This article was last updated on: October 2019
My visit to North Korea was something very interesting for me, but reaching all the way there from here is quite the voyage.
The country is almost at the other side of the planet from Colombia. Well, it would be like Indonesia more technically, but you know what I mean (right?).
The Colombian peso was worth something, I had some savings, some miles, and I had some available time. Circumstances were by all means better than the ones present nowadays, at the writing of writing this.
I also some friend friends spread around the world that made this trip so much easier. Those I still have, fortunately.
So with the North Korea trip as a base, I ended up arranging a round trip route in which could be said that I left from one side of the globe, and arrived via the other.
In fact this was the second time that I did it. But it was the first time that I did it only for knowledge, pleasure and friendship purposes, planned to be that way from the get go.
I use the word “planned” lightly here. There were many things that just came up along the way, and that I will tell you in due time.
When I was living in Thailand, in the 2010 part, I also arrived there via one side and returned to Colombia via the other. But that wasn’t really planned to be like that.
Of course, I will later write about that as well.
So let’s keep in this second around the world tour, let’s continue here.
I was just passing by in some of the cities, in others I remained several days (and even weeks). Total route was:
Medellín – Miami – Fort Lauderdale – Atlanta – New York – Boston – Washington – Atlanta – Miami – Los Angeles – Tokyo – Nagoya – Osaka – Nagoya – Ibaraki – Shanghai – Beijing – Pyongyang – Samjiyon – Pyongyang – Hamhung – Pyongyang – Shenyang – Beijing – Moscow (Monino) – Kiev (Pripyat – Chernobyl) – Helsinki – Oulu – Rovaniemi – Oulu – Helsinki – Copenhagen – Amsterdam – Munich – Copenhagen – Amsterdam – Liège – Maastricht – Eindhoven – Amsterdam – Oranjestad – Willemstad – Medellín.
As I say, it was a long trip, in which I shared with many friends I still keep, and saw and experimented many things that made me curious.
It’s been one of the best times of my life up until now, and I remember it very fondly. In part that’s why I want to write this, so I don’t forget.
And well, I think it’s going to be very long, including what I wrote before this about North Korea, Kiev and Chernobyl, that were part of this trip. So this article will only show you a part of the route.
Here I will write about the Washington – Atlanta – Miami – Los Angeles route.
Here I go.
Besides travelling, this time around the visit to Washington was to visit a cousin of mom’s and his family.
Do you remember the cape gooseberry thing leaving Rionegro? Well, that was for him. It was his weird craving that he couldn’t buy there…
Mom has several cousins. Doubtless the one I like the most and I’ve felt to be closer to me is precisely the one I was visiting in Washington, so it was all good.
Other than family stuff, obviously I did many things by own there (people work and they don’t have to be catering to me all the day. Besides, I like to walk on my own too).
I had been to Washington many times already, mostly due to a job I had before that made pass through the city.
I always liked the city, but I had only been in places according to the job I had to do, and other than going to the Smithsonian museums I hadn’t taken the time to go the city’s most famous landmarks.
So I started around the White House, the Washington Monument (the obelisk), and that zone.
I had always peeked at it in a rush from a car, or from far away, but this time around I took the time to walk and be there for a full day to see what’s what.
North of these landmarks there is a zone informally called “Embassy Row”.
As its name reveals, it’s a zone where many embassies and consulates are lumped together.
A building can be one country’s embassy, and the neighbour can be the embassy of another, quite literally.
Those matters strike me as very interesting, so I walked around there for a long time, just seeing which embassies would I stumble into.
I went to the White House then. I made it to the famous fence, it wasn’t that busy, and I just stayed there watching for a while.
The only “serious” thing there was a pair of police officers asking people to please not use tall tripods.
Across the street from the fence there was a person doing some kind of protest camp against nuclear bombs and all that, who knows how long had she been there.
At least the was in the United States. In Colombia she would have been sent the ESMAD and she would have been left without an eye for nothing, to then blame a Venezuelan, as is the government custom here.
