I love to travel…in the general sense. I love to go to new places, meet interesting people, have exciting experiences and delight my taste buds with exotic cuisine. However, I hate to travel…specifically. I don’t like the getting there.
Long car rides get super boring after awhile. Long train rides give me an intense sense of claustrophobia. And long plane rides, well, so many things can go wrong. The guy next to you snores. The baby in the seat in front of you screams for 14 hours straight. The kid behind you keeps kicking your chair. The people on the plane, specifically your neighbors, smell like they haven’t showered in days and have never heard of deodorant. By the time the flight attendant gets to you in row 97 with the meal cart all that’s left is the vegetarian green mush with a side of white stuff. If you’re in the aisle seat, you’re constantly getting up to let your neighbors go pee. If you’re in the middle, or worse, the window, you don’t get up to pee until you’re about to bust because you don’t want to wake the snoring, smelly people beside you. Then when you’ve finally made everyone move there’s a line for the tiny bathroom and the person inside has decided to camp out the rest of the flight. You try to move your ankles like the video keeps reminding you, but inevitably your ankles swell and eventually disappear into your calves. Deep vein thrombosis.
And once you arrive, you think, “Yes! Finally!” But no…first you must go through the Ebola/Swine flu/Bird flu or whatever else is the latest pandemic detector. Phew, you made it…to the immigration line where you fill out all the countless paperwork telling this foreign country your entire history. The person next to you doesn’t have a pen and out of the goodness of your heart you give them yours. You arrive at the counter to get your visa from the ever-friendly immigration officers. Oh, I need to sign something? But I don’t have a pen. You stand and wait off to the side while all the lucky people who signed everything already get their stamps and move on their merry way. Eventually you make it through immigration. The baggage carousel isn’t moving any longer. There is one of your bags…the luggage locks have been cut off. Awesome. Your other bag isn’t there so you trudge to the airline office and fill out more paperwork with a borrowed pen. They’ll call you…
I came back to Clove Island a week and a half ago from a vacation in the States. It took me four days of travel to get there and three days to return. The musings above mostly didn’t happen to me on this trip (although they all come from experience, except deep vein thrombosis). Screaming babies and smelly people (myself included) are every trip occurrences. I flew from Jacksonville to JFK (3 hours) with a 3-hour layover. Then I flew from JFK to Dubai (14 hours) with a 4-hour layover in Dubai.
Then I had a five-hour flight from Dubai to Nairobi. I arrived at 8:30pm local time and got to my hotel at 10:30pm…two hours for immigration, luggage, customs and the drive. It’s winter in Nairobi right now, therefore cold, especially for someone who has lived on the surface of the sun for the past two years. All I wanted after 31 hours of straight travel was a hot shower. But the hot water wasn’t working. Maintenance came. At 12:30am I was able to take my shower after which I fell into bed. At 5:30am I was back up, repacking to redistribute weight for the smaller planes I was to take that day.
The budget airline I’d booked, notorious for late departures and arrivals, almost left on time. I promptly passed out and slept right through lunch. At noon I arrived on the big island, where the international airport is located. I had an interisland flight scheduled for 4pm. I saw it on the screen. This airport is small with no amenities…the bathroom doesn’t even have toilet paper. You cannot wait inside the airport for a transfer flight. Instead I had to exit the airport building and wait outside. There is a tiny “café” with “food” and drinks outside. So I dragged my 70lbs of luggage to a table covered in flies and plopped down. Twenty minutes after arriving I was able to get the attention of a server (there were three other customers…).
“What do you have today?”
“No, just meat and bread. That’s all.”
“Oh, ok. I’ll have meat and bread.”
She comes back with a plate of lumpy, grey…meat, I guess. Some pieces had bone shards sticking out of them, others had some sort of globulous white gelatin attached and others still had hair. The pieces were floating in a greasy, smelly oil. I was really hungry though. So I bravely picked up the least disgusting-looking piece. Gag! Gag! I couldn’t do it. I munched on a piece of bread that I tried to dip in the oil. No!! Bad idea. So just plain bread then.
Finally it was time to check-in. This is the only time you’re allowed to enter the airport building. There are guards to ensure that you only enter when it’s your check-in time. Fortunately the guard let me pass and I stood in the line that said “Clove Island: 4pm”. I get the counter, put my baggage on the scale and give the lady my ticket. You’re in the wrong line, she says. This is Airline #1. Your ticket is for Airline #2.
(Note: There are only two airlines that fly from island to island. They are both unreliable. Either their planes need maintenance, the pilot didn’t show up for work, they’re on strike or some government official has commandeered the entire plane for their entourage.)
