Sunday, January 22, 2017

Travel...Until Something Goes Wrong


During a nine hour layover in Honolulu International, I logged 22,000 steps walking into the late night hours waiting for the red-eye.

On our last flight from San Diego, within a half hour of landing, we had to turn around and fly back to San Diego because of the fog. The flight was delayed until the next day...and then it was delayed two more times, finally took off, almost reached our destination, and almost had to turn around again.

My list of flight delays, cancellations, is longer than a child's Christmas wish list for Santa, yet I keep on traveling.

I am home from Ecuador, and this trip, like most adventures, had its trials; but this time, I encountered a problem like no other: a student without a passport.

An hour and a half before our buses were to take us to the airport, a student couldn't find her passport. Midway through our service, we'd asked students to check for their passports; I'm sure some of the students complied. In hindsight, we should have asked to SEE all the passports.

The flurry that followed is almost unimaginable. After tears, and a harsh realization of the student's predicament, Mrs. C, the volunteer director, and the student jumped in a taxi to make a police report, take new photos, and address the list of must-do's. We contacted the students parents with a list of requirements that included the notarizing of documents and overnight delivery service to the consulate in Quito.

I stayed back and communicated via email with the consulate, desperately trying to schedule an appointment and even trying to determine whether or not they were open the next day. Each email was greeted with an automated response saying they were closed on February 19th. The response emails included correspondence in broken English and impeccable English--the responder remained a mystery. In the end I simply begged for their help. With five minutes before departure, I shut the lid on my laptop, grabbed my suitcase, and ran for the student filled buses.

Mrs. C couldn't access the internet on her phone. My internet and phone communications included the travel agent who had to cancel and then reschedule the flight home, all of it delicately balanced on whether or not we could get a waiver for the day, whether or not the new passport would take a week or a day.

In the end, the passport was expedited~~I think. Twenty-four hours later, teacher and student were on the next flight to Miami.

My next assignment was to find out whether or not our travel insurance covered a stolen/lost passport. Interestingly, my credit card was the only one in the agent's files and I had to consent to its use. I took a quick deep breath and decided any costs would be worth getting our travelers home. "Yes, please use my credit card." We were on a humanitarian service trip. Why wouldn't that apply to our own situation?

Years ago, I watched a documentary about a traveler to Patagonia. A line from his travels has always stood out in my head, "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong."

I haven't found a statement about travel that rings more true, and when I keep this in mind, I can more easily embrace the adventure. I laugh when the two boys skip off to get a hamburger without telling us and we've passed through security without them. I smile when one student leaves his $74 in the hotel room that is supposed to go towards paying for the room. I imagine the maid, having more need for the money than myself and wish her well in my heart. I'm willing to make a hundred yard dash to the re-booking counter when I hear our flight has been canceled; I'm good natured when my family must spend one night in Baltimore instead of our luxury rental on the beach.

This adventure is no different; when I see our left-behind student tomorrow, I will embrace her like I would my own child. Her mishap became our adventure and when it did she sealed her fate with ours--forever. We can't forget the sacrifices, the worry, the work that goes into those adventures and endears us to the people whom we shared those adventures.

A few months ago, I was asked to join next year's group in a humanitarian visit to Thailand. Will I go?

Bring on the adventure.