The long(ish) trip home

Start: Connecticut, USA
End: Republic to the east of the Uruguay River (República Oriental del Uruguay)

My lovely and enthusiastic niece delivered to me to the Norwalk, Connecticut, station of Metro-North, so I could catch a train to New York. Despite having lived 20+ years nearby, I walked under the tracks heading to New York, past the “ticket machines on platform” signs, and asked several people — all of whom seemed like they should know — how to buy a ticket.

They were clueless. And of course I was asking on the Boston-bound side of the tracks. OK, reverse, walk tall; nobody’s noticing that you’re a complete idiot.

Metro North ticket

Anyway, on to Grand Central Terminal.

From there, a sensible person would shell out USD $18 for the JFK airport shuttle and be done with it. But, no: after a substantial hike through tunnels and stairs, for a mere USD $3 the #7 subway takes you three stops north to Court Street, where after a bunch more walking you can change to the E to Sutphin Boulevard in Queens, then navigate upstairs a few levels to the AirTrain.

For extra credit, do all of the above carrying 70 pounds (~32 kg) of luggage. No wheels! Good workout!

The AirTrain is a brilliant aspect of JFK travel that allows you to travel, free, from any of the terminals to as far as Federal Station, where rental cars and hotel shuttles congregate.

It also extends slightly further to Sutphin Boulevard, and alas, forward or reverse, that one extra stop costs you USD $6. For about three minutes of travel.

So, pim pum pam (weird Uruguayan expression), the hotel shuttle delivers me to the Howard Johnson motel from Federal Station, walk a block to buy Indian takeout — lamb curry, consisting of a bunch of rice, a bunch of curry sauce, and a bone with lots of meat. It was delicious! After eating from the bone, go to bathroom sink, open faucets with elbows, wash off totally greasy hands. And a bottle of wine from the neighboring establishment, possibly owned by the same people, who popped the cork for me — nice touch.

Alarm at 4:30 AM, quick shower and off to JFK for a 5-1/2 hour flight to Bogotá, Colombia, where I’ll have a 10-hour layover, which I’m looking forward to, since Syd says Bogotá’s OK.

As promised, it’s possible to park my carry-on bag at the airport in Bogotá. I find an info center with a map of the city, not particularly insightful. Head to the taxis — Syd told me they were very reasonable; half-hour trip cost about USD $10 (if he recalled) — so I wasn’t too concerned. Dapper 50-ish guy named Alfonso approaches me, says he’s Uber. OK, not traditional cab. Of course, Uber is Uber: internet. So this is bullshit. Regardless, Alfonso tells me he’s been a tour guide for 26 years. He speaks some English, but we default to Spanish and it’s a delight to converse with someone who doesn’t talk as though his mouth is jammed-full of dulce de leche (sorry, Uruguay). Many insights; backs off the sales pitch for extended tour after the third time (“It’s my job, no?”). I don’t want to be stuck in a car all day. Let me wander around!

Later, I ask police in Plaza Bolívar: taxi to airport costs 15,000. I paid 45,000 to Alfonso — actually 50 (~USD $18), since he claimed once we arrived that the price was 55. Doesn’t bother me; it was an interesting experience and conversation, even if many of his “facts” were not entirely factual. And besides, in travels to 50+ countries, I’m pretty sure there is none where I got everything right the first time.

So: impressive gold museum, lots of wandering around in circles, a decent and very cheap lunch, and people who answer questions in Spanish I can understand. No mumbling! No dropped S’s! Unfortunately the Botero Museum was closed, but I saw several of his sculptures in public places.

gold museum entrance ticket

A pleasant (I guess) surprise at the Gold Museum was my first senior discount: free entrance. And, leaving, an information desk employee leaves her post to retrieve for me a card for the TransMilenio after I inquired about getting a bus back to the airport. She rides her bike now; doesn’t need it. So all I have to do is load 2,200 pesos (USD 0.80) on it and ZOOM! to the airport. Along the way, I asked a fellow-passenger soldier, who consulted a young bohemian-looking guy, who confirmed that I was not on the bus to the airport, but needed #86, so I thanked them, stepped off the bus at the next stop and onto the one directly behind it. ZOOM! Amazingly efficient.

Street, Bogotá Colombia
Though you can barely see them, the colors of the foreground buildings are echoed by the towers in the distance. Since it was a dreary day, I opted not to go to the top of Mount Monserrate, a popular sightseeing spot.
BD Bacatá towers, Bogotá, Colombia
The new BD Bacatá towers. The taller of the two is the second-tallest building in South America. This is the world’s first crowdfunded skyscraper!

The 6-hour flight on to Montevideo was fairly uneventful, amusingly punctuated from time to time by the little old lady (probably my age, come to think of it) sitting next to me, who couldn’t figure out the seat-back entertainment system, how to turn on the overhead light, where to plug in headphones, how to unbuckle her seat belt, and apparently had some issues making sense of the bathroom which, happily, did not involve me.

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