By Carol Antman for Island Eye News
This was not the greeting I expected as my husband and I checked in at the Charleston airport for a long awaited trip to St. Lucia. “I’m not going to be able to issue your boarding passes because your passports expire in less than 90 days.”
“But we’re only going for a week. We’ll still have more than two months remaining on them when we return,” I said. “Sorry.” We insisted; we cajoled; we pleaded. The plane left without us.
“I can’t imagine being more disappointed than I am right now,” I said as we sat in the café fuming. I’d spent months securing a writing gig at a luxurious hotel and arranging for complicated family responsibilities. We had just finished 11 days of hosting over 20 family members during which the image of the St. Lucian hotel room, perched on a mountainside overlooking the ocean and twin peaks, had sustained me. We had to fix it.
Even though it was barely 7 a.m., we began making frantic phone calls: trip insurance (no claim for this), the St. Lucia hotel, passport offices, the governor’s office (they’d help but it would take a few days) and American Airlines (they’d had our passport expiration dates since I’d booked the tickets months ago). This was not our first misadventure. Twice we’d booked hotel rooms in far-flung places and bailed when we got there.
The remote beach and rocky shore in the Cayman Islands was unsuitable for our family with young children. It only took one look at the garbage-strewn shore and dirty water in the Dominican Republic for us to rent a car and drive elsewhere. It had even happened closer to home at a chain hotel during the Savannah Jazz Festival. The room reeked of cigarettes so we complained to the manager who said, “If you think that room smells bad, you should come to my house. It’s much worse.” Uh, no thanks.
Mention misadventures and everyone has a story. Two people told of missing trips abroad because their passports had too many stamps in them. Not enough empty pages! One of them was trying to leave on an expensive African safari he’d bought in a charity auction and lost thousands of dollars.
The worst misadventures involve the police. We were stopped by two policemen in the Caribbean who showed us their radar gun indicating we’d been driving 2 miles over the speed limit. It was a shake-down. We gave them enough cash to buy themselves a nice lunch and drove off. Our friend Jay wasn’t as lucky in New Orleans when a driver cut in front of him and his wife as they jogged across the street. “What are you doing man? You almost hit us!” he yelled as he swatted at the driver through an open window. “I’m arresting you for assault, that’s what,” said the policeman in the unmarked car. Instead of a weekend at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, he stewed in jail awaiting bail.
Some misadventures require the police. My widely travelled friends Steve and Laurie only found out afterwards that their cruise ship on the Nile had been fired upon by bandits from the shore while they slept. My friend Randy tells about taking a cab from La Guardia with an extremely agitated driver who continuously yelled into a cell phone while obsessively clawing with a back scratcher and repeatedly stopping in the middle of the expressway. She dialed 911, poised to hit “send.” Her son said later, “Sounds like a meth addict.”
Often misadventures end well. My friend Ed recounts, “We took a red-eye and landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport early in the morning. Our brains were half-asleep. Before we got out of the airport, I went to a money-changing kiosk to cash in dollars for Euros to rent a lovely apartment in Anne Frank’s neighborhood.” He exchanged $1,300 and took a cab across town to pay the landlord but discovered that he only had the equivalent of $650.
“I took a cab back to the airport, talked my way through security, and got to the kiosk. I told the lady that I was a total idiot, but that I had walked away without checking my money. ‘I never make mistakes,’ she said, ‘but I will count today’s cash.’ In another minute, the supervisor appeared with $650 in Euros. I instantly fell in love with the Dutch people.”
Back in Charleston I was very discouraged. “I have bathing suits and flip flops in my suitcase. We are not going home. We’re going somewhere warm! Today!” I insisted. On the phone with American Airlines my husband asked the essential question, “Where can we exchange these tickets to go today that’s warm and doesn’t require a passport?” Within 24 hours we were wading in the Caribbean in Puerto Rico.
“We fixed it.” I sighed. It had paid to be flexible and proved once again that the difference between a trip and an adventure is when things don’t go as planned.
Check document requirements and find help abroad here: www.travel.state.gov. Roadtrips Charleston presents adventurous and interesting destinations within a few hours drive of Charleston, S.C. Carol Antman’s passion for outdoor and artistic experiences feeds her wanderlust for exotic and nearby adventures. For hot links, photographs and previous columns or to make comments please see www.peaksandpotholes.blogspot.com.