26 September 2010
We finally arrived in Brasilia at about 5pm that afternoon, a little over a day later than we had originally anticipated. It was a beautiful late afternoon, and we were half-rested, wearing underwear that had been laundered in the bathroom sink, and happy to have finally arrived. Our sponsors welcomed us with embraces, and we were hustled onto our shuttles to our new home. By the way, Brasilia has a beautiful airport. Perhaps the greatest miracle is that through all the waiting, waiting, and more waiting, none of my children (or their parents) had a major breakdown.
The next morning, we got a call from American Citizen Services at the Consulate letting us know that they would be sending a couple of vans with some handlers to help us through the airport check-in process. Again, little did I know that I would be on the receiving end of what we discussed in Consular Officer Basic Training just the week before. They were great help, getting us in through the shorter business customers line, resolving the mysterious issues with the tickets (apparently, two of the kids were not "confirmed" when they got scheduled the night before), and guiding us to security.
While waiting for airplane, Abby and I went to a newstand and purchased some Brazilian candy. It was pretty amazing, here we were, surrounded by Brazilian people, eating Brazilian food, listening to Brazilian TV, and being the foreigners in their midst. We were the ones speaking the strange language, wearing funny clothes, pushing around unusual bags, and just looking out of place. It was incredible.
We spent the night at one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in, the Cesar Park. Actually, it was more of the morning since we didn't get settled until 3AM. It had amazing bathrooms, almost as big as the bedrooms and definitely bigger than my grad school apartment, a tasty breakfast and lunch buffet, and a fine view of a lake with capybaras. As my oldest said, "I could get used to this."
I also learned that we had been scheduled for the first flight out the next morning (8:30AM, just 9 hours away), and then spent the next two hours using my 3/3 in Portuguese trying to remember if I ever learned the words for "change the flight so we can get some sleep" or "34 pieces of luggage and 8 people" or "I don't need a taxi, I need an extra big shuttle to the hotel please" during our discussions of oil spills, economic crises and nuclear treaties during language training at the Foreign Service Institute. I am very grateful to the agents who looked after us, patiently listened to me mangle their language and managed to get us new flights, hotel rooms, a shuttle ride and move all of those bags through the airport. By the way, the shuttle drove past us twice trying to find a place to park near us.
We were on the airplane for about 10 hours. As we got off the airplane, we were greeted by a United Airlines executive, who called us by name saying that the US Consulate in São Paulo had put in several calls concerning our whereabouts. Due to regulations, an US official from the consulate couldn't meet us as we got the airplane, but the executive and his staff made sure that we knew where to go. We passed through the Polícia Federal immigration booth without trouble, and then found our way to baggage claim only to discover that the porteiros (skycaps) had already gone home, and the only carts for baggage in Brazil are the little EZ carts. Though there was no charge for their use, they weren't able to handle that many bags on each cart. My children got recruited along with a couple of the United Airlines gate personnel, and we managed to steer six carts with wobbly wheels stacked high with bags through customs and out to the curbside pick-up area.
The next day, after a fabulous breakfast paid for by United at the Wyndam Hotel, we managed to talk the hotel into adding an additional shuttle run for us to the airport. We did not know that their was a schedule in the morning. Fortunately, our rescheduled flight was also running behind, and we managed to get on despite having not been officially check-in when we were issued new tickets the night before. The flight itself was uneventful, except that one of the flight attendants thought we should fly in cave-like environment, and scolded us anytime she caught us raising the shades to look out the window and allowing light to enter the cabin from the outside. We did manage to get a few good peeks at the Atlantic Ocean, the Amazon River and the city of São Paulo in between movies and naps. It's not like she could ask us to leave.
Shortly after arriving at the gate, which might have been the one furthest from the terminal, and definitely the farthest from the exit point of the shuttle, we learned that our flight had
been delayed, and then canceled due to mechanical problems. Suddenly our overnight flight turned into a three-day journey. When the announcement was first
made, it was unclear to me if the airline was going to provide a hotel room for us for the night, in part because the announcement was made in Portuguese. I also got to make my first (and so far only)
call to the Ops center at the main State Department building. They connected me with Post One (the name for the Marine post) at the US Embassy in Brasilia, who then put me in touch with my sponsor, the family assigned to help us adjust to life in Brasilia. I also made a call to our church friends who had driven us to the airport as a contingency plan in case we needed to return to Falls Church.
After about an hour of waiting in line, we were given vouchers to for hotel rooms and meal vouchers. I only requested two rooms, and when Rebecca pointed out that it might be more comfortable to put the teenage boys in their own room, I wandered about the terminal building trying to find an open United office to request other rooms, which by the way is near baggage claim after 11PM. After so many years of having to pay for our own hotel, I just asked for what we normally would get. In reality, we were entitled to eight rooms since we had purchased eight tickets. Changing rooms also meant changing hotels, and I had left my family waiting the hotel shuttle for the old hotel, which happened to be at the opposite end of the terminal. Anyway, we finally made it to our rooms at about 2AM knowing that we would have to be back at the airport by 9:30AM that morning.
We managed to make it through the airport without too much fuss. The kids especially enjoyed taking the automated subway shuttles to the terminal. Getting through security wasn't too bad, only somehow my shaving kit got left behind. I ended purchasing a replacement kit at the only gift shop still open at 10pm and using soap as cream until I had access to my luggage again.
We made quite a scene when we arrived at the airport. Our sky cap team took
good care of us, taking us to a the shorter check-in line for groups.
Somehow, we even managed to squeeze in an extra 65lb bag without being
charged, probably since the agent checked all of our bags onto one
Fortunately, we have a friend who owns a 12-passenger van and also has access to our Boy Scout Troop trailer. We might have been able to fit all 36 bags into the back of the van, but that would have required removing seats and scrunching the passengers together.
Tuesday afternoon, Rebecca and I repacked our luggage in preparation for our trip to Brazil. Due to Brazilian laws, the bag weight limit is 70 lbs per checked bag, and our tickets allowed 2 checked bags per person. We purchased an extra suitcase and decided that we would pay for the extra bag since we weren't sure if we could get everything we had left to carry with us to fit.
19 September 2010
We have now been in Brazil for six weeks. When we first arrived, we calculated that we would be here for 100 weeks, and we thought it would be an interesting idea to do weekly blog posts as a journal of our adventures here. Well, it took took over week to get the internet installed in our house. (This was faster than Verizon did for home in Virginia, by the way. Though I am told that our experience was a bit out of the ordinary.) And then, it took me another couple of weeks to figure out how to get our wireless modem to work (hit the reset button), so my kids were occupying the internet computer, constantly, for homework and other things. Finally, I managed to get a blog created, and I am looking forward to sharing photos and stories.