Friday Nov 30<br>I got up at 2:30 a.m., got myself ready, made some coffee and woke up my better half at 3:00 a.m. We roused Jane, our younger daughter, at 3:20 a.m. She put on some grubbies and we were on our way to O’Hare at 3:35 a.m. Jane dumped us at the AA terminal departure ramp at 3:55 a.m. (we live only about 10 miles fom the airport). The terminal was deserted except for international check-in...there were already about 100 people waiting in a roped-off zig-zag line. The line started moving at 4:00 a.m. when the ticket agents “woke” up. It took one hour for us to get to the head of the line only to end up being blocked by a 7-member South American family who didn’t have their tickets and passports handy and whose 20 suitcases, boxes and other carry-ons were blocking our path. I said some Spanish words of wisdom (valla con dios or something to that effect), the suitcases parted and we proceeded to the AA agent. Check-in was a snap. The suitcases were checked through to SXM and we got our boarding passes and seat assignments for both legs (ORD-MIA and MIA-SXM). It took about 5-6 minutes and we were on our way to get our bodies and our carry-ons x-rayed. I went first and no bells went off. Vlasta went through after me and set off every bell and whistle. She took off some baubles and still the whistles went off. She had to step aside for a thorough body check with the hand wand. I was watching her from a safe distance. She waited about 5 minutes for her turn, because the guy in front of her had to take his shirt off (too many chains around his neck) and his belt (big metal belt buckle). Good thing they stopped there. Vlasta made it through this time, collected her gold and we were on our way to gate H17, almost the last one on the H concourse…figures.<br><br>We departed for Miami at 6:05 a.m., only 5 minutes late. The flight was uneventful except for some turbulent air over Memphis (might have been caused by an Elvis sighting). The AA breakfast was meager to say the least…a glass of OJ and a bag of pretzels.<br><br>We landed right on time at 9:55 and debarked at gate B9. Of course, our connecting flight was scheduled to leave from D20 at 10:55, it couldn’t be B20. We marched about a mile (at least it seemed that long) along a corridor within the secured area to our waiting 757. Fortunately, the carry-ons were still light. <br>Boarding was a breeze (approx. 75% load factor). At 5 minutes past our scheduled departure there is an announcement, “This is the co-pilot, we don’t have a captain. He never showed up. We don’t know where he’s at. But, we’ll try to get the captain coming in on the flight from Bogota, Colombia through immigration and customs as quickly as possible. He should be here in 30 minutes.” Of course, these 30 minutes turned into 65 minutes when the “new” captain says a few soothing words (I said to Vlasta “I hope he knows where SXM is?”). I don’t want to go to Bogota (again).<br> We departed MIA 90 minutes late--that’s a big chunk out of our 18-day vacation on St. Martin. 30 minutes into our flight an attendant makes an announcement, “We have a medical emergency. Is there a doctor aboard?” I looked up and mumbled “please, please!!!”. My prayers were answered, there was one MD aboard and he rushed to the back to help treat the stricken passenger. Fortunately, he was able to stabilize him. He had severely elevated blood sugar. After that “shock” AA treated us to lunch. We chose sodas to go with our bag of pretzels. AA passed out the SXM immigration form half an hour before landing.<br> We arrived at 3:55 p.m., only 70 minutes past the scheduled arrival time. We parked relatively close to the PJIA terminal building and thus were allowed to walk to the immigration check. No buses for us! The sky was somewhat overcast, but it was pleasantly warm and no big jets had arrived before us and disgorged their hordes. We went through immigration so quickly, we even failed to get an immigration stamp in our passports. I picked up a new St. Maarten Nights, a new Ti Gourmet and a couple of SXM tourist maps while waiting for our 2 suitcases to show up. It took about 10 minutes and we walked outside where we were met by Marius Andrews of St. Louis Car Rental who held up a big sign “Welcome Ray Mann”, but alas…no red carpet.