Back in early June I took a two-week trip with my family to Colombia for my cousin's wedding. My mom is originally from a city called Pasto (down in the southwestern part of the country, near the border with Ecuador); in an interesting juxtaposition of heritage, my father hails from St. Paul, Minnesota...
1 June 2007
American Airlines Flight 913
Departing: Miami International Airport (MIA) at 10:20
Arriving: El Dorado International Airport (BOG) at 12:45 (Bogota is one hour behind Miami)
Our arrival and check-in at MIA was mercifully expedited by my father's status as a Platinum member with AA, which enabled my parents, brother, sister and myself to check in our ten pieces of luggage and receive our boarding passes within a half-hour. We promptly cleared security and made our way towards Concourse E, where we proceeded to board about 45 minutes later.
I settled into seat 33J, with my sister occupying the aisle seat next to me (one of my favorite characteristics of the 767 is the 2-3-2 cabin layout). Our flight pushed back from the gate on schedule and proceeded to Runway 08R. After a short wait during which a pair of 737s took off ahead of us, we lined up with the runway and were quickly airborne.
|A TAM A330 as we pulled out of MIA|
|Brickell Avenue and the apartments|
As you can see, it was a rather overcast day, which made taking pictures of Miami next to impossible. With that said, however, our ascent was relatively smooth and we quickly reached our cruising altitude. Fortunately, the lousy weather on the deck made for some great scenery when viewed from above.
|The tail end of Jamaica peeking through the clouds|
|More cloud cover|
The friendly cabin crew soon began to make their rounds and serve breakfeast. One could opt for a ham sandwich or an omelet. As it were, my sister wound up getting the last sandwich, so I settled for a ginger ale. It was interesting to note that the crew spoke Spanish by default rather than English. While it was an American Airlines flight, speaking Spanish first was certainly a pragmatic course of action, as for the vast majority of the people on board, Spanish is the language of choice.
|Landfall, west of Barranquilla|
|Some impressive scenery below|
As we began our descent into Bogota, the weather again began to worsen. After enduring a few bumps over the (obscured) capital, we were put in a short holding pattern. After some twenty minutes, BOG cleared us to land and we began our final approach.
|Short final to BOG|
A hard landing signaled our arrival at Bogota's El Dorado International. Almost immediately, the main cabin erupted in applause. The applause is something that I never see in the States; I personally love it, as it is a warm gesture of appreciation to the flight crew, as well as the very first sign that I am about to experience life in a completely different way than I would back home.
As we taxied to the international terminal, it quickly dawned on my parents and I that our extra time in the air would make our connection time for our Avianca flight to Pasto razor-thin. I quickly collected my belongings, waited my turn to exit, corralled my brother and sister, thanked the flight crew, and ran like hell to reserve a spot in line for customs and immigration. Unfortunately, the line was rather long and going nowhere fast. Due to the circumstances, we joined the queue for families with children under twelve (although my brother and sister are thirteen and fifteen, respectively). This effectively cut our time in half. However, we still had to collect our bags and transfer via bus to Avianca/El Dorado's domestic terminal, the "Puente Aereo". We collected the bags within ten minutes and scurried to a bus. Unfortunately, our five minute trip to the Puente Aereo became a fifteen minute fiasco as our path was blocked by a FedEx A310 that was pushing back. We finally got to the terminal, only to be told that we were too late.
1 June 2007
Avianca Flight 8597 ("operado por SAM")
Departing: El Dorado International Airport (BOG) at 14:20
Arriving: Antonio Nariño Airport (PSO) at 15:35
Aircraft: Fokker 100
As my parents scrambled to remedy the situation, I stepped outside the check-in building (offering a clear view of the apron) and noticed that our flight was just pushing back. Unfortunately, no one else seemed to catch the cruel irony of being just late enough to literally see your flight push back and leave without you. I managed to take a few pictures before a security employee hollered at me to put the camera away (apparently photography at BOG is prohibited, in keeping with the tradition of cockamamie regulations established to keep spotters from enjoying airports).
