Last week I came back from 2 weeks Guatemala. I conducted a technical needs assessment mission on the Aids to Navigation and Vessel Traffic Service delivery.
On arrival I had a meeting with several Vice Ministers and I must say, although they have a military background, the atmosphere was very relaxed. There were long working days, I travelled by car from Guatemala City to Port of Quetzal on the Pacific side and then all the way to the Caribbean side. And finally, back to Guatemala City to brief the Ministry on my findings. I packed and unpacked my bags 4 times but it was really worth it. Guatemala has some impressive nature, beautiful mountains and an active volcano. And when compared to other countries in the region you see many indigenous people.
That really gives the feeling of being in Central America. I was lucky to well know my local point of contact, Hugo Estuardo, as I trained him in Suriname this summer.
The whole mission was in Spanish language so I was accompanied by a translator. He is the IALA Councillor for Chile, a Coast Guard officer and Aids to Navigation expert. I had never met James before and although he is not very talkative he is a great guy. A little bit macho, but that is not an issue for me, actually it can be quite charming.
From the moment we met in Panama airport I got aware James is a diehard Coast Guard type. Well prepared and approaching all situations very procedural, in other words, perfect for my mission. Being in a Spanish speaking region he took the lead with regard to our travels and I used this occasion to brief him on the mission ahead. During our flight from Panama to Guatemala we were busy discussing the approach that I would take to inform the Ministry. In this work all is diplomacy and I wanted to make sure that he understood the nuances in my speech well. I prepared everything in written speeches but depending on the atmosphere or tension on certain subjects I would adjust this. It was important that he would be aware of this subtle change in my speaking for his translations. I can tell he had a hard job during the mission but did fantastic.
When we arrived, and left the airplane I was a little surprised that the other passengers were not really in a hurry to get out. Walking in the tube I had a feeling in the back of my mind that something was not OK. I wanted to check with the cabin crew but when I made a remark, clearly the face of James told me that all was under control. Meanwhile I send a message to Hugo Estuardo that we would be checked out shortly. It took a while before he replied and he was surprised that we already arrived but informed that he would leave immediately for the airport. I was a little disappointed that he was not waiting at the airport already. After passport check we only had to pick-up our luggage and off to the hotel. Only both of our suitcases did not arrive and finally we went to the airline office for a luggage claim. James meanwhile went to a tourist booth to get some brochures of Guatemala. I mentioned to James that I always have 2 sets of working clothes in my cabin luggage but I was happy to join the next day for shopping a suit and shirts. While we were waiting I vaguely remembered that I saw a ticket proposal weeks ago for one of my travels (and I have many) with a red line saying: stop in San Jose. I looked around to see if there was a name of an airport and finally I asked James: “Are you sure we are in Guatemala”. I wish I had made a video of his face at that moment. A few minutes later we found out that we were in Costa Rica, at 10 PM, without luggage. Apparently, the airplane made an extra stop but this was not explicitly mentioned.
Later I questioned myself what went wrong. I had just met James a few hours ago and I did not want to come across as a control freak. Also by checking things too much I could have hurt his ego so I decided to let go. I so often check and double check, but now this was not needed as I was no longer alone on a travel. I had a similar experience when traveling with my colleague Mahdi from Bahrain. We almost missed a flight as he thought that I would take care of our departure time and I thought he would do so. I am a little old fashion (and lazy) when traveling with guys, I always let them take the lead. I travelled many times with my colleague Tuncay from Turkey and he even informs me that I have 5 minutes left to go to the toilet before we have to leave to the gate. Or he checks in for my flight to make sure that I have the best seat. He would protect my bags with his life. The moment I got aware of his effectiveness I just enjoyed eating, drinking, shopping and reading a good book at the airport. Sometimes when we are on a job together I transfer via Istanbul because from then onwards I am spoiled like a child.
I must say that after this extra stop in Costa Rica, I turned back to my control freak mode. But James managed the rest of our travels with military preciseness. And together this resulted in a successful mission and great time in a beautiful country with fantastic people.
Next on my list is Costa Rica. I already have the brochures for nice tourist visits…