Sunday, January 1, 2012

Flying to Loreto from San Jose - Up Up and Away!

My return journey to Loreto began dark and early one morning this week.  Although I had set an alarm for 3:00 am – yes, that was three o’clock in the morning! (perhaps that should have been spelled mourning) I didn’t really sleep, dozed, I guess, but I was either too excited about returning home again after my Christmas visit back to Calgary, and/or I was paranoid about sleeping in and messing up the whole plan!  In any event, I was up at three and on my way to the Airport by four to check in for my six am departure.

Being from western Canada, I am familiar with the early morning scheduling of outbound flights to sun destinations, but it still amazes me how many people manage to get up so early for their departure times to these warmer climes.  Particularly when it is this close to the shortest day of the year and there are so few hours of daylight (forget about warmth!) the motivation is clear, but it is still a remarkable sight to see some of the biggest crowds of the day at the airport before 6:00 am.

Not surprisingly, my flight to San Jose del Cabo was full, but it was surprising to me the number of very young kids on board – but I guess young parents deserve a holiday too!  Regardless, the flight was uneventfully and we arrived in San Jose almost four hours later.  I was able to clear Immigration fairly quickly, handing in the remaining half of the exit document that I had completed on my outbound trip – reversing the process that most of the tourists were doing on an inbound flight.  My bag took a little longer and there was a bit of a delay while a couple of “first timers” were somewhat baffled by the X-Ray equipment that all incoming luggage had to be screened through before leaving the baggage area.

After pushing green on the Customs entry button I made my way out to the exit through what is usually a gauntlet of timeshare and other hucksters, but at 10:30 in the morning the day had not really begun yet and there were only a couple of bleary eyed “Ambassadors” who made only a half hearted effort to entice me with their wares.  When I cleared the terminal I packed my jacket and sweater into my bag and headed to the other terminal half a mile away.  Having just arrived at the main International Terminal (Two), my next flight was to depart from Terminal One, a building which I had never been in before. 

The departure area of Terminal One is basically a large open area with a few small tourist shops along the outside wall and most of the rest of the space taken up with crowd control barriers snaking the lines of passengers towards check in podiums on the far wall.  First of all I determined that both International and Domestic flights were handled out of this Terminal, and after observing the traffic figured out that there were separate entrances to check in for the different types of destinations.  Even though my departure was late afternoon I wanted to figure out where my flight would be checking in, as I had been told that since Aereo Calafia does not have their own podium they used an unidentified space beside the Aero Pacifico desks.  I figured out where the likely check in location was going to be and observed that before you can enter the area to line up, first you had to have your bags scanned through a big X-Ray machine and then push another Red/Green light button, pushing a Red light apparently necessitated a further hand inspection of your luggage – the Mexican authorities apparently take security on these Domestic flights seriously!

Having thus oriented myself, I also had observed that there were no food services on the public side of the check in, and, since it was now after 11:00, it had been a long time since the yogurt and muffin more than 7 hours earlier.  So I headed back the 10 minute walk to Terminal 2, (still dragging my luggage) where there were more services – more but still no food without a boarding pass for a departing flight that permitted access to the departure lounge and food court on the second level.  At this point I sat down and let my somewhat befuddled brain consider my options.  While there was a bar counter where I was on the main floor, there was no apparent food service and I knew it was too early to start drinking – let alone the fact that it would be 3 or 4 hours before my flight. 

However, when I asked around, I found out that the bar could in fact order from the food court upstairs and so I settled in with a cold beer to wait for my cheeseburger and fries for lunch.  I was even able to plug in my computer at the Bar and start writing this Blog.  As it turned out, the soccer game that was on the tube when I arrived was soon replaced with – be still my pounding heart – coverage of the Spengler Cup hockey championship from somewhere in Europe.  This SKY TV broadcast was a live feed of raw video, including unedited live audio from ice level and coverage of the dressing room pep-talk by the coach between periods – all without voice over or play-by-play, not surprisingly, as I guess there must be a shortage of hockey commentators here in Mexico!  Who knew I had to sit in a bar in Mexico to get this close to a Canadian team playing hockey in Europe – small world!  So that’s how I spent my afternoon, drinking beer, eating a cheeseburger and watching hockey – welcome home to Mexico!  Soon I struck up a conversation with a couple who had just arrived from Washington and were Canadian Hockey fans and over several post-luncheon drinks we solved some of the world’s problems.  

Following this pleasant interlude, I made my way back to Terminal One around 3:30 and went through the aforementioned baggage scan, got the Green light and avoided inspection and finally made my way in the general direction of the Areo Pacifico desks where I met a couple who were waiting for the same Loreto flight.  We visited for 15 or 20 minutes about Loreto, they were joining friends who were Homeowners in Loreto Bay, and then we were joined by two other couples travelling down to see their parents who were also Homeowners.  So now we were 7, more than half full for a 12 passenger plane – looking good!

