We began our journey back to Wellington, New Zealand, on the morning of April 22. To relieve the transportation burden from our family, we opted to take a taxi to the Grand Junction, Colorado. I arranged the cab the day before, requesting a van and a 07:00 arrival.
When we travel, we do not like drama. To help avoid drama, we like to arrive early. Our 07:00 departure meant arriving at the airport almost exactly two hours before our departure time. The taxi company did not understand our desire. We began watching for the taxi about ten minutes before the requested time. At 07:00, with no cab in sight, I called the company. They assured me the taxi was on its way. Another ten minutes went by, still no cab so I called again and received the same message. Finally, at 07:20, the taxi arrived.
Our first disappointment was the taxi’s late arrival. The next disappointment was the vehicle, a Toyota Prius, not the requested van. I specifically asked for because of the amount of our luggage. After much trial and error, our larger luggage pieces fit in the rear hatch of the taxi. Our carry-on luggage ended up in the front passenger seat.
Departing the house nearly 30-minutes late made us both nervous. The good news is that the drive to the airport does not take very long. Secondly, the Grand Junction airport is quite small. That means one does not need to strictly adhere to the airline’s advice of arriving at least two hours before departure.
The United Airlines employee that checked us in for our flight was extremely nice. That was refreshing since United had just been in the news for dragging a passenger off one of their planes.
On the other side of the security checkpoint, we ate breakfast. Well, breakfast is a bit of a strong word, especially when referring to a ham and cheese croissant and a cup of coffee. Regardless, it was good, and it filled our void.
Unlike the taxi, our plane pushed away from the gate eight minutes early. An hour later, we arrived in Denver. After a bit of a layover, our flight from Denver to LAX pushed back early too. It was like we had hit the jackpot! In about two hours, we arrived at LAX. We retrieved our luggage, got our rental car, and headed to our rest stop hotel; the Marriott Residence Inn on Century Boulevard.
We headed out early on the morning of December 4, headed to Chicago. Our ultimate destination is Great Lakes, Illinois, to watch the Navy Boot Camp graduation.
We all made it to Dallas without any hiccups. That seems to be the exception rather than the norm with our travels lately. It was cloudy and rainy in Dallas, but it was not significant.
We arrived in Chicago at about 19:30. Several parts of the airport were sporting Christmas decorations.
We retrieved our luggage fairly quickly and moved on to the rental car bus. A few minutes later, we were at the Enterprise desk. We completed the paperwork and got into our minivan.
About 50 minutes later, we were in Waukegan, Illinois, to check-in to the Marriott.
We arrived around 21:00. As soon as we checked-in, we went to Chili’s for dinner, then back to the hotel for some sleep before graduation the next morning. The hotel was packed with other parents and family members there for Navy graduation.
At about 05:00 on December 5, Leslie, Hillary, and I headed out from the hotel. Our destination was the Great Lakes Naval Base to watch Tyler’s graduation from boot camp. Even though Lorraine was with us, Tyler could only have three invitees attend the ceremony. Lorraine was OK with that because she would see Tyler at the hotel after the ceremony. Later, she would go on to Rockford, Illinois to spend time with her sister, Arlene.
It was a good thing we left early because TomTom sent us on a bit of a wild goose chase. We recovered from the questionable directions and made it into the line of cars waiting to enter the base. The line was already several blocks long, but it moved reasonably quickly. We parked in a parking structure and walked to the field house. We found seats in the grandstands and waited for the ceremony to begin.
From our seats, I spotted a concession stand. I walked to it to get drinks for the three of us. Once there, I noticed they sold boot camp coins. I bought two to add to my coin collection in my office.
According to the program we received when we entered the field house, we would watch 1,007 young men and women become United States Navy sailors. Tyler was one of those.
When the ceremony began, it was hard to find Tyler in the crowd. When his division finally marched by, we saw him at the very rear. The division made it to their designated spot in the field house. That was the last time we had a good view of Tyler until the end of the ceremony. That was because the division was ordered by height. Of course, that placed Tyler at the very back. The service was very moving. It made us all feel very proud and patriotic.
