last checkpoint really late for us (not for them, they were in early for their work day most likely--but it was only 10 minutes before our new, revised boarding time) and insisted on doing the patdowns all over again. I was so embarrassed when the poor young man had to put his (gloved) hands inside my hiking boots. They were nasty by now! I even apologized. And I was very glad that we'd checked our packs! Because they were opening and patting through everything in people's carry-on bags. All I had to carry on was my trusty Aggie bag, with our cameras, the Kindle, and not much else.

We got onto the plane again. Took off. Landed. Went to customer service right away in Dulles to try and get to Houston as soon as possible. (Also put the batteries back into the Blackberry and called home!) Got to Houston. Got stuck in Houston. Apparently the powers that be had only scheduled 2 flights to the Valley from Houston on July 4. With the little bitty planes that they've been using lately. We didn't get seats on either of them. So we had to spend yet another unscheduled night in a hotel. (And the one in Houston wasn't nearly as nice as the one in Madrid had been. To protect the guilty, I won't name it. I think I worked really hard on forgetting the name, in fact!) Woke up at 5 am in Houston and took the shuttle ride to the airport that another stranded passenger had asked for--they'd awakened early and left already, but we did have another little group with us in the van--spent our "meal vouchers" on food at the airport, and got onto a flight home. It was now July 5.

But we were home.