Sunday, November 15, 2009

TheTrip From Hell

 On one of my solo trips abroad I was with a diverse group of people.   Of course, this is normal when you are traveling with a tour group.  Most people are friendly and very nice but there is always one sour puss that you try to ignore.  On this trip the it was a couple in the group who were constantly complaining and spoiling the happy enjoyment of the rest of us.  Nothing was right; the food was bad, they had to get up too early, etc.  You get the picture.  I will return to them later, but first the Moroccan part of my trip.

Everyone who has traveled has probably had a trip from hell and this was mine.  It started before I left home.  The Stagecoach Van was to pick me up at 4 am.  I was so worried about not hearing my alarm clock I decided to sleep fully dressed sitting up on my couch so I would be ready to pop out of  the front door when the van arrived.  Needless to say, I got very little sleep.  No worry, I thought, I have hours that I can catch up on sleep on the plane.  When I got the the airport I discovered that my departure gate was at the very end of the furthest concourse.  When I reached the gate for departure to New York the sign was suddenly changed to San Francisco.  My plane had been delayed and another plane would be coming in at that gate.  I was worried about making my connection in NYC because I only had a 3 hour window between connecting flights.    Eventually my plane did arrive; only it was at the gate I originally came in on.  So I trekked back along two long concourses to end up at the gate where I first came in.  Are you with me yet?  If so, you can imagine my stress and the beginning of sheer exhaustion.    By this time I was too tense to sleep.  No problem, I thought, I will sleep on the plane to Madrid.

When I got to NYC and finally located the gate for Iberia Airlines the plane to Spain was already boarding.  I had to check in and, in doing so, I requested non-smoking.  After they decided that I did have a valid ticket I had to literally run up a flight of stairs and down the concourse to my gate.  Panting, I was the last one to board and they closed the door after me.  I don't like waiting, but this was cutting it way too close.  

At last I was on my way and could finally relax.  With great relief I found my seat, stowed my overhead carry-on and looked around.  Cigarette packs were stuffed in the other passengers pockets and I discovered I was in the smoking section.  I asked the flight attendant if I could move to the non-smoking  section.  She was very snippy and told me to find a seat if I could.  The only seat left was next to the galley and the crew gathered there to chat all night; lights on, of course.    Eventually dinner was served and it included a packet of Italian dressing.  My tray was broken and tilted to the left.  I opened the dressing and laid it on the tray.  Since this was the trip from hell when everything was going to go wrong it slid off and spilled on my skirt making a big oily stain.

At midnight they showed the movie by Oliver Stone, JFK.   No sleep for me yet.  The young couple next to me were returning home and were Spanish.  Their English was as bad as my Spanish, but they wanted to chat.  We tried mightily to converse all night.   There were lots of giggles, but no sleep.

I may have gotten a few hours sleep, but it didn't feel like it.  When we arrived in Madrid  we had to change planes to a smaller one and the gate was on the next level up.  The girl who hurriedly told me where it was located was very sparse with directions.  I made it up the escalator and found that this was not your normal airport arrangement.  I had a miserable time trying to find where I was supposed to be but eventually I saw a sign pointing the right direction.  By this time I was becoming a basket case from lack of sleep and stress.  

Ah, but that was not to be the end of my woes.  My luggage didn't arrive.  Then our guide announced that we had to be up at 3 am to take the bus to the port where we would get the Ferry for Morocco.  Oh happy day; another sleepless night.  I didn't even have time for jet lag.  

We were in Morocco ten days and my suitcase never arrived.  However, that turned out to be a great ice breaker because people on the tour had great fun telling me how much they loved my dress each evening when I came down for dinner wearing the same stained knit.  It was almost worth having to wash my undies each night and putting them on damp in the morning to get that friendly teasing.  I do love being the center of attention.  One kind woman finally loaned me a blouse and skirt and at last I had a new outfit to wear.  I guess she got as tired of seeing my hot pink dress as I did of wearing it.


