INTERNATIONAL LAYOVERS, con’t

INTERNATIONAL LAYOVERS, con’t

Now, I will move to my South and Central American layovers, and my Indian layovers. They were quite interesting. 

I was only in Guatemala once, so can’t say much about that. I did enjoy the food, but that is about all I remember. 

I had several very nice layovers in El Salvador. We would arrive from Los Angeles early in the morning, then leave late morning the next day. It was there that I discovered the joys of churrascarias. If you don’t know, that is a really good steak house. There was a nice one about a block from our hotel. In a churrascaria, you don’t order. Either you go to a buffet type display, or the food is brought. The meats, and there are many, are brought on a skewer. You tell the waiter what you want and he cuts it onto your plate. He keeps coming back, so you can have a different type of meat each time, and all you want. There are also many side dishes, salads and desserts. Wonderful food, but also very easy to overeat – which I did!

On one layover in San Salvador, I was taking a nap and was awakened by my bed jumping around. At first, I thought I was having a strange dream. Then the jumping and bouncing started again, and I realized it was an earthquake! That got me wide awake! 

I got up and dressed and went down into the lobby. Several of the crew members were there and we compared our experiences. No one was injured, and the hotel was sound. I don’t think there was any real damage anywhere, and that was good news. The company called to say that that evening’s flight from LA was being cancelled due to the earthquake, we would have an extra day there. 

A couple of flight attendants and I made arrangements for a tour of the country the next day. A driver picked us up and we drove out into the countryside, which was beautiful. I’m not too sure exactly where we went, but around noon we were up in the hills and stopped for a delightful lunch in a little village. The whole day was very enjoyable and the food was delicious. 

The small villages away from the city are very poor, but the people smiled and waved at us. They seemed happy. Sometimes I wonder about all the stuff we have here in America. It doesn’t seem to make us any happier, just more comfortable. 

On my flights to Buenos Aires, we would arrive around 7 am local time. The next morning we would fly over to Montevideo, Uruguay and spend the day there, flying back to Buenos Aires in the early evening. We would fly back to New York the next evening. 

On one layover in Buenos Aires, I made arrangements to take an evening dinner and Tango tour. The bus picked us up in the early evening and we did some sightseeing around the city. Then they took us to a kind of ‘night club’ setting where we were served an excellent steak dinner. After the dinner, the Tango Show started. If you have ever watched “Dancing With The Stars,” their version of the Tango is nothing like what we saw that evening. The dancers were nothing short of amazing! They were all very tall and slim, and beautifully dressed. The men wore what reminded me of 1920s type ‘zoot’ suits, and the women were spectacular. The dance was very fast and intricate. They would get their legs so tangled, I have no idea how they remained upright. It was fascinating to watch. It was an excellent tour, and I enjoyed both the food and the show.

In Montevideo, we were not there long enough to do a lot. I found the drive along the coast from the airport into the city to be beautiful. That was my favorite part. I was told that the hotel was owned by Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the ‘Unification Church,’ better known as ‘The Moonies.’ It was said that he lived on the top floor, however, I never saw him and was never able to confirm that information. 

Our hotel was right on the main square in Montevideo. There were some nice restaurants on the square, and some good shopping. Since we only had a few hours at the hotel, I was not able to do much in the way of sightseeing. 

Back in Buenos Aires, our hotel was right on the Rio de la Plata, which is 120 miles wide at its mouth on the Atlantic Ocean. From my hotel window, looking out on the river, it was about 40 miles wide. I thought about taking a river dinner cruise, but never got around to it. We were right across the street from a beautiful park which I enjoyed strolling through. I could get a little exercise and enjoy the shop windows.

I was told that in Argentina the government paid for plastic surgery. I don’t know if that was true, but I did see many very beautiful people there. Both men and women were strikingly handsome.

Speaking of dinner, I was in for a shock the first time I ate in South America. People think we, here in America, waste too much food. (“You ain’t seen nothing yet!”) The other crew members and I went out to a favorite restaurant, Dora’s, about 2 blocks from the hotel. I had always heard that Argentine beef was excellent, so I ordered a steak, potato and salad. The others at the table laughed at me, and I didn’t know why. I soon found out! The salad that was brought would have easily been a complete meal for the whole table. Then they brought the steak and potato. Wow, I could not even begin to eat that amount of food. The steak was at least an inch and a half thick and 7 inches in diameter. The potato was not what I was expecting. I was expecting a baked potato. Instead, they brought a bowl of whipped potatoes. I shared everything with the table, and took about 3/4 of the steak back to my room. I ate off that steak for three days, and still had to throw almost half of it away! I learned that when in South America, split meals with at least two others. The food was wonderful, just way too much.  