I continued and walked toward the Washington Monument. It was sort of empty too, the place wasn’t packed with tourists as I thought it would be. Excellent!
As its name revels, it’s a memorial to the people who died in that war.
Those days the zone was being revamped, so the paths were somehow different from the “usual” ones.
Eventually I reached the Lincoln Memorial, perhaps the fullest one of all the nearby places. It’s a very beautiful place, even while being revamped.
There, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, and a plaque commemorated it.
In a matter of just a couple of kilometres I had been making my way through a tremendous amount of historic places, I was very happy.
Now I was going to the Capitol, located right in the opposite side of the Washington Monument.
Airplanes going to the Washington-Reagan Airport would fly by.
I passed through the Korean War Veterans Memorial, quite appropriate given the general destination upon this whole trip was standing on.
The memorial had the names of the countries that took part in the war on that band, amongst them, Thailand, Colombia and the United Kingdom.
Something very cool about the whole walk is that the place was full of squirrels. I love squirrels (and cobras, and iguanas).
I would gesture them with my hand to some, and they would stand there like saying:
-“Is this guy OK?”.
On the way to the Capital I walked close to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It’s there where the dollars are made (they have another branch in Texas).
Only bills are made there, coins are made somewhere else.
There was a public tour I would have loved to attend, but the times were not right, and for the next one I wouldn’t be in the city.
For me it’s another reason to return, eventually.
In true Smithsonian fashion there was a giant engine lying just casually in front, apparently for space use.
Apparently they were just getting it inside the museum, just like that.
And around there as well, the Federal Aviation Administration headquarters, the visible head of the Civilian Aviation regulation in the United States, and almost around the world for that matter (even though at the time of writing this, in October 2019, they’re having trouble because of what has happened with the Boeing 737MAX).
I dreamed of having a Pilot’s licence issued by them, and I have it now that I write this. I cost me much time, blood, sweat, and tears.
For the time being it’s only been useful as a paperweight… But anyway, I’ll do something.
I kept walking and finally reached the Capitol.
It was cool.
When I least realised time went by, and it was about to get dark.
So I went to the metro, to the L’Enfant Plaza station. But I wasn’t going to my mom’s cousin’s place yet.
I think the Washington metro is very nice, at least the design of its stations. When the train is about to arrive some red lights blink on the floor, it looks like Star Wars.
Obviously, I wasn’t going let a Washington visit pass without going to Gravelly Point. The park is right beside Washington-Reagan Airport.
The earlier times I’d visited the city I had gone without fail, but I still liked it like the first time (and if I go to Washington again, I’ll be back).
This time I arrived at night-time, so I wasn’t going to be taking many photos of Airplanes in-flight. But there was this couple around that served me to get a few interesting photos.
I got back to the metro after some time, and now I did indeed to my mom’s cousin’s house. It had been an excellent day.
More photos of that day in the gallery below.
The next day I returned to the back to take some daytime photos if Airplanes in-flight.
On the way from the metro to the park there were some sewer lids where cables of some of the Airport approach systems passed.
Many people were in the park that day.
Airplanes were taking off toward the park.
So you could appreciate the coordination of the air traffic control system, one Airplane would takeoff and right there you see another one coming behind to land.
You could even see an Airplane taking off, another one getting ready to do so, and a third one on approach just about to land.
There was a pair of government Helicopters flying close to the Capitol.
There was even an US Airways retro Airbus 319 (the Piedmont one).
And just like in former sessions, there were many things that no longer exist at the time of writing this.
For instance, American Airlines changed colours and no longer flies the McDonnell-Douglas MD-82.
US Airways no longer exists.
United has changed colours twice.
Anyway, some of the photos that I took in the gallery below.
Later on I returned for my things, said bye-bye to my mom’s cousin and his family, and went back to the metro toward Reagan Airport again, I was leaving now.
Airplane: McDonnell-Douglas MD-90
I had to return to Miami. The next day I was going to leave America.
I chose to do it via Atlanta for the usual reasons, that is, trying new things.
I had to go back to Miami to pick up things I had left at Eliza’s, and I had to take the flight to Los Angeles that would mark the beginning of the road to Asia.