Once the ceremony was over, Hillary ran down to greet Tyler! Leslie and I waited in the stands for them to come to us. When Tyler arrived, we both gave him a big hug. Then we had to take the necessary photos.
We all left the field house and walked to the Navy Exchange to wait for Tyler. He had to go get his belongings and check into his “A” school for culinary specialists. We ultimately found out the NEX was not the correct place to wait. Instead, we had to go to the visitor center. We did not pick him up until 16:00. That made it a very, very long day.
With Tyler in tow, it was to the hotel and dinner with our sailor!
The usual 02:30 departure from home put us at the airport at about 03:30. That is where we encountered our first bump in the road.
Leslie and I had decided on this trip we would not check any bags, we would use carry-ons. I did not realize there was a weight limit for carry-on bags. I thought that if the bag would fit in the “sizer” at the gate, then all was good; not so much. The agent told us our bags were overweight. That meant we would be charged $150 US for each bag. We had no choice, so we did not complain. She said she would get her supervisor to come to the counter.
A few minutes later, the supervisor was there. We explained our ignorance and asked for forgiveness. He was very kind and said he would let us pass; however, he was not sure what may happen in Port of Spain. We thanked him for his kindness and said we would take our chances in Port of Spain.
About an hour and a half later, we were boarding the Caribbean Airlines plane. Much to our surprise, we pushed away from the gate about ten minutes early. Caribbean is a friendly airline, but they are not always the most punctual, hence our surprise.
In a short 55 minutes, we were at the airport in Port of Spain. We were surprised again when they did not make us deplane and then re-board, the ordinary course of events. That thankfully meant we would have no baggage weight issues hanging over our heads.
Even though we did not get off the plane, we still “went” through immigration. One of the immigration workers boarded the flight to check everyone’s ticket and passport. A short time later we were in the air for our nearly four-hour flight to Miami.
We landed in Miami right on time. We got off the plane and headed to immigration with our bags in tow. We breezed through there and customs and then began our trek to the American Airlines counter.
When we checked in at a kiosk and had our tickets printed, I noticed the phrase “TSA Pre-Check.” Nothing registered with me about that phrase until we got to the security checkpoint and I saw a lone TSA employee sitting below a sign with the same phrase. There was no one in this particular line. We asked him if we could go through that line, to which he replied yes. It was wonderful; we just zipped right through.
Once we were on the other side of security, we headed to our gate. It just so happened there was a restaurant near our gate, so we stopped for lunch.
At the gate, we took a seat to wait for the 15:30 boarding call. Outside we could see some very dark and ominous clouds approaching. At about the same time there was a “breaking news” segment on TV in which they said a tornado had been spotted on the ground one mile west of the Miami International Airport…our second speed bump this trip.
When I heard that report, I began to dread the evacuation of the terminal. I was quite surprised when that never happened. Regardless, I watched closely to see if I could spot any rotation in the clouds. Periodically I looked across the concourse. I could still see planes taking off, bathed in sunlight.
Rain began to fall before boarding began. The rain fell harder and harder. It was so bad at one point that one could barely make out the parked plane. After a couple of dozen passengers boarded, one of the pilots emerged from the jetway and spoke to the agent handling the boarding. Boarding stopped immediately. Soon, the boarded passengers emerged from the jetway. The entire time, the rain became worse. We overheard one of the pilots stated that boarding could not begin until the lightning stopped. We had not seen lightning, but it was no doubt associated with the storm.
The scheduled departure for our flight was 16:00; however, at that time, we were still waiting to board. By then, the skies began to clear. Finally, at about 16:30, boarding started again. We nervously boarded the plane, worried we would miss our connection from Dallas to Grand Junction. We were one full hour late when the plane pushed back from the gate at 17:00.
