Packing for this trip has been challenging. We like to fly American Airlines out of Tampa, Florida, our home-based airport. However, American Airlines does not fly into Liberia. We have to get ourselves to Paris—nineteen hours of travel time by itself—stay over in Paris, then catch another flight from Paris to Liberia—another twelve hours of travel time. If we were to depart on a Saturday, we would arrive in Liberia on a Tuesday.
It looks like the two airlines that will work out for us are Royal Air Maroc Airlines or Brussels Airlines. Another issue is each airline only flies in and out of Liberia on certain days. After figuring out all the connections and dates and flight availability, we end up flying to Paris via Philadelphia, stay in Paris for a couple of days, then catch a flight on Royal Air Maroc Airlines, via Casablanca, and arriving into Monrovia at 4 AM. Our return flight takes us on Royal Air Maroc Airlines out of Monrovia at 4 AM, via Casablanca, arriving at London Heathrow Airport. We stay overnight in London, then catch the direct flight home to Tampa from Heathrow Airport to Tampa International Airport.
After the challenge of booking our flights, watching to make sure all the dates and times work out correctly, we have to book the hotels for the stay over connections both in Paris and London.
The next challenge we have to deal with is packing our clothes for two extreme weather conditions. Paris and London weather in February for Floridians like us feels more like an expedition to the North Pole. Just right before our departure, Paris got a snow dump, and the city of lights finds itself buried under a foot of white powdery snow. Great! I got my snow boots out, ski jacket, down jacket, gloves, warm hat, and thermal underwear. Expedition grade clothing to keep warm. I don’t do very well in extremely cold weather. I look at Eddie’s jackets and none of them are suitable for snow conditions. I had to go buy him a ski jacket. In Florida, looking for a ski jacket is like seeking a needle in a haystack. Ed and I went to a Dick’s Sporting goods asking for a ski jacket. The clerk looks at us and said “ Errr, you mean water ski jacket? I am not sure we have those.”
I said, “no, snow ski jacket.”
“Sorry ma’am, but don’t have any snow ski jacket.”
“Do you know where I can find a snow ski jacket?”
“Errr …. no, not really, I really don’t know who would have such a thing.”
He looks so confused. He thought we are tricking him or playing a joke on him! Ed made the trip to the Dick’s Sporting Goods worthwhile by buying another fishing pole. Yes, we walked into the store to buy a ski jacket and walked out with a fishing pole, that’s how it goes when you try to buy a ski jacket in Florida. We end up ordering a down jacket for Ed online.
We check the weather for Monrovia. It’s hot! The description of the weather for Monrovia to American travelers to make sure we understand clearly what it is like over there goes something like this: the weather in Monrovia is like a hot day in the desert of Arizona in the summer, and it’s like that every day of the year. At least we are arriving in February, when the weather is probably nicest in Monrovia and daytime temperatures are in the nineties. I am not sure what I will do with the ski jackets and the snow boots, I guess they will stay neatly packed inside the suitcase until we fly to London on our way home.
How does one pack for Monrovia? Short sleeves shirts only. The shorter the better. Light color clothing and definitely no need for thermal underwear. I also read somewhere that women do not wear pants on Sunday in Monrovia. A hat is a good idea and definitely sunscreen. They recommend a sunscreen with SPF of 50 or more, as they stress: no matter what race you are, you will definitely get darker.
We like to travel light but because of the two weather extremes on one trip, between the snow boots and heavy ski jacket and sun hat and sandals, we ended up filling up a large suitcase for each of us.
Ed has to carry the two surgical tools trays. We got some extra injectable medicines. I have paperwork galore to carry: patient logs, manifest for the surgical tools, letter of introduction in case of trouble at the airports. We got our yellow immunization cards for the first time. After thirty years of traveling the world, we now carry our yellow cards with us. We have our first entry for the yellow fever vaccination that we got in Tampa one week before the trip date.
The first leg from Tampa to Philadelphia was uneventful. We stayed in the Admiral Club in Philadelphia for a few hours waiting for our flight to Paris. A bad storm front is moving in, so my cell phone keeps getting texts from American Airlines warning us of flight delay and advising us to rebook our flight out for another day for free. I remain hopeful that we will be able to fly out as long as the flight is not canceled.
Boarding was delayed due to the incoming plane not arriving on time. We waited and waited. Then finally when we got to our seats and all buckled up, the snow started to fall onto the airport ground. The storm had arrived. Too much snow. We got delayed further so they could de-ice the aircraft. Then we got the green light to depart.
As we lined up for take off, more snow fell and temperature dropped dramatically. After fifteen minutes waiting in line to take off, the pilot announced there’s too much ice on the wings. We have to go back for a different and stronger solution of de-icing to be safer. They warned us of we smell something strange to not panic, it’s just the smell of the stronger de-icing solution. Ah, the joy and surprises of traveling in winter time! So back to the gate. More de-icing. More snow on the ground. Temperature gets colder and colder, and the storm front has now arrived in full force. I was pretty much certain that the flight was going to be canceled as the snowflakes are now coming down hard. It is pretty to look out the window but also scary as you wonder how safe is it to fly now. There was a lot of de-icing activity on the wings and the whole airplane with heavy duty solution and then, ready, set, go. Action. Take two. We line up for take off again, and this time we really mean business. The plane took off with a big roar into a thick layer of fog, wind, snowflakes, and white clouds. We actually are departing and taking off in the snow storm. WOW, scary. A first for me for sure.