This time it was Delta for the first time. On top of that, the route was on a McDonnell-Douglas MD-90 until Atlanta, and from there a McDonnell-Douglas MD-88 until Miami.
I had wanted to fly in a MD-90 for a long time, but I just didn’t see where, and here I finally had the chance.
They built relatively few Airplanes for starters, and from those, many flew in places such as Japan, China, Finland, Saudi Arabia or Switzerland.
I don’t think a MD-90 ever landed in Colombia. On second thought, Air Aruba flew to Colombia in the 90s, and they had MD-90.
That airline went bankrupt in 2000. Do not confuse with Aruba Airlines, flying normally at the time of writing this.
I remember once having seen a photo of them in Rionegro in a MD-80, but I’m not sure if they ever brought the MD-90. The question remains there…
The closest ones were precisely Delta’s, and by the way, they’re the only airline flying them at the time of writing this.
I hadn’t flown in MD-88 either, so it was all perfect. It was one of the missing Airplanes to complete the whole MD-80 series.
On this trip, I would also fly in MD-81, MD-82 and MD-87. I’ll speak about those flights in due time.
The MD-83 turn had passed long time ago in Avianca.
I arrived in the Airport then from my mom’s cousin’s house in the metro, and I checked-in and did security very quickly.
On reaching the waiting lounge the MD-90 could be seen, it’s gorgeous!
The chosen one that day was going to be N928DN.
The flight had a 10 minutes delay, but that wasn’t going to make things difficult for me connecting to Miami.
The waiting lounge was full of Chileans, and that brought back memories of Santiago. I had been there one month earlier.
As it happens, flight 147 continues to Santiago. The flight is Washington – Santiago via Atlanta. It continues in a Boeing 767-300 from Atlanta, and I was just taking the first leg in MD-90.
I boarded, we were pushed-back and went direct to the runway. Those IAE V2500 engines of the MD-90 sound very nice, what a delicious Airplane.
We took off, I had a plain view toward the Pentagon, and Washington was nowhere to be seen just a few minutes after that.
The cruise was pretty normal, with no turbulence or anything else to tell you.
We arrived in Atlanta almost at night.
Unlike the AirTran flight, this time around I would have to change terminals.
So I went down to catch the intra-terminal train and carried on. Atlanta has many terminals, connected by an underground train.
It’s a giant Airport, but it’s quite easy to navigate.
Airplane: McDonnell-Douglas MD-88
I took the train to get to the terminal of my flight to Miami and it didn’t take long.
As I was saying, Atlanta is an easy Airport to connect despite its sheer size. It doesn’t take that long even changing terminals.
When I arrived my MD-88 was already there, arrived from Providence, Rhode Island, and ready to depart to a Miami, Florida as Delta 1949. That day it was going to be N979DL.
The waiting lounge looked like a flight to Cartagena, everybody was speaking Spanish.
This was a night flight, so photography opportunities were limited.
I think it was cool that beside the gate, airside, there are some indicators that say what flight is it, where’s it going, and how long before pushback.
The flight was also very normal.
The Pilots were still there when we landed, I asked them for authorisation to take a cockpit photo, and they kindly agreed.
It’s a shame the photos turned out a bit out of focus, I don’t know why… But anyway!
I was in Miami already and it was almost midnight. I had a long way to go the next day!
What I didn’t expect was that I would have the scare of my life there. For a while, I didn’t know where my passport was.
It was midnight, I was due to leave for Japan the next morning, and I didn’t know where the hell was my passport!
Eventually I found it somewhere I don’t remember now. But those were moments of fear and loathing.
Airplane: Boeing 767-300
Airline: American Airlines
I reached the Airport about three hours before departure, without much sleep (because of the passport scare haha), but all relaxed.
My suitcases were tagged all the way to Tokyo.
In the beginning I had my doubts about that, because even though I had bought both flights (to Los Angeles and Tokyo) on a single ticket, the Airlines I was going to use belonged to rival alliances.
