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Published: March 23rd 2014
Next up on the ‘before we have kids’ travel bucket list is...drumroll please… Machu Picchu, Peru! With excitement in January 2014, I began to research flights from Philadelphia to Peru. To my disappointment, flights to Peru for March out of Philadelphia International Airport were averaging about $1,100 a ticket. A friend of mine traveled to Brazil recently from Newark Airport by taking the Amtrak train from Philadelphia (they now have a stop), so I decided to check if I would find better fares from there. I was incredibly grateful to find a pair of non-stop tickets leaving from Newark at 2:00pm on March 22nd
. I booked those tickets and a set of Amtrak tickets for the 660 train leaving from Philadelphia at 9:23am. 4 ½ hours should be plenty of time, even considering time allotted for Michael to inhale a mountain of food before he boards a 7 ½ hour flight (I’m really so jealous of how much he can eat without gaining a single pound!)
Flash forward, and it’s finally March 22nd
! We showered, packed and are waiting on the corner of Broad St. and Washington Ave in Philadelphia trying to hail down a cab. A cab in the
opposite lane nearly causes a four car pileup as it performs an illegal u-turn in the center of the intersection in order to race to our curb. I’m usually never late, but this morning I was determined to find my good Bose headphones before we left because I just couldn’t imagine a long flight without them. The driver is an aggressive one. He wipes through the traffic without even knowing that we’re cutting it close to catch our train. He wraps around Philadelphia’s city hall and eases onto JFK Boulevard. I love JFK Boulevard, it’s like the expressway to 30th
Street Station. Just ahead, there’s a police barrier and beyond it is a HUGE crane sitting right in the middle of the 4 lane city street. 11 minutes until our train leaves, this is not good. The driver wipes the car around a line of taxis and makes a right onto 15th
street. He makes a left onto Arch and maneuvers himself around the congestion. We remarkably make it to 30th
Street Station with 5 minutes to spare. I tipped him graciously :-)
We have e-tickets, so we walk right down the stairs to platform 9 and board the
train. We manage to find two seats next to each other and make ourselves comfortable while charging each of our critical electronic devices in the complimentary electrical outlet. (Why don’t planes have these things yet?) … Twenty-five minutes later, we still haven’t moved. People are getting antsy, and eventually the conductor comes over the speakers and explains that they tried to repair the train, but it is disabled. An alternative train is available across the platform and we need to board as soon as possible so that we can get on our way. Most people on the train didn’t leave themselves 4 ½ hours, and are immediately in a panic that they might not make their flight. As everyone is jumping about and rushing across the platform, we get anxious too. It’s contagious I think. We grab our things and take a seat on the new train.
I spend the ride downloading a Suduko application on my iPhone so that I could do something a little more beneficial to my mental health than Candy Crush during the flight. Michael napped as he hadn’t gotten much sleep the previous night – he said he was just too excited to sleep.
Golden lights of Lima
The hills look like they're on fire - so pretty
How cute is that?
About an hour later, at 11:20am, the conductor announces that the next stop is ‘Newark International Airport’. Yay! I bend down and start putting each of our electronic devices into our backpack. I reach for my travel fanny pack to consolidate into my backpack so that the airline doesn’t argue that I have more than 2 carryon bags (per usual)… and I can’t find it. My hands scramble about the floor searching for it under the seat in front of me, under my seat, in between the seat and the wall… O no. I feel my throat fall to my heart and the blood rush from my face. Michael turns to me and goes, “What’s wrong?” All I could say is, “My passport.” And he shoots back with, “You lost it??” Before I know it all the passengers around us are scrambling on the floor trying to find my hunter green Eddie Bauer travel bag that contains my passport. We miss the Newark International Airport stop as we continue to look. Eventually we conclude that it’s not here. As I try to hold back tears, I thank everyone onboard that tried to help
and exit the train at the Newark city stop.
Michael starts to get mad. “How could this have happened?” “Where did you see it last?” I’m so close to tears that I don’t answer him. I just say, “I’ve ruined our trip. I’m so sorry.” With all other options exhausted, I know now that I had to have left the bag on that first disabled 660 train. Determined to fix things, I call Amtrak Philadelphia’s customer service desk after looking the number up on my phone. The phone just rings and rings and rings. No one answers. Some customer service. I try about 3 or 4 more times to no avail. By now Michael is on the phone with his sister. Since no one was answering at customer service, Kira is going to go over to the customer service desk herself and see what they can do. I decide to call my best friend Joe. We’ve been best friends throughout college and remain inseparable. The call to him isn’t a call for moral support though – he happens to work for Amtrak. Maybe he can get a hold of someone who can help. I explain my situation. Joe says
he’ll make a few calls and get right back to me.
