Aug 312012
 

For several weeks before this trip, I’d been struggling to book a trip to Kaieteur Falls, Guyana.  I wasn’t completely thrilled with the communication I was getting from the agencies I was in touch with, and I also had American Express Concierge and my hotel in Guyana working on it.  In the end, Wonderland Tours informed me they had a tour on the Sunday I got in leaving at 9am (remember I landed at 1:30am, in the hotel and bed just before 3) so this looked to be the best option.

On top of it, it was a tour to not just Kaieteur Falls, but to Orinduik Falls as well.  Sounded like a great deal.  This post is going to be mostly pictures, but just wanted to share a few details for people considering a similar trip.  In the end, Wonderland came to my hotel just before the tour started to get me to sign the credit card receipt.  They’d charged my card a week before, so they obviously just wanted a signature.  When I got picked up at the hotel, it was by one of the other tour companies I’d been looking at – Evergreen Adventures.  It seems they bundle people to get a trip together, so you might consider the lowest-price option.  That said, service and booking from Wonderland was great, so take that for what it’s worth.

I’d read online that Wonderland’s trips depart from Cheddi Jagan International Airport – the international airport 30+ minutes out of town that I’d arrived at the night before and that they used Roraima Airlines.  Well, Evergreen picked me up at my hotel, we only drove 10 minutes to Ogle Airport (near town) and flew with Trans Guyana Airways.  So again, I think with any company you’re taking some chances since they bundle.  That said, every aspect of my trip went perfectly.

Now, onto the trip!  Check-in at Ogle was painless, a quick run through the metal detector, and we were waiting in the tiny departure lounge.  Soon, it was time to board our Cessna Grand Caravan.

Georgetown, Guyana, Ogle Airport (OGL) to Kaieteur Falls, Guyana (KAI)
Departure 10:30, Arrival 11:15, Flight Time approximately 45 minutes
Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, Registration 8R-GAB
Seat “1A” Directly behind the pilot

Flight was actually quite smooth! A few pictures right after takeoff:

Continue reading »

Aug 292012
 

Originally, this trip was prompted by a sale that Delta was having to Georgetown.  Sale + country I haven’t been to = instant interest to me.  However, when I discovered the Delta flight was a redeye in both directions, combined with the fact I have little interest in accumulating more Delta miles, meant I wasn’t as interested.  However, I had the Guyana-bug now, and started looking for options.  American had a fantastic discount business fare into the country next door of Trinidad and Tobago, so after a little exploring and figuring it out, I booked it.  I would also help me towards the 55,000 elite qualifying points I would need to requalify for American Executive Platinum for 2013, so it was a no brainer.  Flights booked, I was set.

Morning came way too early (I know DCA is only 2 miles from home, but seriously, why do I keep booking these 7am flights in 2012?  I know I’m trying to conserve leave time, but really….) and I was off to DCA with plenty of time to spare.  After only three visits so far, the AAdmirals Club agent recognized me, which I was pretty impressed with.  At the new United, you’re lucky to get a grunt as they let you in, the American agents have genuinely thanked me for my business, and truly seemed appreciative.  I know I’m always saying the airlines are all the same, but honestly, American seems to be making a real effort to thank customers.  It’s not going unnoticed!

So, before you ask about the routing – yeah, the point of Dallas was to maximize miles.  Fare was only a few dollars more, and the cost of 3-4 hours of sleep, but with only 4 months left to earn elite points, I needed the extra routing.  Figured I could always sleep on the plane if needed.

American Airlines Flight 467
Washington National (DCA) to Dallas (DFW)
Depart 7:10, Arrive 9:15, Flight Time 3:05
Boeing 737-800, Registration N845NN, Manufactured 2010, Seat 5E

Great flight, decent crew, first meal choice.  Other than that, there’s not too much to say.  Flight had GoGo Wifi, but chose not to use it and slept most of the flight.  Also the first time in eons that I actually had an airline breakfast that I chose to not only eat…but almost enjoyed.  It was quite tasty!  Mmmm….biscuits!

Landing was about 15 minutes late due to ATC, no excitement, and a short walk from one end of the D-terminal to the other, and I reached my gate just as boarding had started.  I know some people think DFW is like MSP in that your walk can be FOREVER if you get unlucky, but fortunately on this occasion mine was short, and there was zero drama.

American Airlines Flight 2074
Dallas (DFW) to Miami (MIA)
Depart 10:20, Arrive 14:10, Flight Time 2:50
Boeing 757-200, Registration N635AA, Manufactured 1990, Seat 2E

Relatively short flight without too much to say.  This was a lunch flight, and it was another excellent crew.  Arrival was on time, got first meal choice, and really that’s all there is to say!

I know some folks feel the need to be “wined and dined” when they fly first, but I actually appreciate American’s relatively light lunch salads.  Just enough to fill you up without making you feel gross.

