How to Torture a Traveler, Part 3

Because my luck is that bad.

I used to love traveling, like the specific act of travel. The thrill you get driving to the airport, successfully passing through security, watching people and trying to match them to their destination.

Well, no more!

Super flattering, post-travel photo courtesy of my dad…

To be fair, I wasn’t as emotionally stable during this last leg between Siem Reap and Orlando as I normally am. I was lugging literally all of my belongings in two HUGE bags and had just said farewell to my best-est friends without knowing when I’d see them again. After checking in and finding a seat in Siem Reap’s ever changing international airport I opened up the farewell trinkets and letters my friends sent me off with. I was simultaneously laughing out loud and blubbering like a baby and boarded my first of many flights thoroughly emotionally drained.

On the bright side, I’ve traveled this route so frequently I am very familiar with all of the airports and know exactly where to go for food and the best nap locations. In Shanghai, I took up residence on a familiar row of seats, set an alarm and waited for the transit desk to open. Oh yea, it was 4 a.m.

Everything started out so well and I dared to dream that I may make it out of this travel experience sans extra (emotional) baggage. I was first in line through security and found an ideal napping space next to my gate and a handy water cooler, which I swear was clearly labeled “Drinking Water”. So I filled up my Nalgene, drank half of it, and settled in for sleep.

An hour or so later I woke up feeling, well, not so great. I was so tired from the previous red-eye plus having not actually slept the night before I departed, that I could hardly keep my eyes open. But I knew I had to wake up, something did not feel right.

My stomach rumbled. I located Starbucks and crossed my fingers that a hot cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin was all my wishy-washy belly wanted. I nibbled as much as I could handle and decided to try and sleep it off.

Barely able to rouse myself for my flight I zombie-trudged to the gate all the while willing myself to keep down the bits of blueberry I’d managed to consume. Nausea came in waves but I held it together like a master of mystery illness until I was all buckled in, ready as I ever would be for this 14+ hour flight.

Just as I began to believe I’d won my intestinal battle another wave washed over me.

“Nope!” I said to myself, less quietly than I had hoped, and reached for the sick bag.

My mind flashed back to the judging looks I had given the passengers on my previous hell-flight as they had emptied their stomachs all around me. Was this karma? Why does karma always pay me back for the bad things? What about the good things, Karma? Karma, why are you such a bitch?

Three bags later the flight attendants were getting a bit tired of my pleas for more ginger ale, especially since I kept getting weaker and had resorted to using the call button.

“Can I get some more sick bags?” I asked to blank expressions.

I mimed vomiting.

“Yes, here.” The attendant handed me a stack.

Eventually, the poison water (it had to have been the water) worked its way through my system and left me even more exhausted, but able to sleep/listen to Harry Potter for the rest of the flight.

Given my recent penance, I thought surely karma would leave me alone now.

While trudging through the Toronto airport, all of my belongings stacked precariously on one of those wheelie carts, I heard an ominous flap flop flap flop. I pulled out of pedestrian traffic as best I could and examined my shoes: my favorite, pseudo-Doc Martens purchased for $8 at a store selling second-hand clothing shipped from Japan, which had seen me through many a bartending shift and been a protective barrier against cockroaches and spiders alike. The sole of my left shoe hung limply away from where it was intended to be. I looked at my sock, visible through the gaping hole and tried to remember where I had packed my other shoes.

After rummaging through all of my bags I located a pair of moccasins (also purchased at the Japanese second-hand store) and lovingly placed my boots in the nearest bin.

“So long, my loves…” I whispered as I walked away.

Stripped down to my last layer after working up a sweat during Operation: Shoe Location, I lugged my bags towards my last customs check.

“You must be going somewhere warm, eh?” The agent asked, eyeing my tank top, which was obviously not suitable for the outside Toronto winter.

“Yes sir, I’m going home.”

How to Torture a Traveler: Part Two

Given the number of times I’ve traveled back and forth between Orlando and Siem Reap something is bound to go wrong from time to time and this last trip felt like the universes way of making up for the good luck I’ve had so far. Except for this trip, of course: How to Torture a Traveler.

This was the first delay notification. It only got worse.
This was the first delay notification. It only got worse.

I sat anxiously next to my gate in the Orlando International Airport nervously watching my departure time push back further and further. I refreshed the flight information I had looked up on my phone over and over noticing the estimated arrival time get dangerously close to my next flight’s departure time.

“You might as well take the flight,” The guy at the help desk advised. “If you miss it they’ll just do the same things I’d do here. You might as well take the chance your next flight is delayed.”

Never listen to the help desk.

I tried to relax as best as could during the flight knowing there was literally nothing I could do from in the air. When we landed (three hours later than originally scheduled) I painfully watched the seconds tick by on my watch.

3, 2, 1… And there it goes…

A nearby passenger saw the anguished look on my face.

“Are you trying to make a connection?”

I hung my head, “Yes, but I doubt I can make it in 30 seconds.”

Just in case I rushed to the next terminal, which as luck would have it, took 30 minutes on an airport shuttle bus because the AirTrain system was shut down…

The Etihad Airways ticketing desk was deserted except for one security guard standing next to the help desk.

“Can I help you?” He asked, not concerned at all.

“I just missed my flight…”

“Come back tomorrow at Noon,” He stated matter-of-factly before turning back to his paperwork.

I hopped on the shuttle bus and went back to my arrivals gate to seek help from a Jetblue representative.

“You’re going to have to reschedule through your booking agent,” He said unsympathetically after looking over my flight itinerary. “Call Expedia.”

