As we strolled through the terminal, silently smug at having secured our Ryanair flight to Frankfurt for a mere 50 Euro (including baggage), we went in search for the train that would deliver us a speedy 10 minutes to the doorstep of our hotel. However, our smugness quickly turned to confusion when the bilingual Hertz staff informed us that there was no train terminal and that a bus would in fact be our deliverer. Had the Internet lied to us? We headed outside to a hot-dog-vendor-looking coach stand and reluctantly handed over what seemed an unreasonable 15 Euro for the coach trip (and no hot dog). As we stood in the snow, bemused by the lack of buildings visible in any direction, we began to suspect we had been Ryanaired*…
Around 30 minutes later with a new found knowledge that continental Europeans don’t queue, we just about managed to get on the coach. Our suspicions were proved accurate as the driver announced that in approximately 75 minutes we would be in Frankfurt. It turns out that we were at Frankfurt Hahn Airport, a healthy 115 km from our desired destination, Frankfurt International Airport. Thankfully all was good as we had a couple of days to kill in Frankfurt anyway, and fingers crossed this wasn’t an indication of what was to come in terms of our journey to get to South America.
*Ryanaired – To take a flight to a renowned city/location only to end up a significant distance away from said location, either by accident or design or dubious naming of an airport quite far from the matching named city.
Two Days Later:
As an increasingly experienced bus w%&ker despite passing my driving test in 2011, even I found the 90 minutes it took to transport us the 350m from the airport terminal to the plane impressive. After various non explained disembarkations of the bus, we eventually boarded the plane and got seated and tucked in. I was well into the second chapter of Harry Hole solving another mystery despite him being full of Jim Beam, Aisling was knocking out Z’s, and the flight attendants had completed their ‘big fish, little fish, cardboard box’ routine when the pilot apologetically relayed the information that we had unfortunately passed the 11pm curfew for departing flights and therefore, would not be able to fly until tomorrow. I checked my Casio watch (water resistant up to 50m) with incredulity and it displayed 23:02…. A trip that was 730 days in the making, 9000 km in distance delayed due to 120 seconds. Much lauded German efficiency at its finest…
On the plus side there were free bottles of water on board and I nabbed an extra one on the way off so I like to think of that as some financial redemption. And it was that smooth kind that tastes lush, not the tasteless milk kind of water you can get abroad. Condors dealing with the relocation of 250 plus passengers to a hotel left a lot to be desired, our limited German (the attendant had no interest in my ability to announce that – I live in a terraced house with my mother and my brother near Newcastle) meant that we loyally followed those at the head of the pack who seemed to know their stuff. A poor-mans Crash Team Racing then ensued with different factions aiming to be the first to the new hotel and not being the last to be admitted a room. During the melee, suitcase trolleys, snapped off pieces of conveyor belt and some tactically positioned, decimated bottles of Duty Free perfume were used in what had become a survival of the fittest. Some or all of that last bit isn’t true.
We were however the first group to arrive at the plush looking 5* Sheraton Hotel complete with a guy playing the piano to the warm approval of Cognac drinking, cigar smoking bespoke suits. We all looked slightly out of place. We were, it was the wrong hotel.
After another shuttle bus journey we did arrive at the correct hotel, The Steigenberger, and thankfully our night of mild drama ended there as it wasn’t too shabby. A buffet was put on and we were informed of our new departure time – 2pm the following day.
Feeling vastly important having received our first ever hotel wake up call, and filled with the very best of buffet breakfasts, everyone was again on their way to the airport. A completely reasonable 16 hours later we unanimously willed the plane on until the tyres left the tarmac and we were successfully airborne. First stop Bogota via a drop off in Santa Domingo and a ‘small’ layover for connection in Panama. Those inverted commas are intentional.
Upon arrival in Panama, with me still reeling from the in-flight entertainment replacing every expletive uttered by the late, great James Gandolfini with the word ‘freakin’ in his last ever film , we were notified we had missed the connecting evening flight to Bogota, which was partially expected. We were again to be put up in a hotel which transpired to be 30 minute bus trip into Panama City, but this is where we discovered our South American anthem ‘Ras Tas Tas’ as it blared out from the bus despite the early hours. For anyone who likes football it is the song that motivated the dance moves of the Colombian team when they scored at the 2014 World Cup.
Again the hotel was 5 star and was undoubtedly the plushest our scruffy selves had ever been in, from the walk in wet room to the pillows that envelop your every trouble and unless I’m very much mistaken 100% Egyptian cotton sheets. Obviously it was also a favourite haunt of saggy, Bermuda shirt wearing American men as the lobby was filled with them as they escorted their non saggy, non Bermuda shirt wearing Panamanian female companions to the adjoining nightclub.
We experienced the delights of this hotel for a grand total of 3.5 hours before we were en route to Panama airport the next morning, and at 8 am we were in the air, finally on our way to that most fabled of land – South America.