We got a very short peek of Curaçao before heading off to the USA. Curaçao is the middle island of the ABC’s (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). Our sail over from Bonaire was really uneventful which is always a good thing. There are quite a few cruising boats hanging about Curaçao during hurricane season (July – November) as the ABCs sit at the very edge of the hurricane belt and the odds of suffering damaged from a big storm are drastically reduced. The area where the cruising boats hang out is called Spanish Waters. We will visit this area later after we return from about a 2 month visit to the USA. Our port of call was Willemstad and the main commercial harbor located there. This is where Cream Puff was hauled and locked up safely in a boatyard while we are gone.
After prepping and hauling Cream Puff, we treated ourselves to a couple of nights in the Renaissance Hotel in the heart of downtown. It felt really weird to sleep on a bed that wasn’t rocking. It was wonderful to take really long showers with endless hot water. We went for a walk about town but it was holiday and most stuff was closed. We seem to have a knack lately of landing on islands during a holiday. Oh well, it will all be here when we get back.
In a previous life when I worked, I traveled a lot. It wasn’t unusual for me to be gone most Monday-Fridays to various cities in the eastern USA. I flew an awful lot and was rewarded with a ton of airline and hotel points. Most people who traveled like me grow to hate hotels and airplanes. I was no different. The irony is a frequent traveler gets rewarded with airline miles and hotel points for free stays. The last thing I ever wanted to do on a vacation was to stay in a hotel or get on a plane. I sold most of my airline points but kept most of the hotel points knowing it would allow us to splurge on a hotel on occasions such as now. Our journey to the USA quickly reminded me why I hate air travel so much.
Our flight from Curaçao to Aurba departed on time and was just a short hop. We were required to be at the airport 2 hours ahead of departure because this is an international flight. This required a 6am departure from the hotel. Aruba is pure Dutch but Curaçao sought and gained independence from Holland in 2010. We landed in Aruba where we remained in the international transfer terminal so clearing into Aura with customs and immigration wasn’t necessary. We had a seven hour layover in Aruba and figured we could entertain ourselves for most of that time on the free Wi-Fi or playing cribbage. We found the food court and a table away from the hustle and bustle. Then, the lights went out. The entire airport lost power for about 2 hours. We really didn’t think anything of this since we had seven hours before our flight. We were wrong.
Aruba is one of the islands where the USA has a remote customs and immigration set up. We had experienced this once before on Bermuda. Passengers on USA bound flights clear into the USA pre-flight and are then in a secure isolated part of the airport. This eliminates the need to do customs and immigration upon landing in the USA. We sat at out food court table until about 11am when the lights came back on and watched the stores re-open and the restaurants became busy with food prep. Oh good, we thought. We’ll have some lunch soon. Cindy got up to take a walk and stretch her legs.
I was approached by an airport security guy while Cindy was on her walkabout. He asked me if I was on an USA bound flight. I told him I was and planned to hang about waiting for the food stores to open so we could eat lunch. He told me that it was no problem to stay where I was but wouldn’t recommend it. Apparently, when the power was off, about 3,000 people were stopped from entering the airport and were told to wait in the ticketing area or outside. All of these people were heading for USA bound flights and this meant 3,000 people would be in line to pass through USA customs and immigrations (CBP). He explained things were about to get crazy and suggested we move through to the USA side. I told him our flight wasn’t until 4pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. The security guy said there were better choices of food once we pass the CBP checkpoint and we really should go now. Grabbing our backpacks, I thanked him for the good advice and went to find Cindy.
We entered the big room with the ropes up. I have always thought these to resemble a rat maze. Being on a Dutch island and having successfully navigated our way through the rat maze, we half expected a piece of Dutch cheese at the end. But alas, someone moved my cheese. While I understand the purpose is to guide people in an orderly line when the room gets crowded, it seems remarkably silly to weave through the maze when it is empty. There were about 8 people in the room and three booths open. We quickly passed through a booth due to an exceptionally nice CBP agent and were cleared for entry into the USA. I turned to look back at the room. It now had about 200 people in the snaking line. This was the beginning of the mob heading our way. I wish I could have gone back and thanked the security guard for his advice.
