Category Archives: Travel Disasters

My Trip to Philly

It had been a while since I was in Philadelphia. I’ll start by saying that I’ve been many times before — but, never just for me. I was excited about this trip — it was a trip speckled with memories here and there, but focused on excitement about my future, which could potentially begin in yet another East Coast city.

Entering a dark NYC, 2nd Avenue. NYC, post-Sandy.

With a trip scheduled three days after Hurricane Sandy’s foray across the tristate region, I thought I’d be ok. I had found cheap Amtrak tickets from Boston South Station to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station leaving Thursday afternoon and returning late Saturday night. The weather looked nice, and my schedule was wide-open. But, as many travels with Tavel go, it wasn’t quite that simple.

Taxi in the dark. Midtown Manhattan.

As most of you know, there was still no electricity in downtown Manhattan and most tunnels were flooded. Penn Station was closed, all Northeast Corridor Amtrak trains were shut down, and buses were not able to pass through the darkened city. It was the day before my trip, so I knew I’d have to scramble up some plan Bs. I was absolutely determined to make it down to Philadelphia, and I was not about to let a little biggest-storm-to-hit-NYC-in-100-years stop me. I had come way too far to get to this opportunity, and I’d be damned if anything got in my way now! (In my experience, it is this attitude that will get you places…)

Amtrak at 30th Street station in Philadelphia, PA. Delays, and late arrivals… Mine was the 5:19 train.

I called Amtrak on Wednesday morning with a glimmer of hope in my heart, and anticipation of complications in my gut. They told me all trains leaving Boston were not operating except for two — one of which was MINE. I asked them to double and triple check the information, and they were equally confused and excited for me when they confirmed that mine was one of two trains still scheduled to depart on time.

Bus in the dark. Manhattan.

I felt pretty awesome, but decided to check back in the afternoon because something didn’t feel right. They confirmed that my train was still scheduled to depart on time from Boston to Philly… I still didn’t believe them. I called again, Wednesday night, at which point they told me the train was now going to be leaving Boston with a final destination of New Haven, CT. This made more sense, unfortunately. NJ Transit was not running, and trains couldn’t get past Connecticut, so my problem had not been solved: it was time to explore other options.

Street view. Philadelphia, PA.

I looked up flights, which were either booked or in the $300-$450 dollar range (and apparently the closest I could get was Newark, not Philadelphia). That was way too much money, and still didn’t solve the problem of how to get to Philadelphia. I quickly checked out bus schedules — and all buses were labeled as “Canceled.” By now, it was around 4pm. Finally, I got an email (and a series of phone calls) from Amtrak telling me that my train had been officially cancelled. I had an appointment in Philadelphia at noon on Friday — that was my goal. I began to get tunnel vision (har har, no pun intended) for success… My heart started racing a little and I think I accidentally skipped dinner as I frantically began calling bus companies and looking up mass-transit news stories for the area. It became very clear that any train or bus service going through NYC (which is what I needed) was completely shut-off the day before I had to leave, and I wouldn’t know if anything was running until the next morning.

Philadelphia, PA.

I bought back-up bus tickets for Thursday, which were being sold with the promise that if the buses didn’t run I would get a full refund. At this point, the earliest bus ticket I could find was a 2:30pm bus out of South Station, arriving in NYC at 6:15pm. There was a 7:15pm bus from 34th Street (NYC) to Philadelphia, but I worried that would be too risky, so I booked the 8:15pm bus from NYC to Philly in hopes that this would help me avoid any missing-of-the-bus stress. I HATE missing-a-transfer stress. Mind you, this bus was supposed to arrive at 34th Street and 7th Avenue, in the heart of the power outage zone… But BoltBus confirmed in the morning that all buses were running (and on time!), so I had no choice but to trust them and see what happens…

In these situations, you have to think positive travel thoughts. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten on buses or airplanes knowing that my destination might be completely out of my control. I’ve learned that sometimes you’ve just got to trust the travel fairies that you are going to make it wherever you are trying to go — and trust your gut.

Philadelphia, PA.

I actually got to South Station 45 min early and managed to get off of standby for the 2pm bus. With an extra 30 minutes of wiggle room, I felt some good travel-mojo. I began to relax a little. The bus ride was perfectly smooth, with surprisingly few delays. It only got weird when we slowly crossed a bridge into NYC, and I could see — for the first time — the darkened skyline from the bus window. As we drove past the cops, who were checking to make sure there were at least 3 people in every vehicle entering the city, the whole bus took on a hushed tone. Suddenly, we were in the city — but it was a ghost city. As the bus drove down Second Avenue, I couldn’t believe what I saw (or, what I couldn’t see). It was pitch black. The only lights were the occasional cop car, street sign or taxi cab. I looked up at black buildings, and down at quiet restaurants. Every now and then, we’d pass a series of lit up blocks. When we entered midtown, it was one of the weirdest NYC moments I have ever had: The city that never sleeps was being forced to take a nap. And like a cranky child, NYC does not do nap-time well.

Finally, the bus pulled into 34th Street at 6:35pm. I was determined to get on standby for the 7:15 bus, and sprinted off Bus #1 to get in a huge line of people on standby. I pushed to the front and asked if this was the bus to Philadelphia. It was. They were boarding, and obviously there was a little tension in the air, so the guy was pushy and said “Yeah yeah, just get on, hurry, come on…” And within 1 minute I was on another bus (total time on the ground in NYC: 5 minutes). So much for my plan to grab dinner!

Philly Street. Philadelphia. PA.

When the bus began pulling away at 6:40pm, I was a little confused (the buses to Philly left hourly at 6:15, 7:15, 8:15…). Concerned that I had taken a wrong turn, I asked the girl next to me “Is this the 7:15 bus to Philly?!” She said “No…” (Me: GULP.) Her: “…It’s the 6:15.” Ahhh! A smile spread across my face when I realized, finally, that not only was I going to get to Philadelphia after all this chaos — but I was going to get there even earlier than I had planned! It was one of the most satisfying travel moments that I’ve had in a while. I was anticipating the opposite kind of moment, so it felt that much sweeter. As the bus journeyed through the darkness, I settled in, blasting happy music, and six hours after leaving Boston, I had arrived in Philly.

City Hall. Philadelphia. PA.

Ah, Philadelphia. I’ve always really liked Philly, despite bittersweet memories of many heartfelt hellos and goodbyes out of that 30th Street train station (the lasting imprint of a long distance relationship). The city has always given me a good vibe. It comes across as a mixture of New York and New Orleans, with a smaller dose of lights and energy than Manhattan (in a good way), coupled with the bruised and impoverished outskirts of the city that seem completely disconnected yet immediately accessible from the Philadelphia most people imagine (like New Orleans). I love that it is a foodie city, even if it doesn’t come off that way at first. Because it’s definitely a little more rough around the edges than Boston, I might actually feel more at home in Philly than in New England. I was excited to be there, and to really look at it with the eyes of someone who might call it home.

Philly homes. Philadelphia, PA.

Everything I did during my quick trip, I would do again. On Saturday night, a small group of us kicked things off with unbelievably delicious cocktails at The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., a speakeasy-style lounge in the Rittenhouse Square area that I would have never noticed if my friend A hadn’t picked it. With a seven-page cocktail menu ranging from what I’d call a category 1 storm (listed as “Easy Going” drinks, such as the Apocalypstick — Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, Yellow Chartreuse, Maurin Quina, Cynar, fresh lemon juice, house blackberry) to a category 5 storm (listed as “I Asked for Water, She Brought Me Gasoline” drinks, which includes the Art School Timeline — Lairds Bonded Apple Brandy, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, New York Madeira Wine, Rothman Winter Apricot Liquer, cane syrup, hopped grapefruit and mole bitters served on a rock). I could have spent many, many hours exploring the cocktail menu (and many, many dollars), but we had dinner to attend to afterwards, so my ginger-infused play on a Dark and Stormy (recommended to me by the waiter when I couldn’t decide) would have to do. Oh, and it DID.

