When it comes to “Throwback Thursday”, I am always eager to post pictures of my previous travels. I mean, why not reminisce on one of the best times in my life? And being that many of my travels happened during the pre-Instagram era, I am constantly looking for a reason to share travel pictures from the past.
While posting these many pictures, I sometimes fail to point out the issues and occasional mishaps of traveling. Like, the things that people don’t realize could happen, or the events that make us notice how fast everything can change. And how sometimes, things simply don’t go as planned. Which brings me to my point.
In my early twenties, before travel pictures and posts were all over the internet, I decided to participate in a study exchange program in Costa Rica. Essentially, studying abroad without being fully abroad.
Being a college junior on a tight budget at the time, I decided to pick a cheaper flight to the program site. This particular flight was later than the flights of many of the other U.S. students from my college, so I ended up being on the plane alone. Well not alone, but I’m sure you understand what I am saying.
While on layover in Fort Lauderdale, I was told that there was a major storm brewing in Costa Rica. An El Nino.
There was a cyclone of some sort (basically what we call hurricanes in southeast Louisiana) tearing through parts of the countryside. I remember them debating whether or not to fly us out.
They eventually boarded us, and up, up, and away we went, on our way to what could have been the end of us.
I remember the flight very well, because while I slept through the bulk of it, it was a bumpy ride. But my 22-year-old invincible mind didn’t think anything of it.
Until recent years, I was that girl. The one who loved to fly so much, the one who’d coach you on your flying fears. You could easily hear me say things like, “Calm down, it’s just turbulence.” Or, “You know it’s a fact that more people die in shark attacks than plane crashes.” (Which is probably utter BS, but it sounds good).
The good part:
After the short flight we were preparing to land. And that’s when things got scary. From my window seat I remember seeing green as we landed, ALL GREEN! It was dark and rainy, but the green stood out; and by the many gasps all around me, I am sure that everyone else on the plane noticed as well.
As we were only a few feet from landing, the plane instantly shot back up into the air. With no warning, after taking some time to get to a safe altitude, the lovely and surely shell-shocked pilot began to tell us about our near death experience.
Direct entry from journal: “He went to touch ground with no runway in sight. So, he went back into the air, full speed.”
Basically we couldn’t land… he couldn’t see…blah blah blah, duh, we get it… just don’t kill us. That’s sort of how it all went down.
From there, we were forced to stay in the air for hours (meaning, more than one). And while many of the other passengers could be heard complaining, complaining was the furthest thing from my mind.
Side note: I generally take the “Oh My God, Wow”, Lewis CK approach when it comes to flying.
I’m just thankful that we have these amazing mechanical birds that can take us quickly from one place to the other. Also the fact that I was not crashed and dead in some green pasture was certainly a reason not to complain.
But what’s an American without any first-world complaints? So I understood why some thought it was beneficial to bitch about how late they were going to be to their tropical vacation destination.
Anyhow, after a long time in the air, they fed us cheese sandwiches (insert: weird face) and landed us. We then had to wait another two hours for customs to decide whether we were allowed in their country, or if we had to sleep on the plane. (CAUTION: THIS IS A TRUE STORY)
By the way, WE LANDED IN PANAMA. (Not Costa Rica, as intended.) And let me just mention, if you ever get a chance to land in a country by accident, Panama is an awesome choice.
They let us off the plane and decided to put us all up in hotels with meal tickets and a hopeful departure date and time; they were basically saying, “Maybe we will feel safe enough to get you to your destination tomorrow, maybe not.”
Since I was a female traveling alone I was allowed my own luxury king-sized room at a Sheraton Hotel. Honestly, it was the best unplanned trip I had ever taken.
I befriended two Teach Abroad teachers and we split cab fare to spend the following day touring Panama, from the slums to the Panama Canal.
I eventually made it to Costa Rica and everyone there felt sorry for me. “Are you okay?” they asked, “We heard that you were stranded alone.”
I ate up the attention, but little did they know, my accidental vacation in Panama was one of the best experiences of my life.