Cindy and I decided it was a good time to eat lunch. We were on the USA side and still had four hours to kill before flight time. We found a Panda Express (Chinese food). Our food and drinks cost just over US$36. The same meal out of the airport would have been ½ the price. A small bottle of water was US$3.00. What ya gonna do – we were captive? We sat in the restaurant watching the world of travel get crazy stupid. We watch passengers with carryon bags run like the wind in an effort to catch their flights. These were the poor people who arrived at the airport early only to find it closed due to the power outage. They were not told the planes were delayed also, therefore they thought their flight was leaving on time. Flip flops are not adequate attire for sprinting through an airport.
The next 3 hours proved people watching to be the airport’s most entertaining option. Forget the free wi-fi; watching the masses of poor panicked people arrive into the USA terminal was like a show in itself. People arrived at the gates disheveled and out of breath. About 8 flights were boarding. I can only imagine at this point how long the line was and how slowly people were clearing the USA entry point. The stress factor for people in the line must have been horrid. The power outage had temporarily disabled the signs on the departure gates so monitors throughout the airport didn’t display anything. The usual signs at the gates giving the flight number and time of departure also weren’t working. And of course, due to the delayed flights there were gate changes. Absolute chaos everywhere.
Our flight was delayed after the gate change. The plane arrived and people got off but it never boarded. The plane was broken. Most of the announcements were in Spanish and no English translation was given. So, Cindy and I had very little idea about the cause of the delay. After about 3 hours beyond our scheduled departure time we wondered if we were going to leave at all. The airline announced we could get food tickets and to line up at the gate desk for our voucher. They gave us US$10 each. At this time the only food place open was Nathan’s Hot Dogs. I hate hot dogs. I managed to snag us a wrap each, one chicken wrap and one mystery wrap (unlabeled). The two wraps and two bottles of water were US$24, four dollars more than our voucher. Based on my travel experience, I knew we were in trouble now. The airline will not feed people if they expect to board the plane within the next couple of hours. This act of kindness by the airline told me it was going to be past 9pm before we would taxi away. This was confirmed when we watch our entire flight crew (pilots and attendants) leave with their luggage. Not a good sign.
Our group of passengers were now the last people in the terminal. All of the stores and restaurants were closed and we are told the airline is sending another plane to take us to Miami. This working plane was due to arrive at 11pm and depart at midnight – only 6 hours later than planned. We have that “we’ll believe it when we see it” attitude.
The children in the area are now hyped up on sugar due to the lack of anything other than soda or water offered by Nathan’s. They are running about unsupervised and making that deafening horrid ear piercing screaming sound only young children can make. One of them opens an emergency door and a high pitched very loud alarm goes off. Our remaining gate agent, the others have left, called security to silence the alarm. It took them forever to get someone there.
We realized sending a plane was just about the airline’s only real option. Else, all the people on the flight would have to go to a hotel meaning clearing USA and Aruba immigration and customers ―again. I can’t imagine the authorities would be too happy about having to re-screen everyone. Cindy and I settled into a quiet corner at another gate and started to stream a NetFlix movie on the free Wi-Fi. Thank goodness we found an electrical outlet by a comfortable seat. At the end of the movie, a plane pulled up. Things started to look positive.
At about 3:30 am we landed in Miami. We were both dog tired. All of the people on our flight looked like zombies at the baggage claim carousel. We taxied to the hotel just a couple of miles from the terminal. The young lady at the front desk was ever so kind. She put us in a room at the end of the hall and put a do not disturbed on our room. She told us we could get a late check out and if we wanted to sleep until 2 pm it was not a problem. At this point, we had been up for almost 24 hours. I don’t remember closing my eyes when I finally made it to bed.