Clothing Pin. Philadelphia, PA.

With a strong cocktail in our systems, we headed to First Friday — where we could stroll the streets of Philadelphia at night, going from art gallery to art gallery, and enjoying the quirky and sometimes odd street performers/artists along the sidewalks. After working up an appetite, we found ourselves devouring melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi with a couple bottles of our own wine (apparently PA has strange liquor laws and wine/beer-serving restaurants are hard to come by) at Giorgio’s. Giorgio himself was there, and from the moment a bowl of roasted garlic soaked in olive oil arrived at the table, I knew that if I do in fact end up in Philadelphia — Giorgio and I will meet again.

Sidewalk, homes. Philadelphia, PA.

It would be a quick trip. After a majorly satisfying and exhausting Saturday (I had a 4.5 hour interview with no lunch… oy), I was able to enjoy a light brunch and visit the perfectly relevant-to-my-trip Mutter Museum (this had been on my Philly to-do list for YEARS). This museum is a must for anyone who likes anatomical oddities or random small but packed museums. It is a pre-Doctor of Physical Therapy student’s perfect museum, and since I am currently taking Anatomy and Physiology, my visit couldn’t have been more appropriately timed, nor more appreciated. The brisk walk back to my home base through Rittenhouse Square’s cheery farmer’s market to the slightly quieter South Philadelphia ‘hood made it very easy for me to see myself living there.

Rittenhouse Square. Philadelphia, PA.

I got back to Boston at 1am last night. Luckily, my return train was fully functional, although 1.5 hours late (making it a 7.5 hour journey… oooof). I’m back now, after passing from a potential future home (Philadelphia), through my real home (NYC), to my current home, in Boston. I have a happy tummy and a happy, hopeful heart. I’ll have to be patient as I figure out where I might be able to live next year (it’s not totally up to me).

For now, I can confidently say that if it is Philadelphia, I’d be absolutely thrilled. Sometimes it’s all about where we’ve been. But right now — for me — life’s much more about where I’m going.

On my way home, the lights were back on in NYC. Amtrak view of NYC skyline.

As always, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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Filed under Life Stuff, Massachusetts, Natural Disasters, New York City, Philadelphia, School, Travel, Travel Disasters, Uncategorized

Danger: Thieves!

Last night I told this story to some friends, so I’ve decided to break away from the “life” posts and re-post an oldie but goodie. It’s about my tug-of-war with a thief in Spain. This answered the age old question: Are you FIGHT or FLIGHT? As future experiences would prove again and again, I continue to be all “fight” and never “flight” — for better or for worse. It’s not necessarily the smart move, but it is the way my body responds to danger. Which do you think you are: Fight or flight? (Originally published by in 2006.)

After living in Barcelona for four months, I was almost robbed three times. Out of the 40 Americans on my study abroad trip, only about eight of us had avoided the extreme inconvenience of losing money, credit cards and passports in another country. Somehow, I was one of them.

Week after week, I passed grown men and women sobbing on the gritty sidewalks of La Rambla, showing empty wallets and cut purse straps to unsympathetic police officers who silently nodded their heads at yet another hapless victim caught off-guard at the epicenter of Barcelona’s pickpocket scene. These people served as a reminder that I had made it another day without becoming one of them.

View from my apartment in Barcelona, with the Mediterranean Sea and La Sagrada Familia in the distance. Barcelona, Spain.

When I arrived in Barcelona, I was fully aware that the odds were against me if I wanted to get through the semester without being robbed. Unfortunately, the city has a reputation as a breeding ground for petty thieves—artists in their own right—whose clever ruses for robbing tourists would almost demand a certain type of respect if they didn’t evoke so much anguish from their victims.

It is hard to determine exactly why Barcelona has become so infamous for pickpockets. Some Spaniards believe the thieves—many of whom are Northern African immigrants—are attempting to recover lost riches from the English tourists after four centuries of war. With its myriad tourist attractions, Barcelona has no problem attracting a constant, year-round influx of wealthy visitors who wander La Rambla in a haze of naïveté, distracted by the many sites and sounds of the vivacious neighborhood while their bags and wallets bounce temptingly at their sides.

Constant reminders to guard my belongings were sprinkled throughout the city, as well as within the literature provided by my study abroad program. I knew to be careful and to never, under any circumstances, leave my valuables unattended. It was important to remember that the thieves could be anyone: the guy who looks like a bus-boy in your restaurant, the little old lady who asks you to help her cross the street, the friendly young tourist who can’t speak English, or even the little boy who asks you to help find his mother. Thieves in Barcelona have taken their tricks to a level that could almost qualify as performance art. They are so good at what they do that sometimes even the savviest travelers become unknowing victims, unaware they have even been robbed until they try and buy a glass of sangria and find their pant pocket has been cleanly slashed open.

Spray-painted image on a corner in Barcelona, Spain.

My favorite warning was a simple, black, spray-painted image that appeared on the corners of stone walls in the tiny, dark, romantic streets of the Gothic district. In it, a two-dimensional silhouette of a woman throws her arms in the air while a male silhouette runs away with her bag. Underneath the drama of the cartoon-like image are two words of precaution written suggestively in English: “Danger: Thieves.” These two words served as a blatant reminder that tourists like me are easy and attractive targets for the professional Spanish pickpocket.

For several weeks, I saw these signs and found them funny. But the stories about my friends getting robbed kept trickling in until the signs began to take on a more ominous tone. I even began to imagine that I heard a quiet tick-tock sound every time I passed one by. Yet despite my fears that soon I would be the black, spray-painted woman with my hands up in the air, on my last day in Spain, I had yet to be robbed and I thought I was in the clear. It wasn’t until around 11 p.m., approximately six hours before I boarded a plane that would end my four-month Spanish adventure, that the spray-painted man came to life.

Since my flight was leaving early in the morning, I figured I could fit in one last night of partying before my entire Spain experience would be tied up and packaged with a nice little bow to be stored on one of the cluttered shelves in my memory. I met up with a friend of mine, who was visiting from her study abroad program in France. She had some other friends in town, but we decided to meet up for dinner together before joining the rest of the group.

Sidewalk in the Medieval city of Girona, Spain.

As a temporary resident of Barcelona, I had learned by now that Plaza Catalunya, located just at the top of the most popular street in the city, was like a flytrap for robbery victims. Unfortunately, my friend Jessica had naively planned to meet her friends in the center of the circle at 11 p.m. so that we could all go out together from there. As soon as she told me this, I had the feeling that something was going to happen. My gut, my brain and everything I had read told me not to enter the Plaza, but we had to take the risk. Jessica’s friends did not have cell phones and they were in a foreign city without guidance. We had no choice but to find them in the dreaded Plaza Catalunya, and then get on with our night as safely as possible.

After a couple glasses of wine at dinner and the euphoric excitement of meeting up with a friend in a foreign country, a slightly tipsy Jessica and I made our way toward Plaza Catalunya, arms linked and my guard stiffly up. Blue-eyed, blonde-haired Jessica was all smiles, unaware of the potential danger that lay ahead. Without trying to sound too worried, I asked her if she could keep her voice down, knowing that as soon as we were identified as Americans we would be an easy target for thieves.

