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dimanche 2 octobre 2016

HOME TO HOME HAVANA 1230 PM 25.9.2016 TO BRUSELAS/BRUXELLES 29.9.2016 1900

 The day of departure from Havana is always sad, I had the feeling that this time around I will miss my Little Island more than the usual for various reasons. Went to say good bye to the Pinillos family who fixed a breakfast to hold me over until the COPA flight to Panama City
 An old Lada of undetermined age, recently painted and spruced up, takes me to Terminal 3 of Jose Marti International Airport. The first of many waits! 1. I arrived close to 1 pm and it was nearly one hour before COPA agents sauntered in, while the queue behind me had gotten considerably longer. I procure seat 2B and the Immigration was a breeze, as I cut into the line for Diplomats! Waiting in line is not my usual strength
 waving past monuments and plaza de la revolucion and decaying cafeterias where people simply seem to hang around, then manicured streets on to the fairly recent Terminal 3
 there are no Lounges to speak of at HAV, I used the time to call friends and say good bye. I need their love and affections more than they do mine
 Nothing about that flight was memorable. A nice glass of white wine, an edible snack and efficient service. 2 hours and 10 minutes later, descended into a cloudy Panama City, straight to the Copa Club so full to the brim! As the flight to Miami was parked at the end of the terminal, slowly walked towards it, past repeatedly high priced "duty free" stores selling more or less the same things, smooth boarding, seat 1 E, with my luc with seat mates, no memorable ones sitting next to me.

 Uber delivers me me promptly, the driver was one of the least talkative uber drivers that I have encountered.  Now to change skins, prepare psychologically for the long journey ahead. It was so good to recollect the days in Havana. Repacking and organizing as this journey will take me to other climates, cities and cultures.
I have chronicled my day in Miami.
The day spent with sister was relaxing, we spent some time to do last minute shopping, she prepared some genetic food, she is an excellent cook of middle eastern food, an altogether relaxing day.

I enjoyed my stay at the Centurion Club at concourse D at MIA and the flight to Boston which was just two hours and thirty minutes, with bumps over the remaining storm systems.
The airport at Boston needs an upgrade! (in fact the majority of airports in USA need facelifts as they were built during an era of gentler travel)
I find it amazing that people who work in this inndustry, do not show great curiosity about what is happening outside their physical sphere. On entering the AA Admirals Club, I found the young man at desk totally ignorant, he couldnt help me with my queries, so I proceeded to International terminal from which all the overseas flights depart. (which was a mistake in terms of time wasted). I was flying Qatar Airways and all International airlines with the exception of Aer Lingus goes out of terminal E and AA has no clubs there, unlike JFK where AA has many international flights. I had to leave the terminal, wait for a bus to take us to terminal E. It was about 5 pm. there were no land side clubs, no place to sit and no one at the Qatar Airways QR desk. Wait no 2. I had to wait two hours for a boarding pass as TSA did not accept my mobile boarding pass, they wanted a QR issued paper boarding pass, two hours wasted despite free wi fi at the terminal, cold and without seats.
QR uses Air France Lounge after security clearance ,I arrived at their door, even greeting the receptionist in French (she was a black woman from some french speaking territory). EL AL also uses this lounge, happy to see some Israelis going home, mostly older people. 
I was a bit disappointed at the food and beverage offerings. Prosecco instead of Champagne at an Air France Lounge? but the Bourdeaux Sauvignon Blanc was good. a small selection of Kosher sandwiches! Very friendly Colombian attendants, with their typical paisa faces from Medellin.

I had changed my seat to 1K which offers a lot of privacy. The two middle seats facing me were not occupied, so felt very sequestrated. I had the pleasure of being attended by Min from Seoul, South Korea and Tikku, a tibetan born and raised in the Indian city of Darjeeling. I liked the sincerity and freshness and eager to serve attitude of the Tibetan, Tikku, and also had a nice chat with her about Buddhism and Dalai Lama. She is very happy with QR. I have met lots of flight attendants on my QR flights and sometimes you do have something in common, such as this interest in Buddhism, but rarely these interests lead to friendships. The world they inhabit is so different, for a short period of time we encounter in this closed space. 

A very good selection of food and wines, as usual, Pommery Champagne, Vauvray Chenin Blanc, seared fillet of snapper.

 I am not a big fan of dessert wines. nor of desserts but a chocolate cheese cake, I thought was appropriate.

 Tukki and I had a chance to chat towards the last part of the flight, was good to talk to her about things which was of importance to her, knowing the history of her family's flight from Tibet. I gave her my card, knowing fully well I will not be hearing from her

 Flights in and out of Doha towards Europe or USA take the route over IRAN, I always feel misty when flying over Iran, because off the wonderful years of a friendship

 arriving at Hamad International airport, after a nice "breakfast" as it was close to 5 pm , a full 11 hours after leaving Boston on this Airbus 350, good flight, good aircraft and the captain had a latin american sounding name.

