Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Our Journey to Monetvideo

The day started off exactly as planned; with the alarm ringing at 5:15 AM. All of us, grandma included, piled into the prius with all our stuff and drove to the train station where we took the obligatory picture of us with all our stuff. I’m sure it’ll make the holiday card next year.

The "before" picture

The train was on time, as it should be at the start of the route, but is hardly ever true for the rest of the stops. We said our goodbyes and waved and blew kisses (well I did) from the train window and we were off. After collapsing into an early morning nap for about an hour, we woke up to the ocean and dolphins. The Pacific Surfliner is definitely best when experienced from the west side of the train, as it hugs the coastline between Lompoc and Oxnard. The train ride was uneventful just as we had hoped and we even arrived at Union Station in Los Angeles on time. We managed to find the baggage claim. “Past the Subway sign” the Amtrak worker told us. We were really confused until we saw the sandwich shop.

This brought us to the part where I (along with many others) broke Asa’s bag (see his previous post). The baggage claim at Union Station happens to be at one end of the station and the FlyAway Bus (to LAX) at the other. The Station isn’t big but has a very European feel to it and it was big enough for us to just miss the FlyAway bus. Luckily they run every 30 min. Neat, efficient, and cheap (only $7) system they have. Would recommend it to anyone traveling from Union Station to LAX. Out of curiosity, we estimated their profit before overhead to be somewhere in the ballpark of $7000 a day just for their Union Station location.

We made it to LAX after an uneventful ride on the FlyAway bus. We found our way to the departures and the hotel shuttles. Hotels in the LAX area have banded together in an effort to reduce pollution and now shuttles service multiple hotels. Super idea! We found ourselves at the hotel and checked into our room by 2 PM. We grabbed some food and went to find Asa a new suitcase. Fun!

The next day, Jan 31 was our big travel day. LAX to Miami to Montevideo and about 18 hours of travel time. I think we set a new record that morning by making it from our hotel room to our gate at the airport in under 30 min. We had planned on giving ourselves some time in case it was busy, so we ended up sitting at the gate for a long time. Better than the alternative.

The flights were generally uneventful. We walked the entire length of the Miami airport during our 3 hour layover and saw some interesting oceanic sculptures.

Cool fish sculptures at the airport in Miami.

After a 9 hour flight we arrived at the airport in Montevideo. We spent almost an hour getting through customs. All flights coming into the airport are international and there isn’t a separate line for Uruguayan nationals. Everyone has to wait. So we waited. When we got to the customs desk the woman said “hola” and went right on bobbing her head and dancing to the radio she had. She ran our passports and said “adios”. She didn’t ask us any questions all all. We’ll go find the immigration office later to extend our visitor’s visas another 90 days.

We met Asa’s friend Nacho and his brother-in-law Sebastian in the airport. Sebastian owns a car. A special car; a bright orange hatch-back with fold down front seats as entry into the back. The shocks were shot, the radio was pulled out and the gas gauge was on perpetual empty. So we hopped in and had to put some of the bags on our lap because they wouldn’t fit in the trunk. After some confusion about how to get out of the parking lot (one too many “salida” or “exit” signs) we were on our way. Lane lines in Uruguay are just a suggestion which I’m sure will have it’s own post in the future. We took the Ramblas (the street that runs along the water) most of the way. We passed what looked to be nice beaches, but we’ll find out in the future I’m sure.

We got to our house and knocked on the door. A little boy answered and we asked for Raul Locatelli, our host. The boy didn’t speak english and got his older brother (maybe?) who spoke some english. He had never heard of a Raul Locatelli and no he did not live at that address. Well, had he heard of Maria, the other person in the housing complex? Well yeah. Maria owned the building and no she wasn’t there, but we could call her. Luckily Nacho took care of this phone call for us. He also tried calling the number we had for Raul Locatelli without any success. Maria has never heard of a Raul Locatelli and she only has a house full of Uruguayan students and does not cater to U.S. people. She says to try the hostel down the street.

Well Shit! Yep, Shit hit the fan… a really high fan!

Again, thank goodness Nacho and Sebastian were with us. We were able to call AirBNB (the company we rented through) and they got a hold of Raul Locatelli on his cell phone (we later learned that the number we had was his house phone) and connected us. Yes he did exist and just down the street a couple blocks from where we were. The address was just wrong on the website.

So we drove to the new address and sure enough, there was Raul Locatelli standing in the street waiting for us!

Bag Replacement

I bought a big black duffle bag at some point in college and it’s served me quite well. It’s nice and light which makes it great for checked baggage since anything over 50 pounds tends to get quite pricey and we’re traveling for quite a while. So, anyway seemed like a good choice and I thought it would survive one more adventure. Not so.