We approached the Plaza, which is a big circle, and I felt the presence of danger like a cat senses ghosts. As we entered the circular walled-in area, a homeless man interrupted his public urination to stare at us with a threatening smile. My instinct was to turn around and get out of there as quickly as possible, but we had to find Jessica’s friends, if only to warn them to be careful, so we kept walking toward the center.

Sure enough, Jessica’s friends were late. While Jessica talked to me about France and the wonderful places she had visited, I noticed six men sitting on a bench nearby, laughing and staring at us. I wanted to get out of that circle. I wanted to play it smart, like I had all semester, but instead I had to pretend I was in control. Just beyond the walls of the Plaza were hordes of people embarking on the earliest stage of their Saturday nights. Buses were slugging along and music was overflowing from nearby restaurants, where people casually drank beer and smoked cigarettes outside without a care in the world. I wanted to be outside of the Plaza with all of them, laughing, having a beer, safe. But I wasn’t.

“I see them!” yelled Jessica, blonder and with bluer eyes than ever.

My tension began to give way as we were finally allowed to leave the circle and shed ourselves of the giant bull’s eye that seemed to follow us inside the Plaza. As we made our way from the center to the periphery, I felt someone’s glare piercing through me, so I clutched the strap of my bag tightly and picked up the pace. Jessica, still laughing and talking, motioned for her friends to stay where they were. Then, I felt someone getting closer to me from behind my back. The walls to safety were right in front of us, but we were still in Plaza Catalunya, still vulnerable, and someone was following us. We were so close.

My left arm was linked with Jessica’s right arm and my bag was slung over my left shoulder in between us, which I also clutched tightly with my left hand. Suddenly, I felt an aggressive tug that whipped me around with unexpected force. Jessica screamed and jumped to the side. I found myself on the tiled floor of Plaza Catalunya, resting on one knee and one foot, facing a young man who must have been twice as strong as me, but I still had one hand tightly gripped around the strap of my bag. I wasn’t about to let go.

What took place after that initial shock was something I cannot fully explain. The man who had pierced my sense of safety with his eyes from a distance was now standing less than a foot away from me trying to pull my bag out of my hands. He had one hand on each strap of my bag, and I had one hand holding the center of the strap. At that moment, a surge of energy overtook every inch of my body. Much to my surprise, I was not scared at all; I was furious.

I managed to get my other hand around the strap and decided the strap would have to rip from the bag before I let go. I think that is the decision that carried me through the next few seconds. Everything else in the world just dropped out of focus; there was only me and my determination not to let this thief win. As he yanked angrily and fiercely at my bag, I yanked back just as fiercely, just as angrily, while staring him right in the eyes. His look of aggression and intimidation began to fade with each extended second of our tug-o-war until my eyes began to pierce through his confidence.

Me (Tavel) looking for the famous frog on the fascade of the Universidad de Salamanca building. The bag pictured here is the one they tried to steal. Salamanca, Spain.

I don’t know where it came from, but in the loudest voice I could muster, fueled by adrenaline and anger, I yelled, “Get off!” at the man. He gave my bag a couple more yanks, but I yanked back harder, until … he gave up. Before I knew it, the man had let go and was sprinting back into the darkness of Plaza Catalunya, leaving me on the ground with a new hole in my jeans and a couple spots of blood soaking through the knee area. But there in my hand, I had my bag, which somehow—like me—did not break.

When I got up and looked around, I had chills. People were everywhere, buses and taxis and cars were just doing what they always did. Jessica was covering her mouth, looking at me, asking me if I was OK. I think I could have lifted up a bus with the adrenaline still surging through my body. As I walked away, chills still running down my spine, I realized that I was going to beat the odds after all.

This third time someone tried to rob me in Spain was the most aggressive encounter I experienced, but I didn’t throw my hands up in the air like the spray-painted woman who had warned me on random stone walls of the city to beware of thieves. And the thief lurking behind the walls of Plaza Catalunya hadn’t become the spray-painted man running away with my purse.

After the ordeal, I was still in Barcelona, I still had all the valuables I had arrived with, and I had only one more night to complete the experience of living there for a semester. When I looked down at my watch, it was only a few minutes after 11 p.m., but after four months of thinking I had gotten to know Barcelona, those few minutes after 11 p.m. changed everything.


Filed under Life Stuff, Spain, Travel, Travel Disasters

Couped Up In Quito

Well, I think I’ve come up with a #11 for my last post

On Thursday, I walked to work as I do every other morning, except this time I was a little late because I was trying to wrap up a blog about the 10 Strange Things That Have Become Normal While Living in Quito. Ironically, I had just bought my plane ticket home the night before. Everything seemed normal enough, but as I explained, sometimes strange things become “normal” here in Quito. Now attempted coup d’etats can be added to the list!

Fire in Quito. Coup Attempt. Sept 30, 2010

Just as I began content editing the first 100 pages of a 900+ page VIVA Travel Guide to Argentina, my cell phone rang. It was the lead writer of the Frommer’s Ecuador & The Galapagos 2010 book. He had arrived the night before and we were planning to meet to discuss how I could possibly help with the new guidebook. After the initial Hello, he asked me what the hell was going on in this city? I had no idea what he was talking about. He said “Yeah, the airports are closed and there are people burning tires and rioting all over the place!” Hmm. I said I’d check the news (what was this guy talking about?!). Despite it all, we planned to meet for drinks and possibly dinner in the Mariscal at 7 pm to discuss how I could possibly help with the book. I already had a lunch date planned and I was headed to the gym right after work, so it was slated to be a busy day in Quito.

Then I received a second phone call. My coworkers were curious when they heard me say, “OH MY GOD. Are you SERIOUS? Holy shit. OK. OK. Right. OK, well thank you SO much for letting me know. No, we heard nothing. I’ll check the news. Holy crap. OK. Be safe! Let’s touch base later.” My Austrian friend works in a school slightly outside the city. She told me there were NO police in Quito and that the military had taken over and shut down the airport. She confirmed what the Frommer’s writer had told me and said there was rioting, gun fire, and chaos in the city. Their school was on lockdown and they were going to send everyone home as soon as it was safe enough.

Fire in Old Town Quito, behind Panecillo. Sept 30, 2010

Then, the whirlwind of rumors began. Banks and supermarkets were being robbed, there was looting at every turn, thieves were taking over the city. The Quito that I have been blogging about for over four months, and continuously describing as not very safe, was now without police officers. I know a lot of people in this city have guns, so the idea of a city like this without cops or military, and with the cops actually ATTACKING their own president, was a scary and sudden reality.

Needless to say, for the next couple of hours, we couldn’t focus on work. The President was attacked?! An attempted coup d’etat?! I felt a surge of adrenaline. Was this really happening? I felt unsafe. A desperate quest for more information had begun. We Tweeted, we emailed, we Gchatted, we Facebooked, we even talked to each other without using a form of social media (I know, WEIRD!).

The news hadn’t hit the US yet, so the best way to figure out what was going on was to live stream Ecuadorian radio and TV from our computers. Luckily, our office consists mostly a bunch of Ecuadorian guys, who were all smiles when they told us NOT to go out on the streets and to stay put and to keep checking the news for safety updates. It took a couple hours for the US Embassy to send us an email saying that it was not safe to be out on the streets of Quito, to remain in our homes, and to stock up on food until further notice. I think the Ecuadorians got a small kick out of seeing a bunch of gringas freak out for a second. Hehe. This sort of thing isn’t as shocking in Latin America. In fact, I feel even more Argentine now that I have finally experienced a real Latin American coup attempt! Yep, I can check THAT off the list.

