Day 1 – Travel to Colombia

Greetings everyone! We have begun our second journey in Adoption. I guess we actually began the journey back in October of 2011 when we first learned that Cameron’s baby brother was being put up for adoption, but the actual trip began yesterday, January 2nd, 2013 with a drive to Atlanta.

For those of you that just want the basics, we left home on Wednesday morning and drove to Atlanta. We got up at 4 AM to catch the airport shuttle at 5:30 AM for an 8 AM departure to Miami. We finally reached Miami Airport at 12:30, got some lunch and caught the 4:25 PM flight to Cali. We arrived in Cali at about 8 PM, worked our way through immigration and customs, got our bags, and took a taxi to the hotel arriving around 10 PM. About 10:30 PM we all crashed!

Now, if you are sitting around with nothing to do and want to hear the craziest series of events…please read on. I promise, I am not making any of this up. I am not sure I could have, even if I tried.

Day 1 was really a “two” day gig. Everything started on Wednesday morning as we tried to get everything packed and in the car. We had spent almost three days trying to get everything we needed into four suitcases (all weighing less than 50 lbs), three carry on bags, and three personal bags. That was a lot harder than it might sound because we were trying to pack for two seasons (warm in Cali, cold in Bogota) and things to do for two children for at least a month. We ended up leaving the house on Wednesday morning needing to stop some place to buy the biggest carry on bag allowable, hoping we were going to be able to get everything in the bags at the hotel that night. A quick stop at Sam’s Club got us the bag we needed and we arrived at the hotel safely.

We met Mary Ann’s Dad, Jamie Hatmaker, who took us to dinner and took our car to Mary Ann’s sister’s house while we are gone. Flying out of Atlanta was a lot cheaper than flying from Savannah, even though we will have a 4 hour drive home once we get back.  After dinner we got back to the hotel and crashed. Our plane was leaving at 8 AM and the airline said we should be there at least two hours before the flight. That meant we were looking at a 4 AM wakeup call in order to get ready and finish the packing to catch the 5:30 AM shuttle the airport.

Don’t know about you, but 4 AM is early for this family….well, at least for Mary Ann and I. Cameron woke up, “Ready to go to Co-lum-bee-a” as he says. We got ready, stuffed everything in the new carrier on bag and headed for the lobby.

At this point, everything was going as planned. The shuttle arrived on time and we got aboard. The ride to the airport took about 20 minutes after a few stops at other hotels. When we got to the airport, we were instructed to get off at the end of the south terminal and catch the shuttle to the new international terminal. We got off, organized our bags so that we could get from one point to another (should have gotten a picture of that). We dragged everything across a couple of roads to the shuttle stop for the international terminal and waited for the shuttle. The shuttle arrived after a few minutes and Mary Ann asked if this would take us to the American Ticket counter for international flights. The driver said no. She said that we need to go to the domestic counter for American Airlines, that they did everything from there.

Little did we know that this would only be the first of MANY switches and mix ups that the day would hold.

So there we were at one end of the south terminal, and guess were the American Airlines ticket counter was? You guessed it! All the way at the other end of the terminal!! We gathered our bags and began the walk to the counter. I had hoped we would be able to get a skycap or something to help us with our bags, but I guess they were all still in bed. We must have been a sight to see. Two adults carrying, pushing, and dragging 4 large suitcases, 3 large carry on bags, 3 personal bags, 1 monkey, and 1 toddler. The toddler, monkey, and one of the carry on bags were the talk of the airports we visited throughout the day. I can’t tell you the number of people, especially airline employees, that I over heard saying, “Man, I wish I had one of those!”

Though we had a few navigational issues (Cameron wanted to steer the bag and that often meant going in a direction opposite from the way we needed to go), that little bag saved us a lot of trouble! We have always hated the idea of putting our kid on a leash, but this is definitely a good alternative.

Anyway, where was I?