I also flew into Sao Paulo, in Brazil. Our briefing sheet said that the Police and the Army were fighting each other. Now, doesn’t that put your mind at ease. Coming out of the airport one morning to get on our buses to the hotel, a bunch of shouting men in uniform ran past us with their guns drawn. I never figured out what was happening, but sure was glad to get on the bus and get out of there.

As we were driving into town one morning, the bus was pulled over by the police. We sat there for over an hour while the police went through everything. I have no idea what they were looking for, or why we were stopped, I just wanted to get to the hotel and get rested. 

Normally, when we arrived at the hotel we would go straight to the registrations desk, sign in get our keys. However, one morning when the bus parked, we were met by hotel staff and directed to a large room. They told us that our rooms would not be ready until afternoon, and brought in trays of sweet rolls, coffee, and juice. Well, that was simply not acceptable. We tried to contact our dispatch office to see if they could find us a different hotel, but that didn’t work. After sitting there and complaining for about an hour, a member of the staff came and said they had rooms ready for the captains. I said, “No! You will take the flight attendants first.” The other captain (there were two crews by this time) just glared at me. I was afraid that if they got the captains in rooms it might be hours before they bothered with the rest of the crew. I insisted that the most junior member of the crews be taken first, and work up the list with the captains last. I cannot say for sure if that was effective, but in less than another hour, we all had rooms.

I did not do any actual sight seeing in Sao Paulo, but I did go for walks. Almost all homes that were in the city were walled, with razor wire on top of the walls. (Comforting?) Another interesting thing about Brazil was the cars. While driving at night in the city, no one uses their headlights. All the cars would have their parking lights on, not their headlights. I have never been able to get a satisfactory explanation for that, so if you know, leave a note for me at the bottom of this article – please. 

The next morning after our arrival from New York, we would fly to Rio de Janeiro. That was always a beautiful flight. We would be relatively low, and flying right above the mountains, with spectacular views in all directions.

On out approach to the airport we would get a spectacular view of the Statue of Christ The Redeemer. It is the most recognized feature of Rio around the world, I think. It is 98 ft tall, and sits at an elevation of 2296 ft, on the top of Mt. Corcovado. It can be seen from almost anywhere in the city and is quite amazing to see. 

Once we arrived in Rio, we were driven quite a long way through the city, right past, and to the far side of Ipanema Beach. From our hotel, we could look down on the beach. The hotel had a poolside churrascaria where we would meet for lunch. LIke the Montevideo layovers, this was just for a few hours in the afternoon, then the flight back to Sao Paulo. 

When we flew down there in the summer, of course it was winter there. I would carry a light weight jacket. The locals would be surprised that we did not have winter coats. Actually, I thought the weather was very mild, and the light jacket was fine.                             

Like Buenos Aires, the food was abundant. We had a favorite Italian Restaurant that we would all walk to. Usually, there would be at least eight of us having dinner together. We found that ordering one salad and two entrees was plenty, and we would leave food on the table. It was delicious, but the portions were gigantic.

I also flew to India quite often. On that trip we would leave New York at 10 pm, and fly to London. We would layover in London for 42 hours, which was wonderful. I had plenty of time for sightseeing and really had a great time there. While in London, I would do some shopping. I would buy snacks to carry with me to New Delhi, and also 5 or 6 potatoes for baking on the flight back.

We would leave for India mid morning of the 2nd day. Going in and out of London was always interesting. When the crew bus arrived at Heathrow, it would drive into an enclosed area – 1 bus at a time, with gates closed and locked behind each bus. We would have to take everything in to the security room. We could not even leave a hat in the bus. Everything and everyone was searched. Then we were loaded back on the bus and to our operations office to do our flight planning. Along with our flight plan, we would be given a briefing sheet about 20‘ long – typed! I doubt that anyone ever read the whole thing. I would skim it to see if there was something new. One day I saw that Iraq was firing live rockets very close to our route. Now, that gives you something to ponder in the middle of the night!

The first half of the flight was in daylight. We were a little north of the Alps, but still had amazing views. The sun would be beginning to go down as we flew over Turkey. I was never quite able to pick out Mt. Ararat, but I did try. I have a friend who says he has seen Noah’s Ark sitting up there. The mountain range in Turkey is quite beautiful. After flying over Turkey, we would have to fly around Iraq, but right over Iran. By this time, it would be dark, and as we approached Tehran it was very easy to see the Ayatollah Komeini’s tomb. It was fully lit with very bright lights and could easily be seen for over 100 miles. I’ve never seen it from the ground, but from the air it is amazing!