Riots at Military Hospital in Quito. Sept 30, 2010

Now for the truth…

My first thought after being told we couldn’t leave the office because it was too unsafe: what about lunch?! Yes, we had just found out that the police were trying to overthrow the government, and I immediately felt my stomach growl. I decided it was probably an inappropriate time to bring up lunch, and tried to focus back on the news. At this point, everything was a big mess. Twitter turned out to be the best source of information (I follow a bunch of major news sources) and between me and my coworkers and a whole bunch of re-tweets, we were piecing together a hole-filled patchwork of information. The bottom line: our city was FUCKED.

By now, you’ve seen the news clips and you’ve read the recaps. You know what went down. I’ve gotta say, I felt more anxious than I expected. As scary as it was, we couldn’t help but make jokes and be silly. We pondered the appropriateness of ordering pizza during a coup. Every time the office doorbell rang we’d freak and be like “DON’T OPEN IT!!” Outside, car alarms, honking and chatter filled the streets and were more suspicious than ever. Kids were released from every school and many main roads were blocked off by the military. When we all went out on the terrace to scope out the situation, my friend Libby almost accidentally touched an electric wire so I said LIBBY! MOVE AWAY FROM THE WIRE and she turned around, freaked out, and said “Do I have a red dot on my head or something?!” Hehehe. No, but actually not a bad question at the time.

Now, I’m not sure what the protocol is for lunch during an attempted coup, but my stomach had only gotten more and more vocal. Luckily, one of the interns was also starving so we rounded up the troops (and a few Ecuadorian guys to accompany us) and headed out into the chaos for some treats. It felt funny to grab a banana and some Chips A’hoy cookies while the military was trying to overthrow the government, but hey — a girl’s gotta eat, coup or no coup! After a risky snack run to Carlos, our favorite store owner around the corner, we returned to our office sanctuary. Our CEO had emailed us that we should all get home and take taxis, go home in pairs or groups if we can. So, we did.

That was a scary experience, but everything turned out alright. I found a taxi quickly and the Ecuadorian driver and I listened to the radio the whole trip, as he discussed the ungratefulness of the police. When I got home, I was alone for a couple hours. I had the news on, Facebook, Twitter and Gchat up, and a million news sites open. From my apartment, I could see fires scattered around the city. For a couple hours, there was a ton of traffic and honking and noise and then, SILENCE. An eery silence.

Eventually, my roommate got home, which made me feel much better. We cooked whatever we had in the house, and continued to piece together the reality of what was going on. One of her friends had run out to try and take pictures. Not only did he almost have his camera stolen, but some cops grabbed him and made him delete every single photo after interrogating him about what country he was from (Canada, obviously — we are ALL Canadian…), if he works for the government, what news station he reports for, etc. They let him go with his camera… but no photographs.

Neighbor and sun setting after a chaotic day in Quito. Sept 30, 2010

As I was taking photos from my living room window, I actually locked cameras and eyes with a guy on a rooftop nearby. Hehe. We both waved, cheers-ed with our cameras, tried to communicate with hand gestures, and continued to photograph the experience as best we could, from the safety of our homes.

One of the scariest moments for me was at night, around 10pm. The entire evening, the city had turned spooky and quiet. There were no cars, no people, no buses, no airplanes. Streets that are normally mobbed with traffic were empty, dead. Then, out of the silence, I heard the explosion of gunfire. Machine guns and shot guns exploded out of the night: BAMBAMBAMBAMBAM POP POP BAMBAMBAMBAM POP BAMBAM POP. There was some sort of shootout and gunfire was being exchanged what felt like just down the street. As it turns out, we were listening to the very moment when President Correa was being rescued by the military from the military hospital in which he had been sequestered for most of the day. I sat on the floor of my living room, gchatting with friends while the gunfire blasted throughout the quiet city. I felt, for the first time in my life, like I was in a war zone. It was very scary, and very real.

This is exactly what I heard (except it went on much longer, and this is before the climax). Watch the first minute of this video. It also shows exactly where I was yesterday morning, witnessing the bullet holes and the tear gas in the wake of this violent exchange.

Once it all quieted down, we heard the President had been rescued, and all we could do was try and sleep. When we woke up on Friday, we were told not to go into work, that the streets weren’t safe. I had unfortunately run out of milk (dang it!). It was a GORGEOUS sunny day and everything seemed peaceful enough in the morning. So, I decided to brave the streets in the name of coffee. I ran downstairs in my sweatpants and flip-flops, scurried to the nearest convenience store, talked for a couple minutes with people in there, and scuffled back to my apartment. Not gonna lie, I was a bit nervous, but I made it!

My roommate had had Lasik eye surgery scheduled for that day. She had been counting down the minutes and, of course, it was cancelled. The hospital in which she was going to have the surgery was literally across the street — 40 feet or so — from the hospital where the President had been kept the day before, outside of which tons of rioting had taken place. She still had an appointment and didn’t want to go alone, so I was happy to go with her. I was sick of being cooped up in the apartment and wanted to see what it was like out there…

We called a cab to be safe. The city seemed normal, sunny, relieved. When we arrived at the hospital, we got out of the cab and within seconds, we noticed a funny smell. It was tear gas. My nose began itching and my throat got scratchy. We covered our mouths and walked as quickly as we could through the streets that had been bombarded the day before. They were being cleaned and two memorial wreaths were being hung for the two civilians who were killed. Blood was speckled throughout the sidewalks, and shards of burned papers and blotches on the street reminded us of all that went down only hours earlier.

We rushed up a blood covered staircase to a glass passageway that would get us from one hospital building to another. Now, in that glass tunnel is where everything became a little too real. The tear gas fumes were suddenly overwhelming. My eyes started watering and my nose and throat started itching and burning more than before. I started running through the tunnel to get out of the tear gas fumes, but as I passed through it, I started to notice the bullet holes everywhere… [An example, and another one] I saw holes as big as golfballs with the fingerprint of shattered glass spraying out from the empty space. All I could think about was how badly I wanted to take a photograph.

Despite the tear gas, I had to stop. I was standing in the space where the bullet would have hit. A couple reporters were taking photos of the holes. I wanted to go home and get my camera so I could too, but Kari had her appointment to get to. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. This wasn’t something that happened in a far away city; this was something that happened right where I was standing, where, if I had been there the day earlier, I would have been shot. The fumes crept into our eyes like an eery reminder of how real this all was… And after taking in the bullet holes for a couple minutes, we ran out to where we could breathe again.

Right now, it’s hard to know how safe things are. The city wasn’t safe to begin with, and now the police are unhappy. They’re all we’ve got.

Yes, I survived an attempted coup d’etat. This adventure in Quito has only gotten more wild and more unpredictable. But I am OK (thanks for EVERYONE who was concerned and for all the messages!). All I can do now is enjoy the adventure, the coups, the riots, the rebellions…

Afterall, I’ve only got a month of this craziness left.

This song is now stuck in my head:


Filed under Ecuador, Travel Disasters, Uncategorized

An Ironman

I want to do something a little different today.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Zach P. competed in Ironman Canada. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m fascinated by Ironman competitions (and Ironmen… allegedly… heh). Not that a marathon isn’t an accomplishment, but I find it hard for many people to grasp the actual physical challenge of an Ironman which, for those who don’t know, is a super triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run/marathon). For a race that long, it is as much physical as it is psychological (or way more psychological?). Sure, you need to be physically prepared so that your body can handle the intensity and endurance — but, like many competitions, it’s our minds that usually get in the way.

I always LOVE reading the post-Ironman race report that my Ironman friends share afterwards, in an attempt to capture some of the pain and euphoria of completing this bad boy. And while I have never raced in anything even close to an Ironman competition, for some reason, as I read Zach’s race report this year, I felt more connected to the experience than ever.