The ancient city gate.  The King's Palace.  The Souk.  (click to enlarge)


This turned out to be an exciting trip and I did enjoy seeing a different culture.  The morning we left I had to cross the swimming pool area to get to the dining room for breakfast.  As I didn't have any luggage to put outside my door I carried everything in my purse and it was heavy. I foolishly decided to leave it in my room when I went to breakfast.  Big, huge, ENORMOUS mistake.   When I returned to leave my room for the last time I opened my billfold to get the American dollars that I used for tipping intending to leave a gratuity for the maid.  Poor girl; she got zilch.   My dollars were gone, my Spanish Pesatas were gone, and my Moroccan Rials were missing.  I had been robbed.   There was not time to call the police, but it would have done no good anyhow.  Your know, we rich Americans have so much money we should be happy to share the wealth.  (If they only knew how I scrimped to make that trip.)   Well, to quote an old cliche; live and learn.

We only had one more night in Morocco and my meals were covered so I waited until I got back to Spain to cash a traveler's check.  Fortunately, my passport, credit card, traveler's checks  and airline tickets were in a neck safe that I wore under my dress. 

After we arrived in Spain the coach stopped for lunch at a horrors McDonald's restaurant.  
Because I still didn't have any cash I sat and watched my tour friends scarf their lunch.  Now, back to the couple who griped.  In Spain we were housed in a hotel with mini kitchens and we were free to make our own meals.  I watched as the female complainer filled her very large bag with handfuls of napkins, condiments, and other freebies.  I thought , it figures; the ones who make the most fuss are the ones who are capable of petty theft. 

I wish I could say my problems were over, but during my time in Spain I caught a cold, pulled a muscle in my shoulder and was not feeling up to par.  Nonetheless, I saw some wonderful things and enjoyed the thrill of that.  

I took a trip to Gibraltar where I purchased four David Winter cottages.  (I was a collector at that time).  The cottages are small but the boxes are large.  When we were to leave Malaga for Madrid I had three carry-ons; my purse, the shoulder bag furnished by the tour company and my sack containing the cottages.  I got to the door of the plane and a man standing there folded his arms across his chest and sternly told me to step back.  He informed me that I could not get on the plane because I had too many carry-ons.  I said I had to board because I was going home.  He was adamant that I was not to board that plane.  I was naive and I now think that if I had given him $20 I would have been swiftly allowed to board.  It just didn't occur to me, probably because that was the last $20 I had.  (I travel light and it was much lighter after being robbed.)  Just before I was ready to burst into tears a fellow traveler behind me asked me what was wrong.  I explained the situation to her and, as she only had her handbag, she took mine from me and said, "Come on."  The fury on the little despots face was fun to see.  I thought he was going to explode.

We arrived at Madrid only to find that fog had grounded all planes.  We were stranded for three hours and there weren't enough seats for all the passengers.  I stood up the entire time while waiting for the air to clear.  By now I was getting used to glitches and half way expected it.  When we were finally airborne I breathed a sigh of relief.  I was in one piece and was headed home, complete with my David Winter cottages.

Did you ask if I had more problems?  Well, remember the name of this trip so of course I did.  Because the plane from Madrid was late most of us missed our connections at JFK.  
There were two long lines of people trying to get hotel rooms and I didn't want to spoil my losing streak by getting in the right line.  By the time I got to the desk I must have become invisible because the people on the other side totally ignored me.  After what seemed like hours a representative from the tour company came up and asked me if I was being helped.  Me? Get attention?  You jest.  She slammed her fist on the counter and said in her best Brooklyn accent, "Let's have a little service here."   That got their attention.   I asked them to call my daughter to tell her I would be delayed and they promised to do so, but they didn't.  Are you surprised?  My daughter  went to the airport to pick me up and there was no Mom.  (Now we are wiser and we call before leaving the house, air travel being what it is.)

But all is well that ends well.  Because I didn't have a reservation on the morning flight I was stuck at the very back of the plane.  By the time they got to me for breakfast they were out of orange juice and coffee.  A very good looking young flight attendant started giving me special service and made coffee for me.  My ear plugs were broken and he gave me a new pair.  I was being treated like a queen for the first time in my life and didn't really know what I had done to deserve this special attention.  After the attendant was through with his duties he sat on the arm of my seat and said, "You look just like my Mom."  Sometimes it pays to have a double.

I have a friend who is a world traveler and he told me that it's the things that go wrong that make for interesting conversation when you get home.  If he is right I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience and I promise not to bore you with a story of the trips when everything went went right. 

A post script to this tale.  I kept in touch with that young flight attendant for years,  One year my card to him came back undelivered.  I never heard from him again and will always wonder if he is okay.  And the final end to the story is, if I had to do it over again including  all of the things that went wrong I would do it in a heartbeat exactly the same way.  