About 4:15 a young man and woman arrived wearing Aereo Calafia logoed clothing, our ground crew had arrived, and our little group of passengers broke into spontaneous applause, evoking an embarrassed, but good natured response from them.  Boarding passes were issued and overweight charges assessed, the checked luggage limit on this flight is only 15 kilograms, about 33 pounds – I was about 10 kilos over and they charged me 339 pesos or about $25.00 – not bad, considering that they charge by the actual weight and not a flat charge if you exceed the maximum.  Considering the generosity of Santa, I was happy to pay the extra for what I was bringing with me.

After getting the boarding pass I proceeded through another typical pre-boarding security screen and then a nice food court, smaller than Terminal Two’s, but a good variety of International Fast Food brands.  Looking around I thought that it was too bad that I couldn’t have checked in for the flight earlier in the day, I could have spent my time quite comfortably there, but then again, perhaps I would have missed the Hockey game!

The Aereo Calafia staff had told us that the Airline did not have an “Announcer” to call the flight in the Departure area, so we had been told to hang out in the vicinity of Gate 1 and watch for the ground staff to come to the gate around 5:00 pm.  When they arrived our little group of passengers quickly handed over their boarding passes and then followed them out the doors, onto the tarmac toward our plane, which was waiting nearby.  Our luggage had been loaded onboard from a small pick-up truck that was parked nearby and with no further ado we climbed aboard. 

The single engine plane had four rows of seats, a double and single in each row separated by a narrow aisle, with the “cockpit” with two bigger, more official seats directly in front of the first row.  Occupying the left hand seat was our Pilot, (no co-Pilot on this flight) and once we were all seated he fired up the engine and we proceeded to taxi out to the runway.  Soon, with a roar of the propeller, we picked up speed and were quickly airborne, climbing over the Cabo coastline before heading north.  Taking off before 5:30 we had about a half an hour before the sun began to set, below a spectacularly coloured fringe of clouds on the western horizon.  But until then it was fascinating to observe the coast and rocky hills from so much closer to the ground than the typical jets fly, and in places it was possible to see across the entire peninsula to the Pacific coast in the distance as we flew up the Sea of Cortez.

After darkness quickly fell there wasn’t much to see out the window and I caught myself dozing off a couple of times, it had been a long day and night before, and now that I was on the last leg of my trip I could start to relax – I would be home again soon!  Less than an hour later I began to pick out a few faint lights on the ground and then a bigger cluster directly below, which I was able to identify as the Villa del Palmar resort from the distinctive turtle shaped swimming pools brightly illuminated at night.

From there I picked out a few other landmarks, the town of Ligui, and the Juncalito fishing camp and even some car headlights on the highway that runs along the coast as it approaches Loreto from the south.  And then, up ahead, through the high front windshield of the plane, I saw the surprisingly bright lights of Loreto, with the cluster of fainter lights below of Loreto Bay, where my home is, as we gradually descended for our approach to the runway at the Airport.  After a smooth landing we taxied towards the Loreto Terminal, looking quite large and impressive from the perspective of this small plane, and, with a few words of welcome (the first of the trip) from our Pilot, we disembarked and walked into the north end of the building, my first arrival on a Domestic flight.

We waited in the arrivals area inside, until our bags were loaded on the conveyor and then, after claiming them, made our way past a couple of fatigue wearing soldiers, who did a couple of final random inspections (more of that Domestic security) and then finally into the concourse of the Terminal – Home Again!

I have commented before about the current limited air access situation here in Loreto, with only one International flight on Alaska Airlines from Los Angeles arriving 4 days a week (Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays) using a 76 passenger turbo prop.  For this reason, I was glad to have the opportunity to check out this Aereo Calafia option which started this Fall, flying from San Jose del Cabo to Loreto on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons and the reverse route from Loreto to San Jose on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings – making convenient connections with most of the International arrivals and departures.  Although currently with only 12 passenger capacity, these three flights a week don’t make a big difference in the number of seats available in and out of Loreto, they do open up some lower priced options for direct flights to Cabo from many different cities with this connection.  Hopefully, with more bookings, there could be additional flight days added to the schedule and perhaps even the possibility of a bigger plane in the future.

I should also mention that there have been occasions when this flight has been cancelled, and some people have experienced problems with reservations booked on line, and, as I observed, there is a somewhat “informal” approach to ground arrangements, but, after my experience I would certainly consider using this option, as an alternative to the 5 ½ hour drive each way, that I described a few weeks ago.  For those of you who are interested in finding out more about this flight check out the website at: but it will be handy to have a translation “ap” at the ready as the site is in Spanish.  Also, be careful to select “San Jose del Cabo” as the location – the Airline also flies out of the “Cabo San Lucas” airport to Loreto as well, but this is a considerable distance ($75 taxi fare?) from the San Jose del Cabo Airport where all the International flights arrive.

Returning home, after a winter “vacation” in Canada, and experiencing a new travel connection that may be the beginning of improving air access, these too are parts of “Living Loreto”.

 ¡Féliz Año Nuevo! And Happy New Year to you All!