One “Not So Fine Day” journal of why I am sitting at Medellin airport for one night on the way up to Panama City. (Image taken from the Tom Hanks’s movie “The Terminal”)
The immaculate planning
I had planned to go through Panama, Costa Rica then fly to Mexico to meet my friend. I thought it would be simple journey by bus, but research proved to be a lot more complicated than I thought.
There was actually no direct route by land from Columbia to Panama! and so, my research and investigation of a few weeks have produced these options.
- Fly from Cartagena – the fastest and the best route for my current journey, but the cost was $540 and I couldn’t afford the luxury at this time.
- Fly from Medellin – my extensive search lead me to this route with flights from $160 (actually the flight itself if only $50 bu the taxes and surcharges was $100! WTF!) This meant that I had to get back down from Cartagena to Medellin, but even that was better than option A.
- By sea from Cartagena – A lovely Caribbean cruise sailing around 4 islands were available of $400 – $500 taking 5 days. If only I had the luxury of the cost and the time…
- Bus+Bus+Boat+Flight – The budget way to go, for roughly $180, but involved uncomfortable local buses and shady speed boats where i had read horrendous reviews of fractured backs and tooth from the rough journey. Also it takes at least 4 days.
Judging by cost, time and risk, I settled on Option 2 – flying to from Cartagena to Medellin to Panama City.
Now a 1 hour flight from Cartagena to Medellin was the same cost as a 14 hour bus so naturally I should go for that, but I found that I would have to get to Medellin the day before to catch my 10 AM Panama flight. It seemed like an unnecessary hassle to go back and forth from the airport for just one night.
So after numerous scenarios, I decided on the 14 hour bus, but a “Premium Plus” overnighter, which should give me a good night’s rest and get me just in time for the flight. Thoroughly researched and well organised, I was proud of reaching this conclusive plan.
The Premium Overnight Bus
The bus was indeed “premium” with super reclining seats, wi-fi, beverage and snack service (juice and crackers, really) and a personal screen. Not bad! Though the movies had no subtitles and it was hard to follow, I well enjoyed my $40 worth on the bus and had at least a good 10 hours of sleep in the rocking vehicle. The AC was cranked up so high that it was almost freezing but it was a great change to the heat in Cartagena.
Was even able to catch the beautiful sunrise of Medellin.
Getting to the airport
Well rested and knowing my next action, I made my way to the metro in Medellin which I already well knew. The train was packed at 8:30 am so I saw off 2 cars until I found one with enough space for me and my bag. Smooth.
Used my new Spanish phrases to excuse myself off at Park Berrio like the polite traveler that I am, walked to where the airport buses are parked. For the first timer, a weird location to figure out in a slightly dodgy neighbourhood, but as it was my second time, it was smooth sailing for me, even knowing which side of the road had less bumps for my roller.
The buses were parked and I even saw some familiar faces working. Loaded my luggage into the back of the bus, asked them how many minutes until the bus leaves.
Five minutes they said.
That should be enough time to pick up some pastries and a drink in the Panderia down the block because I was a well prepared traveler and was not about to spend double the price at the airport.I order some pastries and OJ and rushed the slow workers behind the counter telling them I had a bus to catch.
Made it back in just enough time and I was back on the bus, opened the food and dug into it. I looked around and something felt different. There’s only one business man. That’s weird, I though there were more people on the bus.
I ate while my imagination worked. Hey, wouldn’t it be really scary if I got to the airport and my bag wasn’t there? Yeah that would be! That would be chaotic because I have just enough time to check in!
I’m still proceeding with my imagination and how the scenario will play out. Yeah that’s scary!
But wait, why am I thinking this?
Hmm. maybe because there is a possibility this could happen? Well, if there is doubt, would it be better to find this out now or later?I guess I should go check it now.
So I get off the bus and go to the back, ask them to open the trunk to check my luggage.
Oh crap. There’s no bag!
I guess my conscience had spoken to me.
Uhhhh sir….. Where is my bag? Did the last bus leave with my bag?
Yeah probably he says.
