Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lima, Peru: The buddy pass has landed

My hiking friend Sandra's arrival in Lima, Peru early yesterday morning has been a long time coming. Just as Kathy and I discovered en route to Rome, Italy last weekend (link), flying standby can require a lot of flexibility and patience.

Following a hike last summer, Sandra told me at Dairy Queen about her dreams to spend a year backpacking around South America, followed by Europe, and then Australia... But I'll let Sandra share her complete, ongoing story on her own blog.

Here is a photo from our Mount Hood area hike:

Hiking up Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain with NW Wilderness, for my buddy Chatchay's birthday

Sandra excitedly took me up on my offer of a Delta buddy pass to fly from Portland to South America (hopefully in the Business Elite class cabin!) on the cheap.

But things went sideways last week, the result of scheduling conflicts which pushed back Sandra's itinerary a bit. The remaining flights to Peru, Argentina, Chile, and even Australia looked uncertain. Long story short, a planned overnight stay in Atlanta with her cousin Bob was extended by four nights until she FINALLY got an upgraded seat to Lima. And two of those nights were spent in the ATL airport. Without earplugs!

Sandra sustained an impossibly positive attitude throughout what became my longest buddy pass ordeal to date, by far. It was all part of the adventure. In contrast, I've sponsored other buddy pass riders who scored Business Elite seats overseas with less effort and also a bit less graciousness (including a good friend who nurtured a cold shoulder until recently regarding a trip to Italy, and another who was strangely harsh to Kathy). But the opportunity to do my small part to help so many other friends like Sandra achieve her dreams make it worth the risk!

Sandra's sunny outlook has finally landed her in the sunnier climate of South America. And she'll be backpacking through for quite a while... until she reaches the next continent.

Safe travels, amiga! Our paths may cross again in some of the most unlikely corners of the world.

Readers can stay up to date with Sandra and her world travels by following her travel blog, appropriately titled www.bucketlistchecker.blogspot.com. The link is also on my sidebar below.

Monday, December 8, 2014

From Rome: Traveling to Africa, Nicaragua, South Korea, or ANYWHERE?

Flying standby overseas in early December is usually pretty easy for us.  Flights loads are lighter.  But our recent winning streak of hassle-free international trips came to a screeching halt this week.

Update 12/8/14:  Originally uploaded from Italy on Saturday morning, I reposted this story today with some bonus photos from Rome.  Plenty of more Italy photos are coming!

Kathy's and my South African safari should have wrapped up on Friday, freeing up this weekend to swing by Italy to see some friends.  Even if I ran out of time to make it to their villa, we could still meet in Central Italy for a Saturday night out in Rome.  It all seemed like a sure thing.

But then this week happened.

Nervous, Kathy?  Not to worry, Kathy totally gave me permission to share this pic, en route to Seattle.

Attempt #1:  PDX to Atlanta to South Africa

Kathy was fearful of traveling back to South Africa on Monday, even more so than our recent overseas trips. The anxiety was too much for poor Kathy, and for days there was nothing I could do or say to console her. To make matters worse, last October our South African outlet adapter had literally caught on fire in our dorm in Spain. We knocked out the power to the entire wing of our Madrid hostel!

The night before we were scheduled to fly down to South Africa for our safari, I mercifully suggested an alternate destination. South Africa would be our first of many attempts this week.

Attempt #2:  PDX to Atlanta to Nicaragua

I stayed up all night on Monday reworking our plans: where to surf in Nicaragua, which active volcanoes to climb, and which hiking trails would be enjoyable for Kathy. But Tuesday morning, we were unable to get on our Atlanta flight to connect to Managua. We flew Business Class to Seattle instead, attempting to catch a red eye flight to Atlanta. Shortly after we landed in Seattle, the red eye became completely oversold.

Central America was out, and we were stuck overnight in Seattle until Wednesday.

Attempt #3:  Seattle to South Korea

Wednesday's Seattle flight to Seoul looked open. We overnighted in Burien with our good Warner Pacific friends Michael and Melanie. Readers may remember Michael from little Lena's first Daddy-daughter trip to Seattle this fall. Here's the link to that story.

Camera one, camera two.  And camera three?

But on Wednesday morning, we were unable to get on our flight from Seattle to Seoul. And all flights to Atlanta (or to any of Delta's international hubs) were oversold for days.

Making progress:  Seattle to Los Angeles

Finally!  We got unstuck from Seattle and flew to L.A on Wednesday afternoon.  This was our last chance this week to transfer to Atlanta and fly overseas, though the LAX-ATL red eye flight was slightly oversold.  Regardless of which country we visited first, the clock was ticking until I had to be in Italy on Saturday night.