Granny Annie said...

Darlene, forgive me for not being a very good friend. I am afraid that I laughed and continued to laugh through this post as each new fiasco occurred. Please tell me this trip was years and years ago because I know you are in your 80's and I am 63 and could not have stood the lack of sleep and trauma that you had to withstand. And people ask Ron and I why we don't fly. LOL!

kenju said...

Darlene, that was truly the trip from HELL! I can't belive you remember it fondly! LOL

I've had a few trips where things went wrong - but never that many! We went to Hawaii in 1982 and mr. kenju's clothing never arrived when we flew from the Big Island to Maui. His bag went back home and my daughter told them to send it back to Hawaii - it arrived the day we were leaving.

la peregrina said...

The trip you will ALWAYS remember. :)

Leslie Parsley said...

I bet you remember this one more than any others. I'm still laughing as well, but it's always easier to laugh at someone else's trials. If it were me, I think I'd take the first flight back home.

joared said...

Incredible, but obviously memorable for you in more ways than one. Enjoyed your account though I know at the time those experiences were none too pleasant.

If others knew your cash had been stolen, I think it's terrible someone didn't offer to buy you lunch that day, or a tour director wouldn't have done so -- or loan you money.

The shortest commercial flight I ever took from our nearby Ontario Intn'l Airport to Monterey was when the airline lost my luggage. They shipped to to San Francisco -- forgot to take it off the plane for me, I guess. So, I had to go to all day conferences wearing my traveling clothes (could have been worse.) My suitcase was, at least, found and delivered by the end of that second day.

Tommy said...

Darlene - they still have smoking sections on planes?!

Love from across the pond :-)

Joy Des Jardins said...

Why is it those 'trips from Hell' are the ones we remember every detail of Darlene? This one was a gem...but you had an amazing attitude. The lack of sleep alone would have done most people in. Though at the time you probably wanted to pull your hair out; you can't help but laugh when that many things go wrong. I don't even know how you remembered everything...but you did. Great post.

Darlene said...

*Grannie Annie - Yes, it was years and years ago. I couldn't travel like that now.

*Kenju - Your experience is funnier than mine.

*La Peregrina - Obviously. I can never remember the details of trips that went well.

*Leslie - Come home and miss all the fun of writing this post? Ha Ha!

*Joared - I have heard of that happening, also. A friend told me about a woman who was on her way to deliver a speech at a formal banquet and her suitcase got lost. She didn't have time to buy a formal and had to deliver her speech in her casual travel outfit.

*Tommy - No, this trip occurred about 16 years ago.

*Joy - Isn't it odd how you remember the bad things so vividly, but forget the pleasant ones?

Nancy said...

Sorry, Darlene, but I also laughed my way through your "Trip from Hell."

Funny, I went on that same Iberia Airline from JFK to Barcelona and when we waited at the carousel for my bag it never arrived. Everyone on that same flight's luggage came but mine.

As we waited patiently, down the conveyor came assorted clothing. LOOSE CLOTHING. Bras and panties and blouses and slacks and all sorts of VERY personal things. All rolling down in front of the whole terminal. Everything I had packed only now there was no packing. My suitcase had been caught in the mechanism that controlled the carousel and it had chewed up my bag and spit out my stuff ...

Iberia Airlines handed me my bag in shreds and asked me to get an estimate to have it repaired! We all laughed and some rolled on the floor at the very idea.

In the end they gave me a duffel bag to put my things in and a check to get a new bag when I got home....

Rummuser said...

What a story and what an ending. You have just given me an idea for a group blog post!

Darlene said...

*Nancy - Was it something we said? I can just see you grabbing bras and panties off the carousel. Ha Ha!

I forgot to add that when I finally got my suitcase things had been stolen from it. Fortunately, insurance covered that, but not the money.

*Rummuser _ I will be watching for your post.

One Woman's Journey said...

Darlene, I laughed, shook my head,
ached with you and I am not like you. I would not want to take that trip again. Have several in the past I thought were bad and they are nothing compared to yours.
I am weary just reading about your "adventure".
Glad you made it home and years later can share with us. I am not traveling anymore. Love home!!

Darlene said...

*One Woman's Journey - I no longer travel again, but it isn't because I don't want to. If I had the physical stamina and money I would be taking trips all the time until I had visited every corner of the globe.