 It was good to be back in the Al Mourjan business class lounge. I headed straight to the quiet area. The dining area was the stronghold of subcontinental youth, the toilet hygiene supervised by Bangladeshis, the clerical work done by Filipinas, one such attendant showed me to a room, quiet with an ambiance to relax for the next 8 hours before catching my flight to Casablanca. Free wi fi, food and wine as you like, a hot shower and shave, all are offered free to you. By this time I had lost my apetite. A lamb sandwich on toasted bread was welcome so was the Earl Grey tea brought over to the quiet area in a teapot by a Mr Luxman.

 A new friend on this visit to the lounge was Elvira from YogYakarta. I told her of my strong friendship with Pak Joe in Bogor and my visits to YogYakarta and the Prambanan temple as well as Borobodur.
The boarding process at the Royal Air Maroc was chaotic to say the least. Pleasant but boisterous, hooded and tented moroccans paraded as if in some hurry. I managed to change my seat to 1 H hoping it would be a single seat as in other 787 Dreamliners (I have flown Dreamliners belonging to JAL, Avianca, Amerian Airlines and QR from memory), RAM has squeezed two extra seats in each row and the seats did not look comfortable nor inviting.
 I very seldom have any luck with my seatmates, but this time a tired UN worker on the way back from Uganda to Rabat, her home, wanted to sleep and after minor introductions disappeared to the empty seats in a corner.
 I have wondered why I do not have luck with seatmates? I have even prayed to the spirits to spare me of this bad star that follows on each flight. I am sure my reserved demeanour, desire for privacy has the same effect upon the seatmates bestowed upon me by fate.
E, a spaniard from the Canary Islands lives in Rabat and has been on assignment to Uganda. She did not reveal much about herself, but when I mentioned that I live in Cuba, our conversation becomes mellow and we discover common interests in USA and Australia. She had visited Cuba in 2006 ad she said, it is the safest place as every one knows but a single woman has to be very careful of the seductive tones of young cuban male, you become trapped she said. I know hundreds of stories of young men and women who fall in love with cubans and end up in a quagmire, with expensive telephone calls and visits and official papers and the rest. I had to agree with her. When I was living in Baracoa in the east of the country, I could easily recognize that our major export was Love in the form of young men and women, transported on promises of eternal love to Europe! L may be moving to DC or Melbourne, so there is a chance we may see each other again.
 After she left, i had the two seats to myself. I knew I too needed to sleep but wanted to enjoy a bit of the Moroccan hospitality. The servers were very efficient and of course very different from QR, because RAM attendants are all exclusively Moroccan, proficient in Arabic and French whereas QR personnel are from all over the world, international polyglots.

 Pink champagne arrived soon after take off, showing the liberal side of Morocco (think of Royal Brunei, Saudi, Egyptian airlines and Malaysian on asian routes not serving Alcohol because of the state religion  regardless of the religion of the majority of the passengers). Let us not even talk about Iran Air!
 Shrimp, Salmon, yet another cheese cake followed by Moroccan Mint Tea

 Just before landing, a very ordinary breakfast was served, I did apreciate it knowing that not much lay ahead in the day ahead for me. I have to say that the service at RAM even though not comparable to QR is way better than any of the transatlantic services offered in the USA based airlines
 The long waits at AF lounge at Boston and QR lounge at Doha were bearable, but the waits for boarding passes at Havana and Boston was repeated 3. in Casablanca. the first two was because the staff were not present. I got off RAM at 530 am and had to wait three hours, for the agent to come, with nowhere to sit, i thought sadly how refugees must feel when no one is attending to them and there is nothing to eat or drink. Many of the african passengers had made themselves comfortable on the floor spaces and were fast asleep (the hygiene of the floor was very questionable). But when he did arrive, the agent for Iberia, issued me boarding passes for my next two flights, casa to Madrid and then on to Brussels. and more importantly gave me an invitation to the Swissport lounge which at 9 am was completly deserted. I appreciated the solitude.

More than the solitude I appreciated the fresh moroccan mint tea the manager of the lounge offered me and he even filled up my travelling thermos flask with the tea so that for the next few hours I carried the flavour of Morocco with me.
A few sandwiches to indulge on, then the free wi fi and the atmosphere to conjure up various other trips which are on the horizon.
So the past thirty days have been very pleasant- in terms of Friends, Feast and Faraway places, some rekindling of old friendships, some new friendships.. Ulises in Mexico City, more friends in Havana and multiple interactions of travel.

The Iberia flights from Casablanca to Madrid and to Brussels were blurs in the mind, I had slept most of the time, thanks IB for giving me good seats..

and most importantly the flavour of the Moroccan tea which I sipped through the flights left a good impression.