After finishing one of the most amazing backpacking trips to Costa Rica with my friend, Dawn, we were finally headed home.
Or so I thought…
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I travel on stand-by passes. As glamorous as it sounds to travel relatively inexpensively, pass travel is both a blessing and sometimes a curse.
Dawn and I headed to the airport, sunburned and bags a little heavier from souvenirs. I was flying United Airlines on passes and she was flying Continental with a confirmed seat. Everything was routine; get up, pack the last few things, taxi to the airport… you know the rest.
I bid Dawn adieu as she boarded her flight, I then headed to my own. I had one stop to make in Guatemala City before my flight continued on to Los Angeles where I would connect to Denver.
This seemingly flawless travel plan was anything but.
The thing about pass travel is that I only travel if there is a seat available. Now the glitch I encountered during the stop in GUA was that more passengers got on the plane than got off. This was a huge problem for me for the following reasons:
1. I did not obviously plan on getting off the plane.
2. There were no seats available on any other flight heading to anywhere in the US the rest of the day
And the KICKER…
3. My wallet had gotten stolen in Costa Rica the day before we left so I was without money or credit cards!
4. Western Union was broken down and unable to transfer money.
This presented the biggest problem because I was basically a sitting duck at that point. What to do?
Note: I’m 19 years old in this story.
Ok, so back to the Guatemala City airport, which offers a fantastic combination of people in old school indigenous clothing with those in new school business attire. It was very interesting.
I was faced with the task of surviving a night in Guatemala City and making it on board a flight the next day. A bit daunting, butI started to chip away at my options.
Now, this wasn’t the first time that I was stuck alone in a city without a plan. My first experience was when I was 16 years old and stuck in Madrid alone in a similar situation. That’s a story for another day.
Guatemala was not familiar to me and the airport was extremely small, which made it nice considering all the walking back and forth I was doing. I quickly made friends with the Information Lady. After all I was using her phone for the Millions of dollars of collect calls home I was making.
After a few hours of marking things off my “options” list I finally needed to make my way into the city, where I was staying for the night.
My mom was able to book a hotel room at the Best Western in the city. This was tricky because they were very hesitant to take her credit card over the phone. Not only that, but she also requested that they put the cab fare from the airport on the room tab. This really put them out.
In other cities, especially in Latin America I have noticed, cab drivers don’t necessarily need to be working for a legitimate company to be able to accept money in exchange for a ride. The Information Lady, who was a friend at this point, advised me not to take a cab from the guys outside the front door. Instead, she took me down the stairs and out a back exit of the airport – yes, it was a little weird, but I trusted her. She had called a friend of hers to take me to the hotel.
Once I arrived and argued with the desk clerk to pay the cab driver, I finally got to my safe little room. And I mean little. Since I had been rationing a small package of cookies all the hours I spent in the airport – no money- I was starving!! I ordered dinner on the room tab and brought it back to the room to eat. In Madrid I ate in the restaurant of the hotel without worry, but this city was different. I watched some TV and just as I was starting to relax it started…
Explosions… in the street… in front of the hotel!
Oh God, what now??
My room faced the opposite side of the hotel so I couldn’t see where the explosions were coming from. After the first few, I was a bit concerned. After the next 40 I was panicked!
I finally called down to the front desk and in Spanish asked, “Por favor, que son los explosiones en la calle?”
In Spanish she responded, “Oh, it’s just fireworks for the church festival”
Ya, apparently there are no laws about setting off 500 gram repeaters in the streets of Guatemala City! Good Lord!
The explosions eventually subsided and I was able to get some much needed sleep.
To be continued….