We got to the ticket counter, got everything checked-in and got directions to our gate. This part went pretty smooth. Everything was under weight and our gate was the first one after coming through security. Airport security was…well…it was airport security. For tech people like us, it is a little complicated, but good exercise. Take out all your electronics, take everything out of your pockets (one lady was even saying to take out your pocket lint), and take off your clothes….well, your shoes and belts.

The only bad part about security was when Cameron lost it because we had to put his monkey (George) on the x-ray belt. We couldn’t convince him that he was going to get him back. He started crying and saying that he was going to miss him. Mary Ann tried to explain that they were just taking his picture, but he didn’t want them too. It was sad…and a bit embarrassing. Even at 6 AM, the airport was full of people. I was waiting for some hippie in the back of the line to start chanting, “free the monkey” or something like that.

Anyway, we settled in at the gate and waited to board. We had a few moments to get a quick bit of breakfast and then they started boarding the flight. We got to our seats, stowed our luggage, and waited for take off.

As the departure time approached, we started to realize that something wasn’t right. The captain came across the intercom and said that they were having problems with the intercom system in the cockpit and that the maintenance crew was working on the problem. An hour and a half later, they finally had everyone get off the plane to wait at the gate. About an hour after that, they called us up to the counter and told us that they were going to book us on another flight so that we could get to Miami in time to catch our connecting flight to Cali. Only thing was we needed to hurry as it was leaving in 40 minutes!

So off we went, luggage and toddler in tow. One good thing was that we got to ride the train that took us to the B Concourse. I had told Cameron that we might get to ride a train, so he was excited about that. We got to the gate just as they finished boarding the last of the passengers. They actually scheduled us on a Delta flight to Miami which went off without a hitch. Cameron enjoyed the in-flight TV service and watched the Disney channel all the way to Miami. He didn’t have any problems at all with the flight. The take off didn’t brother him and he never said anything about being scared. He thought it was fun seeing everything get small. The one funny thing he said came after we broke through the clouds. He turned to Mary Ann and said, “Mommy, are we upside down” – I’ll let you figure that one out. =)

Once in Miami we had about a 4 hour layover, which was a good thing since we ended up, once again, on the wrong side of the airport. Because they had re-booked us, I guess we ended up on a domestic flight that parked at the domestic terminal gate in Miami. We had to walk, once again, to the other end of the airport, through security again (which went a little better this time with the monkey), and to the international terminal. The international terminal at Miami has 60 Gates that start at 60 and go down. Once we finally got to the terminal, guess which gate our flight was leaving from? Yep, you probably guessed it…Gate 12. After a brief moment of panic, we realized there was a sky train that would take us to the general area we needed to be at. We arrived a Gate 12 without too much trouble, though very much ready for a nap.

We hadn’t eaten lunch yet, so it was time for our last meal in America. I had hoped to be able to find a place were we could sit down and eat a nice meal. Instead, we had to settle for Wendy’s at the gate. I guess that is pretty “All-American”.

After we ate, we tried to call some family and friends to let them know how things were going. About an hour before our departure time, the gate agent informed us that the flight to Cali wasn’t leaving from Gate 12 anymore. It had moved to…guess where…GATE 60!!!

No, not really. =) They moved us to Gate 7, and there was a moving walkway so it wasn’t too bad. Just one more switch in our day.

After about an hour, and one final Starbucks iced coffee, we boarded the plane for the final leg of our flights. As we began taxing down the runway, I turned to Cameron…

This was Cameron for the entire flight! He was so tired. He even slept through the landing though we were trying to wake him up. After we parked at the gate, he finally woke up and we stepped foot on Colombian soil!

I wish that I could tell you that everything else went smoothly. I mean it was 8 PM and we had already been going for 16 hours. Ha!

