We left on Sunday morning with some trepidation as we had only collected our passports with visas the day before.
The preceding week was very stressful as there was still some doubt that our first group (we had been split into two as we were such a large group) would be able to make hajj. They left Trinidad on the Tuesday before us and since then had missed so many flights and there was some talk of having to pay change of date fees and rebooking fees.
Furthermore, during that week we didn’t hear much from the first group directly. There were many rumours floating around that they were “locked up” and “starving”. They left Trinidad without their passports as the visas had not been issued yet and were supposed to collect them Tuesday morning at Caracas with the visas (the Saudi Embassy is in Caracas) and then continue on with their connecting flights. Caribbean Airlines said they would take people with some sort of photo ID and Trinidad and Tobago immigration said if Caribbean Airlines would board our group then they have no problem letting them leave. I assumed Venezuela was okay with 40-odd passengers being in transit waiting for their passports.
Well our whole group didn’t get visas until Thursday and ours arrived in Trinidad on Friday. So the first group had not left before us as was the plan. But they weren’t locked up. They were staying in a hotel outside of the airport. This was rather stressful. A couple from our jamaat were part of the first group.
During that week we got many calls from many people saying, yes we got it!, yes we got it! (and we would wonder but didn’t you say we got it yesterday?). It got to the point I didn’t want to answer the phone anymore. One Hajj leader, a friend of dad, sent a message with his wife for us to not leave Trinidad without our passport and visa! Don’t!
In that week, we also heard that one group didn not get through at all. Can you imagine a group of 50 paid their money for everything and then their visas are refused?
You must be really careful in picking a group. People may not talk but somehow you should find out for sure whether your group leader is licensed or not. If you can’t find out, sometimes the students in Saudi Arabia might be able to find out for you…I don’t know how…they might be better able to listen to what people are saying. Also, you have to get previous hujaaj to tell you honestly about their experience. And just because it was good one year doesn’t mean the next year it will be so.
So, Sunday morning, we left. We had confirmed bookings. We had visas. The only thing that could stop us was immigration at any point. There was enough layover time at each stop (or so we thought anyway). We were just worried about our fellow hujaaj in the previous group. The hajj terminal in Jeddah closes on Tuesday midnight and our group was scheduled to arrive Monday. If you’re not in by Tueday midnight you’ve missed it. They won’t let you in to make hajj. We didn’t know what their flights were anymore. We heard they would take the same flight with us out of Caracas to Frankfurt and when we went on to Jeddah from there, they would go through Amman and arrive the day after us. Cutting it very closely, yes?
Leaving Piarco (Trinidad) was hard. Our neighbours carried the four of us up. And we were the first to check-in I thought. We were starting to wonder if we were *late* (was it even 4 am??) It’s sad when the whole family is going because there is nobody to wave you goodbye. But then, isn’t it sadder when you’re leaving someone behind because then you *are* waving someone goodbye? Either way ti felt strange.
Thankfully in the throngs that came to see off the last hajj group, friends and family did appear. One group came with samosas and such (pre-arranged) so we’d have some extra food/snacks for the trip. Relatives of the people from the first group came to see us off too, and talked dad’s ear off. Dad was even able to thank one of the persons responsible for our group actually getting our visas.
With all this stress, I decided not to take gravol (much needed medicine for flying…but it puts you to sleep). We would arrive in Caracas around 11 and not leave until 5pm…and I didn’t think it would be wise to be asleep and groggy throughout that stay. The stories we’ve heard!