Everyone has a first memory of travelling abroad and leaving their own backyard for the first time, but rarely does that story turn into a avel disaster. However, this is exactly what I experienced the first time I travelled abroad by myself.
I was fifteen at the time and when I say travelled; well it was more of a point-to-point initiative. The idea was simple, my Mum would drop me off at Heathrow having made sure I was safely checked in, and then my dad would pick me up sixteen hours and 5,700 miles or so later in Quito. At the time I wasn’t worried at all at the prospect of the journey, nor did I think it would turn into a travel disaster. By the age of six I had already acquired more air miles than most people do in a lifetime. I didn’t get airsick and was used to passing through airports, so I didn’t think much could go wrong.
The journey started off like clockwork. I was one of the first to board the plane and then when it landed an hour or so later in Charles de Gaulle Airport, I was one of the first off the plane. A stewardess took me to the transfer desk and then someone else escorted me to the correct terminal to board the much bigger plane that would take me onto the next leg of my journey. So far so good, everything was running like clockwork, no travel disaster…
I settled into my seat on the new plane, plugged my headphones on and prepared for a marathon film session. There are after all some advantages to long haul flights. At some point the excitement of the in flight entertainment system waned and I went to sleep, not knowing that I was flying towards my first travel disaster.
When I woke up things had taken a turn for the worse. The volcano above Quito was going through one of its active phases and was spewing ash. As we all know from the latest Icelandic problems, ash and plane engines just don’t mix. It’s a bit like holding an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting during happy hour at your local pub; you know there are going to be problems. Quito Airport had been closed and we would be diverted. I would be landing more than an hour outside of Quito, where my dad very definitely wouldn’t be waiting for me. I had no phone number to contact him and very little money, in short this was a travel disaster in the making.
It was at this point that the passengers who had been studiously avoiding eye contact with each other for the best part of ten hours started talking to each other. Meanwhile I was left to deal with the fact that the carefully laid plan formulated by my parents at the dead of night was rapidly unravelling and I was facing my first travel disaster.
The cabin crew tried to reassure us with news that buses would be waiting at the airport to take us to Quito. I wasn’t convinced and to avert a travel disaster I decided this was definitely the time to start talking to strangers. Within twenty minutes I had made friends with a young Norwegian teenager and a middle-aged Scotsman who had been living in Ecuador for the last couple of years and spoke Spanish. The Scotsman and I quickly reached an understanding. Namely we would be more likely to meet an Eskimo selling snow in the Sahara than be met by buses at the airport.
Thirty minutes later we had landed at the airport and the buses were nowhere to be seen. Most of the passengers started sitting down in the shade of the entrance to the airport thinking about what this travel disaster meant for their holidays. Others stood imperiously, as if this would speed up the arrival of the buses. Everyone stared hopefully at the horizon; stirring any time they heard the noise of an engine, but I knew that no buses would be rescuing anyone in the near future from this travel disaster.
After five minutes of waiting the Scotsman asked if I wanted to share a cab with him into the city and figuring that it was a better idea than wasting an afternoon waiting for phantom buses readily agreed. Still I wasn’t going to go by myself and risk another travel disaster so I convinced the Norwegian to come along for the ride. Safety in numbers and all that…
The drive into Quito was a long one. The beaten up taxi with the shot suspension shook violently every time it went over a hole in the road. We made small talk about this and that to make the time go quicker, all the while taking in the view outside that looked a bit like the Scottish Highlands.
As we entered the outskirts to the city the Scotsman made it clear that he would be jumping ship long before we arrived at the airport. As he got out of the taxi I realised how bad my situation actually was; my insecurities worsened as we got closer to the airport. I didn’t have a clue what I would do once I arrived. I hadn’t ever thought passed this point. I was pretty much alone in a completely strange country with no idea how to speak the language. This situation was far from ideal and I honestly wasn’t prepared for this travel disaster.
The car stopped and with these thoughts running through my head I got out of the car. Just at that moment my dad walked past me. He had just rented a car and was about to go to the other airport to pick me up. Ten minutes later as we drove out of the parking lot he told me that the buses for the other passengers still hadn’t left Quito Airport. If I was five minutes later I would have missed my dad, it’s amazing what a role chance can play in you life, it helped me avert a travel disaster, that’s for sure.