If the start of my trip from St. Kitts-Nevis to Batam is indicative of what is in store for me over the next two days, then I will need some patience. Right off the bat there was a problem. I was early for the noon ferry from Nevis to St. Kitts, even though we had to make a stop at a local bank to exchange my currency. Apparently, the St. Kitts airport does not offer currency exchange service. So, after waiting in line at the bank for 15 minutes and then spending what seemed like an eternity just to cash a check and get U.S. money for my EC script, I walked to the ferry terminal, only to be told that the noon ferry was not running. Turns out that both boats operated by one company were in for repairs, and in St. Kitts-Nevis that means no service at scheduled times, with no warning.
The next ferry was scheduled for 1 p.m., which would make for a close call on making my 3:30 flight to Miami. While I was sitting with about 30 other people in the outside waiting area, the only other white guy in sight walked up and asked if I was taking the 3:30 flight and if I wanted to share a water taxi with him. A taxi driver had approached him about the prospect. It would cost me about $7 for the taxi to take me to Qualie Bay, where the water taxi was, and another $20 for the ride over to one of the resorts on the southern tip of St. Kitts. Then it would cost another $15 for a taxi to the airport (an interesting ride). We would make up about an hour’s time in the process, and since I couldn’t afford to miss my flight I was all in.
The other white guy, Berdine, I think his name was, was a young guy who I think was going to school in Nevis. I think this because we ran into some of his friends and their chatter (like, you know, like) suggested they were in school. Berdine was headed to Vancouver. He was not very talkative with me, much more so with his own age group.
The taxi ride was about 10 minutes and the water taxi people were waiting when we arrived at the Qualie Bay Marina, where there were at least two water taxis waiting. We loaded onto one with two other couples and sped off. I should mention that the water taxi doubles as a fishing charter boat in season. We landed at the St. Kitts resort and then loaded p in a taxi van, seen people and more luggage than seemed possible to fit in the back.
The ride to the airport was interesting, especially from the shotgun seat where I was. The driver was constantly on his cellphone. The road was along the mountainside, with sharp turns and steep ups and downs. But the driver kept talking on his cell. And dialing. And talking. All the while dodging potholes and narrowly missing running into the gutter.
At the airport, there was initially only one person checking in baggage, so the wait was long and hot. When I finally made it to check-in I was informed that my second bag would cost $150. That is a $25 increase over when I flew to St. Kitts-Nevis – on the same freaking airline!!! Well, actually, this end was with American, while the lower charge was from British Airways in Singapore. More comparisons to follow. It is almost to the point with the baggage charges that it would be better to travel with one suitcase and just buy the stuff in the second suitcase when I arrive at my destination. But it doesn’t stop there.
The St. Kitts airport is not to be confused with an efficient airport and there was another waiting line at immigration. Then when I put my bags through security they asked to open up my backpack. Now, I’ve traveled around the world at least two times with this backpack, and I’ve also used the same gallon-size plastic baggie to carry my toiletries during all this travel. I need a big bag because there are a lot of items in the bag, although I do know not to put scissors or even tweezers in the bag. Well, in St. Kitts, he gallon-size baggie is not allowed. Probably a U.S. requirement. My toothpaste, shampoo and solid deodorant were taken out of the bag and I was asked if I had any quart-size baggies with me. I explained I don’t travel with extra plastic baggies. She said I could go back outside security and purchase one. I said she could keep my stuff. Hope I don’t need the deodorant before I get on my long Singapore flight.
The nearly 3-hour flight to Miami was uneventful, although I am amazed they got the plane off the ground. The plane was full and it looked like every passenger was carrying as much as me and more. The bird was stuffed to the gills, but she took off.
Then I encountered the Miami airport. Talk about confusing. Fortunately, my seat mate, who happened to come with me from Nevis on the water taxi, was a big help, but it was still confusing. One problem I had was that I was not issued boarding passes for my second and third flights. After a long walk, the first task was to use a kiosk to identify myself. You put your passport on a screen that reads it and then the machine takes your picture to match it with your passport. Then you receive a receipt that you need later.
Then I had to reclaim my bags, and wait in a very long line to go through customs. The airport was very busy and the line snaked, literally, for several blocks. Finally through the checkpoint I was then directed to where my bags had to be rechecked. I still did not have a boarding pass and was stopped when I tried to take the next step, which I had no idea what it was. I asked and was directed to another check-in area where I was issued my two boarding passes. Interestingly, the agent said I needed an exit ticket in order to enter Singapore, even though it was the return portion of a round-trip ticket. Fortunately, MY KITAS (work permit) for Indonesia does not expire until Aug. 18 and I had it with my passport. Don’t know what I would have done without it. My bags were sent all the way to Singapore, I hope, so I didn’t need to do the baggage claim/recheck fiasco again. What seemed to me like utter chaos (and if I was a foreigner and did not know English, it would have been much worse) was actually quite efficient in moving a large number of people rapidly through the system.
I am waiting now at my gate for the 9:20 p.m. flight to London. Had not eaten since about nine this morning and my blood sugar level was low so, despite not generally liking airport food I needed something to eat. Found a food court with a Nathan’s. There was also an Oriental place but I’m going to get more than my share of that soon enough. As most people know, Nathan’s is famous for their dogs but they also offer a Philly cheesesteak. Since I’m not likely to have the chance at one of those in the foreseeable future I figured I’d give it a try. With some onion rings and a large Diet coke. The sandwich was excellent, lots of beef but maybe too little cheese. Well worth the $6.50 for the sandwich.
I was flying American to London and catching British Airways there to Singapore, so this is a good opportunity to compare these code-sharing partners. The AA flight was fully booked, a Boeing 777. The seats were narrow, the seat-back entertainment system was awful, as was the food. They charged $7 for a Jack (BA gives you liquor free on the Singapore-London flight). Even the morning coffee was bad. To be fair, the BA route is 5 hours longer than the Miami to London flight, so the amenities are likely to be better. At least, 8 hours later, I was in London, where I’m writing this from, unable yet to get on the Internet.
Heathrow has five terminals, and, of course, I had to get on a bus to go to terminal 5. But first the race through the airport – immigration and then security. But at least I didn’t have to claim and recheck my bags. Not that anyone told me this. I could just as easily gone down the lane that said reclaim baggage, and waited for an hour for bags that would not come. I chose door number 2.
Immigration was very fast (there were a lot of people waiting) and security was different but not a problem. At least they let me keep my shoes on. And unlike St. Kitts, here they provide free plastic bags of the right size for your toiletries. I guess I am not the only person who didn’t know they changed the rules on the baggies. Now, I’m sitting in a huge waiting area, lots of stores and restaurants, where I will be for at least 6 hours waiting for my gate to open. I was lucky to find a seat and there appears little chance that I can actually get any sleep here. I might have had two hours of sleep on the plane, in between my seatmate’s constant moving about and people two rows back having a conversation at 4 in the morning. My plane departs in about 8 hours. And the longest part of the trip is still ahead of me.
The flight to Singapore will be 13 hours, after which I get a taxi to Harborfront ferry terminal, where I catch the ferry to Batam, a 45-minute ride. Only two more security checkpoints to go, one in Singapore and one in Batam.
I have to say that when I left St. Kitts I actually felt like I was escaping. Very unsure of what lies ahead for me in Batam but I know it will be better than what I’ve left behind. This has been an expensive lesson but pretty much unavoidable. Had to check out the new job when the old one ended. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, though.