So I got in line for Airline #2. I was the only one in line except for one man who was already at the counter. I waited. And waited. And waited. This man at the counter seemed to think himself quite important by the way he carried himself and the obsequious manner in which the airport staff treated him. I still starred daggers at him. It was now 3:15 and my plane was supposed to leave at 4. What was taking this dude so long?!? Then I see the check-in guy count out about 20 boarding passes and give them to this one man.
Finally, it’s my turn. I show my ticket to the guy. He looks at it. Looks at me. Looks at the ticket again. And asks, “Didn’t they tell you about the flight?” My hand luggage, to that point on my shoulder, drops to the ground.
“Didn’t they tell me what about the flight?”
“Your flight left at noon.”
“I was in an airplane at noon. My flight is scheduled for 4pm. How could it leave at noon?”
“Well, I’m sorry. You will have to leave tomorrow morning.”
(I learned later that my flight hadn’t left at noon, at all. That was this guy’s excuse to save face. Instead, the president took my flight. He was invited to a wedding on my island and since he’s the president, why plan ahead when you can just go to the airport and take any flight you want at any time? So the man in front of me, one of the president’s entourage, had just commandeered my plane.)
It crossed my mind to begin yelling and throw a fit. This usually doesn’t end well for me. And it’s not nearly as satisfying to do so in French when I don’t have the proper vocabulary to adequately express my rage and disgust. So instead, I decided on a different tactic. I started crying. With tears streaming down my face, I let all my hunger, tiredness and frustration intimidate this poor man who had no idea what to do with sobbing, white girl at his check-in counter.
“Don’t cry! Don’t cry! You can just leave tomorrow.”
“I do not have any money to stay in a hotel. I’ve been traveling for three days. I haven’t slept. I haven’t eaten. I just want to go home. Why won’t you let me go home?!!!” A note of hysteria had entered my words.
“We will find a solution, madame. Don’t worry. Here, sit in this chair.” Instead, I flopped onto the floor, with my back against my suitcase, surrounded by my smaller bags. And I cried some more.
You better believe I had the attention of every single person in that small airport. They were all starring and whispering. I did not care. The braver men ventured over to ask me what I planned on doing to which I responded that I would sleep right there on the ground. It is Airline #2’s fault that I am stranded, so unless they plan on providing transportation and a hotel, then I would just sleep at their counter.
“But madame, you cannot sleep here. We close the airport at 6.”
“Is it illegal to sleep in the airport?”
“Well…no. I don’t think so.”
“Are the police going to remove me?”
“Oh no! They’ve already gone home.”
“Well then. I’m sleeping here.”
Meanwhile, people were still checking into the 4pm flight with Airline #1. So I stood up and asked the lady whether there were seats left. No, however, the 5:30pm flight, which was not listed on the screen, still had seats. Excellent!! I will buy one of those. (I did say I had no money for a hotel, which was true in the sense that I had no local currency. But I knew the airline accepted Euros which I did have.)
But then Airline #1 lady disappeared. When she reappeared, she asked me what I was going to do. Confused, I said I was waiting to buy a ticket from her. Oh, she said, that flight isn’t going anymore. There are only four passengers- she pointed to three island men waiting across the room.
Completely crestfallen, I despaired and resigned myself to trying out the new hotel by the airport to see if they took Euros or dollars. But the other three men made no move to leave so I decided to wait until they left. Eventually, they did. So I dragged myself up, got my luggage situated on my shoulders and began to plod out of the airport.
“Where are you going?!” Airline #1 lady called.
“But the flight is going now!”
“Huh? Why did those men leave?”
“They just went to pray. See, their bags are over there.”
Once I was convinced she was not joking, I sat down again, quite relieved. At this point, I was approached by a man who said he had heard there was foreign girl who was crying in the airport. He would move heaven and earth to ensure that she got on a flight to her home island. And because he’s so kind, wouldn’t it be great if the next time I was on the big island I could visit his home village? He would introduce me to his family. He could even show me his house. We could eat and drink together. We would have so much fun.
Thank you but no…and come to find out, he had nothing to do with anything….literally, nothing. He was some technician with no say on what planes come or go. Nice try, buddy.
At 5:45, my plane finally took off. I’d had to pay $50 for overweight luggage. I could have argued. There were only four passengers after all. But I just wanted to get on my plane! Half an hour later we landed…on the wrong island. I looked up from my Kindle and realized that I was not on my island at all. The pilot, who had to crawl past me to open the door, saw the panic in my eyes and assured me that we were just stopping on this island for 5 minutes to pick up more passengers. Phew.
We touched down on my island 45 minutes later. It was pitch black. My small island’s airport has no lighting. The runway was lit by the fire truck’s headlights. Dangerous, yes. But I was finally home!!! The End.