Now Michael and I need to get back to Newark International Airport. We see the Amtrak trains on a platform opposite of where we’re standing. We head up some stairs and find ourselves inside of a NJ Transit station. We have no idea how to get back to Amtrak’s section, but hop aboard a NJ Transit train that happens to be heading in the correct direction. We exit at the Newark International Airport before a conductor can get to us to ask for tickets. If he had gotten to us, I wouldn’t have been able to pay – our money, credit cards, cash and (most importantly) passport are in that bag. I suppose my husband would have given me a loan.
Michael’s sister, Kira, calls because she’s reached the customer service desk. Kira hands her phone to the customer service representative and I explain the situation, the description of the bag as well as exactly where we were sitting on the disabled train. Just then, Kira explains that Joe has arrived! Joe and the customer service representative go to look for my bag. The phone is just
silent. My heart is racing. It’s now 12:00pm, exactly. Even if they do find the bag, the odds of the bag getting to us all the way in Newark before our flight boards is near impossible. I hand the phone to Michael and I start to research alternative flights. Before I even have a chance to open up the search browser on my iPad, Michael jumps up with a hug smile and his fist in the air – “They found it!” Wow – that’s great news. Finding the bag means that the whole trip to Peru isn’t lost – it just might have to be delayed a day.
Joe selflessly volunteers on a beautiful 65 degree Saturday to get on the next Amtrak train to Newark International Airport with the bag. The train leaves at 12:17pm and is set to arrive at 1:22pm. As awesome as it is that the bag is on its way, we have a problem. We have to be checked in 60 minutes before the flight (so 1:00pm) or our seats get forfeited. I’d tried to check us in online already, but received an error that online check in was not available as the customer service representative needed to verify my passport. We head to the United desk at the airport to see what our options are.
Michael and I stand in line at the check-in counter because it was the first desk we saw with the United logo. We were waiting for a person to become available and jumped a mile when a United representative came up behind us and nearly screamed at for not approaching the open self-service kiosk. Michael walked up to a person behind the counter that appeared to have become available and the lady barked back that I “don’t help you here. Use the self service”. Has everything become so impersonal? I’m in a panic here – a little compassion would be nice. Without even knowing our situation, we were sent to the ticketing desk 200 feet down the check-in terminal. We went to the ticketing desk doing what can only be described as a gallop. The lady there was named Mirella. She was sweet as could be, however after we explained our situation she looked at us with sorry eyes and told us there was no way we were going to make our flight on time. While I suspected that this was the case, I still had to fight back tears. Michael and I have been looking forward to this trip so much – I’d bought Machu Picchu tickets 2 weeks ago for Monday, March 24th
. We are traveling up Huayna picchu, which only allows 400 guests a day. If I had to reschedule the hike to Tuesday, March 25th
there is no way any of the 400 spots for Huayna would still be available. Mirella explains that she can send Michael, who still has his passport, on this flight and book me for tomorrow. Michael immediately replies that he’s not leaving me – I’ve got such a good guy. I lean over and give him a kiss. Mirella looks at my sad, stark white face, looks at her computer, and then looks back at my face. She then says, “Let me go check with my boss to make sure there’s nothing more we can do.”
In no time, Mirella returns with a woman named Betty. Betty is super sweet as well. (Maybe they just put all the grouchy people at the self-service desk?) She’s also a godsend. She asks if I know my passport information. Conveniently, I have the information memorized. She offers to check me in now with the information I tell her, but hold onto my boarding pass until after she’s been able to verify my passport. Additionally, she explains that she will escort us to the gate so that we can bypass the TSA line. This is all on the condition that I’m able to get my passport to this desk by 1:30pm. Otherwise, I will have to be rescheduled to tomorrow’s flight.
Okay, I’ve never backed down from a challenge. I begin to map out my route. I’ll have to meet Joe back at the Newark International train stop. I won’t be able to get to the platform without a ticket, so I’ll have to stand at the gate. Once he hands off the bag to me there, I will have to sprint down the hall and then down a flight of stairs. From there, I’ll need to wish and hope that the RailLink shuttle that runs every 4 minutes is ready and waiting. I will have to take that 3 stops to Terminal C. Upon exiting the shuttle, I have to rush down the escalader (there is no stair option), around a corner, up two flights of stairs and then the 200 yards back to the Ticketing Desk. Can I do all that in 8 minutes? Only if Joe’s on time, the RailLink is ready as soon as I get there and I’m in a full out sprint. Lucky I’ve been running at the gym a lot lately and I happen to be in my running shoes. Trying to lighten the mood – I start stretching. Mirella, Betty and Michael laugh at me.
Michael buys us some breakfast sandwiches and coffee from Dunkin Donuts while we wait. Thank goodness for his priority regarding food, because otherwise I would starve if we did make it on this flight.