I had about four hours to kill in Miami, so I did some e-mail and work in the lounge, and then decided since I was in Miami that I needed to have a bit of Cuban…so it was off to La Carretta for lunch.  Delicious Cuban Sandwich (I can see this becoming a regular obsession in the future when I fly through MIA) and soon it was time to board the flight to Port of Spain.

American Airlines Flight 1819
Miami (MIA) to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (POS)
Depart 18:05, Arrive 21:50, Flight Time 3:45
Boeing 757-200, Registration N652AA, Manufactured 1991,  Seat 4E

I don’t remember why, but decided not to take any meal photos.  It was a generic mid-con type domestic meal, a generic chicken or pasta choice…and the chicken was actually quite tasty.  Also on offer were fresh cookies before landing.  Requested (and got) the “big boy” glass of red wine, which the excellent crew kept well-filled until landing in Trinidad.  Killed most of the flight catching up on tv on my iPad – one of the best things I ever did was get rid of cable and just start subscribing to tv series that I like on iTunes.  This way, I never waste evenings waiting for shows to come on, and I can just watch them when flying and I’d be doing nothing else anyways.

Transit airside is not possible in Port of Spain, so had to wait in a 5 minute queue for immigration, cleared with no drama, and then did the short walk to the departures area to check in for my flight with Caribbean.  Had plenty of time, absolutely no drama whatsoever, and soon was in the security line to get back into the departures hall.  A few notes:  1)  Port of Spain has two terminals/wings, each with their own security.  There was a 20 minute wait for security in the terminal I needed to go into, but zero in the other.  Go figure.  2)  Trinidad and Tobago has very strict laws against wearing camoflage clothing of all colours.  Don’t even try it or customs will nail you.  3)  Don’t count on lounge access.  One of the two wings has a Caribbean Airlines lounge you can use if you’re in their business class or an elite in their frequent flier program, the other has a Priority Pass lounge….yeah, I was in the wrong one, and wasn’t going to pay $200+ more for business class on a 1 hour flight at 1am that I would likely crash on anyways.

Caribbean Airlines Flight 525
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (POS) to Georgetown, Guyana (GEO)
Depart 00:25, Arrive 1:35, Flight Time 1:10
Boeing 737-800, Registration 9Y-JMA, Manufactured 2002, Seat 5C

That said, time went by quickly, I managed to get a bulkhead aisle seat, and all was good.  Beverage service was offered, and a beer was just what the doctor ordered.  Landed on time in Guyana, and little to say here again.  Immigration and customs were quite quick and efficient, I was one of the first through, and was out into the taxi queue in less than 10 minutes.  Had a bit of a hard time finding the driver the hotel had sent (yeah, they said he would have a sign, but he didn’t….and he had no interest in searching me out.  I was literally walking up to random people asking if they were him…and that’s how I eventually found him.)

But even then…he wasn’t going to drive me.  He was “maybe waiting for someone else” so he pawned me off on some friend of his.  Now, I’m going to be politically incorrect a second, but I was a bit nervous about the minivan he put me into.  My driver was a spitting sterotypical image of Aunt Jemima, right down to the big flowing dress and mile-high do-rag.  I was once told in DC that “do-rag” is an offensive term, but when wandering Guyana the next day I actually saw a vendor with a sign that said “DO RAGS $400” – so, I figure it’s at least the local term in Guyana!  She was driving the minivan with her mid-teens friend/son/etc, and they refused to acknowledge that they spoke English, speaking in a very rapid creole.

All was fine, however, and 30-40 minutes later I was at my hotel, the Herdmanston Lodge.  The night manager was waiting for me, quickly walked me to my room, got me bottled water, and left me alone – just what I needed at 2am!  It was time to crash, and sleep a few hours to enjoy the very early morning daytrip I had booked the next day.

Aug 142012
 

So, 122 countries visited now, 3 more booked, and that makes 125 of the 194 countries planned.  Less than 70 to go now, and I’m starting to think of strategies and timelines to the end.

They get much harder from here, especially since lots of them are in Africa and not easy to visit multiples on one trip.  I’ll be strategic about it, but I figure another 5-7 years to get the last countries checked off.  With that said, I’m starting to think about how I want to end this quest.  I know I don’t want to end in some random hard-to-get-to African country like Guinea-Bissau, where it would be me, some surly immigration official, and that’s all.  I want the end of the quest to be a bit more memorable.  That said, my thinking is…

Iceland.  It’s the easiest country I have left to visit from the east coast of the U.S. and Canada, and has enough to see to make a three to four day weekend for people.  Would be a great place to encourage friends and family to join me to celebrate finally getting to every country.  Who knows, if it was planned right we might even get enough folks to charter a plane and make it a round-trip weekend long party!  Yes, this is me giving everyone notice!

