Return to San Francisco

Trip Start Jul 01, 2011
Trip End Jul 21, 2012

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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

This is it, D-day... with a D for Departure. A year, two weeks and one day after leaving San Francisco in a car, we're about to return in a jet plane. We spent the last two weeks tying up any loose ends so there is no room left for improvisation. We have our flight reservations, the dogs are booked as cargo (which cost us more than our own seats), we have the official export certificates, and ground transportation is booked to/from the airports. Time to rock and roll.

At 1pm the van arrives to pick us up. A regular taxi would not have worked to carry 2 crates, 5 suitcases, 2 humans and 2 dogs (plus the driver) so I asked the freight company that takes care of 'shipping' Manly and Biela to send one of their transport vans to pick us up. It works great except there's only 2 seats so I end-up riding for 45 minutes at the back of the van.
We drop Mai off with the suitcases at the passenger terminal, then I go with the driver to the cargo area to hand over the dogs to the freight company and get the pooches inside their crates before they are sealed -- not to be opened by anyone else than me... in about 28 hours in San Francisco. I'm worried about the dogs but there is really no other option so I just need to have faith that it will all work out. I give Manly and Biela a piece of bologna, a goodbye treat from Mai, then leave and walk back to the passenger terminal.

It's now 3pm and our flight leaves at 9.30pm so we can't even check in. We had to come so early in order to be sure that the dogs would go through all the process and get on the plane for sure. Oh well, we do have time for a snack. We find a quiet spot in a café overlooking the airport's departure hall and spend the next couple of hours going through ads of homes for rent in San Francisco: we have a temporary place booked until the end of the month but we still need to find a 'real' place to rent after that.
At 5.45pm we check-in and soon we pass the passport control for exiting Argentina. When the man stamps my passport and hands it back I let out a big sigh: I was a bit worried that he would start asking questions about what we did with the car we entered the country with (since I was not supposed to sell it here). Fortunately in Argentina passport stamps do not include the name of the port of entry and apparently the computer systems are not that advanced. Phew!

The plane ride is long (11 hours) but uneventful. The map on the screen shows familar names of many places we have been through, and a few we haven't. Antofagasta, Arica, La Paz, Arequipa, Bogota, Panamá... It's a bit crazy to think it took us a year to drive down and that the return trip in a modern jet takes only 28 hours (including the layover). I used to love flying but now I think it's so fast and superficial, like names on a screen that appear and disappear so quickly you won't even remember them.

I thought that the Houston airport would be a big shock but I was totally wrong. Of course there are things that seem a little odd like the statue of George Bush (Sr) and the cowboy hats for sale in the souvenir shops... but more importantly there are things that make me smile inside and outside. Hearing all sorts of languages, seeing people from all parts of the world, a little girl asking her daddy: "Are we there yet?"

Our flight is delayed, like all the flights to San Francisco. It is July and the airport can get foggy, which reduces the amount of planes that can safely take off and land at one point in time. So we wait. I wonder how the dogs are doing. They probably went through customs and immigration as well, and now they are supposed to wait in a special area (air conditioned). They have been locked in their crates for almost 24 hours at this point.

While we are called to board our flight, I see a van pull by the plane with pictures of dogs on the outside. Two men pull some dog crates out of the van and onto the tarmac (in the shade of the jet's wings), then drive away. It's easy to recognize Biela's crate but Mai and I are perplexed by the second crate: although it is about the same size as Manly's crate it is bright blue - whereas Manly's crate is dark gray. My mind races: is this another dog? Where is Manly? Could they have made a routing mistake and sent this crate to San Francisco while our doggie is being shipped to another part of the world? I use the camera's amazing zoom to take close-up photos and finally board the plane. Analyzing the evidence, I recognize Manly's big old face on the photos. We will never know how our 4-legged friend pulled a Houdini move by leaving Buenos Aires in a sealed gray crate and arriving in Houston in a sealed blue crate!

The second leg of the flight seems short in comparison to the first one (only 3.5 hours). I'm super excited to land in San Francisco. No other airport in the world ever felt so good. After picking up our luggage we hook up with Alex, our driver. He's not really a taxi: he's a construction worker who has a big pick-up truck. I found him on Craig's List because we needed a large vehicle to fit the dogs, the crates, the luggage and us. Alex drives us to the United / Continental cargo area so we can finally pick-up the dogs. When she sees us (still locked inside the crate) Biela howls in modulated sounds as if to tell us a story. Both pooches are wagging their tales so frantically that the crates are shaking. The United Cargo man removes the seals. As soon as I open his crate, Manly runs out to the nearest bush and starts crapping. Three times. Most dogs will eventually poop in their crate during a journey of this length but Manly was stubborn enough to hold it in for almost 30 hours!! Her crate open, Biela joins in the action. After lots of pooping followed by lots of hugs, wet kisses and wagging tails we all get into the truck. Destination: San Francisco.

Alex drops us off at our rental place, the same cottage we rented after we sold our house in 2011 before starting our journey. It's located on the hills underneath Twin Peaks, 50 stairs down from the street. Mai punches in the code for the lock box... but it does not open. We need to get some basic supplies for tonight so I leave with Alex while Mai calls the rental agency to obtain the right code. Half an hour later I come back and find that Mai is still at the door. Apparently there was a misunderstanding: the lock box doesn't work and we have to pick up the key at the rental office. Fortunately we have angels watching over us: Mai was able to contact our friend Lee. He and his lady friend are on their way to pick up the keys and bring them to us.
Twenty minutes later all of us are inside the cottage opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate our return to San Francisco, our beautiful City by the Bay. We toast and share some laughs about our adventure, which Lee joined for a month in Costa Rica. Good times!

Tonight all 4 of us (humans and dogs alike) will sleep very well. Although this cottage is still a temporary rental, being in San Francisco makes us all feel like home -- a sensation we had forgotten after living like nomads for a year. This time it's for real: our Latin American journey has come to an end.
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Florence on

Bon retour, Wahoo !
Bises à vous 4

cedric.brehaut on

Merci, bises!

Lan Bui on

I am so excited just like you are of your return. Love you both indefinately.

Arturo Crespo on

Welcome back!

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