The next sight to interest us would be the border between India and Pakistan. Those two countries seem to hate each other. To make sure their border is secure, it is lighted. Bright street lights are in place along the entire border, literally hundreds of miles of street lights. Both countries are very poor, but they seem to have the money to keep that border lighted!

We would land at approximately midnight. Once on the ground we would try to get through customs as quickly as possible. We were all tired and ready to get to the hotel. Now, India was a British Colony for many years. The Brits taught them English, Rugby, Cricket, and many other things, but what they seem to have learned best is bureaucracy, which they have taken to a new level! 

In most countries, as you enter, you hand your passport over to someone who opens it, checks it, stamps it, and hands it back to you. Not in India! There, you hand your passport on a man, he hands it to another who opens it, he hands it to another who looks at you and your picture, he hands it to another who finds the correct page, he hands it to another who stamps the page, he hands it to another who closes it, and then hands it to another who hands it back to you! I guess it is called employment, but the passport sure goes through a lot of hands before you get it back!

The bus ride to the hotel is amazing and frightening. The streets are very crowded, remember, this is at midnight! In addition to cars, busses, tuk-tuks, motor scooters, and people, there animals in the streets. Animals like cows, camels and elephants. And, monkeys everywhere! It is crowded and it is loud. Like a lot of countries (and New York City), they use their horns there to try to intimidate others to get out of the way.

At the hotel, there was a uniformed doorman who would direct traffic and open doors. He would always give me a very spiffy salute. I think he was told to salute anything with gold, and my uniform had gold stripes and there were gold leaves on my hat. While it was midnight in India, it was noon in Denver, where I lived. My body was in no mood to go to sleep, so I would go to the crew room. I remember one night sitting around, there were six or seven of us, all from different airlines from around the world. As we talked, it became clear that we all lived in the Denver area!

I would try to get some sleep about 5 am, local time and sleep to around noon (midnight in Denver). Then I would get up and meet with some of the other crew members and do something. You could rent an air-conditioned cab with an English speaking driver for around $5 a day. The ‘air-conditioning’ just meant there was a fan blowing the hot air around. We always asked for a English speaker, and I suppose they did speak English, but they were very hard to understand. 

There were interesting things to buy. I almost bought an British Indian motorcycle. There was a guy who would refurbish an old ‘Indian,‘ make sure it would run, and ship it to your home, all for $1,000. I almost did it, and probably should have, but just never quite could talk myself into it. 

Every where I went, they tried to sell me a ‘Lord Ganesha.‘ To the Hindu’s, Lord Ganesha is the Lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is worshipped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. I would explain that I have the Lord Jesus Christ and do not need any other gods. Most would just shrug, but a few would continue to insist that I needed a Ganesha. I do not have one, and do not want one.

One evening I made arrangements for a car and driver the next day to do some sightseeing. A flight attendant went with me. The driver took us to the Red Fort and we got out to walk around. A guy came up and started talking to us. At first, I did not realize he was a tour guide, he just talked to us as we were walking around a bit. After a few minutes I realized we were lost and asked him how we got back to our car. He lead us around for well over an hour. Several times I asked him what he charged. He would shrug and say “not now, we talk about that later.” Finally, I spotted our car in the distance and told the gal with me we were going to the car. She looked very relieved. As we approached the car, I handed the guy a twenty dollar bill. He seemed very angry and insulted over that. Thankfully, our driver saw what was going on, came over and told us to get in the car and he dealt with the guy. I don’t know what the driver said or did, but I sure was glad to get in the car and get out of there. 

There is one thing in New Delhi that I wanted to see, but never was able. There is an iron pillar, or obelisk, which is more than 1,600 years, and has never rusted. It is 22 ft tall and about 4 ft in diameter.

I mentioned monkeys on the drive in from the airport. As we drove to a huge park in the city close by the government buildings, you could see thousands of monkeys – everywhere! In trees, on buildings and cars, 

running around, all over. Now, monkeys may look cute when you see them in a zoo, but they are not very cute when they are all around you. They are terrifying with their teeth and their chattering. They can tear you to shreds with those teeth. 

IN the early evening most of the crew would meet for dinner in the hotel. My favorite restaurant is there. It is called Bukara’s. If you are ever in India, dinner in Bukara’s is a must! They do most of the cooking in a tandoori oven and the food is wonderful. No utensils, just dig in. The na’an is out of this world good. They serve a Black Bean Daal (which is remotely like a bean dip), and it is perfect with the na’an. Of course, beef is not on the menu anywhere in India, but they serve chicken, lamb, and fish, all of which have been marinated in spicy yogurts and cooked in the oven. I cannot begin to describe to you just how good that food is!