I just thought I would share what Zach wrote, because somewhere in his Ironman saga, which involved travel woes and feeling like death, it reminded me of life in general. My life, maybe. Even though most of us cannot relate to the physical pain and mental determination it takes to complete an Ironman, I think we’ve all had our own “Ironmans” to get through. Some of us are in the middle of one right now.

Zach P.

Here is Zach’s story:


The Saga That Was Ironman Canada

Here we go!!!

On Wednesday I left the apartment and headed out to LaGuardia Airport at 10:30am in order to get there with enough time to spare for my 1:30 pm flight.   I checked in and got through security with ease.  I always love to get to the airport early so I can watch all the large planes take off.  My imagination soars away with the planes as I wonder where those lucky people will land at the end of their flight.

It was raining out and several Air Canada flights had been cancelled, so I started to sweat.  Then of course I hear “the 1:30 pm flight scheduled to leave for Toronto has been moved to 3:30 pm.”  Uh Oh!  That means I will miss my connection from Toronto to Vancouver and my third flight from Vancouver to Penticton.

I went to the kiosk and they re-booked me to Penticton but told me that I needed to re-tag my bags when I got to Toronto.  What?? Never did that before, but I didn’t think much of it.  I mean, I’ve traveled to many different far off destinations, missed connections and never had to re-tag my bags.  Not going to worry… (Infamous LAST WORDS!)

When I landed in Toronto I learned that I had 55mins to de-board, go through customs, grab my bags and clear customs again before dropping them off, getting through another security check, and then running to my gate.  AHHHH!!!!  I’m doing an airport Ironman and my transitions have to be lightening quick!!

I somehow managed to do everything and get to my gate as they were preparing to board…..BUT……..WAIT…..they have canceled my flight due to mechanical problems.  Our flight was now going to be two and a half hours later.  Wait, that means I will miss my flight to Penticton. Yep, it will according to customer service, but DON’T WORRY they will book me on the next morning’s flight and give me a room in a hotel, but THAT will have to be decided by the gate agent when I get to Vancouver.  WONDERFUL, I am at the discretion of some tired agent in Vancouver who couldn’t care less about annoyed patrons. Ok I told myself, it could be worse.

I then told customer service that I didn’t re-tag my bags cause they gave me absolutely no time to figure out what the hell I was doing with the bags before needing to board my flight.  “Well that is not our problem” said the French employee “however you have such a delay that I wouldn’t worry about it, they will be on your flight.”  Ok I said, and on I went to wait for my next flight.  Somehow I was upgraded to first class!  Free baked cookies and ice cream! Nice flight over to Vancouver besides sitting at the gate for an extra hour as they off-loaded all the checked bags because someone decided not to fly.

Upon arriving at Vancouver, I waited at the baggage terminal for my bags not to appear. I was not alone; a woman who I swear looked like a PRO IRONMAN woman looked pissed off as well.  We both trudged over to Air Canada baggage service.  “Oh, we have your bags already checked through Penticton, I guarantee it. They will be there when you arrive tomorrow” a tired spokeswoman stated… Infamous last words, take two.

I headed off to my hotel, which turned out to be a suite, NICE!!! Two stories in fact, phantasmagoric!!!

The next day I flew out to Penticton, and on our arrival I saw the swim course and people swimming.  Goosebumps appear.  This is really happening!! I am here!

My happiness fell flat when I saw that my bags were not there. Where the F*&$ are they?  I have had enough of the S#$% service Air Canada has been providing.  “We don’t actually know where they are, our hunch is they are in Vancouver waiting to board the next flight this evening” the gate attendant said. At this point I was so mad that I told her, “ your fucking company has had me flying for over 24 hours and you are leaving me sitting on my ass in the middle of nowhere without anything in my name. All I have are these shorts, shirt, a computer and a dead phone.”  The woman I saw the night before said that she was missing a bag too, but then they found hers.  I could have sworn she looked familiar…. Who was she? Ha ha.

I went outside, screamed and threw my binder of files into the wind.  The next two days were full of ranting and raving about not having my bags.  All I was able to do was register for the race and sit around whimpering while all the other tri-hotties rode their bikes around. Finally I gave in and bought some gear so that I could swim and run, to rid me of my anxiety of having to race and not having gear with which to do so.

All this training and literally nothing to show for it……Why now?

I felt like I was on a show; I had been dropped in the middle of nowhere and it was my task to get back to civilization alive and healthy.

On the bright side to all of this, I had the pleasure of speaking to Paula Newby Fraser—-the queen of Kona Hawaii Ironman and she gave me her cell number telling me that everything would be ok, and that I would be racing on Sunday.  If anything went wrong, I could call her. WOWZIERS I am still in shock… A goddess of Ironman was speaking to a mere mortal such as myself.

Finally Air Canada found my gear…….in Sydney, Australia.  It would come to my doorstep, hopefully, the Saturday afternoon or the day before the race.  Well at least I would have something.

The bags arrived and I was ready to set up for the race. Yikes….it’s here….IRONMAN CANADA.

Oh, and by the way, the woman I thought looked familiar on my flights was Tereza Macel, last year’s winner in Ironman Canada for the women. She finished 4th in Hawaii… A budding GODDESS. He he.

At 1 am I got up to eat and drink around 1,500 calories of food that consisted of peanut butter, a banana, Gatorade, water and tomato soup.  I headed back to bed, but couldn’t sleep — nightmares.

5am came and THE DAY HAD ARRIVED!  2 hours before the canon blew.

I checked in, got body-marked, put on my wetsuit, checked my bike and gear, and headed down to the swim start.  I wanted to start on the outside, away from the main pack of swimmers. It’s not the straightest line but I felt that I would make up for lost time on the outside by not being kicked in the face by the main pack, who had a straighter line.

2,900 athletes lined up for one large mass start. I had goose bumps and everyone started talking about how nervous they were.  I was nervous but I wanted to get the show on the road.  The gun went off, and everyone started to swim!!!

I got around 500 meters into it and started to see swimmers who looked like seals with their suits all around me, and I began to hyperventilate for some reason. I kept saying to myself “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.”   I began to breaststroke.  I told myself “ I have trained for this, I have trained for this” over and over.   I started to get into a zone again and continued on.  The course was an out, over and back in a semi rectangle….a perfect course.  On the way back to the shore, around a mile into it, I started to get VERY cold and I felt like I was going to freeze to death. I actually felt myself shivering. Finally the shoreline came up and people were walking up to the transition area.  I looked at my watch, 1:07…YES!! My goal was 1:10 for the 2.4 mile swim.

Swim time 1:07:10

In transition I saw that my hands were blue and I was shivering. A fear set in that I wouldn’t make it out on the bike, that I was too cold. But I decided that there was no way in hell that I came out here to do just a swim. I would rather be pulled off the course by officials than give up.  I got dressed and got on the bike.

Transition 1 time: 8mins 29 secs

The 112 mile bike:

I quickly settled into a rhythm on the bike and started to warm up.  It was sunny out but a little windy and definitely not warm.

The first 40 miles were mostly flat and I felt great; my heart rate was easily under my 145 beats per minute target.  Up comes Richter Pass, a significant 10 miles of climbing.  It went pretty well. There were thousands of supporters forming funnels on the toughest parts of the climb — AWESOME!! So motivating and positive during a tough time.

The middle part of the bike was rolling and WINDY! Headwinds, tailwinds, side winds, under winds. Wind wind wind.

