Sometimes, there are things that happen to you so out of your control, there’s nothing you can do but keep trying to salvage whatever situation you have left.
That happened to me today.
Here’s how I went from my original plan of arriving in Liberia, Costa Rica last night to being stuck in San Jose after 15 hours in airports and missing two flights.
After having to splurge on a cab early this morning in Pasto, Colombia after the shared taxi never filled up ($15, instead of $4), I got to the airport only to discover the Avianca agent required proof of a ticket out of Central America before letting me board. The travel code scribbled in my journal wasn’t considered to be as legitimate as a paper printout, so I had to flip the data switch on my iPhone and pull up the email confirmation of my flight home to Toronto.
(Knowing the exorbitant code of roaming and data in Canada, Rogers will probably charge me $200+ for that.)
By the time I pull that up, I have missed my original flight to Cali and the agent has to book me on a new flight directly to Bogota.
Bogota is where things get really, really messy.
There the agents at TACA decide that my flight out of Nicaragua is no longer sufficient for the Costa Rican transportation rules. They demand some sort of bus ticket or flight out of Costa Rica to prove I won’t illegally overstay my tourist visa. I tell them bus tickets in Costa Rica need to be purchased in person. I have a tour booked in Nicaragua already and plan on crossing the border at the end of this week.There’s no reason for me to try and stay. But they won’t budge.
Oh, and they need my original copy of my yellow fever certificate. The scan on my phone isn’t enough.
By the time I am told all of this information, I only have 90 minutes before my flight leaves the tarmac.
I scramble to try and figure out what to do. Spotty wi-fi on the second floor of the airport terminal makes me panic even more. I try searching for ways to buy bus tickets in advance, and waste precious minutes reading over similar situations on the Lonely Planet Thorntree forums.
When I finally figure out I have to try and buy a new, refundable, unnecessary flight from San Jose to anywhere else, I only have 30 minutes left before my flight leaves. After nervously entering in my credit card information, the booking confirmation never arrives in my inbox. Time has run out.
Now desperate, I run frantically down back to the check-in desk and try to plead my case, only to be told there is no way I am getting on the plane. I start to cry.
It takes me 2 hours on the phone, $85 in change fees and taxes, a $320 e-ticket to Miami (with a non-refundable fee of $11), a $35 airport tax and 6 additional hours before I’m on a new plane to San Jose.
After arriving in the city, I learn all the buses from the airport into town have stopped running ($1), and the only option is private cabs ($28). After bargaining down one to $20, the driver continually tries to get me to go to a $35 hotel and then pretends like he can’t find the $9 hostel I want.
I end up at a backpackers place that costs $13 for a dorm-room bed. There’s a pool, kitchen, and decent computer room, but you have to put on your own sheets. I try to remind myself it’s only for one night. The staff there tell me what I went through was totally unnecessary. “Poor kid,” Their eyes seemed to say. “No wonder you came in looking so dejected.”
I know this whole thing might sound petty. I know many people would be jealous of my situation and wish they could have 2.5 weeks surfing and hanging out on the beach in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. But after 4 months of budget-blowing excursions, countless expensive mistakes, complicated conversations in Spanish I didn’t entirely understand and too many other things gone wrong, it felt like my brain finally broke. The events of today made me wonder if I ever wanted to travel again, outside of comfortable, familiar places like New York and Montreal. It made me irrationally hate being in Colombia. I was tired of struggling all the time. I just wanted to go home.
But my journey’s not over yet. And much as I am exhausted of the idea of spending more money, I know it has to happen. I can’t just hide in my hostel or hotel room all day to save money. I’ve already signed up for surf classes.
When I see my parents tomorrow, it’s inevitable I’m going to give them a big hug. And I’ll apologize for going to Colombia anyway. They were right: it was a difficult place to be in. But mostly for my wallet and personal sanity.