A year ago today I was in the unknown. I had spent a year planning an epic trip in detail. I had spent a year playing the wonderful experiences I was about to experience in my mind, over and over again. It helped me through challenging times, it got me distracted, it made me wonder whether I was crazy for going for it, and for going for it that much.
A year ago today, it was too late to question, for my nonrefundable plane tickets were already booked long ago, hostels and hotels have been booked, meeting up with relatives and friends scheduled, and all that was left was to get through three tiny, tiny challenges.
A Volcanic Eruption
Having planned my trip in advance to save airfare costs – and mostly because I was excited – I knew it was time to book interior flights in Argentina. Aerolineas Argentinas offered discounts to people booking 3 or more interior flights and I had long ago added it to my budget.
Yet when I came to book, news struck out: a volcanic that lay dormat for years decided to erupt. It was in Chile, sure, yet the main sufferers were the town and nature on the other side of the border, in Argentina’s lake district, where I was going to spend longer than in any other part of the country.
No one had a clue that three months later, as I arrived in September, the ashes from that eruption would still be very much present all over Patagonia, Argentina’s south. As I e-mailed with hostels, I learned that view was visible again, that the deep blue water of the lakes were no longer covered in brown ash. I wanted to go – but how?
No flights were landing in Bariloche, where I was suppose to land.
I booked everything on my own online, yet the interior flights package could not be booked by Israelis online. The travel agent I used assured me flights would probably be renewed soon. Aerolineas Argentinas promised the same. After several calls and e-mails, I managed to convince the travel agent it’s time to change the flights. I was to land in Esquel, 4 hours south of Bariloche, and take the bus.
Fortunately for me, as I reached Esquel, I learned that a free bus was about to leave with all the people who got their route changed as I did. I was pretty much the last one on the bus – apparently the only one who didn’t know of this free service – yet for some reason, a front row seat was not taken – and I had marvelous views to myself.
To top it all off, the ash did not bother me at all during my trip.
Had I gone to the States before Argentina instead the other way around, it would have been messy: in October, the ash was all over the place – from north to south, bugging travelers and locals alike.
About two days before I was about to embark on the night between August 29 and August 30 of last year, a hurricane started going wild all around eastern US. The news talked disaster. Houses torn apart. People’s lives taken. No electricity. No food in grocery stores.
Airports flights stopped operating.
Nor did I particularly want to find myself in an airplane that would brave through a hurricane.
I had a two day layover planned in New York City. Given that my return flight was from the States, the cheapest flight opportunity proved to be to take the (really) long way to Argentina. From Israel, I flew to New York. From New York, I took a connecting flight to Atlanta, Georgia, and from there – it was a straight-head flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Yet during those two days, I had no idea what was going on. I read every online article I could find, I consulted a message board – and I thought that if I wait long enough on the phone to Delta airlines or the website from which I booked my flights, I’d be able to change my route and take a flight with one of Delta’s partner airlines through Europe. The options were Amsterdam or Paris, and each one of those would give me a chance to meet people I know and – you know – not get swept away in a hurricane.
At least, I thought, I would get an answer.
Then I could explain to whoever answered that booking interior flights in Argentina might not seem like the smartest idea now, when nature is all over the place, but it made sense a few months earlier, and I missed my Buenos Aires arrival by a couple of days, I would also miss my flight to Puerto Iguazu.
Well, ideas are great, yet they become challenging when everyone else in the world thinks of them at the very same time. I used my cheap program for US calls on one phone and my new program for international calls that I had just set on my cell phone in case of an emergency when I was abroad – and I spent hours waiting on the phone. I never waited so much on the phone for someone to answer, yet I was unwilling to put myself in danger, no matter how fabulous the trip is supposed to be, and I had huge amounts of money at stake.
There was NO ANSWER.
If each flight contains hundreds of people, then hundreds of people times multiple flights were already stranded across the world – unable to get to or from the States, or even inside the US. Top that off with hundreds of people times multiple flights of people unsure whether they need to get to the airport now, let alone in two, three, seven days – and there was no way to reach companies who would probably just say “we don’t know” – because I assume now that they really did not know.
I was grateful I wasn’t one of the employees facing all these thousands of angst-filled callers.
I was also grateful when news sites started reporting the end of the hurricane. I remember talking to a friend about my fear of going and she recommended I take canned food – to the US! – in case there would still be no food in stores once I landed. The thought of the US having no food is unbelievable, yet people did snatch every piece of bread they could find.
Not when I arrived.
By the time Delta sent me an e-mail requesting I check in, I was in excited anticipation mode again. Thoughts of all the dollars I was about to lose because all my flights were going to be canceled – and because this trip was indeed a big expense – evaporated, and I started realizing that this dream I had waited years to realize…. was finally happening.
As I landed in New York City on August 30, I could have never guessed a hurricane swiped through the area two days earlier. Everything was clean, clear, well-constructed and supermarkets had more food than I ever saw in one place.
Then there was the case of my seminar.
I had the volcanic eruption. I was unsure I would be able to arrive where I wanted to arrive. Because of that, I was unsure I would have where to sleep. This was my first time traveling alone. The trip was incredibly expensive and I doubted myself. The fears of traveling alone for the first time, let alone so soon after I heard a rape survivor talk about her experience, showed up more often. Then the hurricane took place.
And among all this, I had things left to do. To buy. To pack. I kept getting teased for planning my trip so much in advance – again, I was excited and it saved me hundreds of dollars in plane tickets – that I started listening to these outside voices and left minor things like packing my suitcase to the last moment.
My flight was to leave at midnight and five minutes. That meant being at the airport at nine. That meant leaving home at – I don’t know – seven?
At 4 PM I finished writing my seminar, and sent it off to three friends who agreed to submit it for me as they submitted theirs. Only one ended up submitting it, yet I wanted to make sure there was backup – that seminar had a big influence on the final grade of my degree.
I still had to shower, pack and do seemingly endless tasks before I could leave to the airport.
At least I already visited a friend the evening before to give her books to return to the library in campus for me. The whole campus was closed for a week, so there was no way for me to submit or return anything myself – even if I had finished in the morning.
THANK YOU, WONDERFUL FRIENDS!!
And at least I prepared lists of what to pack in advance, and I already had piles ready around my suitcase. It was just a matter of taking what I can and making the final decisions of what to leave behind.
Unbelievably and against all odds, I made it to the airport on time.
Thank you, Godesses of the Road, for no traffic!
All’s Well that Starts Well
Lesson learned #1: Do things your way, don’t listen to outside noise.
Lesson learned #2: Even if you spend a week hardly sleeping, it still doesn’t mean you’ll sleep on an 11 hour plane ride.
But worry not, because listening to myself kicked back in after this and by the time I landed in the Big Apple it was all about making me happy. Plus, I caught up with my sleep in Buenos Aires and did pretty well balancing adventure and sleep throughout most of my trip, all the while discovering the flight hours that work best for me.
The trip was absolutely amazing, and while there were many more lessons learned and there are many things I would do differently now, it was a journey o bliss and I highly recommend it!
Note: I wrote a similar post title last year which you might see in the “Related Posts” list bellow, yet that one was way shorter and concise. I had a fascinating seminar to write, you know.
What are some big challenges that stand or stood between you and travel? How do/did you handle them?