I made it my goal not to stop on long bike rides for fear of cramping, but I had to in the middle of this one. I couldn’t help it!! The stop took 5 minutes or more — not a great thing because I had to wait in a line. Yuck.

The rest of the middle section of the ride went well. I kept under or at 145 bpm for the majority of this section.  I also hydrated and had pretty good nutrition, eating my 200 calories per hour and around 800-1,000mg of sodium per hour.

THE RIDE WAS VERY BEAUTIFUL, MOUNTAINS EVERYWHERE.  I felt like yodeling during many parts of the race

Then came the third and last part….Yellow lake, another huge climb.

All of a sudden a gale force wind hit us like a truck and the clouds that had formed above us began to lightly open up dropping rain. Having to climb a large grade on wet roads and heavy wind equaled my first feelings of personal hell.  I felt like I wanted to die and I still had to get to the top of a mountain.  The only way I did it was with the amazing crowd who again formed funnels around the course, even though it was raining.  Thanks crowd!!

Bike time 6:10: 56

I finally got back to the transition area feeling ok. I changed, use the bathroom again, and off I went onto the run course.  I felt good and I started to get emotional because I didn’t think I would feel this good on my tired legs.

Transition 2 time: 7mins 29sec

26.2  mile run (aka, marathon):

I ran the first 12.5 miles and then began to run/walk, which is what I planned on doing if I made it to the halfway point feeling ok.  On the way back I started feeling very, very bad, and the only way I made it is through was with Pepsi and warm chicken broth soup.  Honestly, all I can say is that I felt like death, but had to keep moving.  There really isn’t much to say besides the fact that personal demons come to mess with your psyche halfway through an Ironman marathon… At least for me.

When I finally made it back into town, around the last corner, a mile from the finish, I saw that I might make it under 12 hours!  I ran like a bat out of hell!  My dad was cheering me on and I sprinted to the finish line to cross in 11: 59:55.  It was an amazing end to a windy and rainy day. I wouldn’t trade this race situation for any other.

Marathon time 4:25:57

Thanks for reading.


Hey Zach… CONGRATULATIONS (again).


Filed under Contributor, Travel Disasters

In Pursuit of Aloha

I hope by now you’ve been able to sample some of the songs (and YouTube videos) from the Travels with Tavel playlist, which you can contribute to at any time. Soon there will be a new Music sub-page (in addition to Home, About, and Photos) where all ongoing contributions to the playlist can be made.

Also, get excited because on Friday, Travels with Tavel will have its first contributor! I hope you all make her feel right at home and consider contributing yourselves…

Now, onto business.

Congratulations… Kanoe and Tom! You were the closest to figuring out last week’s mystery snapshots. The two photos are both from Kona, Hawaii.  Instead of writing the obvious entry about how beautiful the black lava rock beaches of Hawaii are, I have decided to share with you a rather long story [this is as long as an entry will ever get — I promise!] about my disastrous attempt to get to Kona… There is no mystery snapshot today, but I promise to get back to it next week.

In Pursuit of Aloha

When it’s only been three hours into your vacation and you’ve already begun to take notes so that you remember all the bizarre details to include in the blog entry you must eventually write about the experience, that’s when you know it’s going to be a long journey (and, as you have probably already realized, a long blog entry).

I was headed to Kona, Hawaii. What was already expected to be a lengthy trip (two six hour flights with a 57-minute layover in Los Angeles) became even longer…

Pink Flowers, Kona, Hawaii

Pink Flowers, Kona, Hawaii

Everything was off to a great start. I was picked up by my friend John, who had gotten me a tall chai latte for the ride (I should have been suspicious from the start! This was too perfect…) I had a gut feeling that something was going to go wrong. You might not believe me, but I knew things weren’t going to go well… I have a sixth sense for this shit! It would be TOO easy if I could just go to Hawaii without any obstacles, right? Well, that’s how my life works.

I got to the airport with plenty of time to sit and stare at people (yup, that’s what I do) before boarding the plane. After boarding my 2:30pm American Airlines flight to LAX (perfectly on time), I was seated next to a guy with rough, sunburned skin who was about 5’5”, approximately 40 years old, and had the crazy blonde hair of an aged surfer. He was very talkative, which – at the time – I didn’t really mind, so I answered his questions as we taxied across the tarmac to position ourselves for takeoff.

In the main cabin, a couple of rows ahead of me in the middle aisle, everyone started noticing a BEEP… BEEP… BEEP sound. Eventually, the flight attendants decided they needed to find the source of the beeping. After all, we were on an oversold flight from JFK to LAX on the Friday evening of a holiday weekend.

The beeping was impossible to ignore. It sounded like one of those things you cannot mention on an airplane, especially leaving NYC (A BOMB). When the flight attendants couldn’t determine the source of the beeping, they became visibly nervous (as did the man sitting directly underneath the beeping) and phoned the pilot. We were all a bit suspicious, but like true New Yorkers, most people just wanted to get to LA as soon as possible.

Kona Branches, Hawaii

Kona Branches, Hawaii

An hour after boarding, when we were number three for takeoff, the pilot decided the safest thing to do would be to taxi on back to the gate, keep everyone on the plane, and have a mechanic – and if necessary, security – get on the plane and investigate the “suspicious beeping sound” coming from the middle of the main cabin.

Twenty minutes later, we were back at the gate, unable to get off the plane while they turned each engine off, and eventually back on, one at a time. Luckily, the mechanic was extremely efficient and confidently determined that the beeping sound was actually a squeaking sound coming from the red light on top of the plane. Every time it spun in a circle, it squeaked. I now know that squeaking is much better than beeping, whatever the scenario, and was very pleased to hear that we had been cleared by security to get back on the runway.

Of course, by then it was about 5:30 pm on the Friday of a holiday weekend at one of the busiest airports in the country. After another 30 minutes of sitting on the plane, the captain came on the speakers to tell us “the good news: we are now #18 for takeoff, so please sit tight.” Apparently, he appreciated our patience.

By the time we were in the air, I knew I was in for a long night. I left New York three hours late, which didn’t bode well for my one-hour layover in LA. And, how wonderful, I had a five and a half hour flight to sit through, knowing that my connecting flight, with several of my friends aboard, was going to leave without me. FANTASTIC!

I didn’t bring food on the plane because I have only been on international flights over the past few years and had no idea that domestic flights no longer serve food. We weren’t even offered peanuts or pretzels! (I normally ask for three packs.) Luckily, the guy sitting next to me, Rocky (I kid you not, that was his name), INSISTED on giving me half of his buffalo chicken wrap. Well, I took it and practically inhaled the thing, later realizing that Bear Grylls would have probably preserved some of it for later in the trip (have I learned NOTHING from watching that show?!). Rocky also bought a total of six mini-bottles of red wine and tried to buy me several (in addition to another sandwich), but I refused the wine and bought myself the sandwich.

Lava rock and green, Kona, Hawaii

Lava rock and green, Kona, Hawaii

Finally, we arrived at LAX. I knew I had to act quickly, so I sprinted off the plane to make sure I was the first one on line at the ticket desk to figure out what the heck my options were. I’ve actually never had to go through the trouble of missing a connecting flight, especially not alone, so I wanted to make sure I dealt with the situation appropriately.

It was becoming very clear that my travel luck had just run out, but I wasn’t going to let it run out easily. Sure enough, a line slowly formed behind me of about 20 other people who had missed their connecting flights. As I waited for someone to help me, a woman was being dragged off my plane (yes, dragged, yes off MY PLANE) belligerently drunk. Apparently, she had too much wine (another reason they should feed us – just sayin’…) and was throwing a fit when the flight attendants decided to cut her off. She proceeded to kick the police officers who had been waiting for her at the gate, screaming “WHY DON’T YOU JUST KILL ME ALREADY?! JUST FUCKING KILL ME!!!! You’re all going to HELL! DON’T YOU FUCKING TOUCH ME!” with children and parents looking on (and the entire terminal – a few hundred people, I’d estimate) in DEAD SILENCE.

