The Recovery from the Journey

Part 2: The pre-plan – Flights & Relaxing at Hotel Bougainvillea

Where I live in Wodonga NE Victoria April through to June, we can get heavy fog in the morning and in years past this has played havoc with early morning flights.  As my international flight was at 10am out of Sydney I opted to fly up the previous day around 1pm to avoid any fog and stay overnight at the Novotel before departure the next day.

My cousin Greg dropped me off with all my luggage as I setoff for my next exciting adventure.  Costa Rica & Panama have been on my bucket list for years as this was an exciting opportunity to visit somewhere new.  I have been fortunate in my life to be able to not only travel for business but also for pleasure.  As a Business Process Analyst working for MARS I had an opportunity to work on some large projects which took me to some interesting places including the US, UK & Europe then to Thailand.  During that time, I became fascinated with digital photography.  Another work colleague, Bernie, suggested that we do an online Fine Art Diploma with the Photography Institute.  My friends will know I love technical challenges and I did thoroughly enjoy learning how to approach my photography as an art form.

Over the years I have gradually replaced all the prints in my house with photographs that I have taken.  I joined a local camera club to enter their competitions and have my work critiqued to improve my art.  I also attended many workshops to improve my skills.  For the last few years, I have sold some of my work to friends and published bird & wildlife calendars

Once I retired, I started looking for interesting places to visit. And Costa Rica was next!!!!

After a relaxing night at the Novotel, it was a quick bus trip (Only $10) to get transported from the hotel to the international terminal.  Flight departure was at 10am on United Airlines UA870 – a Boeing 777.  My flight time to San Francisco was 14 odd hours.  For those who travel long haul flights eat that turns into a bed my only advice is minimize alcohol intake, increase H2O intake and try and do some walks up and down the aisleways without getting in the way of the airline staff. 

The bonus of being in Business Class is that you have a seat that turns into a bed and you can get some sleep.  Unfortunately, my flight legs were flying against the sun which is not good for your circadian sleep patterns.  Now you know why I tacked on 4 days up front for this trip.

Flight was uneventful but tiring. 

On arrival in SFO presented myself & my ETSA pass to customs which painless and surprisingly fast.  Many years ago, I had gone through LA which was took a long time.  Next baggage claim and hand over luggage for the flight to IAH (Houston) as I had nothing to declare whilst in transit.  The next flight was in another terminal so back through the interminable lines of another security checkpoint where they were specifically searching for drugs & explosives with sniffer dogs.  Nothing of interest there so on to have my body scanned and backpack checked.  Since I had a left knee replacement last year, I thought I would be quizzed but no they only wanted to check my braces that were holding up my pants.  Go figure.

Next off to the lounge to have a shower and freshen up.  This is another bonus of business class travel as long-haul flights being able to change underclothes and shower make you feel you can face the next legs.

Feeling very refreshed and having had a nice breakfast I was ready to face the next flight.  I don’t know why but they tend to always overbook flights in the US and before long the gate attendants were doing the rounds offering cash incentives to people to catch another flight.  Not this black duck – I was on a mission to get to Costa Rica.   Another bonus of business class is generally your luggage is priority loaded and you get to board first.  Once ensconced in my seat it was time to relax. 

The plane was absolutely packed with luggage stored everywhere they could find a slot.  The people were cheerful and the staff from United were very patient getting it all organised.  The crew having to explain to people of was important to move their luggage around the cabin to ensure that the balance in the aircraft was Ok.  Finally, everything packed onboard that would fit it was time to go.  My seat partner was an interesting woman on her way from Hawaii to visit her daughters in Houston.  She was a nurse on a research team investigating mosquito borne diseases.  I told her that I had grown up in Papua New Guinea back in the late 50’s & 60’s when malaria was rife in that country.  She was horrified when I told her that us kids used to chase the fogging trucks spraying DDT to kill mossies down our streets.  The old saying that what doesn’t kill us in our youth will make us stronger!!!!  The journey went very quickly and the hours slipped away.  People seem to love Aussie accents and I have always found that they are up for a chat.  A most enjoyable flight.

Transiting through large international airports does not give you much sense of the country but what I could see of Texas on the way in to land was much like Australia.  A big brown flat land that stretched forever.

I only had a 1 ¼ hrs to get my next flight and could only hope my luggage was still with me.  Given the small window of time and the fact that my next gate was 80 gates away (this airport is massive) it was time to farewell my charming travelling companion and throw myself on the mercy of the gate staff – after all I did have a new titanium knee to look after so I wasn’t really fibbing!!!  The journey length was also starting to catch up with me as I had now been flying for 20 odd hours.  The gate staff soon had another young fresh-faced assistant with an electric golf cart to whizz me along to the next gate.  Another person who loved Aussie accents and wanted to know where I was going.  When I told her I was in search of a Quetzal she was amazed that I had travelled this far to do such a thing.  Luckily, I had someone else’s photo of the bird to show them – she was then truly amazed as this one of the most beautiful birds in the world.  Then she wanted to see some Aussie birds.  To give her extra time she set new records whizzing down corridors to get me to the next gate with 15 minutes to spare.  Being a nice bloke, I showed her my feathered friends that I store on my iPad to share with friends.  She loved it; me more so for the ride as I would have been totally knackered if I had to walk that distance between the gates.