<br><br>Monday Dec 17<br>The dreaded departure day had finally arrived. At 8:45 a.m. I dropped Vlasta and our 2 suitcases off at the curb by AA and parked our rental car. Only one other couple was ahead of us. Check-in was a breeze. Two gentlemen with latex gloves carefully checked the contents of our 2 suitcases. One of them even complimented me on my purchase of Mt. Gay rum. We handed our tickets and passports to the very courteous and efficient AA agent. She gave us back our documents together with our boarding passes at 8:56. We quickly walked over to the departure tax window, paid $40 cash, got our receipts and left the terminal building at 9:00 a.m. All in 15 minutes!!!<br><br>We drove over to Marigot for some last minute purchases and a Stella Artois at La Belle Epoque on the marina. At 11:30 we raced through the Lowlands back to the Dutch side and the traditional last lunch at the Sunset Beach Bar. We met Marius at his Ocean Club office at 1:00 p.m., agreed to the final bill and he then drove us to the PJIA. If we had gone to the airport at 2:00 p.m., it would have been in plenty of time. But how do you know. What if we missed our flight and we were to get stranded on SXM for another day…what a terrible thought [Linked Image].<br> <br>Boarding was painless. The 757 was less than half full. We had seats 12A&B. Vlasta took 12A by the window and I sat in the middle. I looked back and saw a number of empty seats and moved to 25A just before the door was about to be closed. No, I didn’t have a fight with Vlasta, I just wanted an opportunity to take some aerial pics of SXM after take-off. After I buckled in I saw that one more passenger, an elderly gentleman, came aboard and he appeared to seat himself in 12C. I took about 7 aerial shots of SXM (I still have to finish that film), waited about 10 minutes more and walked back to row 12. Yup, he was in 12C, sound asleep. I gently climbed over him, strapped myself in and rested my feet on his briefcase. But I didn’t want him to forget it, so I placed it by his feet. That woke him up, he looked at me with one big question mark on his face and dozed off again. He was breathing heavily with his mouth open to exhale alcoholic vapors. I was getting slightly intoxicated. When the flight attendants started serving dinner (a Snack Mix bag of 1 oz. net weight) somewhere over Puerto Rico, 12C paid $4 for a little bottle to go with his “dinner”. He wanted two, but the flight attendant said one is the limit. Maybe I should have sold him one of the half liter bottles of Ma Doudou in my carry-on for 50 bucks or so [Linked Image]. After “dinner” I moved to 13C, I was getting too high in 12B. Vlasta told me later (in Miami) that her row-mate kept pulling a little bottle out of his pocket over the Dominican Republic, over Haiti, at least two along the Cuban coast and one more over some Bahamian island. He must have been suffering from flight fright. <br><br>We landed on time in Miami. I had to get his carry-on down from the overhead. Yeah, it was a cardboard liquor carrying case with 4 bottles (I wonder what kind?). We had about two hours between flights, which was more than enough. Only one couple was in front of us in the immigration line. Our two checked suitcases showed up rather early and we (and our 10 bottles) were waved through by the U.S. Customs officer. Just past that we surrendered our two suitcases to the connecting flight personnel and proceeded to gate D20. The security check for D concourse went w/o a hitch. I couldn’t keep up with Vlasta because our two carry-ons with booze, coffee and other essentials got heavier and heavier. I joined Vlasta at D20 just 45 minutes after getting off our SXM-MIA 757.<br> <br>We boarded and took off on time. Vlasta had 27A and I had 27F, the last row on the 737-800 on the Chicago-bound flight. The center seats next to us were empty. The plane was about two thirds full. A late dinner was served somewhere over Georgia. It was another 1 oz. Snack Mix (cheddar cheese flavored). We landed about 20 minutes early because of a SE tailwind.<br> <br>Of course, we had to park at gate H17 again. It couldn’t be H2. Our two suitcases showed up on the belt when we got to the baggage claim. Boy, did my shoulders ache. It was still 42 degrees outside, so we only wore windbreakers over our short-sleeved upper attire. We dragged everything to the outer curb and Jane, our younger daughter, pulled up. She almost didn’t recognize us because of our tan. We got home before 10:00 p.m, in bed by midnight and I was back at work by 7:00 a.m. [Linked Image]<br><big>[color:448800]Happy Holidays </big></font color=448800> <br><br><br>[color:red]Ray & Vlasta</font color=red>[Linked Image] <br>Ray's SXM Site<P ID="edit"><FONT SIZE=-1><EM>Edited by Administrator on 1/4/02 12:53 PM.</EM></FONT></P>