There is a saying that goes “Every cloud has a silver lining.” In shitty situations no one is ever really thinking about the silver lining unless you have master zen-like qualities. So, it all started upon arriving at my gate to leave (my second attempt) for Heathrow.
“Calling all Envoy First Class passengers for boarding.”
I walked up to the desk trying not to look as excited as I was inside, thinking of relaxing for the next seven hours of the flight with plenty of space to stretch. I handed my ticket to the stewardess and she scanned it. A few more clicks of the keyboard and thirty more seconds had now passed since handing over the ticket.
“Now boarding Zone 1 passengers. Zone 1”
I began to wonder why I was still standing in the same spot. More passengers were boarding and a second line of folks were gathering behind me. The stewardess had a puzzled look on her face. Oh no no. That face was telling me that I was about to be disappointed.
“Um… it seems that all of the first class seats are filled. There is a seat available in the first row in economy. Will that be okay?”
If all the seats are filled what other choice do I have lady? I’m not the arguing type and I’ve always felt that there is no point to get into an attitude or cause a scene when it comes to the airport staff. They have a job to do and deal with hundreds of people on a daily basis. At that point I was just glad to have a seat on the plane and I hadn’t paid for first class to begin with so…
“Sure, that’ll be fine.”
I took my seat (with a direct view of the first class cabin) and got settled in. The rest of the flight was uneventful.
Right on time we arrived at Heathrow around ten-thirty in the morning. It had been seven years since I was last in the U.K. and I was excited to be back. After a ten-minute hike from the gate I got to customs with the other speed walkers. Luckily for us there was no one in line. I assumed we were one of the first early arrival flights. Weaving through the line I waited another ten minutes before it was my turn to step up for questioning.
Now beforehand my friend Shannon and I spoke about what we should say. Technically we would be working and receiving a small stipend, but it was considered a managing internship for three months. My idea was that honesty was the best policy. We would say that we were coming over for a volunteer/internship (the truth) and that it was going to be unpaid (the lie… yes, I know). Turns out honesty was the worst policy.
“When is your return date?”
“Do you have your return ticket?”
“Um… well it’s an electronic ticket. I don’t have a return ticket because they don’t give it to you this far in advance.”
“Okay, I’m just going to take your papers and passport and check with my manager. Can you just take a seat over there at the far end. I’ll come and get you.”
I should have known better and I could feel the situation turning on me. I sat there for forty minutes and waited. The customs line was now six rows deep and I watched others going through. Some went through with ease and others were being pressed with questions a little more. Finally, the woman came back and I was told to follow her.
“Unfortunately, we have to do some checks because you didn’t provide us enough information for your reason of visit .”
At this point, I think I was still oblivious to what was going down. If they have to question me I’m cool with it. They’re doing their job. I was escorted by two people from immigration, who were very nice I might add, to get my luggage. After twenty minutes of skirting around the conveyers and no sign, one of the officers put in a lost luggage claim. Then we were off to what was essentially the detainee area of the airport.
Now, I’m still calm and cool and “la di dah” about everything. I was even having cordial and polite banter back in forth with my escorts. Once we got back to the immigration area I was given a thorough check. They asked how much money I had. They checked through my backpack and camera bag. I had my photo taken and was thoroughly fingerprinted, which was a first for me, and then washed the ink off of my hands with this gritty, fake, orange smelling solution. After all of this I was taken into another room that had a bunch of seats, a TV, bathrooms, a beverage dispenser, a pay phone, and a basket full of cookies.
I signed a bunch of papers and then my bags were put in another room, which was locked. I was offered a pre-packaged sandwich (ham and tomato) and then sat and waited. One episode of Judge Judy (I was surprised to find it when flipping channels) a package of biscuits, and PG Tips tea later and I was being taken into another room with the original agent from the customs line. She was really nice.
I was told I was going to be interviewed and she began to write down everything as I told her what I was doing in England and why I was coming to the country. I explained that my friend already arrived the day before and even gave her the address of where I was staying.
“Well at this time we are going to have to refuse you entrance into the country. The reason is that we don’t have enough information to allow you entry and in order to volunteer you will have to have a work visa.”