|AV 8597, we hardly knew ye...|
|A pair of stranded gringos, with luggage|
Although we were stuck overnight in Bogota, I was actually thrilled by our predicament. Bogota is an absolutely fantastic city, and one should embrace being "stuck" overnight with open arms. Fortunately, we've got family in Bogota, so we had company and a place to spend the night. Avianca was courteous enough to hold our luggage and rebook us for the first flight out the following morning.
|Domestic check-in for Avianca at BOG|
A few pictures of Bogota:
|The Museum of Gold (Museo del Oro)|
|A nice little market downtown|
2 June 2007
Avianca Flight 9293 ("operado por SAM")
Departing: El Dorado International Airport (BOG) at 06:00
Arriving: Antonio Nariño Airport (PSO) at 07:35
Aircraft: Fokker 100
The following morning, we made it from my cousin's flat to BOG in record time. We checked in at the Puente Aereo straightaway and proceeded to board soon thereafter. I was excited about the prospect of flying on the Fokker 100, the newest addition to Avianca's fleet. I've flown on the Fokker 50s before, and they're wonderful birds. Fortunately, the 100 proved to be no different.
I settled into my seat (portside, so that I could take advantage of the Fokker's 2-3 seating arrangement [similar to an MD-80]), just forward of the wing. Unfortunately, the window right next to me seemed to be caked in some sort of residue. I tried scraping it off, to no avail. The aircraft was not even half full by the time the door closed, so I took the liberty of moving up a few rows so that I could have two seats to myself. However, the same misty residue covered the other window, as well. Perhaps it has something to do with being parked in the desert for a while...
We pushed back on time and began our long taxi to the runway. El Dorado has a pair of enormous runways and, from the Puente Aereo, we had to taxi down almost the entire length in order to line up with Runway 31R. With that said, passengers seated on the right were treated to various hangars of aviation history: FAC C-130s, C-47s, and even a bubble canopied P-47 Thunderbolt. Unfortunately, I was seated on the far left and was confined to mere snippets of this extensive outdoor museum.
Our Fokker quickly rocketed down the runway and took a southerly course towards Pasto and the Department of Nariño. The airspace around Bogota remained characteristically cloudy and there was little to see for the first half of our short flight. The cabin crew quickly began serving drinks and breakfeast sandwiches. I was handed a cup of delicious Colombian coffee, but the sandwich was quite soggy and rather unappetizing; I skipped it. As I waited for the sky to clear up, I flipped on my iPod and pulled out a book (Thomas Ricks' "Fiasco"). Just as we were about to begin our descent, the clouds began to dissipate, revealing an absolutely beautiful landscape below. Nariño is very rugged and green, and a peek out the window revealed rolling mountains, cataracts, and huge gorges cut out of mountains by rivers. Coming from Miami (where the highest landmasses are the sand dunes on the beaches), it is always refreshing to see such a stark contrast in terrain. Although my window was smeared, I managed to snap a couple of pictures.
|Nariño from above|
|A beautiful valley below|
Our final approach into PSO took us straight in from the north. Pasto's airport has a great approach, as the airport is situated on a small plateau in between two stretches of ~7,000 ft. tall mountains (about 15 miles from the city itself). As a result, landing at Pasto is fast, low, and an absolute blast. The pilots actually landed the aircraft rather smoothly. Amazingly enough, I did not hear the Fokker's thrust reversers deploy. PSO has a short runway (between a mile and 7,000 ft. in length) and most aircraft deploy the reversers as soon as they hit the ground. With that said, we slowed down enough to turn the plane around and taxi to the minuscule apron, which has room for no more than two aircraft at a time. The stairs were wheeled up and we soon departed the aircraft, collected our baggage, and met some of our family waiting for us outside the airport.
|Our Fokker 100 at PSO|
|Pasto's Antonio Nariño Airport from the outside|
We spent the weekend in our family's farm, which gave me a good vantage point to spot the incoming Avianca and Satena flights. Soon thereafter, we took the one-hour drive on the Pan American Highway into Pasto, which snakes around an enormous canyon.
