Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Thanksgivvakah

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32,000 feet up & Antigua, Guatemala

Happy Thanksgivvakah from 32,000 feet. As you go about your holiday preparations, I'm securely fastened in my seat and in a few short hours will be landing in Guatemala where I'll be enjoying a very untraditional Thanksgiving meal at my favorite Argentinean restaurant in Antigua, the old capital. I thought it would be a light flying day given that it is the actual day of the holiday, but there was no evidence of that in the Miami airport. I have much to be thankful for, especially today. First, there was a problem with my reservation, and I thought I might get left behind in Miami. But the folks at American Airlines went the extra mile to fix it, and I'm so thankful to them for resolving it.

Next, I'm thankful to whomever/whatever fate put me in the TSA Precheck line. I was preparing for the worst when I saw that notation on my boarding pass. Strip search? Body cavity search? But it turned out to be a good thing because it meant not having to take off my shoes, belt or jacket; or take my computer out of my backpack; or even display my three ounce bottles of liquid. Nor did I have to go into the body scan machine; only through the metal detector. I was so dreading pulling apart my backpack.

I'm also thankful for my friend Gary who's on the ground in Guatemala making his way to Antigua now to meet me there before we leave for San Pedro on Saturday. Gary has been phenomenal in helping me to make the arrangements for my apartment in San Pedro and in keeping me up-to-date on everything that's been happening in town since I left Guatemala at the end of July.

I wouldn't have been able to make the trip at all if my friend Eleanor hadn't agreed to look after my house again. I know it's in good hands, and I'm so thankful she consented to doing it. Eleanor, if you're reading this, I forgot to set the A/C and, more importantly, forgot to flip the circuit breaker for the water heater.

A Travel Tip

I drove myself to the Miami airport in a rental car that I picked up yesterday at the Palm Beach airport. Generally, one-way drop-offs are airport to airport. This isn't the first time I've done this. It's simply the easiest, cheapest way to get to the airport when you're going to be away for an extended period of time, have a lot of luggage to juggle and don't want to bother someone else provided, of course, that you get a good price. While you may have already thought this on your own, the real tip is that if you can prove that you didn't fly in or use any of the airport's facilities to get to the rental company, you won't have to pay any airport franchise fees, which add to the bottom line. But you have to ask; the fees will not be deducted automatically. In that same vein, did you know that home dishwashers sold in Florida are exempt from the state's sales tax? Again, you'll have to ask because most salespeople won't know this. Sure would like to know what appliance dealer/legislator was instrumental in getting that passed.

Challenges

Getting ready for this trip wasn’t without its challenges. There were two visits from the refrigerator repairman to fix something that I consider a design flaw in a new refrigerator that I’m going to have to live with; a root canal; a cortisone shot in my foot and then an MRI for something that doesn’t exist, according to the MRI, but is very real to me. I had to replace the garbage disposal, which had rusted through and with literally one step out the door a leaking toilet tank.

Another huge challenge was getting the cable company to do a seasonal disconnect. Comcast had messed up on my last trip to Guatemala and I had to involve the folks in Philadelphia before I could get it resolved on the local level. This time I called rather than trust the website, and after being on hold for almost 20 minutes before I reached an agent, who then put me on hold again for another 20 minutes while she supposed entered my information into the system, I asked for written confirmation that it had been done. She said they don’t give written confirmations but if I went to a local office, I could get one there. After my previous experience, I definitely wanted things in writing so without delay I took myself over to the Lake Worth office where I met Bobbi, whom I also thankful for. The agent on the phone was apparently “incorrect” – I could use a stronger word, so we’ll leave it at “misinformed” - because Bobbi said the office doesn’t issue written confirmations either. After my experience with Comcast, I can certainly understand why they don’t want to put anything in writing. However, Bobbi did go into the system to confirm the status of my order, which it turned out wasn’t in the system at all. I’m sure that every day hundreds of thousands of customers put their service on seasonal disconnect. I just don’t understand how Comcast has managed to mess up my order not once but twice.

In the end, Bobbi put a note to herself in her calendar to manually disconnect my service. A few days after seeing Bobbi, I went back to see her again with a question. You can’t just call Comcast because no one seems to have a direct number there and Bobbi was the only one that could help me. It turned out to be a good thing that I had a question because when I went back, and Bobbi checked her calendar, the reminder wasn’t there. They had replaced her computer the day before and somehow had managed to wipe out her calendar. So she again entered the reminder and my service was disconnected as we agreed. Is it any wonder that people hate their cable providers?

Landing

The flight was bumpy for much of the way and I was glad when the plane finally landed. After a stop at the ATM and going through customs and immigration without a hitch, I was out on the street in search of a shuttle to Antigua. I was fortunate in finding one right away, but had to wait for three more passengers who came in short order. One of the passenger was a woman who was being dropped off somewhere in Guatemala City. This was unusual because these shuttles are direct from the airport to Antigua and even the driver was puzzled as to who told the woman she could be dropped off somewhere else.

Thanks to this woman, I lost an hour of my life that I’ll never get back and saw sections of Guatemala City that I hope to never see again. The driver was unfamiliar with where the woman was trying to go, and the woman was trying to direct the driver. But she didn’t know where she was going either, so we went round and round in ever widening circles. I know just enough Spanish to be dangerous and the way this woman demeaned the driver, who was doing his best to remain courteous and polite, he would have been within his rights to put her out on the street.

At the Hotel

Gary arrived in Antigua before me but was not at the hotel when I got here. He had gone out to do a few errands and have some lunch. When he returned, and we had our reunion, he discovered that he had lost the key to his room. He was much calmer than I would have been had the situation been reversed. After he emptied all of his pockets, and then checked again, I asked him where he had been so that we could retrace his steps. He had lunch at Pollo Campero, so that’s where we started. I was outwardly hopeful that we would find the key there but inwardly not very optimistic.

Something else to be thankful for; a happy ending. They had the key there waiting for him. After he had dropped it and left the restaurant, one of the staff people found it and started to chase after him. But apparently Gary was too far up the street for him to hear the person shouting to him.

In the evening, we enjoyed a very unconventional Thanksgiving dinner at Ni Fu Ni Fa, the Argentinean restaurant: tenderloin steak, papas fritas and a bottle of malbec. It was a splurge for us, and a splurge for Guatemala, but it was, after all, a special occasion. I’ve been accused of writing too much about food and eating in my blog. But it’s all part of the experience.

Friday, Nov. 29, 2013

Believe it or not, Black Friday is alive and well in Guatemala with Walmart leading the pack at 6 a.m. this morning. I wonder if Guatemalans actually understand the significance – or the folly – of Black Friday. Well, I have an apartment to furnish in San Pedro – I’m staying in a different place and neighborhood than I have in the past – so I needed to do some shopping, and Gary is my link to what I might need. Topping the list was bath towels. Two are provided and changed weekly, which wasn’t going to work for this gringo.

We made our way to La Bodegona. I’ve written about La Bodegona in the past. It’s a Walmart in miniature in downtown Antigua. They carry food, household goods, clothing and even some appliances like stoves and refrigerators. I found the perfect towels for around $3.00 each. I also picked up some ice cube trays and a gun-style lighter to light the gas stove. No electronic starter here and Guatemalan matches leave a lot to be desired. One swipe of a wooden match on the side of the box and the lit match head flies off the stick.

Tomorrow we’re going into Guatemala City to Price Smart – the Costco equivalent – to do more serious shopping before leaving for San Pedro. Price Mart is the only place I know of here that has real Triscuit crackers.

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