Well sir, can you please do something? Tell them to leave the bag at the airport so that they don’t bring it back?
With very apparent annoyance because he knew I had gone stepped outside to get some food and it was my fault, he gets on his cell and manages to get a hold of the driver and tell them the situation.
Ya, it’ll be there. he says.
But where? and who will have it? How will it be secure? I grill him for a while.
It will be there, just ask the driver. Was all I could get out of him. Well, that’s South America for you.
I did have a slight guilty conscience of putting my hunger before security so I decided I won’t push any further and hope for the best.
Back in the bus, I regretted not being more careful and trusting in the “Five min”.
Dammit! Its not like five minutes means fine minutes! It means, I’lll go when I’ll go and soon. I should have known.
But at this point, what can I do? All I could do was hope for the best.
Then a new thought entered my mind. Wait, its an international flight. Didn’t you have to check in 2 hours in advance? It’s 8:30 now, get to the airport at 9…
Ya…. cold sweat.
So locate bag, find counter, check in, board. It could go perfectly well, or it could go disastrously bad. But what can I do? I imagined all things going well but prepared myself for the worst but surprisingly, managed to fall asleep even in the middle of this stress. Wow Rieko.
Retrieving the bag
8:55 – At the airport. I remind the driver and he annoyingly makes a phone call. The bus had been waiting. Thank god! I love you! I thank them dearly and give the a tip and thank my lucky starts for the letting me have the good scenario. I don’t know if I’m having a bad day or a lucky day!
9:00 – Find the Air Panama Counter. Passport, boarding pass.
Then they ask for proof of getting out of Panama.
Uhhhhh. well I was going to take a bus.
Not good enough, they need proof of purchase for immigration.
Well I have proof that I will fly out of Costa Rica the week after, which means I will be out of Panama.
Not good enough. He says I have 5 minutes.
I try searching online for a tickets. Find a page with a shining “Online Reservation”! But it miraculously opens to a page “Under Construction”. Then don’t fr*kin put the page up!!
My time’s up, but I see the checked in bags moving on the conveyer belt. Yes! That should buy me some time. I heard they can’t take off with the bags if the passenger is not on board. HA!!
But he still tells me no proof, not boarding. I panic, start demanding to use their PC with no luck.
I play the, “I’m Japanese I won’t stay over my welcome” card with the most innocent face I have.
It seemed to work at least for him and he calls Panama immigration explaining I’m a Japonesa and I have a ticket post Panama.
Big mistake. Of course that means nothing for them and there is not exception. Of course, they’re immigration! And they haven’t seen my innocent Japanese face in person! That now further confirms that I need solid evidence and I should be moved to tomorrow.
I panic more. I try harder on my search but internet is not going any faster. I try booking from Air Panama but they tell me its $300 for a one way ticket. No freaking way.
Finally, after 20 minutes of struggle, they say times up and that they are bringing back my bag.
No! No! No! There has to be a way around this! We can work this out!
Panic and frustration and anger. Though understanding its no fault of the agents at the counter, I couldn’t help it. I was a super bitch to the guy at the counter. (but at least I bitched in Spanish. Well done?!)
With no further possible actions, they escorted me to go get my bag and I probably look like a kid having a tantrum. NOOOOOOOO!!!!
My bags returned and I had was faced with the fact that I missed my flight. And then they tell me the change to tomorrow is going to be $21.
But But But…. Oh Come on!!!! My super bitch is combined with a panting child.
It’s no fault of theirs. I do slightly remember the fine print that said “you may be asked for a return ticket”
but it said “You MAY”! I stomp around the airport with nowhere to direct my anger to and sit down and get online.
This ruins everything!!! My carefully planned schedule and finances. I even calculated the funds for today so that I wouldn’t leave any Pesos unused. My perfect planning crumbling to pieces.
After an hour or so, I take in the situation. Well, it all comes down to me ignoring the fine print, going to go get some food and losing my bags, and miscalculating the check in time. Yup, amateur mistakes but I’m frustrated.
9:40 – Text a couple of people, figure out what to do in Medellin for one night.
Maybe I was meant to stay in Medelin!