|The view from our farm, "Pullito Pamba"|
I won't go into much detail about the following ten days, except to say that seeing my family was wonderful, the wedding was a blast, and southern Colombia is absolutely breathtaking. I will, however, post up a few pictures.
|The spectacular view from the Pan American Highway|
|My brother and myself at Las Lajas, a Roman Catholic cathedral near Ipiales|
|Downtown Pasto, with the active volcano Galeras in the background|
|Galeras, just outside of Pasto|
After a week and a half in Pasto and the surrounding area, my mom, brother and I were ready to head back to Bogota for a few days before flying back to Miami (my dad and sister had flown back a couple of days earlier).
13 June 2007
Avianca Flight 8598("operado por SAM")
Departing: Antonio Nariño Airport (PSO) at 16:00
Arriving: El Dorado International Airport (BOG) at 17:15
Aircraft: Fokker 100
Unfortunately, I spent the entire morning in bed with a fever due to slight exposure (in an amusing anecdote, I slipped and fell into a pond whilst chasing some ducks; I am 19 years old... ). Fortunately, as we made our way up the Pan American, I began to feel much better. Check-in at PSO was a cinch, as was registering our trip with the Colombian National Police (required of all foreign travelers, it seems). The security at the airport was quite heavy, with several heavily-armed elements of the National Police patrolling in and around the area. After saying our final farewells to friends and family, we went through our final metal detector and into the waiting room. In a brief lapse of judgement, however, I mistakenly thought that we were the last to board, and strode out of the building and onto the apron (past 80 incredulous passengers) like I owned the place. Informed of my error, I trudged back into the building, only to walk out with the rest about two minutes later.
|I am not a crook!|
As we made our way through the cabin, I was delighted to learn that we had been assigned an exit row for our seats. I quickly hopped into the window seat, only to learn that the same misty coating that permeated the window surfaces of my first flight was back. I realize belatedly that they may have been the same aircraft (I don't take down reg. numbers, unfortunately), but was nevertheless disappointed that this had happened twice.
Our Fokker fired up the engines and we taxied down Runway 19, turned around, and lined up with Runway 01. We took off immediately (no queue for departures here!) and made our way up above 30,000 ft. for the short hop back to Bogota. I got some water and popped a couple of Advil. As we descended into Bogota, the weather quickly worsened again, causing a few mild bumps. We were able to land without delay and touched down on time. The landing, however, was one of the most bone-crunching impacts I had ever felt. The pilot wasted no time at all flaring at the end and put all three wheels down on the rain-soaked runway at the same time; now I know how Navy pilots feel like after a carrier landing.
|Climbing out of PSO|
|The ubiquitous cloud cover|
We quickly taxied towards the Puente Aereo, parked, and deplaned. The weather was quite dreary, with overcast skies and a steady drizzle. However, I did manage to snap a few more pictures. When approached by security, I conveniently forgot my Spanish, which bought me a bit of extra time for a couple more pictures before putting the camera away. We made our way above the gates, where I happened upon Avianca's lounge. I walked in and managed to get a few more pictures before being turned away. The glass walls of the lounge caught my eye, as they were frosted with the logos of Avianca, Airbus, and Boeing (celebrating Avianca's recent acquisition of A320s, A330s, and... 787s!!!). There were posters up depicting the Airbii in AV livery (although the posters mixed up mistakenly labeled the A320 as an A330 and vice versa). That was my only qualm, however, regarding what was otherwise a very sharp looking establishment (and for a domestic lounge, no less). Kudos to Avianca!
|Aviancas lounge at the Puente Aereo|
|An Avianca MD-83 at BOG|
|A view of the tails at BOG|
Our two days in Bogota were well spent. Unfortunately, I lapsed back into sickness that evening, but woke up feeling great the next morning. We managed to do a bit of sightseeing in and around downtown, and spent our remaining time with family. The day of departure, we were driven to the airport in a Customs pickup truck (arranged by my aunt, who works for Colombian Customs and Immigration).
|Some of the beautiful architecture and colors in Bogota|
|A view of downtown Bogota|
|Bogota: The Athens of the Andes|
15 June 2007
American Airlines Flight 916
Departing: El Dorado International Airport (BOG) at 14:00
Arriving: Miami International Airport (MIA) at 18:45
As my father, the Platinum AAdvantage member, was absent, check-in took longer this time around. Fortunately, we had only half the bags and plenty of time to wait. After a bit less than an hour, we were ready to go. Surrounded by serious-looking National Policemen, I decided not to pull out my camera, so I do not have any pictures of the international terminal at BOG.