She kept screaming and kicking as cops pinned her down and handcuffed her as she wiggled uncomfortably across the floor. Now, this was all going on RIGHT next to me. Meaning, I was actually afraid this woman might squirm away and grab my leg…she could REACH me if she wanted to. But I was determined to stay in that line and get my travel plans sorted out.

Eventually, after the screaming and crying and cursing proved ineffective, the woman was dragged out of the terminal with the entire airport staring at her as she screamed “GO AHEAD, EVERYONE. WATCH THE CRAZY WOMAN LEAVE! YOU’RE ALL GOING TO HELLLLLLL!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Well, we did watch the crazy woman leave. I, on the other hand, was still stuck at LAX.

Serenity on the beach, Kona, Hawaii

Serenity on the beach, Kona, Hawaii

The woman at the desk told everyone in line that she would only help me because her shift had ended an hour ago and she was going home. People got pissed off, she got pissed back, and they all went to the American Airlines office to figure out their options. I thought I was the lucky one. Ha. How silly of me.

It was about 10pm in California (about 1am NYC time). I was told that the only way I could get to Kona, Hawaii was to spend the night in LA and take an 8am flight to Honolulu, followed by a seven-hour layover in Honolulu before the next flight to Kona. I told her she had to find something better – that that was ridiculous and unacceptable. I was still feeling strong and determined at this point, but she said that was all she had and that I could continue exploring the possibilities at the American Airlines office, where the others went, but she was going home – peace out. By the time I got to the AA (American Airlines, not Alcoholics Anonymous) office, I was the last one in line. How quickly fortune can turn into misfortune! Life just gave me a big ol’ slap across the face.

There were two lines. Two families – one of eight and one of four – were scrambling to get to Kona like me, but I was one traveler, which made it much easier even though I was last. They were both whispering in their lines (very Amazing Race of them), trying to make sure they were going to get their entire group on the same flights. For whatever reason (and you can’t make shit like this up), I was continuously distracted by a girl who was playing the flute right inside the office. (What a weird night.) Eventually, we all started working together, piecing together clues and information that we could gather from all different sources. The family of eight had to take the flights I refused since the next flight to Kona from LA (the next day, same time) had been cancelled. The family of four found its way onto a flight to Maui and then Kona. They told me to hop on it with them. I eventually got to the front of the line and, sure enough, ended up with a new itinerary.

I thought my problems had been solved. I was to spend the night at the LAX Hilton (actually, a pretty sweet room with a king size bed). I was provided with dinner and breakfast vouchers and had a 10am American Airlines flight to Maui with a two-hour layover, followed by a flight to Kona the next day.

But what about my luggage? It was supposedly still en route to Kona (on a nonexistent flight). I was told that it definitely would not end up on the baggage claim carousel but, once again I had a gut feeling; it didn’t feel right leaving the airport without even trying to find my bag. I was told to go to the baggage claim information office, where the family of four was already yelling at the woman who said she couldn’t help them at all, and this eventually turned into her praying to Jesus, out loud: “OH Lord Jesus Christ, I am calling on you now to rid me of this rude man and his family.” A liberal New Yorker, the guy just laughed and said “Oh great, a fucking JESUS freak!” and left, wishing me good luck. After the woman at the counter told him he was ugly, I decided she wouldn’t be much help. I was right.

My entire flight’s luggage was supposed to arrive on carousel four. When I got there, an hour after landing, people from my flight were still waiting for their stuff so I decided to wait a little longer. Eventually, I decided to count my blessings and say fuck the luggage – I was absolutely exhausted and I had to get to the hotel and make sure I had a place to sleep.

Lazy Turtle, Kona, Hawaii

Lazy Turtle, Kona, Hawaii

As I was leaving the luggage claim area, something beautiful happened: the crowds parted and… I saw a red bag with a bright yellow ribbon moving slowly in a circle. MY BAG!!! It was floating along on carousel one – the ONLY bag on the belt (very bizarre) – and it was mine, mine, MINE. I could not believe it. I sprinted over to carousel one and grabbed it in disbelief. On the shuttle bus to the hotel, I wasn’t surprised at all when the woman next to me projectile vomited all over the place. Sure, why not, right? Add that to the list.

I couldn’t help but reflect on the strange hand of fortune and misfortune that I had been dealt that evening. To top it all off, when I finally arrived at the hotel and got my room assignment, who did I bump into in the lobby? The mom from the TLC show “Little People, Big World!” What a wild day.

I got to the room, ordered myself some dinner and actually felt really good; I had my luggage, I had new flights, and I had an amazingly comfortable king-sized bed with a pillow for every hour I was delayed. I couldn’t wait to just go to sleep and get to Kona the next day.

All was going smoothly until I checked in for my flights the next morning. The woman at the counter who was supposed to check me through to Kona decided that she could only check me through to Maui, where I would have to –during a two-hour layover – pick up my luggage and re-check-in since I was transferring to a Hawaiian Airlines flight. As soon as I got to the desk, I could tell she was having a BAD day. I was suspicious and tried to get more information, but the lady didn’t want to have anything to do with me and sure didn’t feel like helping, so I went on my way. Trust me; I was absolutely kind and gracious to her, so any rudeness was completely unmerited. I just shrugged it off and continued on my way, cautiously optimistic.

As I awaited my flight to Maui, I decided – since I only had a little time to pick up my bags and check-in all over again in Maui – that I would talk to the woman at the desk and make sure I knew exactly where to go when I got off the plane. This is when I was told that I was not booked on the flight from Maui to Kona.

Mauna Kea sunset, Mauna Kea volcano, Kona, Hawaii

Mauna Kea sunset, Mauna Kea volcano (altitude: 9,800ft). Kona, Hawaii

I told her my whole story and that I had to be on that plane. She didn’t give a shit and told me to call American Airlines and have a representative figure it out. When I called, they said they couldn’t help me since my flight was listed as a Hawaiian Airlines flight. Nobody could help me. Apparently, I had been given an itinerary and the woman who checked me in screwed me up by deliberately NOT confirming my seat on the next flight, which now had 20 people on standby.

I went over to the family of four who had been rebooked for the same flights as me and told them they should double-check that they are confirmed passengers because I hadn’t been. Sure enough, they were all set. My flight to Maui was beginning to board. I had no flight out of Maui. I began envisioning a melt-down, but stayed strong.

A woman listening to the ordeal came over to me and said she was from Maui and knew Hawaiian Airlines well and even offered to call them. I couldn’t believe her kindness, and graciously said yes, thank you! After arguing with a woman for five minutes (who was telling her that I was definitely NOT on the flight) she hung up and assured me that they said they would confirm me. I was skeptical, but I boarded the plane.

When I arrived in Maui, I barely had time to realize how gorgeous it was. I booked it to baggage claim and stood there for 45 minutes until my bag came around (this is when I decided never to check a bag again).

With bag in hand, I sprinted in the 80 degree outdoor airport, a warm shock after arriving from the cold  winter in Manhattan, to the check-in desk for American Airlines (where I was instructed to go). One anxious hour later, I got to the front of the line. After reviewing my reservation, the woman at the counter told me that I was not on the flight, which now had 25 people on standby. I was not on any flight, and there was nothing they could do. The next flight didn’t even leave until a couple days later.

