Sunday, August 22, 2004

I got up pretty early to finish packing and begin the long trek to airport. I ended up leaving a few things behind...but I planned on that anyway. I said goodbye to Dani and was on my least the first part of the day was good...I was finally out of that apartment:)

I got the subway to Avenida de Mayo, to catch the no. 86 bus to the airport. I knew it went that way because this girl I had met back in July told me about it...but I wasn't sure how long it would take to get to the airport. It was a little shocked to learn it would be an hour and a half...but since it was only 1.35 pesos, it was worth it since a Taxi, which still takes half the time costs about 40 pesos. Luckily I had alotted plenty of time.

When I got the airport, things were pretty hectic. It took my over an hour to check in, pay the "airport tax" (which I always thought was a little shady), get through customs and to my gate. I was pretty hungry at the time and was resolved to the fact that I would have to pay the expensive airport prices for food...but I was floored! A milanesa (breaded beef) sandwich, which costs anywhere from 1.50-2.50 pesos normally was a whopping TEN PESOS in the airport. That is what I call a mark-up! Since I had about 7 pesos left and had to spend them before leaving Argentina anyway, it wasn't that bad for me...but what a rip off!

The moments before the plane took off were again surreal for me...sort of like the day I left SP. It was more like I couldn't believe I was moving on than anything...but it's okay, I'm not sad anymore like I was last week. There's still a fear factor but I guess it really is a good idea to break things up and go home for awhile.

The flight itself was quite an experience to say the least. I flew a Bolivian airline and had to go through Santa Cruz. The day of travel would prove to be my last reminder of how things work in South America compared to the well-oiled, effecient operations of the US. Since pretty much all my travel over these 19 months had been by bus, this was going to a new one for me.

On the flight to Santa were some noticeable differences from a US flight: There was not one of those "this is how you use a seatbelt and life jacket" talks by the flight attendents. There was no "welcome aboard!" speech by the captain. We all simply got on the plane, and when they were ready we started moving. They didn't say "turn off and stow all electronic equipment" (I knew there was no reason for that!) and about 10 seconds after we were off the ground, one of the flight attendants was up walking down the aisle. I guess the Bolivians aren't over cautious about safety procedures.

Anyway, the comedy continued when I arrived in Bolivia. I guess they have implemented the same system as the US now, so even if you arrive there and are only connecting, you still have to "enter the country"...meaning you have to go through immigration and get your luggage and re-check it. I don't have much of a problem with this, but they had done a very poor job of setting the whole thing up. They haven't changed the signs from the way things use to be done, so there was this conflict of what was said and what seemed right...but they lacked the personnel to direct people in the right direction and no one explained the process when we got of the plane. So suddenly, the small group of us that was connecting to Miami was being ushered towards the baggage claim (same one as everyone else) which just didn't seem right. Again, the signs all spoke to contrary of us doing a connection. After sorting out a little of the confusion, I finally got in the right line, got an "in transit" passport stamp, and got my luggage. The part that made no sense was that RIGHT next to the place where you get your luggage, there is a little table and they ask you if you're in transit...if you say yes, then they open your bag, go through it, and then put it RIGHT BACK on the belt. What is to stop someone from completely skipping this step?

So then I was ushered out into the airport and found myself near the check in counters with all the other people. Finally finding the way (with no one to direct you) I get back to the customs area...but there was no sign and no one there...I had no clue what direction to walk. I turned through this doorway, that was literally like a hall of mirrors and finally went through a security check. There was only one person there and he did not check my boarding pass (which happened to be a very fakable piece of paper). It would not be hard for someone to escape Bolivia if they wanted to...because in this security check, there is no immigration to stamp your passport on the other simply walk to the gates. I was dumbfounded at the confusion and lack of personnel to show people the correct way to go. Nevertheless, I found my gate, and began the 3 hour wait for my connection...which turned into 5 hours as the plane took off two hours late.

But, wait, it's not we FINALLY get on the plane and the woman in the seat next to me sits down and grabs one side of her seatbelt to put it on and the whole thing (belt and all) comes away from the seat in her hand! Ummmm...not a good sign. Again, we took off with no greeting from the pilot, no "put your seats in the upright position speech" and with all of us who haven't been in a car in the last 20 years being lost on the mechanics of the seatbelt (for those of us who had one!) Just a comedic sequence of events...I tell you I'm gonna miss latin America.

By the way, at this point, here is a running list of things I've seen that remind me I'm on my way back to the USA: Malibu and Captain Morgan in the airport, a latin chic with orange hair, people wearing t-shirts with universities on them, people wearing "I went to Bolivia and bought this t-shirt" shirts.

Monday, August 23, 2004

After one of the most uncomfortable plane rides I've ever taken (don't want to get into it) I finally arrived in Miami at about 10:00 (three and a half hours late). It took me over an hour to clear customs...they certainly don't make it easy to get into the country.

I have to say, it was pretty exciting to be back in the USA. I felt a little burst of energy when the plane finally landed and felt a sense of "I'm home" when I finally got my passport stamped. Hope it can be a happy time for me back in the USA.