Only one more flight to go and I would be there.  This was the shortest leg but felt the longest as it seemed forever since I had left Sydney.  On this leg I had been bumped up to 1st Class but before you get too excited let me put this into context for you.  It was an older model 737-800 which had 12 1st class leather seats and no Business Class.  So, whilst the seats were comfortable that was it.  The glass of champagne whilst they loaded was delicious.

My seat partner for this leg was a doctor returning from a business trip to the Philippines who lives in San Jose.  He was the Managing Director of the company that provides Air Ambulances for Costa Rica.  A charming man who had experienced the same pitfalls as I in travelling for work and was pleased to be going home to his wife and family.  We were both tired so I slept for most of the flight and declined dinner (every flight wanted you to eat!!!).  The stewardess woke me on the descent into San Jose.

Finally, after a tad over 26 hours I am in Costa Rica.  Now for customs and immigration. What a breeze that was as they only wanted to know did I have more than $5,000 USD (I wish). My driver, Mr. Lee, was waiting just outside the terminal in a nice 10-seater minibus to drive me to the hotel. All this was part of the tour cost. As he did all the heavy lifting of the luggage plus wheeled it into the hotel, he well deservedly earned his tip.

Hotel Bougainvillea

One of the few independent hotels left in the Central Valley in Costa Rica, this well-located place overflows with personality. Ten acres {4 hectares} of botanical gardens, art, rocks and minerals, a restaurant very much liked by locals as well as visitors, swimming pool, tennis courts, and most importantly, the people who work with us, all conspire to make the hotel a destination rather than just a stop-over.  And to top it off there are loads of birds everywhere even if they are a bit skittish.

Featuring balconies with garden or mountain views, the understated rooms offer free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and safes, plus tea and coffeemakers. Suites add sitting areas, some with sofas.  My room overlooked the gardens and every morning I was awoken by the singing of the Clay-coloured Thrush – the native bird of Costa Rica

Complimentary amenities include parking, and a breakfast buffet served in an elegant, airy restaurant with a bar. Other amenities include a solar heated outdoor pool, a fitness room and 2 tennis courts. Spa treatments are available.  I only needed the restaurant & bar!!!

It takes awhile for your body clock to adjust to the new timezones and dates.  I had travelled back in time leaving on Wednesday 12th April at 1020am and landing in San Jose 26 hours later at 1930 hours.

Arrived at the hotel an hour later.  Time for a hot shower and bed.  Too tired to unpack.  I was up at 0430.  Another shower to wake up then dressed in fresh lightweight clothes it was downstairs the garden with camera in hand except it was still dark.  Breakfast was a distant 2 ½ hours away.  Thankfully the night staff had fresh brewed coffee, cakes and bananas for the early risers.  I was joined by 4 Brits & 2 Germans who also could not sleep.  The sun finally rose at 0450 so out we all trooped to be greeted by the morning birdsong.  One of the Brits had been here a number of times so he started pointing out who was who in the zoo, It was still too dark to get good photos so we wandered down the pathways for the next two hours discovering new delights.  This I repeated for the next four days.  On the second day I ran into another Aussie who was with a different bird tour group. 

This was a good plan to be well rested before my tour started.  Five of the six in our group had arrived early so one of our Tour Leaders Greg Basco took us down to the Central Market area in this large bustling city.  And it was a treat as we wandered the narrow alleyways through the market with its wonderful aromas and smells We had lunch in the Central Museum café which was very nice. 

That night the group had dinner together with our other Tour Guide Paulo joining us. We had one missing who was flying in that evening then we would be all together for our adventure. We had 3 Americans, a Canadian, a Swiss & an Aussie. Tomorrow morning our bus driver and master of everything Enrique would be there to help get us on the road. A sense of anticipation was rising as tomorrow the real tour started.

4 Comments on “The Recovery from the Journey

  1. Congratulations on undertaking such a long trip but Business class helps. I can feel your excitement.


  2. What alot of travelling Dave..glad you could sleep and had great travelling companions and staff..magnificent hotel and surrounds..beautiful pictures as always..stay well…


  3. Very enjoyable read! Looking forward to reading about your future adventures.


  4. Very enjoyable read Wooly. Good to see your natural charm enabled you to hitchva lift at Houston airport.


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