Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
Trip End Mar 01, 2007

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Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Friday, March 2, 2007

Mechanical difficulties. Flight delays. Explodying rum bottles in suitcases. Snowed-in airports. Mob passengers threatening rebellion. We don't have the best luck for our return flights.

One good thing I can say about the remainder of the day is that the food on the AC flight is exciting. Maybe if all the passengers were restricted to Cuban meals for 6 weeks before boarding, they'd appreciate the vegetarian curry and chocolate cake. My taste buds do little jigs of joy.

Actually I can say a lot of nice things about the first flight. Great crew, nice passengers. We connect with a family from Victoria and get in a few other conversations, never dreaming that we'd still be talking to these people 24 hours later.

Our plane is one of the last allowed to land at Pearson. It's so snowed in, so gusty and antagonistic to air travel that our whole plane erupts in cheers and applause when we touch down after a tenuous final approach. It would be nice if we could all hold onto that feel-good energy, but it dissipates rapidly at the airport as flights are delayed and cancelled.

Our time in Cuba brings a fresh perspective to all this. We seem to have a greater capacity to preserve our good humour. And of course, we're delighted like small children by all the things we used to take for granted. We just sit the kids down on the carpet in the baggage claim area. It's so clean! When I go to the toilet, I pass some janitor by the doorway, leaning on his mop -- and the floor of the bathroom is all sticky. This is Cuban, I chuckle, only to be astonished by him moving in to begin scrubbing -- he's actually whistling -- as I head for the doorway. He was waiting for a vacated washroom before starting!

The next few hours demonstrate to me how spoiled our society has become. The line-up of angry, demanding people who have been stranded by the weather seems so childish. If this was a cola in Cuba, there'd be a sense of shared community that would help everyone just deal with it. There are worse things than having to wait.

In the vocal complainers's defence, Air Canada still has problems dealing with managing expectations. New pilots have arrived from Montreal, it's announced, and flights will leave shortly. But as the weather keeps sucking and the planes wait for an opening, the pilots' duty periods begin to expire. No one explains this to the crowd, who watch their scheduled departures bump from 8:00 to 8:45 to 9:30 to 9:55 all the way up to midnight when everything starts being cancelled.

My quick phone calls to the airport hotel, then to the AC hotel registry for Toronto reveal that there is not a room to be had in the city. About this time, real pandemonium breaks out. Passengers at the next gate had actually boarded their plane. Now they're coming back up the ramp. Everyone has to go down and get their luggage and rebook flights for tomorrow.

We're lucky in that I get the gate person to start working on our rebooking before we head down to luggage. It takes almost half an hour for her to work through the booking chaos, but we emerge with what should be a relaxing mid-day flight back to Vancouver. You just know tomorrow morning will be a zoo.

We spring for a limo to Julie's cousin Alison's place. The roads are a mess, freezing rain competing with snow and slush. Zero visibility. The front wheels keep getting grabbed in ruts. The 45-minute ride erodes Julie's final reserves. After Alison`s husband, Stephen, welcomes us and sets us up for the night, Julie spends her first hours in a Canadian home on intimate terms with the toilet.

I keep waking from a fretful sleep, displaced from my Cuban geography. The storm billows outside the window.
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