Sunday, 20 March 2011

Am I Going To Be Thrown in a Mexican Jail?

     We were sitting in a small airport lounge in Guaymas, Mexico, waiting for a plane to fly us to our week-long kayaking trip in the Sea of Cortez. My kayaking companion, Mikayla and I were sweating bullets, not only because it was hot in the lounge area but also that our minds were full of the events that took place prior to our arrival in Guaymas. And now the latest setback - only one of us could board the plane. 
     Flying from Vancouver to Los Angeles was no problem but things started to go downhill from there as we were to catch a direct flight to Loreto in Baja California. The ticket agent told us that we had to stand in another line as our boarding passes were not valid. We dutifully went to the end of a one hundred foot lineup and moved exactly zero feet in one half hour. Our plane was preparing to leave in an hour and so we panicked and decided to circumvent the airport’s mad house. We took a bus to San Diego's smaller airport where we managed to end up flying the following day, resulting in missing the first day of our kayaking trip.
     We couldn’t fly direct to Loreto but rather we flew to Phoenix where we then had to stand in a long line for our connecting plane to Guaymas. The plane was late and it was overbooked. Mikayla and I looked at each other and we didn’t have to speak because both of our facial expressions read, “Were we really destined for this trip?” After an hour’s wait, we were fortunate enough to board the plane. 
     Our confidence on reaching our destination was further diminished when it was announced in the Guaymas airport that our flight was overbooked. Both of our facial expressions read, “Where have we heard this before?” I asked the ticket agent if there was any chance that we both could board and she replied that there was only room for one of us. I looked at the pained look on Mikayla's face and I gallantly said “OK –you go ahead and I’ll catch the next plane.” I heard her words "No, we have to go together!" but her facial expression read, “We're desperate - OK, give it a go!”
     So there we were, sitting in the Guaymas airport, despondent, perspiring like crazy and discussing how this mess was going to cause havoc with our kayaking tour group connections. Only Mikayla could go; we didn’t know when I could catch a flight and the kayak tour was already in progress.
     After mulling numerous scenarios in my head, I told Mikayla of a plan that just may work. In the most positive voice I could muster, I said, “We have nothing to lose. I’m going to bribe the ticket agent to get on the plane.” Mikayla, almost in tears said, “No, we’ll be caught and thrown in a Mexican jail!” I heard her words but her facial expression read, “We're desperate - OK, give it a go!”
     I looked in my wallet and came up with $50. I sat there trying to build up my nerve, sweating even more as I had never done this kind of thing before and thought, “Is it enough money? Am I going to be thrown in jail?” Spotting the agent, I thought “Now or never.” I stood up and started walking on my jelly-like legs to the check-in counter. Just then, the agent started walking over to me and said, “Mr. Moore, there is space for you also on the plane.” I didn't hear any words from Mikayla but her face went beet red and her expression read, "I think I'm going to faint" 
     We did finally land in Loreto and the kayaking trip was worth all the mental anguish.  
     Not long after returning home, I came across an article by John Flinn, former travel editor for the San Francisco Chronicle whose writing made me a bit more comfortable in my attempt to 'bribe' the ticket agent. 
A few things I've learned in a quarter-century-plus of travel:
In many parts of the world, there's little or no difference between what we think of as a "tip" and what we think of as a "bribe." A little baksheesh helps the desk clerk at Royal Air Nepal find your "lost" reservation, and opens the Luxor tomb that's supposed to be open but for some reason isn't. It might offend your sense of justice, but it's simply the way things get done in some neighbourhoods of the world. In most cases it's not a major shakedown, and it doesn't always involve cash. Often a pack of Marlboros or a commemorative pin from your home town is all it takes to open doors and get things moving.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Write On Cue Or If This Is Friday, I Must Be Confused

     It started as an 80th birthday present for our Mother. One sister in Edmonton paid for Mom's trip for a 2 week stay in New Zealand to visit our other sister. Mom would then fly to Hawaii for a week as a follow-up before heading back home.
     The rest of us siblings were a bit concerned as Mom was often losing her short term memory and we thought an 80 year old woman travelling by herself might be a bit risky. Our sister told us not to worry - Mom will be OK. She then thought it over however, and came up with the idea of giving Mom cue cards. These ‘recipe’ type cards would remind Mom of medication instructions as well as her travel arrangements such as ‘what’ day she will be in ‘which’ city.
     The first card read: ‘You will fly from Edmonton to Vancouver and Ric will meet you before you board the airplane to New Zealand.’
     I waited and wandered the airport looking for Mom. Thirty minutes went by after her plane landed and I was just about to have her paged when I heard a squeaky, little voice, “Ricky.” I turned around and there was Mom, looking like a bag lady. She was pulling her heavy suitcase, an oversized carry-on bag slung over her shoulder, her coat partially off her shoulders and dragging on the floor. A frazzled look showed on her aging face. And she had only been on the plane for an hour and 20 minutes! I thought, "What was she going to look like when she lands in New Zealand after being on the plane for 18 hours?"
     She showed me her cue cards and they were already mixed up. "I will have to put these in order," she mused as I held her arm while we walked to the next departure gate.
     I telephoned my sister in New Zealand a few days after Mom arrived to see how she fared on that leg of her trip. My sister said that after picking Mom up at the airport and while driving home, Mom asked 3 times, “Are we in New Zealand?” My sister said “Yes Mom, but you should check your cue cards to make sure.”
     During her stay in New Zealand, Mom frequently dropped or lost her cue cards throughout the house. My sister related that the new family card game was placing Mom's cue cards back into proper sequence.
     We started to get a bit worried. Although she was staying with friends in Hawaii, we wondered how she was going to survive the next leg of her journey. We didn't hear of any tragedies from her Hawaiin friends and so we thought so far, all is well.
     I met Mom at the Vancouver airport from her return stopover in Hawaii. Talk about frazzled! Pushing her luggage cart, this forlorn, little lady looked at me and said, “Ricky, where am I?” I said “Did you check your cue cards?” “Yes,” she said, “but I think I got them mixed up and I’m not quite sure I’m here.” “Don’t worry Mom” I said, “you’re just about home – hang in there.”
     I shouldn’t have worried about her age or her short term memory as she still had some semblance of keeping her youth. I noticed she was carrying an item wrapped in plastic which looked like an umbrella. She said it was a walking cane that she bought in New Zealand and that she had been telling everyone it was for her father, who by the way, had passed away 15 years prior. Her reply when I asked if she had been using it was “No!” I asked why she had bought it. “Well” she replied with a philosophical tone in her voice, “It might come in handy one day – when I’m old!”
     Asked if she enjoyed the trip overall, she replied “Yes. I have travelled all over the world and I think New Zealand has to be the most beautiful country.” I told her about my plans to go to New Zealand within the next few months and she told me with that proverbial, motherly advice, “Use cue cards Ricky. I wouldn’t have known where I would have been without them.”