Monday, July 29, 2013

Bad, whoa, man

After my whirlwind trip to San Francisco with my wife Sky, a trip that would have gone down in infamy as one of the worst trips I have ever taken if I had not had several other really terrible travel experiences recently, I thought I would list my top worst travel experiences.
  1. Returning from Thailand in June 2012. I had a cheap one-way ticket on Air India from Bangkok to Toronto, with one stopover in New Delhi. While the plane was aloft, Air India went on strike, and we landed in New Delhi to discover that all onward planes had been cancelled. A harried-looking man took away all our passports and bundled them together with a rubber band and then put us onto a shuttle bus that took us to a building that could either have been an enormous hotel past its prime or a moldering mental institution, where we would wait for about 14 hours until they could find another plane to take us...somewhere. When we got to the airport, I discovered my trip home would now take me through Paris (where we all had to get off the plane, go back through security, and then get back on the 45 minutes) and New York before finally arriving in Toronto. The trip that was supposed to take 22 hours actually ended up taking 40+, although the food on Air India is delicious and I made friends with the only other person also going to Toronto: a professional deep sea diver that Air India apparently thought was my husband, because they kept seating us next to each other.
  2. Train from Fes to Marrakech in May 2013. Seven hour train ride. Five of those hours spent with an earsplitting high-pitched feedback noise emitting from the train's PA system. You could watch everybody's face contort after the first half hour on the train. The only way I made it through was with earplugs.
  3. Toronto to San Francisco, July 2013. Yeah, it makes it in there, for sure. We took the Greyhound to Buffalo -- Greyhound's website estimates it will take 3 hours, but the bus driver told us that was completely wrong; it always takes longer. This time it took even longer: we got stuck in stop-and-go traffic for an extra hour, meaning we arrived at the Buffalo airport 20 minutes before our plane was supposed to depart. We sprinted to the gate...only to discover that our plane hadn't left Baltimore, and would be leaving for Chicago two hours late. This meant we'd miss our connector to Oakland, but when we tried to rebook the tickets, the very nice lady at customer service said rebooking was impossible as her system showed that our flight to Oakland was delayed and we would be able to make it. In the air on the way to Chicago, the flight attendant reassured us that we had definitely missed our flight to Oakland...but there was a flight going to SFO leaving 20 minutes after we were set to touch down and it had three standby seats left. The minute we hit the tarmac, I called Southwest and they reissued boarding passes for the SFO flight, and Sky and I sprinted to the new gate. After a $100 taxi ride from SFO to where we were staying in Oakland, a) Southwest lost Sky's bag and wouldn't tell her where it was for three days, and b) BART went on strike for the first time in 17 years. Also when I got home, I discovered my cell phone provider charged me $1.50 a minute in international roaming fees for all the frantic calls we'd made to Southwest trying to rebook tickets. Air travel in the U.S.: it's the gift that keeps on giving.
  4. I do not remember the details perfectly, but I do remember being 12 years old and in Europe with my mom, and a flight cancellation or delay resulted in our being stuck in Charles de Gaulle airport for an extra ten hours worth of layover. I am sure that travelling with a pre-pubescent dork could not have been fun for my mom, and I was bored out of my skull. To this day, I have a strange aversion to CDG.
  5. Guatemala, 2008. My friend Colleen and I, certain we knew what we were doing, were baffled by the lack of direct service from Panajachel to Tikal -- all the buses went back south several hours and had a layover in Guatemala City. So we decided to travel the way the locals do: on increasingly tinier minibuses, heading into increasingly more dangerous road. Eventually we wound our way along a road that was unfinished; deserted construction equipment nestled against the edge of the mountain on one side, and our tires slipped along the gravel road as we peered out the side window down the sheer drop that did not seem to faze the driver. We had a full load, including some people sitting on other people's laps, and I was wedged so tightly between Colleen and the guy sitting next to me, it was hard to raise my arms to cover my eyes when the tires occasionally ran off the road. Then it started to get dark. And rain. We got there eventually, but it took a very long time and probably several years off my lifespan.
  6. Cozumel, 2006? I don't remember exactly when this was, but in an effort to bolster my dying marriage, I booked a 6-day package holiday to Cozumel, with the reasoning that, hey, I'd never been on a package tour before. Our flight from Pittsburgh to Houston was delayed...and delayed...and further delayed by a mechanical error which turned out to be a problem with the windshield wipers. So we left super late and couldn't make up any time en route...which meant we were left with 15 minutes to make it from the domestic to the international terminal in Houston. I honestly have never run so fast in my life. We made it to the jetway with literally three minutes to spare, and the flight attendants applauded when they saw us bolting for the gate. When we got on board, there were people sitting in our seats and while we stood there waiting for them to move, I almost keeled over sideways into the aisle. It took about half an hour for my heart to stop pounding. CARDIO.
  7. Somewhere along the highway in New York, 2006 or 2007. We were driving back to Pittsburgh from Ontario in the winter, and as everybody who knows the nexus of bad weather that is Buffalo can attest, Buffalo is an infernal hellhole of lake effect precipitation. It snowed harder and visibility got worse as we got past the find that the freeway south had been closed. And all the hotels in the area were booked solid by people who were smarter than we were. "But the Red Cross shelter still has some space," the toll lady said. We elected instead to push on through the snow, until we were the only vehicle on the small road except for monstrous snowplows and ice trucks, passing us like leviathans in the Marianis trench...with just about as much visibility. Still, Jeff was used to driving in Minnesota, and we felt like we were winning against the weather gods as we edged closer and closer to Pittsburgh, certain the lake effect snow would stop once we got far enough from Buffalo. Instead, we hit a patch of black ice, spun out into a snowdrift at an exit ramp and totalled the car. We were all fine, but had to walk up to the toll booth at the end of the exit ramp and wait there while they called a tow truck, which were working overtime from all the accidents. We waited for two hours when a tow truck driver arrived and drove us to the closest hotel he knew of that might have a vacancy. It did. We collapsed into the one small bed and the next morning called a friend in Pittsburgh to drive up and pick us up. The car was a write-off.
I am sure there are more, but that's all I can think of at the moment. I've had surprisingly good luck, given all the travel I do -- let's hope I never have anything worse to add to the list, like my old acquaintance Jessamyn, who was once in a bus in India that rolled off a cliff and she staggered out of it covered in blood that wasn't hers.

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