I was stunned and somewhere inside all of the nervousness I was stowing away burst through. Normally, I hate crying in public. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it, because I think it’s good for a person to let out their emotions, but I prefer to be alone when this happens. However, this time there was no chance in hell that was going to happen. I just couldn’t stop the tears from coming even when I was telling myself to stop, I couldn’t. The officer herself looked as if she was going to cry. I’m not sure, but from the way they treated me, I must of been the most polite detainee they’ve had in a while.
By time everything was said and done it was four o’clock in the evening. I was given my bags back and they told me I would be allowed to leave the airport to get a hotel, but they would be keeping my passport. I missed the last flight of the day back to Philadelphia and so I had to wait till noon the next day. I would get my passport back the next day when I came to check in for my flight. With that I was taken to the arrivals area and left standing stunned, by myself.
To be continued….
I’ve written before (and its my belief) that to be a successful traveler, being able to easily adapt is key. My adaptation and flexibility have all been put to the test within the past twenty-four hours. I should be in the U.K. by now unpacking my bags and getting ready for dinner. Instead I’m sitting in my living room trying to decide what to have for lunch.
After arriving in the airport, checking my bag, and getting through security (suprisingly) with ease I headed to my gate. Checking to see if my flight was on time, I saw the word DELAY and my heart drop. To find that you have a delayed flight is the worst news, especially if you have a connecting flight. It can almost have the same effect as an adult telling five- year old that Christmas has been cancelled. For a split second I could feel a tantrum coming on, but common sense and maturity are on my side.
After five trips to the customer service desk and two calls to U.S. Airways customer service lines I realized I wasn’t going to make it to London until Wednesday. My mind immediately went to my friend Shannon who some where over the Atlantic totally oblivious to the fact that she would be arriving at Heathrow alone. Everything got settled once I spoke to the lovely Irene who, although looked exhausted, helped to book me a direct flight on U.S. Airways. She even hooked me up with a first class seat, which is a first for me. So, I leave tonight for London. It’s going to be a seven hour flight and an even longer haul to Stevenage with my huge suitcase, but that’s the thing about traveling. There will always be hurdles and sometimes you feel like you’ll never arrive, but you do… eventually.
So, in the morning I tell the hostel’s owner about what happened. Thankfully I had spent a couple of hours talking to the owner before so we were friendly with each other.
I tell him the story and he offers me a private room for free which I obviously refuse because it’s not his fault the guy’s a freak. He ensures me though that he won’t let him stay another night. He will tell him that all the beds are booked and that he has to go. We sit down and have breakfast together. Suddenly Fuck Face appears, I think he can sense the unwelcoming vibe and if not right away then definitely when he is told that he can’t stay another night.
He requests to speak to the owner in private, then he comes back, sits down at a table right across from me, gets out his laptop and starts typing, making sure to glance at me every so often. I give fucking evil glares.
When he leaves to grab something from our room I take chance to find out what he told the owner. Apparently I did not wake up from the alarm (oh right, the alarm that was set at 6 am but decided to go off at 1 am) and he didn’t realize it wasn’t 6 am so he went to wake me. Leaving out the detail that he was touhing me.
He comes back and keeps staring at me. I didn’t want to regret not saying anything to him so when he yet against stares at me I say:
“Are you just going to keep on staring at me or are you going to apologize for last night?”
His face takes on a puzzled look. “I don’t know what you mean. Sorry, I’m busy right now,” he says pointing at his screen. “But we can have a drink later and talk.”
Unbelievable. “I’m not having a fucking drink with you. And you might be trying to work right now but I was trying to sleep last night.”
“Oh, yeah it was so hot last night. I had a hard time sleeping.” he replies innocently.
What a twisted bastard. I just shake my head in disbelief.
I go for run, a shower (which freaked me out because I imagined him standing in the room waiting for me to leave the shower in just a towel) and went back to the reception area to write this. He is still there on his lap top probably perving on people online. He gets up to leave and heads over to my table.
“I’m going out for lunch now. Would you like to join me?” In what fucked up world does climbing into a sleeping person’s bed, scaring them, basically forcing them to sleep on the floor score you a lunch date??