Then, I remembered there is a colleague from Japan happened to be in Medellin! What are the chances of that!? Maybe it was fate, maybe this was meant to happen so that I can meet up with him and share stories of being on the other side of the world! Oh it must be! A sudden light of hope and positive thoughts and I’m already imagining how fun it would be!
I text, but the reply was “I just took off for Cartagena today”
Oh wow. How awesome fate works.
Back to reality.
Booked the bus for Panama to Costa Rica, which did require creating an account in Pay Pal and some communication back and forth with the agent online so I couldn’t have done it in 5 minutes anyway.
With the payment confirmation, I go back to the Air Panama girls and they kindly print it out for me to show to immigration. I feel quite bad for my behaviour and feel embarrassed for acting like a child. I force a smile in embarrassment. Sorry.
Decisions decisions. What to do.
- Go back to Medellin and spend the night
- Stay in the airport.
- 1 hour ride back to the city, hauling my bag to and from the metro, checking in, only to check out super early in the morning to make my way back to the airport. Lots of effort and costly, especially with the now additional costs.
- I’m here, there’s AC, good Wi-Fi, have sofas and a charging stations. No need to move and can save cost. The only thing is security and the fact I’ve never spent a night at an airport alone. Researched the airport and people seem to do it here. Doable, but a little scary.
Calculate out the time of travel, effort, and cost and I settle for Option 2. I’m staying!
Killing time at the airport
Chill out in the sofas. Its comfortable enough and with Wi-fi, I take this as an opportunity to catch up on things. I start getting excited over all the things I can do with this new found free time! Read, write, watch, play!
A happy encounter:
Then a tap on my shoulders and a familiar face pops up. Its the guys from the hostel from Medellin.
Hey! I’m so thrilled to see them! They’re flying out to no other than Catagena!
But still, this lifts my spirits up and we have an hour or two of fun chatting. I see them off to their gates.
It’s good, I tell myself. All these things happen for a reason. Now I have time with to catch up on writing my blog and the series of TV shows I wanted to watch. This will be good. I spend my time surfing the internet, learning Spanish and writing my blog.
I have just enough money for dinner, which ends up costing me 17,000 Pesos (damn airport food!) but oh well. I have just enough for morning coffee tomorrow.
The approach of the night
It’s almost 12 at night and slowly the doubt of this decision is creeping up on me. Is this really okay?
Surprisingly there are many people sleeping on the couches around and I don’t feel unsafe. The lights are on and there is a person at information and security that comes around once in a while and a Juan Valdez (Columbia’s Starbucks) that seems to be open 24h. I remind myself of why I chose to stay and the new experience I am getting and all the fun things I can do tonight.
But as I try to stay positive, a thought enters. Just yesterday, I had received a mail from a friend to share the mail with others to have the best day of my life (basically a chain mail I wouldn’t bother with) but should I have done it? Could this be a result of not forwarding?
Silly me, it has nothing to do with it and everything to do with decisions I’ve made but the fact that this thought enters is an indication I am scared. People have told me and I promised that when in doubt, go for the safer option, not the cheaper, not the more adventurous. But here I am sitting in Medellin Columbia in an airport in the middle of the night for logistic reasons.
I write these thoughts down now because its something I want to vividly remember.
Because when i wake up tomorrow and I am safe, I will justify my decision and think it was an awesome experience. What an adventure! Good for me for making the right decision and taking a bit of a risk! But the reality is, me sitting in an airport at 12:30 and still weighing the options of whether this was worth it or not while wondering if I should have replied and spread the chain mail or not is not the smart place to be.
Well, its been a long day and a long blog. Hope tomorrow comes and this helps me to remember the thoughts in my head.
The night was fine and I am safe in the airport. I tried sleeping but couldn’t really because people started coming in to the airport at 4 am to catch their early morning flight. All in all, I didn’t feel it was dangerous and the experience was new and interesting. Definitely a lot easier than going back for one night.
As I expected, I do think now that it was a good decision and I’m glad I tried.
Now, after a 24 hour wait, really off to Panama!