Of course, now that I’ve said this, the worst will likely happen:  I’ll be on a transatlantic flight with some sort of emergency, and we’ll make a diversion to Iceland and I’ll unintentionally check it off.  While I like to make a rule of “1 night, 1 attraction, 1 meal,” the official rule is being in country counts, so I’d have to check it off.  I will have to keep a backup plan in the books, and I’m thinking the Bahamas might be a suitable alternative from what I have left.

Who’s in?  Start planning a grand party between 2017 and 2020!

Aug 102012
 

I’ve been sitting still too much.

Well, not really.  I just spent 6 days in Las Vegas, but that’s not blog-friendly.  I might post about the flights and hotels at another time, but that’s not all that exciting.  It’s time to count some countries, and that’s just what I’m planning on doing shortly.  I was inspired by the FlyerTalk thread on the cheap Delta fares to Georgetown, Guyana.  Didn’t really work for me (especially since I don’t “do” Delta, and it’s a redeye to boot) but I found a great American fare to rack up some EQP, so booking done, it’s time to plan!

Originally, I wanted to get to Georgetown, Guyana.  That’s easy enough.  But I don’t do one country in a trip, not when there’s another right next door.  I could have bought a round-trip ticket to Suriname, but the times were inconvenient, and I was curious about doing it overland on a combo of bus and ferry.  Get out of the city, and see a little bit of the “real” country.  Only one problem….Suriname?  Only way out by plane is back to Guyana, or to Amsterdam.  No thanks….so keep going east overland to French Guiana.  Not really a “country” but definitely distinct and interesting….and a way out that wasn’t Paris….Martinique.  That figured out, the route was cast:

So in brief, the plan is:

1)  Fly to Trinidad, and connect 3 hours later to Guyana, arriving at 2am
2) Sidetrip to Kaieteur Falls – one of the world’s most amazing waterfalls – on a tiny single engine prop
3) Overland by bus/ferry to Paramaribo, Suriname
4) Hang out in Suriname
5) Overland by bus/ferry to Cayenne, French Guinana
6) Hanging out in French Guiana, and hopefully seeing the Guiana European Space Centre
7) Cayenne to Fort-de-France, Martinique
8) Exploring Martinique
9) Martinique – St Lucia – Port of Spain, and a night in Trinidad
10) Trinidad to DC on American again

I have 9 days, so plenty of time for this trip…but alas, it’s not much planned yet. Kinda winging it as I go. Only place I need a visa is Suriname, so better get on that one! Also, it looks like a yellow fever and malaria hot zone, so better get hopping on that too! Lots to plan, not much time to do it! Recommendations welcome, it’s under two weeks to go….

Aug 012012
 

I know I normally write about international travel, things that are confusing or more difficult to figure out…or places that many people haven’t been to.  However, I had a rather “typical” domestic trip this past week that I thought might be worth sharing.  I was originally planning on driving down to Charlotte due to it only being six hours or so, but when US Airways had a weekend sale it was definitely worth it.  See, unlike Delta and United, the US Airways weekend fares allow you go to go on Saturday and return Sunday.  The others make you stay until Monday.  Flight times planned around flights that were two cabin, and I was off!

Got to DCA about 70 minutes before my flight, which was more than enough.  I’d had my boarding pass sent to my iPhone, and I’d estimate total time from metro to the other side of security at 10-15 minutes absolute max.  I was at the centre pier at DCA, so there was no US Airways lounge there – only the American one and the closed United one.  With no way to get in, I waited a few minutes in the common areas recharging my phone and guzzling water, and soon it was time to board.  Just one note:  in the past week the United club has been converted into a second US Airways Club at DCA, so there’s now another option for people with access here.  This will be nice in the future!

US Airways Express operated by Republic Airlines Flight 3183
Washington National (DCA) to Charlotte (CLT)
Depart 10:55, Arrive 12:21, Flight Time 1:26
Embraer E-175, Registration N116HQ, Seat 3A

Boarding was completely on time, friendly, and efficient.  Took the flight attendants a little time to take pre-departure drink orders, but they were more than happy to do so.  Can’t really say anything out of the ordinary here.  Crew was friendly and polite, everything was on-time, and my upgrade cleared at the time of booking.  All in all, what I would consider an absolutely perfect domestic experience.  Now, a quick pic of the hair of the dog, aka bloody mary #1 of 2 on this flight:

Landed in Charlotte a couple minutes early, quick taxi, and to the gate a few minutes ahead of schedule.  Had an hour to kill before my brother arrived on Delta with the car reservation, so had a quick lunch at BoJangles.  Mmmm, can’t go wrong with chicken and biscuits, especially when you don’t have access to it all that often.  Can’t be THAT bad for you!

Continue reading »