This blog is pretty much always positive. We talk about the amazing people we met and things we see when traveling. But it’s not all fun and games in this crazy world we live in. I don’t want to have a blog where travel, or anything, gets sugar coated. The matter of the fact is that you don’t “find yourself” every week, have a mind boggling epiphany or meet inspiring people at every stop. Just like in real life there are irritating factors and fucked up people. I’d like to share some examples of this…
I’m currently on the Perhentian Islands, 2 beautiful, tropical islands off of Malaysia’s East Coast. I’m staying in a dorm of a super cheap hostel in the jungle wedged between Long Beach and Coral Bay. I’v been having an immense time just taking things slow. I get up before 6 am, do yoga on the jetty, go jogging along the beach, snorkel, read and suntan all day, catch some live music with people I’ve met out here after dinner and go to bed pretty early. So far so good.
Last night I got into my dorm around midnight to find everyone asleep posing a problem for me; I needed someone’s alarm to get me up at 6 am to meet my yoga friend. Thankfully the guy sleeping in the bed next to mine had his eyes opened so I asked him to set his alarm for me which he gladly did and asked if he could join me for yoga. ‘Course he could. So, I head into bed and fall asleep.
This dude, from Saudi Arabia (I found out the next morning) and around mid forties, rips me out of my sleep. I wake up to him sitting next to me in my bed, touching my arm, shining his mobile in my face. I am startled but immediately remember that he wanted to wake me up.
“It’s 6 already?”
“No, it’s 1 am”, he replies showing me the time on his phone.
Then why the fuck am I being woken up? He is uncomfortably close to me. I’ve never heard of the need to sit on someone’s pillow to wake them up. He grabs my hand and starts stroking it.
“I want to talk to you,” he said softly.
I take a second to realize what’s going on. I don’t want to know how long he had been staring at me while I was asleep, contemplating if he should pay me a little visit or not.
I finally gain my composure and tell him to get the fuck out of my bed. He’s reluctant, stares at me and takes his sweet time. I sit upright as rigid as the bed post holding up the bunk above me, heart racing and body shaking. Then the dude has the nerve to get out of bed again, kneel beside my bed, tries to take my hand saying he wants to “talk”. I shift as far away from him as possible without falling off the bed and tell him to fuck off. He gets into his bed again and I sit there for a couple of seconds realizing there is no fucking way I can fall asleep again with that freak a meter away from me.
I grab my keys and head out. The reception was closed and I’m in the middle of a jungle. Thank god I spot a lit room and I can hear two girls talking. I gently knock on their door feeling like I’m the creep now, they open up and I start apologizing, my voice shaking and my eyes brimming with tears.
They invite me to sleep on their floor and I gratefully accept. I left my bag with money and camera next door though and I want my pillow so have to enter the freak’s lair again. I quickly grab my shit, see that he is still awake and get the fuck out of there. I have the hardest time falling asleep feeling seriously violated.
… when I was fourteen. At the age of twenty-two (soon to be twenty-three) I’ve gone many places and there are more I want to see. For the passionate, traveling is a continuous desire. My appetite is never sated. Even when I can’t get to where I want to go at the moment, my mind wonders. During these periods I’m thinking about my plans to explore Australia’s beaches and the outback. Or, how I will make it on the Trans-Siberian Train that goes from Moscow, through Mongolia, all the way to Beijing. There is Machu Picchu, Buenos Aires, Burning Man, a road trip through the American southwest to California, New Zealand, beautiful Japan….
There is just so much in the world. Yes… a formal education is important, but I’ve learned so much from the world through traveling, more than I would have learned in a classroom. I was fourteen when I left the United States for the first time. I cried on the plane. I was leaving my mother. I was surrounded by “friends” and a few chaperones and I felt so alone. When I returned my mother picked me up and I slept for half a day. When I woke up I told her about everything.
About the energy of Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday night. How the sunset looked in Sorrento. The moment I realized that my “friends” were just convienent companions for a moment in time while on the night train through Switzerland. How cruising on the Seine at night with the Eiffel Tower glittering in front of me was one of the most beautiful moments in my life. How the Les Nubians song “Saravah” will always remind me of the incredibly blue waters of Capri.
All of these moments had such a powerful hold over me. I think it awoke the nomad inside of me. From that point on I never let a chance to leave or go somewhere pass me by. So, when it seems that I’m stuck in one place for a bit I never get upset. I have my memories to keep me going.