The overnight flight to Paris is unusually quiet. We were both able to get some sleep. We are due to arrive into Charles De Gaulle, Paris at 7:30 AM. With all the delay in taking off with the snow storm, we now are arriving at 9 AM. At high altitude, I can see the sunrise above France as morning came upon us. Then we get ready for our landing. The plane was descending for a while and then landing was aborted. We started to come up again. Too much fog.
The airport has to set up more landing aids to help the pilot due to extremely limited visibility. Welcome to winter travels. Problem taking off in a snow storm, problem landing in thick fog. We make another round of low altitude flying over Paris waiting for the runway to be properly set up for our landing.
The plane landed perfectly the second time around through an extra thick layer of fog. We taxi to our gate on the ground with no visibility at all. We finally get to the gate.
Seat belt sign is off. We all stand to get our bags in the overhead compartment. Then the pilot comes on the PA system. “We are sorry but due to the thick fog, we were lead to the wrong gate. We request that you all sit down and put your seat belts back on. We will be pushed to the correct gate.”
We did finally get off the plane. As one of the passenger on the plane put it: first we thought we would never get on this plane, then we thought we would never get off this plane. That just about sums it all up for our otherwise uneventful flight.
We got to our hotel room in the sixth arrondissement in the Latin quarter right at the center of Saint Germain, Odeon and Saint Michel at 11 AM. This is my favorite spot on Paris, near all the action, market, activities, restaurants, shops, outdoor markets, Sorbonne University, Notre Dame Cathedral, and banks of the Seine to take pleasure walks. We both wanted to drop our luggage and go out for a walk to take in the Paris scene, maybe stop by a Les Deux Magots restaurant for a cup of coffee and people watch. Stop by the place where Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway and countless other writers before us came to Paris to find inspiration for their best selling novels. We have big plans for the day. By the time we got to our room, we took off our boots, and the jet lag had taken over our entire beings. When I open my eyes next, I found myself snuggled up next to Ed whose regular snoring rhythm told me he is still deep in his sleeping zone. My watch says 4 PM. We had somehow fallen fast asleep in our travel clothes, both passed out at the same time to enjoy a much needed five hours snooze!
A quick shower and a change of clothes found us ready for a bite to eat as it is getting close to dinner time in Paris by now. We walked out, found ourselves in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Rue de Conti and all its busy restaurants, with outdoor terraces and heaters on at full blast. Even in the winter, Parisians like their outdoor eating terraces and patios. We join them and found a table for two under a nice heater to keep us warm.
Bordeaux wine and French bread and excellent French cooking gave our stomachs a nice and satisfied sense of contentment. A short walk to our favorite gelato store found us each with a cornet of gelato sculpted into a colorful flower. In France, not only is the food excellent, the presentation never stops to amaze us. Even an ice cream cone can blossom into a beautiful flower instantly right before our bewildered eyes. We walked back to our room, getting some bottles of water for our stay and French chocolate just in case I get hungry at night.
We try to stream a movie from Netflix but we can’t because it is blocked in Europe. We try Amazon prime but got the same problem. All TV stations in France are showing soccer games. Same thing with the English Channels. We decided to watch a movie from our own portable collection. We were trying to decide which movie to watch—it could not have been more than ten minutes since we got back from dinner—and Ed decided to lie in bed while I search the list of movies. Not more than one minute later, the regular sound of his snoring started and that was the end of our evening of movie watching. If Ed keeps up this rate, we would have pulled in about twenty-four hours of sleep by the time we wake up tomorrow morning.
This is the very reason why I wanted to get over to Paris to stay for a few days to get Ed all rested up and get his body more used to the six-hour difference in Europe and Africa before he begins his work. This way he will not get too tired on the day he begins his surgery for the mission. We will have the clinic phone consults, as usual, so Ed will continue his daily work next week on the phone in Paris and not in Florida.
With Ed sound asleep, I begin my work reviewing the supplies and medicine list request for El Salvador for our June Mission. We have a coordinator going to El Salvador next week to perform a preliminary examination to get a list of patients that will be treated in June, and with this visit, we will know what range of lens we will need for to prepare for our trip to El Salvador. We are planning for eighty surgeries for that trip.
I also review the requirements for our trip to India in April. Then I look over the paperwork and logistics for Haiti and Ethiopia. There is still a lot of preparation and planning for those trips. I just buckle down and knock out as many items on my to-do list as I can.
Nighttime settled in the city of lights. It is very very cold outside but nice, warm, and toasty inside. Nothing sweeter than working away on my laptop, serenaded by my loving husband’s regular snoring rhythm. Doctor Ed needs his rest.
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