We got off the plane and got in line to go through the immigration check point. The line looked long, but we couldn’t see around the corner, so we had no idea how long. Truth is we would have waited in line for at least an hour and a half if an airport employee hadn’t walked by, saw Cameron and ushered us to the front of the line. The line went around the corner, down a hallway, around another corner, down another hallway, and around yet another corner! There must have been two or three planes that had come in at the same time! We were very grateful for that employee who took us to the line for wheelchairs and families with children! The crazy thing was that the only sign for the line was about 40 feet from the checkpoint. If not for that employee, we would have waited for an hour and a half only to discover…anyway, thankfully that didn’t happen.

So, we got through immigration…that was the easy part. =)

There are only two bagging carousels in Cali, and like I said there were at least three flights that had come in. We knew that this was a holiday weekend in Colombia, but we weren’t prepared for wall to wall people and bags. Again, we hoped a skycap might help us, but we weren’t able to get any attention in the crowd. We gathered all of our bags, as we had done earlier that morning, and wiggled our way through the customs line to the first agent. The poor guy took one look at us, realized we didn’t speak Spanish, saw that we were adopting from our custom forms, then took one look at this soaked in sweat father, and kindly waved us through the inspection stations. We got outside to a crowd of people and recognized the familiar face of the main taxi driver that our hotel used last time we were in town. He and his wife grabbed some of our luggage and then led us to the taxi, which was a nice big van.

Once settled in the van we began the 20 min ride to the Hotel Pension Stein. Here in Colombia, Christmas doesn’t end until January 7th and it is a big deal! So we started seeing lights right as we left the Hotel. I didn’t have the camera out, so I missed an amazing shot of this huge tree that was all lit up, just outside the airport. Cameron loved it!

The ride from the airport takes you through some beautiful country. Even though it was dark, I could still picture the amazing tropical landscape, sugar cane fields, and mountains that dot the horizon. It is such a beautiful country! The windows in the taxi were open and the air was cool which helped to cool us off after the circus in the airport. It was very calming for me. I was so relieved to finally be here.

In fact, I was so calmed and relieved that it didn’t even phase me when the taxi broke down right before we entered the city limits of Cali!

No, I am not kidding. I told you that I don’t think I could have made any of this stuff up! We were just riding along when all of the sudden, we pulled to the side of the road. Now, if this had been our first trip to Colombia, that would have sent this “worry wart” over the edge! So many movies and stories of Americans getting kidnapped for ransom, it could have really messed with my nerves. But, it didn’t. I was complete calm and confident that we were in the best hands.

Believe it or not, the taxi was over heating (probably due to all of our luggage, which made me feel bad). We pulled to the side of the road and waited for another taxi (I am pretty sure it was the taxi driver’s son). We switched out the luggage and continued our journey.

Driving through the city of Cali was amazing. The lights and Christmas trees were everywhere and so beautiful. They do such an amazing job of decorating for the holidays. Of course the city has it’s other unique elements as well. The motor cycles that weaving in and out of traffic with no regard for traffic etiquette, the street performers at the stop lights that juggle fire (no joke, it was impressive), and like in any big city, the homeless living right out in the open. All of the sights, sounds, and smells are such an amazing experience for the senses.

We finally arrived at the majestic Hotel Pension Stein. This place always leaves me in awe when I first see it, and at night with all the Christmas lights on, it seemed twice as amazing. We were home, at least for now, and it felt good to be here. We were shown to a room and welcomed with big bowls of fresh fruit and water. It didn’t take long before the events of the last 18 1/2 hours finally took their toll and we all fell fast asleep. Happy to be in the native land of our boys.

Looking back on the events of the day, I am overwhelmed by the thought that even in all of the crazy switches and mix ups of the day, our Father in Heaven was watching over us each step of the way. I guess He knew that without a few hiccups along the way, I wouldn’t have had much to write about. =)

We want to again thank everyone for praying and supporting us on this journey. There are so many people that we have to thank for getting us this far. Our prayer is that God Blesses you beyond anything that you can imagine…just as He is doing for us right now.