Shortly before the plane pushed back, an Army major sat in the window seat beside Leslie. He asked where we were going. Leslie told him of our trip from Guyana to Colorado for Hillary’s graduation. He was amazed when he found out we work at the United States Embassy in Guyana. He shared that he was with the Military Attaché office at the United States Embassy in Lima, Peru, what a small world! Leslie’s uncle Wayne was the Attaché to Lima, Peru in the late 1960s, what a coincidence!
The remainder of the flight to Dallas was uneventful.
We landed at DFW at 19:20, a little more than one hour late. Upon landing, one of the flight attendants began reading connecting flight information. We learned we would arrive at gate A36 and our flight to Grand Junction would depart from gate B10. Looking in the back of the American Way magazine, I noticed a moving sidewalk connected the two terminals. It looked like such a short distance in the magazine…
With only about 30 minutes left before the next flight left, we began our mad dash to B10. Of course, several segments of the moving sidewalk were not performing as advertised…they were stationary! That made us walk all the faster.
As I approached B10, I saw the area was empty. That did not worry me; I just figured everyone was on board. That calm thought was quickly shattered when I saw the screen behind the gate counter indicated the departure was for Des Moines! I told Leslie to stay there as I dashed another 100 feet or so down the concourse to the departure screens. I saw our flight was departing out of gate B17.
I told Leslie I would run ahead to the gate to hold the plane. She agreed. I arrived at the gate and gave the agent our tickets. She said we could relax; everything was fine. Moments later, Leslie came. She was exhausted as we walked down the jetway to the plane. We had made it with nine minutes to spare!
We relaxed in our seats for the relatively short flight to Grand Junction.
Our plane landed in Grand Junction ahead of schedule. Once the aircraft arrived at the gate, we waited for our carry-on bags to be delivered to the jetway. Since we did not check any luggage, we strolled right out of the airport to the waiting vehicle.
It was nice to be in Colorado again.
Once we arrived in Fruita, Colorado, family time began in earnest. We told Hillary she could open the graduation present from us when we arrived. She loved the ribbon on the box so much that she affixed it to her shirt. She opened the box and saw a toy car. It took her a while, but she finally understood that Grandma Miles and we were getting her a car for her graduation gift. We would go car shopping first thing tomorrow!
The morning of the commencement ceremony was beautiful; a bit chilly, but beautiful.
We packed up all of our passengers and headed to Colorado Mesa University’s Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction, Colorado. We had some people with us who had limited mobility. Because of that, we were ushered up into the tower on the east side of the stadium. That gave us a magnificent view of the field; however, it was in the shade. There was a bit of a breeze which, combined with the cold morning temperature, made it slightly uncomfortable. I finally gave in and went down to the concession stand where I spent too much money on two CMU Maverick fleece blankets for Leslie and me.
A bit warmer, we waited for the ceremony to begin. When the graduates started to walk onto the field to their seats, we began our quest to spot Hillary. I was reminded of National Geographic specials on penguins. In the mass of penguins in the colony, the parent penguins seem to be able to navigate directly to their particular chick. It worked similarly that morning. Leslie and I spotted Hillary with little effort.
With Hillary properly located, we began the long wait until the “V’s” were called to the stage to receive their diplomas. The fleece blankets at least made the wait tolerable.
Finally, Hillary’s row arose and walked to the stage. It was quite rewarding for us to see Hillary walk across that stage. We are very proud of her accomplishment.
After the ceremony, we made our way to ground level to wait for Hillary to emerge. When she did show up, she was beyond excited!
After all of the exciting reunions outside the stadium, we collected everyone and drove back to Fruita. Hillary’s honorary gathering was set to take place. It was a pleasant time with plenty of family photographs.
The Wednesday before we were to return to Guyana, Hillary had several of her friends over for dinner. With the afternoon light, the photographs turned out great!
Like all of our adventures, we began the day of travel to our home in Georgetown, Guyana very early in the morning. For some reason, this time, only Leslie’s ticket had the notification “TSA pre-check.” It did not matter; that option is not available at the Grand Junction Regional Airport anyway.
We boarded our plane at 05:45. We were right on time. Unfortunately, once we were in the air, we learned that there was a substantial amount of weather in southeastern Colorado. Our route would take us into west Texas instead of the direct course to Dallas.