(London City Airport)

On the flight back to London, I would hand the first flight attendant the potatoes I had picked up coming over. I ask her to please cook one and bring it to me after she had fed the first class passengers, and she could have the others to share with other members of the crew. Having enjoyed a delightful meal before the flight, that would be all I would need. 

On the way home we would have another layover in London, about 30 hours, and get home early in the morning 5 days after having left. I would get a cab over to La Guardia Airport, and get on a flight back to Denver. Once home, I would sleep for about 20 hours to give my body a chance to get back to normal. Then do the whole thing again in 4 days! 

I have seen some very interesting places in this old world. Many I would like to see again, some I never want to see again. More of my travels in another article.

4 Responses to INTERNATIONAL LAYOVERS, con’t

  1. Nancy says:

    I received this from a reader, and thought you might find it interesting:

    Oddities

    There are a few oddities that deserve special mention. The first is the use of headlights. Brazilians seem to feel that they are wasting money or energy or something if they have their lights on. If you believe that your lights should be turned on at dusk or anytime that you want increased visibility, you can expect to be notified by passengers, oncoming traffic, and even pedestrians that your lights are on. Anyone that thinks about it for a few seconds can tell you that headlights serve two purposes – they show you the road, and they help others to see you at night. In Brazil, it is not uncommon to see cars driving without their headlights on at night. What is the simple reason? They say that there are sufficient street lights to light up the road. Brazilian vehicles have an additional level of low-beams that we are not familiar with in the US. It is almost like parking lights and it is frequently used by night drivers to keep from blinding oncoming traffic. It has the unfortunate side effect of reducing the visibility of the offending vehicle. While making a turn, you must be very careful that someone is not barreling along at twice the speed limit with their lights off or reduced. You haven’t lived until you encounter your first oncoming or passing bus that has no lights.
    The second oddity is the use of the horn. Brazilians are taught from birth that their first reaction in an emergency should not be the brake or the steering wheel, but the horn. A friend of mine was driving my car when another car made an illegal u-turn in the middle of the road and backed into us. My friend actually made the argument that it was his fault because he could not find the horn on the unfamiliar steering wheel. The horn can mean anything from thanks to references to the circumstances of your birth. I sincerely believe that many Brazilians believe that a slight beep on the horn when approaching an intersection is the equivalent of “immunity”, yielding both the driver and the vehicle invulnerable to cross traffic.
    Another odd, but very common thing is the concept of rules by convention, rather than rules by law. For example, there are many areas where the street signs say “pare” (stop), but if you stop you will cause a huge pileup. Actually, the people in the crossing lane are stopping and yielding, even though their traffic markers say go. When I have asked my friends about this, the answer is usually something like – “oh, everyone knows that you don’t stop there.” Caveat Visitor.
    Now for the surprising part – people take all of this in stride. They are cutoff regularly by cars or busses, but aside from the occasional beep, they don’t shout or flip people off. Amazingly, accidents are rare. Brazilian drivers tend to be better than average because they are used to operating in this anarchy of driving rules, where it is literally everyone for themselves. It works, but the stress level is unnecessarily high and traffic does not move efficiently.
    Having said all of this, I must confess that I drive in Rio and Niteroi all the time. Really, this is no more difficult or dangerous than driving through the Bronx without a map and without street signs in an open jeep with a sign – Rich American. Now that I am used to this, I feel strangely empowered.

    • You have just described most of the third world countries in Asia, as I am sure you know. The Philippines for example, often you will see 14 people (exageration) on a motorcycle or top of a Jeepney). I think it is so funny to see workers riding to work on a loaded truck sitting so high on top of the load they have to duck the power lines and tree limbs. Every driver are always blowing their horns for the slightest reasons. They take pride in the sound of their horns and how much black diesel smoke they can spuw out of the public Buses and Jeepneys.
      When you are walking down town you will feel the wind of a passing vehicle pass and hear the horn and see the blur but not see the lights because they are so dim or they have no lights on at all. Some times, I think they are trying to save on the poer bill. Then there are times, you see a Jeepney or a Bus that is lit up like a Christmas tree, with so many lights you gotta shade your eyes. It is so funny…
      They do not have many Traffic lights in the Philippines, when one get to the intersection he just keeps easing out into the intersection until someone blinks and then he moves into the line of traffic… It takes a fine tuned depth perception and judgement of space mixed with great defensive driving technique, one might be okay driving there. I do okay, But I drove a lot in NY City too. Now India one must have a death wish to drive in New Deli and Bombay… JR Hafer

  2. Nancy says:

    I was amused to see traffic lights in India, with the word RELAX engraved into the red light. A good idea, for sure. The drivers everywhere need to chill out a bit, especially there!

  3. Cathy W. Jones says:

    I really enjoyed this installment, too, as well as the responses!

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