It’s now 1:15pm. I’m at the RailLink Station. I look up at the train board – Joe’s train is on-time and supposed to arrive in 7 minutes. I’m texting with Joe as he’s getting close. It’s the usual banter, but with at lot more gratitude. I keep calling him my hero. He’s kicking himself for not wearing his Thor cape from Halloween last year. I have to admit – that would be quite the entrance.
The train pulls in at exactly 1:22pm. Joe is hustling. He really is the best. I see him run up the stairs and I decide to pull out my phone to take a picture of him. I’m going to have to update facebook to brag about him :-) He makes his way to the gate I’m at and hands the bag over just like a baton in a track met. He laughs and yells, “Go! Go! Go! – have fun!” I take off just like I’ve seen the track stars do during the Olympics. I scream the whole way down the hall, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” People are staring, and I hope they’re staring because they understand what happened and are in awe of how awesome Joe is.
I’m hustling. I get down the flight of stairs. The RailLink isn’t there yet. It’s 1:25pm. Ugh. Not 10 seconds go by and the bells start dinging for the arriving train. I hustle into a car by myself and jump around anxiously for the doors to close – like my jumping was going to help things along. I sit down. I text Michael that I’m on the RailLink. 3 minutes later, I arrive at C terminal. I have 2 full minutes to get to the desk before my boarding pass is void. I sprint out the car, down the escalader. I end up rounding the corner and I’m back at the self-service check-in desk. I look down the hall toward the ticketing desk and everyone is standing at the ready as if it’s truly the finish line to an Olympic meet.
With my passport in my hand, I run up to Betty. She looks at my passport, verifies that the information matches and starts half running toward the TSA security gate to help us get through. She shows them her badge and says that we’re with her. I feel like I’m a groupie getting backstage. We skip the line and Michael and I execute the most perfect TSA run ever. Shoe’s off, toiletry zip lock, belts, etc. We’re good. We leave and Betty is trying to find us a cart to bring us to the gate within the terminal that is the farthest from where we are. Of course. We can’t find one and Michael and I have to run. We full out sprint to the gate and arrive there at 1:45pm. 15 minutes until take off and .5 seconds before the gate closes. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Kira and Mirella… but most especially Joe and Betty!
We board and start heading to our seats in row 34. We can’t find an overhead bin to put our things in. The steward tells me that we need to check the bins near the front since the back is full. Michael and I turn around to see Betty there with tickets for Emergency Exit row seats. She noticed when checking us in that the seats were available and given that Michael is 6’8” thought we’d appreciate the seats. While I was on my track mission, they became friends. I give her a HUGE hug. I didn’t even realize how sweaty I was until mid-hug. The stars really aligned for me today.
I settle into my seat, stretch my legs, say a prayer thanking God for great friends, quality customer service representatives and a wonderful husband. I relax for a few minutes and then start the movie Gravity. Great movie.
We land in Lima, Peru in 7 ½ hours. It’s about 10:00pm. As we began to descend, I was looking out the window. When descending in the USA at night the city lights are generally overpowering with bright white stadium, stores and street lights grabbing your attention. Here the lights were a warm golden glow, consistent across the landscape. At a glance, it almost looks like there was a fire around the hilly terrain. There are dogs walking about in baggage claim sniffing about for drug smugglers. As we walk into the arrival area about 30 cab drivers jump in our face yelling ‘cheap price!’ We opt to walk 8 minutes and arrive at the hostel, Mundo Albergue, near the airport where we’re staying. We are greeted with a nice welcome bag of treats and our room is colorful with a nice big window letting in the outside air. The walk was fine, despite some reviews on the website that the neighborhood was ‘sketchy’. A man even stops and asks if he can help us find out way, no strings attached. I think he just wanted to speak some of the little English that he knew. There are lots of kids in the street playing soccer and petting the infinite amount of stray dogs (some are puppies and it takes everything in my power not to stop and scratch their cute little ears!). The neighborhood around the airport is called Calleo. I find it remarkable how diverse one building can be to the next. One house (which could be better described as a ‘hut’) can be falling apart with tape holding the walls up and the next building could be 4 stores with balconies and the glow of cable TV coming through the windows. A German couple at the hostel mentioned that they’d be jipped by the cab driver at the airport to take them to this hostel, which is literally across the street (you just have to go around a big corporate complex with a gate). They paid the equivalent of $20. Every blog I read preparing for this trip has warned about it, so beware of where you’re going and barter accordingly. Nothing is a permanent rate in Peru – it’s all negotiable. Anyways, we’re tired! Tomorrow morning we have an 8:00am flight to Cusco. I can’t wait for the planned adventure to begin!
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