Most of the flight was choppy to bumpy. We were to land in Dallas at 09:15, plenty of time to make our 10:30 flight to Miami. Unfortunately, we did not land until 09:40, then came the unending taxiing to our assigned gate, B30. While taxiing, the flight attendant informed us our next flight would leave from gate A10. When I looked at the diagram in the magazine, I saw there was no moving sidewalk between terminals. Our only option to try to make the flight was to utilize the Sky Train.
Meanwhile, we stopped just short of our arrival gate. It appears the ground crew was not ready for the arrival since we were late. That caused a further delay of nearly ten minutes, adding to our stress. When we finally got off the plane, we had to wait in the jetway for our carry-on bags. That seemed to take forever. As soon as the door opened, I grabbed our bags, and we headed to the Sky Train.
Luckily, we were able to catch the train right next to B30. Just as fortunate was the fact the Sky Train stopped next to A10. We made it to A10 only to find the flight was now at A14. Dashing to A14, we made it on the plane with only five minutes to spare. We vowed to make sure we have a much longer connection time in the future.
We made it to Miami on time. It was around 14:00, which meant we were hungry for lunch. Close to our next gate, we found an Irish Pub. That is where we decided to have lunch. I had fish and chips; Leslie chose a Cuban sandwich. They were both outstanding.
Not many people seem to take note of Peace & Love at the Miami International Airport.
We boarded our flight to Port of Spain on time. We also left on time, quite a relief from some of our other adventures.
While on the flight to Trinidad and Tobago, the flight attendant gave everyone an immigration form. I did not think we were going to need one since we had a confirmed reservation. Luckily, I decided to keep the forms.
At the transit desk on the lower level of the airport, we found out we would have to exit the airport, go to the Caribbean Airlines desk, get our boarding pass, and then come back into the airport. To enable all of that, we filled out our immigration forms, much to our dismay.
Leaving immigration, we went to customs. Since we did not have any checked baggage, we made it through very quickly.
We picked up our boarding passes and made our way back to the concourse. The passes we had indicated that boarding would begin at 23:25. In true Caribbean fashion, boarding did not start until midnight.
Our seats were 25C and 25D, two aisle seats. They were at the very back of the plane. That bodes well because, in Georgetown, they usually bring two sets of stairs, one at the front and one at the rear of the aircraft.
After an uneventful flight, we exited from the rear of the plane and went through immigration immediately. We walked outside to meet our driver. In about an hour we were snugly back in our home.
The day started quite early as is always the case when leaving Guyana. My flight was the 05:35 Caribbean Air flight. Usually, the motor pool driver would pick me up at about 02:30 or a little earlier. Today, traveling on the same plane was another colleague, so the driver talked me into a 03:00 pick up. The driver and the other passenger arrived at 02:50. As the driver was loading my luggage, he told me we had to pick up one other couple. That got my stomach tied up in knots because it usually takes about an hour to get to the airport.
At about 03:00, we arrived at the other couple’s house, as the driver backed into the driveway, he said, “Oh shucks! I’m getting a flat!” He got out and opened the rear hatch. Now I started to get nervous since the time was ticking. The driver closed the hatch and got back in the Suburban. He told the guard to let the residents know we would be right back. He said to us the tire was not completely flat, so he was going to drive back to the embassy and switch vehicles.
Off we went! Luckily it is only about two miles from where we were.
When we arrived at the embassy, the driver parked the Suburban in front. He walked into the compound to get another vehicle while we stayed outside. By this time the left front tire was completely flat. We removed our bags and waited. Soon the driver emerged from the compound. We loaded up and began the drive back to the house.
We arrived at the house and picked up the residents. As we departed, I nervously glanced at the clock on the dash, 03:28.
Even though our progress slowed because of the occasional large truck doing 25 mph, the driver got us to the airport in just about 40-minutes.