The shoulder strap had broken back in December and I never got around to fixing it, mostly because there were four other handles by which to schlep it around and that seemed like it would be plenty. We checked it into baggage claim on the train and had our ride down. When we got in to claim our bags Randi tried to pull it off by one of the handles and it ripped straight off. At this point we noticed that the matching handle on the other side hadn’t even survived the luggage handlers on the way down. Still two handles left, that should do…

Looking urban sheik with my backpack straps deployed meandering down the street near LAX

Suffice it to say by the time we got to the hotel there were no straps remaining and I had carried quite a bit in a bear hug. It seemed like it was time to find a new one that would last the rest of the trip. Staying near the airport it seemed as though this should be the mecca of luggage sales. Thought that wasn’t the case we did find a Kohl’s a bit over two miles away and trekked over to it. Thankfully, they had a pretty good selection in the store and we were able to find quite a suitable replacement. It’s a roller duffle and though it weighs more it’s quite versatile with various handles and backpack straps.

Thankfully, we had taken the early train and there was plenty of time in the afternoon to take care of this. Randi took care of that planning and kudos to her.

Our Journey Begins

Our journey really started early one Saturday morning. We had already moved out of our house, secured our furniture and belongings in my mother-in-law’s garage, and dealt with all the associated paperwork. We loaded our car while it drizzled. The dog came willingly; the cat was probably saying F you. Luckily they are both fairly good travelers. The dog usually observes… everything! When she gets tired she lays her head on one of the front seats and observes. The cat just stays quiet. Whether this behavior is the result of complete terror or apathy is unknown, and frankly, it doesn’t matter.

Asa drove. We managed to avoid the pothole on the freeway in town that claimed my hub cap last week, but after that I don’t remember much until I woke up in Alabama thinking I must be going crazy because the clock only said 9:15 AM. Oh time changes. Asa and I fortified ourselves with a stop for Hardee’s breakfast, switched drivers, and soldiered on. We had a good laugh when we passed Chunky, Mississippi and had a good time trying to guess the equipment being hauled by big rigs. We crossed the Mississippi River in the late afternoon with the sky as blue as the river. At the day’s close we found ourselves 100 miles into Texas at a La Quinta and walking to a nearby mexican restaurant for dinner.

Day two started by scraping a thin layer of ice off the windows of the car and trying to figure out the most efficient way to put things back in the trunk. Our only goal for the day was to make it out of Texas; a formidable task when one starts the day at mile marker 556 and there’s still 200 miles on another highway to make it out of the state. Luckily, the speed limit was 80 mph. It’s not surprising, considering that there’s nothing there. We passed through Dallas and Fort Worth which were pretty much the end of civilization as we know it and the beginning of small run down towns with cars on poles advertising long defunct garages. Just outside El Paso and Ciudad Juarez we began to see Border Patrol everywhere. Going the opposite direction they stopped and searched every vehicle. Our day ended with a half hour of meowing from the cat (we didn’t blame her; being stuck in a car carrier for 12 + hours can’t be a fun experience) and a sign saying “Welcome to New Mexico”.

By day three we had no desire to get in the car again, let alone drive the entire day. Also, the weather threw us a curveball, or should I say some snow flurries and 35 mph winds. As luck and planning would have it, we managed to avoid traveling on Highway 40 through Flagstaff and Albuquerque, which received enough snow to close down parts of the highway. Asa managed to keep the car going in a straight line at a good clip, although passing some of those 18 wheelers was a bit hairy. We made it to Tuscon in time for lunch and continued on. We saw more cops on the road this day than we had seen in the last two, most of them in Arizona. Asa drove for most of the day in an effort to conquer some demons from his past. Two of his friends died in a car accident on Highway 10 between Pheonix and Indio a couple years ago. They will always be missed.

Day three ended at the only place (or what felt like the only place) in the Indio/Palm Desert/Palm Springs area that allows pets without charging an arm and a leg. We walked to get Italian food and then crashed in our hotel room watching “The Blind Side”.

Day four started unexpectedly early (4 AM early) with the cat knocking change off the table, jumping on and off the bed, and being generally annoying. We tried various ways of silencing her until we decided that it might just be a good idea to get up and get on the road before we went crazy. Unfortunately, no matter how early in the morning one tries to get through Los Angeles and it’s associated suburbs, one always gets stuck in traffic. We played a little freeway hopscotch with the help of Asa’s IPhone and the carpool lane and made it out of the chaos before 8 AM. We made it to our destination a bit earlier than expected; safe and sound, and very tired.