Singapore Airlines was Star Alliance, whereas American Airlines was OneWorld.
Apparently they had agreements on that route, and since it all was on a single ticket they were indeed ready all the way to Narita.
It was kind of weird anyway, I checked-in on a machine, and moments later I heard one of the counter agents shouting my name, like taking attendance in a school or something.
I made my way to where I was being called, they verified my documents and the luggage, and that was it.
I went to do security right away, because in Miami the procedure can get hairy. Lo and behold, the line was long, but anyway, I had arrived on-time and didn’t have issues in the end.
When I passed that filter I walked around to see some Airplanes. There were interesting things in sight.
There was a Boeing 747-400LCF Dreamlifter to start with.
This is a very modified Boeing 747-400F to carry cargos of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (mostly fuselages), since the parts of this Airplane are built in several places around the world.
It travels a lot between Japan and the United States, I saw one myself in Nagoya when I was there, but I couldn’t take a photo.
Another Airplane that I saw was Sharko.
That’s the name of a Boeing 767-200 that used to fly for a Bolivian airline called Aerosur.
As you can see, it was painted like a shark, hence its name.
Aerosur also had a Boeing 747-400 painted like a bull, called “Súper Torísimo” (something like “Super mega bull”), I couldn’t take photos of that one. You can see it by clicking here.
Sharko had flown for Avianca before, registered as N988AN, as can be seen in this this photo.
Moreover, back in its days with Avianca it also had special Juan Valdez colours.
On top of all that, “Flagship Freedom”, an American Airlines Boeing 757-200 was there.
I got in the small train to go to the terminal I needed to be at, and I sat in the waiting lounge normally.
There were people sleeping on the floor.
Boarding was called, and I heard overselling voices, but I didn’t know what happened with that. I can tell you the flight was packed, though.
My Airplane that day was N39367, at the time of writing this it’s not flying for American Airlines anymore but for the New England Patriots sports team. You can see it in its new colours by clicking here.
The flight was going to last five hours, the same time it takes to go from Medellín to New York.
But it was a domestic flight! And not to mention the 10 hours long Russian domestic flights, the same time it takes to go from Medellín to Madrid.
We took off and flew toward Texas around the gulf, and then Los Angeles.
A mildly cute woman sat beside, something that’s not common.
She started to tell me about her fear of flying, her life in Tallahassee, she told me her father had a Cessna (but she was afraid of flying in a Boeing 767, go figure).
She told me she was going to visit a friend in Los Angeles, and other things.
Of course, it was too good to be true (the fact that she was kind of cute, something that never happens to me).
She would go to the loo every two minutes. In front of us there were some jolly Brazilians speaking loudly, and she said:
-“Oh, could they be terrorists?”.
The Brazilians’ capital sin was being a little tan and bearded. Ah, and maybe Portuguese sounded like Arabic to her.
The whole conversation was like that. I had to calm her down and teach her why Airplanes fly… I wished she hadn’t talked to me in the first place.
She was like a Geordie Shore The Hills stereotype, with a certain flair of having gone to university very deep inside and not being that super mega dumb way inside. The movie she had in her head!
I couldn’t avoid thinking on the girls from Medellín that keep watching realities all the time, and saying “lo mejorrrrrr” (“the bessstt”). Maddening! Puajpuaj.
The flight continued, and we were over a very congested airway apparently. I saw Airplanes going the opposite way many times, it was delicious.
Fortunately time went by, because I was about to slap my neighbour with a rotten fish because of the things she was saying.
We flew over the gulf of Mexico, Texas, and started to descent around Palm Springs. A photo with its Airport in sight below.
We approached the Airport over the city. Los Angeles extends and exteeends.
The very same approach I had on a United Boeing 747-400 arriving from Tokyo in 2009, around the same side and same runway.
But now I was doing it the opposite way, toward Tokyo, and in an Airbus A380-800.
We landed, and made our way to the American terminal.
Fortunately, that terminal is very close to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (simply known as TBIT), where my next flight would depart from. It was being revamped those days.
Transfer wasn’t going to be that troublesome.