As I walked into the terminal building, I was astonished at how many people were in the small airport. That was due to the relatively short time before departure and the fact that Caribbean Airlines had two flights taking off within 25 minutes of each other. I went to the shortest line and got checked-in reasonably quickly. About 40-minutes later I was on the plane.
We took off right on time. We landed at Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago a short 55 minutes later.
There are many things in this world I don’t understand. One of them is the handling of passengers arriving at Port of Spain from Georgetown. In Georgetown, to get into the waiting area, one must pass through a full-body scanner. Also, shoes and bags must go through an X-ray machine. That is very similar to the U.S.; however, upon landing at Port of Spain, all Georgetown passengers go through the same routine again. That is what I don’t understand.
After getting off the plane, one is in the concourse area of the airport. That is the “secure” portion of the airport. But, instead of being allowed to sit and wait for the connecting flight (which is always the same plane parked at the same gate) one is forced to be screened again. One could argue that it is a security flaw since the screening only consists of a metal detector and an X-ray machine. Since there is not a full-body scanner, there is a possibility that dangerous, non-metallic items could be introduced to a passenger and be brought into the secure area undetected.
When I made it to the end of the screening line, I was surprised that it was easily 100 meters to the screening area. That did not count the zig-zag portion of the line. The line inched along at a painfully slow pace. By the time I got back into the concourse, I only had about 25 minutes to wait to board the flight to Miami.
The flight from Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago to Miami, Florida was scheduled to depart at 08:30, so one would think boarding would begin at about 08:00; it started at 08:18. By 08:36, everyone was on board. Regardless, a flight attendant did not close the door, nor did we push back from the gate until 08:53. “We just completed the final paperwork,” was the explanation from the captain. Oh well.
About halfway through the flight, when I looked out the window, I found myself feeling almost disoriented. Looking down at the ocean, it was just as blue as the sky. In the distance was a small thin layer of clouds. They appeared to be at about our same altitude. It was difficult to tell if we were flying upside down or right side up when focusing on the clouds! It was beautiful, though.
As we neared Miami, flying over and near the big island of the Bahamas, it struck me how crystal blue the water was. It was a beautiful shade of turquoise.
Landing at 12:35, little did I know there was another travel surprise coming. Leaving the gate where the plane parked, one has to go up an escalator and then walk to immigration. When I got to the top of the escalator, in between me and the first moving sidewalk, there was a large crowd of people just standing there. I thought it was some tour group, so I began to walk around. Then I noticed it was three lines. At the head of each line was a Customs and Border Protection officer. They were checking everyone’s passport. I went back to the end of a line and waited for my turn.
On my customs form, I wrote that I had been to Guyana and Suriname on this trip out of the United States. When I handed my passport to the agent, he did not look at it at first. He pulled out the customs form, looked at it and then at me. He asked why I had been to those two countries. As I began to answer his question, he saw that my passport was a diplomatic passport. He immediately said, “Oh, never mind. Have a good day, sir”. Off I went to immigration.
I passed through immigration and customs quickly. As I exited, I found myself in Terminal H. I had to go to terminal D, but first I had to re-check my baggage and get my boarding passes. That all took about an hour. Luckily I had a three-hour layover.
Of course, my gate could not have been D2 or D3; it was D42! What a hike! When I got near the gate, I had a quick chicken Caesar salad and waited to board.
The flight to Dallas, Texas, was uneventful. Upon arrival, I made my way to gate B10. Directly across from B10 is a TGI Fridays, so I decided to have dinner. I had the Dragonfire Chicken. It was particularly marginal.
Emerging from Fridays, I discovered my gate was now B24. Once I got there, it was only about 20 minutes until we boarded.
Gate B24 at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
The flight to Grand Junction, Colorado was pretty. We were flying almost directly toward the setting sun. There were quite a few clouds. The sunlight hitting them was beautiful. Unfortunately, none of my photographs did the sight justice.
About two hours later, I was on the ground and heading for Fruita, Colorado.
During my time in Fruita, I was able to relax by pursuing my passion — photography. The following are some of my favorite shots from this trip.