After I finally got through immigration, my man Dave (friend of mine from gradschool) was there waiting for was great to see him. He had a couple things to take care of and then we were to meet up with my friends Bruna and Nicole for lunch. They had both been friends of mine in Houston and now they live in Miami.

We met up with them around 1 in downtown Miami. Always great to see familiar faces...especially when they are the faces of these two lovely ladies! As an added bonus they brought a really hot coworker friend with them. We had a good lunch...I basically spent the ENTIRE time talking, which probably will be happening a lot in the next few weeks. That's all good though...I certainly have no problem with telling stories:)

After lunch, and taking care of a few more things for Dave, we headed to Gainsville. Dave just bought a house there with his wife Lisa...they also have a one year old baby named Zoe who is the most adorable thing you've ever seen. It took us about 5 hours to get in. One thing of note...we had to pass through Orlando to get to Gainsville. Two weeks ago, hurricane Charlie came through this area of Florida and devestated it. The damage to the trees on the side of the road was amazing. Many of the highway signs had been leveled and we also saw many houses that were in the midst of having their roofs repaired. All of this is damage we saw TWO WEEKS after the must have been a disaster area just after the hurricane.

Anyway, we got to Dave's new house which is really nice. We had a good dinner and just talked for a few hours...well, more like they listened and I talked. I was pretty beat and so was Dave so we all turned in pretty early.

Continuing my running list of noticeable differences between here and South America: UPS trucks (a ubiquitous prescence but I had forgotten about them), waterfountains, amazing cleanliness and landscaping of road/walkways.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

After a nice long night of sleep I was up and at 'em for my first full day in the USA. I took a great hot shower with of the many luxuries I'll no longer take for granted.

Dave had taken off for the lab (he's doing a post-doc at UF) that morning but came home for lunch and then I went back with him that afternoon. We rode in on his motorcycle which was really cool (I have only been on a motorcycle 3 or 4 times in my life...all of which had been on moto-taxis in South America).

Anyway, UF just started classes again, so a cruise through campus was in order...needless to say, it was pretty pleasing.

We got to Dave's lab and it felt cool to be in a lab again...even if that sounds weird. Dave told me all about his project, and just talking science again was fun. I really hope I get to spend some time working in a lab while I'm home. I miss it.

Again, I must say that, today, I couldn't help but to notice how nice and clean everything is here in the US. No litter, no grime anywhere...just pristene. No graffiti, no stray dogs all over the place, nobody sleeping in the street...I guess after spending so much time in BA and SP, many of those things became common place. I couldn't stop talking about it all day.

That night, we all went out for dinner at a wings was great. I have been longing for a sports bar and wings for a long time. One thing is for sure...taking a one year old out to eat is a lot of work. No wonder couples with babies never eat out.

After dinner Dave and I went to the apartment they just moved out of to finish cleaning out a few things. It was sort of weird to be in an apartment complex...these do not exist in South America. They are so peaceful and nice...once again, I can't stress to you how much the difference has stuck out to me. Not that it's so dangerous, but walking in BA or SP at night, you're always sort of looking over your shoulder, but, here, there is no need for that. The level of safety is so much higher and you don't have to be near as aware of your surroundings.

Anyway, after that, we got back to Dave's just in time to watch one of my favorite shows, The Amazing Race (reality show where teams race around the world). I would love to do that some day. Afterwards we hung out for awhile and Dave and Lisa turned in early. I took advantage of having free internet access to catch up on a few things.

Things I noticed today: cleanliness (worth mentioning again), great showers, cars are much nicer, attentiveness of waiters, two-ply plush toilet paper!!!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I spent almost the entire day updating the website and taking care of a few other things online ( internet!). Dave came home and we went to the store to pick up some food to cook on the grill. Being in the store was also interesting. Hey! Choices!! Right on. I had to pick up a few items and it was nice to be able to get the products I was familiar with once again.

That night, Dave made some fantastic steaks for dinner...and while he was making them I was able to enjoy back to back to back Seinfelds!! Later on that night we went out to a bar in Gainesville. Of course, after we almost got there, I realized that I hadn't brought an ID. I haven't carried it with me when going out for a year and a half...I forgot how strict they are here. Luckily we were able to talk the bouncer into letting us in.

The place was actually pretty was good to be out in the action...and especially for Dave, who rarely gets a chance to go out these days. Hey, having a baby is a lot of work! Seemed like he missed that world a little but I'm sure he wouldn't trade anything...he has things pretty good as far as I'm concerned...a nice new house, a beautiful little daughter and a good post-doc at UF. Those things will be there for me when I do finally turn the corner...and I hope when I do things go as well for me as they are for Dave and his family.

Things I noticed: variety of products, back in the realm of dark beers, have to carry an ID everywhere again, drunk college boy meatheads, nobody making out in the bars.

Thanks to Dave, Lisa, and Zoe for a wonderful welcome back into the USA.

Next stop, H-town.



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