Sculpture out of lava rock, branch, and shell. Kona, Hawaii

Sculpture out of lava rock, branch, and shell. Kona, Hawaii

My positive attitude dropped like a brick in my stomach. NO no no no… Think, think, think…What could I POSSIBLY do to get to Kona?! They said they could try booking me on another flight, but that I should go to the Hawaiian Airlines counter first. Just what I needed: a wild fucking goose chase, and my vacation was the darn goose! At this point I had an hour before my flight was supposed to leave. I sprinted over to Hawaiian Airlines. Luckily, there was no line. I went to the front, asked for quick help. They said it was true, I was not on the flight and there was not a free seat to Kona for two days.

I don’t want to admit this but, at that point, I was about to breakdown. I felt completely defeated and was absolutely EXHAUSTED. The time difference was now five hours, so 10 am NY time was 5 am Hawaii time). I was HOT. I was DESPERATE. All my friends were in Hawaii and I was neither here nor there – I was nowhere. For 32 hours, I had been in a state of limbo, perpetually in transit. Airports are funny that way; no other place in the world can really make you feel like you’re NOWHERE.

I told the woman at the desk, with tears of defeat welling up in my eyes (against my will!), that I needed to get on that plane and that American Airlines was responsible for getting me on that plane or some combination of planes before nighttime. She said, “I know honey but there is no seat, you can’t. I’m sorry. The best we can do is…” Then she paused. “Wait…” she said, “Let me go get my manager…” I told her I would stand in a bathroom for the entire flight. I would lie in the aisle or serve coffee to people or clean the toilets as long as I could get on that flight. I didn’t even care if my bag came with me. She told me to hang on, then she took my ID and ticket, and disappeared.

Five minutes went by – I started to feel weak from hunger. My blood sugar was extremely low and my water bottle had one sad, warm sip left. I ate a chocolate chip granola bar while I waited. The last thing I needed was to pass out. While standing there, I looked into the eyes of the woman behind the desk (this is about the time that tiny violin started playing for me…). She saw my desperation and kindly said, “Don’t worry, sweety… She’s getting the manager. He is a miracle worker…” There was more truth to that statement than I would have guessed. I tried to be hopeful but I was very low on hope. However, I never run on empty. I thought to myself, I could use some magic, I could use a miracle. She told me to trust him… He had tricks up his sleeve…

A man walked quickly over to the counter. He explained to me exactly what was going on, the first person to actually explain why I was screwed and not stare at the next person in line hoping that I would just disappear. He explained that whoever checked me in at LAX messed up – possibly on purpose. All she had to do was confirm my seat to Kona, but she printed a boarding pass out for a seat that wasn’t confirmed in the computer. Also, my luggage should have gone all the way to Kona, but she refused to put it through because she didn’t confirm my seat. Why she did this, nobody knows. They apologized and asked if I knew her name. I didn’t. There was something about this guy; I trusted him. I may have even begged him for a seat on the flight to Kona, and I don’t beg often. He looked at me and gave me the kindest, most reassuring look I had gotten all day. Then said, “Give me five minutes…”

Another five minutes?

As I stood there, waiting, I tried to accept that maybe I would be homeless for another day. Maybe a vacation in Hawaii was too good to be true. Maybe I should just turn around and go back to NYC.

Kona sunset, Hawaii

Kona sunset, Hawaii

Then he came back, (my knight in shining armor!), and handed me a ticket. IT WAS A BOARDING PASS. He whispered to me “A guy at Hawaiian owed me a favor – I got you on that plane. Don’t ask how, just GO!” I SQUEALED – literally – with joy and was overflowing with such happiness and shock that I didn’t know what to do with myself! Without thinking, I jumped up on the scale and — right before giving him the biggest hug in the world, realized I should probably ask – and said “OH MY GOD!! CAN I HUG YOU!?!??!” All the women around me laughed. A huge smile spread across both our faces as I gave him the biggest damn hug I could muster! They all yelled “GO! RUN! GOOD LUCK!” I felt like I was in a movie. My flight was boarding in eight minutes and I still had to go through security.

After I sprinted away, I realized that, in my excitement, I hadn’t checked my damn bag. It had too many liquids to carry on, so I debated throwing them all out, then decided, instead to run and cut the ENTIRE line I had just waited on at American Airlines and go directly to the woman who initially told me I was not on the flight. (The logical option, right?) She didn’t ask a question, dropped what she was doing, grabbed my ticket and brought it to the nearest computer. I may have been a bit insane at the time, but I was functioning on pure adrenaline. Nobody could stop me now!

She entered my information into the computer and asked me, “How did you get this ticket?” I told her there was a fluke in the computer system and a guy from Hawaiian Airlines found my reservation (where I came up with that story, nobody knows). She looked doubtful and examined the fake-looking ticket. It was blue, with handwriting all over it. They’re supposed to be green, with printed words and numbers. I was a renegade, and she was onto me.

The clock was ticking. She called a manager over to examine my ticket. They asked me where I got it. Every question left me dangling on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall into disappointment and defeat, but I hung on desperately. I was going to get on that plane and have my vacation in paradise, and nobody could get in my way.

She put the ticket down, and talked to the manager. As soon as she wrapped a tag around my bag, suspiciously eyeing her computer screen, I noticed that the tag said “Kona.” Then, I did something that still surprises me. I GRABBED my ticket, left my bag, and I RAN! Ha! I half-expected them to chase me down with dogs and handcuffs, and half-expected not to make it to the plane on time. But I RAN my ass to security, and I didn’t look back!

Nobody chased me. I had 15-minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart. When I reached the front of the security line, low and behold, I was randomly selected for a full security check. They put me in a glass room and made me stand on two yellow footprints while they checked every pocket of everything I owned, confiscated my last drop of water, and awaited a female inspector to frisk me. I felt pretty awesome, with beads of sweat becoming droplets and my crazy eyes jumping all over the place. I could barely stand still with all the adrenaline pumping through me. I guess I couldn’t blame them for taking me aside – I looked a little loopy. My ticket looked suspicious to everyone who examined it, but I didn’t care. I was getting on that plane and sitting in seat 9F if it was the last thing I did.

When I was cleared by the security card, it was five minutes after my flight was supposed to leave. I sprinted to Gate 19 fearful that it might be too late, but THEY WERE STILL BOARDING. I had almost made it! I just had to walk on and buckle up!

The guy taking boarding passes took mine and, right when he was about to rip it, he paused, took a long look at it – my heart was pounding, I think I began to pray – and mumbled, “huh, that’s weird…never saw one like this before…” Then, he handed it back to me, hesitantly. I grabbed that boarding pass (trying to make it seem more like I was just “taking” it, no desperate grabbing involved) and kept going. I WAS ON THE PLANE TO KONA.

I went to my seat. There was nobody there. I sat in it, waiting for someone to kick me off the plane, listening for suspicious beeping sounds to prevent me, yet again, from getting to my final destination. NOTHING. I was sitting next to a baby who kept climbing me and staring me down. I could care less if he screamed the entire flight and pooped in his seat. I was happy. Finally, there was nothing in my way. My exhaustion and extreme thirst was suddenly overwhelmed by relief.

Forty-five minutes later, the plane landed in Kona. Even my bag arrived safely. And as I went to pick it up, two girls came running over to me in sundresses and first-day tans, yelling “TAVEL!!!!!” I reached out and accepted their giant hugs, like I had just won some incredible reward. Thirty-eight hours after I left New York, I had made it to Kona. My journey was over, and I was in beautiful Hawaii with my friends.

Never had I felt more deserving of a vacation in paradise. But boy was it hell getting there…


Filed under Travel Disasters