After a quick cry in the women’s bathroom, I trekked to the baggage claim help desk. First things first, figure out where in the world (literally) my belongings were.

I handed the lady my baggage claim ticket and she typed inhumanly fast into her computer.

“Since your bag is checked to Bangkok, that’s where it will end up. It might even be on the flight you were scheduled on.” She reassured.

“Well, since you know my last flight was still taxing to the gate after boarding closed for my next one I’m just going to guess it didn’t make it either…” I was trying desperately not to burst into tears, since that’s my default reaction whenever I’m stressed, anxious, scared, etc.

“All I can tell you is it’s checked to Bangkok so it should turn up there.” To her credit she looked a bit more caring than everyone else I had spoken to so far.

Somewhat relieved I had one less thing to worry about I found a semi-quiet corner and spent over an hour (the majority of which was spent listening to crappy hold music) on the phone with an agent who was able to rebook all of my flights for the next day (literally 24 hours later…).

At least I had time to Snapchat all of my friends.
At least I had time to Snapchat all of my friends.

All that was left to do now: find a semi-dark spot (it wasn’t dark at all) on the floor (tile, next to a trash can) where I could pass the night and hopefully get some sleep. I managed a few hours before my hips and knees started to cramp and I couldn’t take the pain from my bruised ribs any longer (more about that in a later post). Once the sun came up I treated myself to an actual breakfast at the airport diner then tried to check in to my flight, only to be told I had to wait until 6:40 p.m. to do so.

In case representatives from JFK found this via my SEO: PLEASE put some actual chairs in the arrivals/ticketing area! My boney butt can only take so much floor time.

By the time I actually reached Bangkok, as anticipated, my bag was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t even registered in the computer. To be fair, the woman at the Etihad help desk was super nice and helpful and assured me as soon as my bag is found she’ll call and email me and ship it to Siem Reap. Yay. And, to be fair the whole check-in process moves a lot faster when you are bag-less.

So now, in addition to trying to catch up on work and prepare for freelance meetings, I get to file insurance claims and phone airlines. Double yay…

At least I packed one pair of clean underwear in my carry-on and have started a ‘wash one, wear one’ system, which thanks to Cambodia’s heat cuts drying time in half.

Author’s note: I know I’ve been a bit (more like a lot) behind on updates but I do have a couple in the works! Stay tuned for a post about loss while abroad, an ode to turning 25, and how to survive a week-long blackout. And for illustrated updates about my living and traveling as an extremely awkward person, check out my newest website: Awkward & Aware.

Showering with Spiders

I clutched my sarong tighter around my chest and crept up the stairs.

“Somtor? Ping-peang tom tom,” I squeaked and mimed a smashing motion with my hands.

Our host family laughed. Kim and Mam slowly stood up and followed me as I nervously backed down the stairs towards the “ban tup tek” (bathroom).

Liza pointed her flashlight through the open door, illuminating the hand-sized huntsman spider on the wall. Mam grabbed a long stick, chasing the arachnid behind the water basin. Liza, Kay and I jumped backward listening to the thwack of the wooden pole against the concrete.

“Ok, gone.” Mam announced as she exited the small washroom.

I took “gone” to mean “no longer living and able to jump on you”, so I re-gathered my shower things and gave it another go.

Putting on my headlamp I quickly de-saronged. As I reached for the water scoop my light reflected off eight, green glowing eyes.

“Nope!” I yelled, quickly wrapping myself before sprinting out the door. “Som mouy tiek?” I pleaded to Kim who was still standing near by.

He laughed and disappeared into the bathroom. Moments later he returned, his hand outstretched.

Losing all sense of self I screamed at recoiled, the other two girls following close behind. Kim had the body of the spider clutched between his fingers, eight-legs poised menacingly. He chuckled at our fear, stepping a bit closer before disposing of the beast around the side of the house.

“I’ll shower in the morning,” I mumbled and headed upstairs to put on my pajamas.

My fear of hairy, eight-legged creatures overshadowed the shame of freaking out in front of two of my trip participants.

This isn’t my photograph but the spider pictured is the same size as the ones we encountered on Koh P’dao. As you can see, my fear is understandable.

I know, deep down, I can handle large bugs. I’ve done it before. When I lived alone I came home several times to huge spiders, jumping around yelling, “Kill it!” Only to realize I was the only one around to do said disposal.

A few days prior to leading this trip I had been watching a movie at my friend’s house. I got up to use the bathroom and was met by a very large cockroach. I danced around a bit trying to decide what to do before turning to my friend, “There is a rather intimidating cockroach in your bathroom. I was going to kill it but remembered you’re here so I don’t have to.”

I then stood on a chair and watched him chase it around the room, finally sweeping it outside.

The 21 students, 3 teachers, and 1 cameraman had arrived in Cambodia only a few days prior to our trip to the rural island of Koh P’dao and were receiving a crash course in culture shock. Hailing from a private school in the Hampton’s the community on Koh P’dao was different from anything they had experienced. No running water, no electricity, very limited English, and hardest of all – no Internet access.

Having never been to the island myself, I tried to hide my own discomfort as much as possible and was incredibly proud to watch the students grow through out the experience. At the end of their time in Cambodia (which included several days in Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham, and Siem Reap) they all listed spending time with their homestay families as a highlight of the whole trip.

My homestay family.
My homestay family.

The morning after our spider-fest we learned two girls in another homestay house awoke to a scorpion in their bed. Liza, Kay and I considered ourselves lucky, but still checked our beds and shook out our suitcases every night.