Not all of our family transit-stories are this exciting but we decided this one deserved special attention because of how it started.
It was 12pm. We were relaxing on the patio where we could stay cool in the midday heat. The front gate was locked as usual, and we weren’t expecting the gardener until 5pm.
Suddenly a stranger approached us. It was the cleaner. She called Corina to confirm that we were supposed to be there. We told Corina our flight is on the 26th night so we were not leaving her place until the 26th morning. We had discussed the plan with her. It would take an hour and a half to drive to the car ferry. From there it’s a one hour journey to the other side of the harbour. After that it’s a three hour journey to San Jose where we would drop off our car and catch the shuttle to the airport. The plan was to catch the 11am ferry so that we would have plenty of time to get to the airport and have dinner before dropping off the car. I had booked our car ferry tickets online for tomorrow morning at 11am.
At 3pm I saw a text from Corina saying our Airbnb booking was until the 25th and we would need to pay for the extra night’s stay. I told Ajay about the message and then checked the flight time. Our flight was due to leave on the 25th at 11pm! We were not supposed to be in our Airbnb we were supposed to be on our way to the airport!
I could feel blood racing to my head – adrenaline had kicked in.
I struggled to focus in the sudden change of events.
It was 3pm. I went online to book ferry tickets for the 4:30pm ferry.
My vision was blurry.
I couldn’t book tickets two hours before the ferry. Help! How could I have screwed up so badly? How did I get the time so wrong?
Ajay woke me out of my daze. “Ross, leave that. Go pack.”
My head was still spinning but placing one foot in front of the other, I went upstairs and began shoving anything that was ours in a bag. Giselle and Carmelo would come up with new items every so often – toys or jandles or wet togs. Everything was bagged and then crammed into my 80L backpack or Ajay’s falling-apart-suitcase.
Usually I was OCD about packing in the right categories and putting things in the appropriate place but I was barely functioning. Everything was in slow motion. I took deep breaths frequently and told myself it would be alright. “Everything will work out” I said over and over again willing that truth into existence, calling on all the ascended masters I pray to, “stay focused”.
Ajay was working his magic, as he does in intense situations. He rallied the kids. He zone checked every inch of the house. He kept everyone calm. He made sure we were all staying focused on the goal.
Carmelo and Giselle worked their magic. They were so used to packing up they knew exactly what needed to go where. Very little speaking happened over the next twenty minutes but we all worked in flow with the same goal. Get to the boat!
We contacted our Airbnb host and thanked her for letting us know. She helped us to map out a rough timeline and reassured us that one hour would get us to the ferry.
Somehow within thirty minutes we were in the car and locking the gate of our Montezuma place. We had to stop at the ATM in town and pick up cash to pay for the ferry since they didn’t accept card. I prayed there was cash available because sometimes it runs out, and that it accepted our card because not all machines did.
We stopped illegally at a stop sign outside the bank and Ajay jumped out to withdraw cash. Phew! That went without a hitch.
Then we raced out of town, on smooth roads. I didn’t remember the roads being this smooth on the way in. After about ten minutes we hit traffic!
Panic! We still had forty minutes of our journey left. But the roads continued to be relatively smooth and the traffic moved at good speed. We were having some amazing luck! There seemed to be a few other people racing for something so we tried to keep up with them.
Within 45 minutes we had reached Paquera. I couldn’t remember if this place had a ferry crossing but as we drove past I assumed it didn’t, otherwise there would be a big sign pointing directions to the ferry, just like it did in Playa Naranjo. We were heading to Playa Naranjo but something kept telling me Paquera might be the ferry crossing.
I asked Ajay to pull over and ask a cyclist on the side of the road. He didn’t speak a word of English so in broken Spanish we conveyed that we wanted to catch the ferry to San Jose. He asked do we want to go to Playa Naranjo. I assumed he was conveying that the ferry is in Playa Naranjo which is straight ahead. So we drove on.
But something still didn’t sit right. Our Airbnb host had said the ferry was one hour away but Playa Naranjo was an hour and thirty minutes away. It didn’t make sense. We got stuck in traffic and Carmelo happened to be flicking through his phone when he said “Oh! There’s internet here”. I jumped online to check the ferry times and found that the ferry we were supposed to be catching at 4:30pm was in Paquera, not Playa Naranjo. Playa Naranjo had a ferry at 4pm that we had already missed and the next one was at 8pm which would mean we would probably miss our flight.
We were still stuck in road works traffic so it took five minutes before Ajay could turn around on the bumpy gravel road. He sped along the roads back to Paquera. We had ten minutes to make a fifteen minutes journey and the roads were shite! We reached the turning point to the dead end road that would take us down to the wharf. A little car sped in front of us.
The little car was speed-racing along the cliffside’s twisty bends and we desperately tried to keep up in our seven seater Mitsubishi. None of us cared that we were being thrown around from side to side and needed to cling to something to keep us steady. And by divine grace there was no oncoming traffic. We just needed to make that boat!
We arrived at the docks and there was only one truck still queued to get onto the car ferry. We didn’t know if we could still buy tickets.
The guy in front jumped out and ran inside the building to pay for his ticket. Ajay parked behind him and followed suit. When the guy came out of the building with his ticket laughing, and chatting to me (in Spanish) I knew we had made it. I didn’t understand what he was saying and it didn’t matter. We shook hands, both so relieved that we had made this ferry.