More progress: Los Angeles to Atlanta

Against all odds, we didn't get stuck in LAX overnight. The oversold red eye flight to Atlanta gradually opened up enough for Kathy and I to grab the last two seats. Together!

Upon landing in Atlanta before dawn on Thursday morning, we discovered that our doable international connections from ATL now looked horrible until the NEXT day. We had run out of time to visit any counties prior to our arrival in Rome, which wasn't even our main destination.  Italy was merely intended to be a fun way to cap off a week of continent hopping.

The white flag:  Atlanta it is.

We made the most of our extra day in Atlanta. We hiked to the top of Stone Mountain, negotiated an outrageously low rate for a premium hotel suite, and kicked off our tour of the Atlanta nightlife with the Cowboys vs. Bears game at J. R. Cricket's.  Dallas steamrollered Chicago, of course.

A quick afternoon hike to the top of Stone Mountain, Georgia

Our flight to Rome was less than a day away. But Kathy decided that she was content with our unplanned domestic vacation as is. The night before our flight left for Italy, she eagerly removed her name from our listing and booked a flight home to Portland instead. The tail end of our vacation week would be solo.

Back on schedule: Atlanta to Rome

This is where our vacation went back to normal (for us): A Business Elite cabin seat over the ocean, an early arrival in Rome with plenty of time for sightseeing with my friends, and an opportunity for the craziest Saturday night out that Rome has ever seen!  Let's hope!

But that will be a story for another travel post.

12/8/14:  Here are a couple pics from my upcoming Rome post:

The Roman coliseum: Who knew that the Eternal City would take an eternity to get to?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Southern Oregon road trip, Pt. 2: Wildlife Safari

Mommy and Lena get a shotgun seat view of a giraffe as I drive through the Winston Wildlife Safari

In the company of friends again

...Continued from Southern Oregon Road Trip, Part 1: Visits and hikes (link).  And consider this story the unofficial prequel to our upcoming safari in Kruger National Park, South Africa.  Let's hope we make those flights!

Guest blogger Kathy picks up our Southern Oregon road trip story where my Part 1 left off:  After the driving, visiting, and hiking.  Thanks to Kathy for writing this post.  I was happy to merely be on tap to plug and caption the safari photos.  Enjoy!

We had a great time so far with our hiking, visiting, and swimming.  On our final morning down south, we took advantage of the continental breakfast the hotel offered and then set off for the Wildlife Safari in Winston.

Neither Garth nor I had been to the Winston Wildlife Safari since childhood. We were so excited for Lena experience it, too!  Levi was too little to care.

Once Garth drove through the gate, we were allowed to take Lena out of her car seat to sit on our laps up front.  She was thrilled!

As we began making our way through the safari, I forgot how up close and personal the animals could be.  Lena loved seeing all the animals: lions, giraffes, rhinos walking right next to our car, bears, and the list goes on.

Lions resting in the shade

A zebra mixed in with the herd

A hungry giraffe stops traffic ahead of us

Black bear UFC pond/cage match: Tag team edition

Lena brakes for llamas

Buffalo roam

Lucky for this deer, another safariing family had randomly given us a bag of animal feed

This emu poked his beak inside our cab a bit too aggressively for Lena's taste

"I'll take the wheel from here, Daddy."

Baby Levi watches with envy as Mommy lets Lena ride the bear

Lena runs through the Australian Outback

We've got no food, got no jobs... our parrots' HEADS ARE FALLING OFF!!

Levi, Mommy, me, and Lena leaving the Australian Walkabout

Before Garth and I started driving the kids back up north, we made a final stop to visit friends who live 10 minutes from Wildlife Safari.  It was nice to catch up and see how big their girls are getting.

Beating the heat with longtime friends

Thus, we began the long journey home.  A stop for burgers and ice cream at Rice Hill was a must do.

Lena and Levi got plenty of sleep on the drive home, even as we stopped to redeem yet another Groupon for the grownups.

Lena reminisces about the safari animals with one of her favorite books, "I Love My Daddy Because..."
(At least that's MY vote for her favorite book!)

Thanks again, Kathy, for writing about our first ever road trip with our all-new Hamilton Four.  Lena and Levi would've loved to join us on the upcoming African safari that we have planned.

And it's a shame that the L's can't come along on our REAL Australian walkabout in 2015!

Bonus Vine video:

Click the mute button for audio of two bears throwing down at the Wildlife Safari