Before we could clear Customs, we were delayed by some family members who were late in meeting us to say goodbye. When we could wait no more, they managed to show up, and we made our way towards the queue. The line was enormous, but moved quickly, and we were processed within twenty minutes. Unfortunately, once we cleared customs, a seemingly endless string of security checks followed. My messenger bag was examined three times during the last 100 yards to the gate. After answering a final set of questions ("Has your bag left your sight?" and such) we finally boarded. I took up Seat 35J, with my brother sitting next to me. As we were among the last to board, it wasn't long before we pushed back and taxied towards Runway 13L for departure. We held short of the runway momentarily as an FAC Super Caravan landed and soon proceeded to line up and advance down the runway without further delay.
|One of Avianca's 767-200ERs, the one with special tail markings|
|The Puente Aereo as we climb out|
|'Till next time, Colombia|
We quickly climbed up to our cruising altitude and were greeted with more clouds. I split my time between John Steinbeck's "The Moon is Down" and looking out the window. I chose to skip lunch, as the crew had run out of chicken (leaving me with ham). I instead got another ginger ale (sort of a tradition when flying) and scanned the window for something to take a picture of.
|Leaving South America behind us|
|Quite a bit of cloud action on the way to Miami|
Unfortunately, the skies over the Caribbean were overcast the whole way up, depriving me of the opportunity to photograph beautiful islands and blue waters. While the ride was mostly a smooth one, I had hoped for more scenery. As we descended into South Florida, the clouds became increasingly menacing. The pilot advised us to prepare for some turbulence as we flew through the thick of it. As was the case when flying out of MIA, the weather was bad enough to rob me of the chance to snap some pictures of my home island of Key Biscayne and the surrounding areas of Miami. We snaked west around MIA, flying over Coral Gables and its characteristic red-tiled roofs. Soon we quickly banked and lined up with Runway 09 for what I though was a particularly short final approach. Our landing was quite smooth given the circumstances; unfortunately, it was not followed by applause, signalling our return to the United States. We taxied to the gate without delay and were soon able to exit the aircraft. Upon deplaning, I ran into the First Officer, who confirmed that we were indeed given a rather short approach into MIA. Clearing Customs was a snap and we soon managed to collect our bags and meet up with my dad and sister.
|Horrid weather coming in; you can just see downtown Miami and the Rickenbacker Causeway|
|Surrounded by American Airlines: I know I'm back home!|
On the whole, the trip was phenomenal. From a strictly aviation standpoint, it was particularly noteworthy. The trans-Caribbean flights with AA were enjoyable, and while the service didn't particularly stand out, there was absolutely nothing to complain about. Colombian aviation, on the other hand, is certainly looking up. Avianca has certainly come a long way in the past few years, and is shows. After an initial mixup, Avianca's CS personnel took the initiative and rebooked us without a problem, as well as holding all our luggage. I was particularly impressed with their domestic operations at BOG: the Puente Aereo's new look is great and appears to function quite nicely. Coupled with an impressive-looking lounge, Avianca has done a very nice job overall. The next time I fly to Colombia (from MIA or possibly JFK), I may very well give their international service a try (especially if its on a newly delivered A330; way to go AV!). In addition, the Fokker 100s are a great addition to the fleet. They are comfortable, much faster than the F50s on the BOG-PSO route, and feel refurbished. One piece of advice, though: clean the windows!
Thanks for reading, and any comments/feedback would be appreciated!