The process for the ferry is that all passengers have to walk onto the boat except the driver. Perhaps the carpark is too unsafe to have so many people wandering around it. Anyway, we jumped out and went onto the boat, still laughing with joy that we’d made it. Once Ajay had parked the car we went to find a nice place outside to enjoy the one hour crossing.
The sun was due to set on our left and I’d hoped to face that direction but there were no seats so we sat at the front looking at our destination on the horizon. At some point we grabbed a snack and very very bad coffee (Costa Rica has awesome coffee, assuming you like your coffee black, which I do) and then decided to venture upstairs to keep Kenzo and Lui entertained.
The sun was descending quicker now and it seemed there were spaces facing west so I went looking for seats to fit six. What I found was even better. Our Airbnb host from our first Costa Rica Airbnb, in San Jose, was sitting with his daughter and grandson waiting for the sunset. We had bumped into him at the supermarket near Montezuma a few days earlier because he was off to visit his sister in Santa Teresa (he spoke English).
It was like meeting an old friend. He asked us to sit with him and we talked with him and his family. Every so often he would stop us to point out the sunset. It was beautiful. And so were they. It was a great way to close off our holiday in Costa Rica.
The drivers (that meant Ajay) left to get their vehicles and the rest of the passengers (us) queued up to exit the ferry. On the way out we saw a livestock truck driving out. There was a very slight incline on the ramp connecting the ferry to the dock and as it drove along, a huge amount of affluent spilled out of the back of the truck, sloshing into the carpark and splattering mildly onto the people queued nearby. It was funny to watch but then the hosing down of the spillage was worse as they accidentally hosed it down the ramp leading to the lower decks. When we reached the ramp, we realised the stench was really bad, so we hurried past without stepping on any of the runoff.
Once we were back in the car, we knew we had sometime to get to the airport. But I realised I had booked to car return for 5pm. We were well past that time and I only hoped they would be Costa Rican about it.
We drove hoping to find dinner but ended up in San Jose outside McDonalds. It was at this point I relaxed. I was sticky with dried sweat from running around packing in the heat of Montezuma. And I was still wearing my togs, shorts and t-shirt. I knew we were heading for a wintry 6 degrees celsius London so now was the time to reshuffle people’s bags.
Kenzo and Lui were sleeping in the car so I stayed with them while Ajay took the teens inside to feed them. I cleaned myself up, changed into travel clothes and pulled out all the travel clothes for the under fives – they were still in shorts, t-shirts and sandals too. Then I reshuffled luggage around and decided to pull out the winter gear once we reached Fort Lauderdale (in Florida, USA). We had a 14 hour stopover there which was ample time for that sort of thing.
When Ajay came back to the car we tried to fix the car before handing it back in. Many small parts and fallen off almost as soon as we had been given the car. We realised it was futile and decided to not waste anymore time on it.
We used Maps.me (an offline navigational map) to get us to the car rental company but it took us along some terribly long route. We got there in the end. The car rental company didn’t fuss over any issues with being late or small broken parts. So we were happily on our way to the airport, with time to spare.
We flew from Costa Rica to America without any problems – until we landed. I’ve heard processing in American airports are hit and miss, but we’d had super fast processing when arriving at three of the airports. Departing is always painful because of their ridiculous processing regulations. But I digress.
So far, apart from coming across some rundown airports, we would exit the airport without too much of an issue. Until Fort Lauderdale. We went through the ETSA process pretty slowly because there were a lot of planes landing that time of morning. Then we braced ourselves for the next queue which was immigration.
We were divided into two queues, presumably foreign passports and locals (that wasn’t true). We waited in that queue for over an hour. At one point we were at a stand still in a corridor with Lui needing a nappy change. At that point I sat down, and changed his nappy. Other families began sitting too. We found games to entertain Kenzo and Lui. Finally we were moving. We ended up spending two hours to get through immigration.
Finally it was time to get our luggage. One of the staff on board Spirit Airlines (who we flew with) helped with processing the queues until the last Spirit passengers were through. Then I saw him helping people collect luggage, which was no longer on the conveyer belt due to the long wait times in immigration. Everyone’s suitcases were lined up on the side. He helped people find their luggage. We were the last ones and once we had our luggage we made a pit stop. While waiting he came to check on us, making sure there was nothing more we needed. That was when I noticed he was the only Spirit staff member still hanging around. Everyone else had left. Talk about going above and beyond! Wish I knew his name to be able to acknowledge him. It was a big effort on his part which easily would go unnoticed by most of us. I believe the world is run because of small acts of kindness and generosity. And I valued that guy’s generous giving of his time and kindness to his passengers. Anyway, he told me this was unusually bad and usually the wait was much less than two hours.
We found a place to eat something and then found another spot to sleep for a few hours. Fortunately we can expect free wifi at most American airports so when we had the chance we were zoning out online.
The queue to check in to Norwegian to go to London was pretty bad but we got through it and made our way to the plane.
After our experience in Fort Lauderdale Airport we were grateful for the short processing times at Gatwick Airport and the friendly staff at each encounter. The food options were good, the public transport options were great and the ambience was far more welcoming. Compared to Fort Lauderdale Airport, I was loving Gatwick Airport.
We waited til off peak time and then caught the overground to London. And that leads me to the next story… sleeping on our tour of London 🙂