(Twenty Eight Hours Later! Sometimes I really outdo myself. It really was about twenty eight hours between waking up at my grandma’s house and going to bed in San José).
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Let’s play a game. It’s called ‘Testing Your Limits’.
It starts like this. First, you imagine that you’ve spent the latest weeks and months paying for documents, being prodded by needles and battling incompetent dentists who are supposed to be on your side. Then, imagine you’ve packed up all your worldly belongings into a suitcase and hauled them off to your grandma’s house to spend the night that bit closer to the airport, because you’re leaving your life behind and flying to Central America.
Ok, now imagine that you have constructed these pictures in your head of what the scene will look like as you’re wandering around Costa Rica. In this imaginary imagination, you see yourself in a pair of dusty pink trousers you treated yourself to after a long period of abstinence from first-hand shopping. Imagine that these £35 trousers are the only garment you’ve bought from somewhere other than a charity shop this year, because you loved them so much when you first set eyes on them in Gap (or was it Next…?). Imagine that you still haven’t worn them because you don’t know how to take up the hems; and now, you can’t find them.
If your imagination is a potent one, you should be breaking out in a sweat already. Did I mention that it’s 1am and you have to be in a taxi to the airport by 5 the next morning for a 21-hour journey? Or that you have several pairs of jeans, a few tops and two of your best dresses still hanging up to dry because you don’t own a tumble drier and you and your flatmate have both just simultaneously washed every garment you both own in preparation for your separate trips abroad?
I didn’t already mention that? Well, that’s the situation.
Now you remember you heard something fall out of its basket in the car earlier, and you grab the keys and go look in the boot. Not a single trouser to be found. So you close the boot and turn to go inside… only the car keys aren’t in your hand any more. You look at your empty hands, dumbfounded, and then feel along the top edge of the boot, in vain. No keys. How are you going to explain this to your already-stressed-out-to-the-max mother? Should you even tell her? After all, she won’t need the car until she gets home in two weeks and by then you could have already hired a criminal to break into the boot and retrieve the keys…
But you don’t know any criminals you can trust with that sort of responsibility.
Spare keys, then. Who has a spare key? You can’t find out without asking Mum… And you can’t ask her without owning up. Why do you suck so bad at dealing with stressful situations, anyway? Remember last Christmas when you missed your flight because you got the times wrong and left the house late, and THEN ran out the door without your passport? Pull yourself together, you’re better than this.
Well, apparently, you’re not. So you start to cry. You explain to your grandma and brother what you’ve done, and they respond in a poor-Megan-can’t-help-being-useless sort of way (switch out ‘Megan’ for your own name, if it makes it easier to picture).
Your brother promises to try and track down the spare key. Your grandma goes outside to see the damage with her own eyes. She then calls you outside and indicates the lock of the boot of the car, complete with a full set of car keys attached. You just left them in the lock.
Well, now how are you supposed to feel? Relieved that you weren’t dumb enough to lock the keys inside the car; or embarrassed that you were dumb enough not to notice that you hadn’t locked them in there?
To top it all off you weigh your suitcase, realise it’s 5kg over the limit, and start to frantically remove stuff; and in so doing, you find the goddamn trousers. Again: relieved or embarrassed? You decide.
Jeez. Sort your life out, loser.
Ok, just get rid of that charger you don’t need and put those bottles of contact lens solution in your hand luggage and get to bed already. You’re clearly running on fumes here and you need to get some sleep before you do any more damage to yourself or others. Oh, but you can’t take liquids in your hand luggage, so back with the lens solution and you’ve returned to Square One. You’ll be much more mentally equipped to sort this out tomorrow morning after a nice hot shower and a coffee. Good job your mum’s set an alarm nice and early.
You can’t sleep. You toss and turn, but it’s not just your body that’s restless. You can’t stop distracting yourself, and you keep waking up every half-hour or so, and not falling asleep for another 30 minutes. Finally, around half past three, you fall asleep for real… and wake up at 4:40, twenty minutes before the taxi is due. What was that Mum had said about setting an alarm?
Ok, well, it could be worse. Just as well you woke up: you can still make it in time, although unless you want to fly transatlantic with wet hair you won’t have time to shower. You stuff those damp clothes in your bag and put on your new hiking sandals for the second time ever; and just as the phone announces the arrival of the taxi, one of your shoes falls apart. You send your poor grandmother off to find a needle and thread while the driver waits outside, and when she returns, you take the sewing kit, mutter a hasty goodbye and bundle everything into the taxi.
Had enough yet? I didn’t say this was a fun game, and i did say it was a game of endurance. Remember, it’s only 5am – only Hour One with at least twenty more coming your way.
You try to sew your shoe back together on the taxi ride because you can’t walk around the airport with a broken shoe, and your other shoes are all inaccessible. But the suspension in that thing is so God-awful, and your needle so bent, that by the time you’ve reached the airport, you and your mother between you have managed approximately three stitches. That’s when your mum’s phone rings, and it’s your grandma. Oh God, what on earth can you have forgotten that’s so important she’s calling you back? Your grandma needs to learn that anything from the Body Shop is not worth calling you to tell you about. She says ‘It looks like something important for your mouth’. ‘Oh, my breakfast you mean? Yeah, I noticed I didn’t have that’.
So you proceed without what you can only assume are your eyelash curlers, get in line with a floppy shoe and wait for nearly 40 minutes to check in; occasionally interrupting your amateur tinkering to move forward several inches, because the man in the grey suit behind you is invading your personal space in an attempt to move you further on in the queue and get to the checkout faster. By the way, you hate people who think that that makes any difference whatsoever to whether or not you catch your flight. He’s probably flying to Manchester at 6:45am for a business conference, and he’s eyeing your mum’s make-do-and-mend valiance with a deprecating and shameless sneer. FU Mr. Armani – if you were spending six months volunteering in Costa Rica at the tender age of nineteen whilst also investing in a wonderful yet expensive long-distance relationship, your walking sandals would probably be off-brand ones on clearance at Mountain Warehouse, too.
Brush it off, brush it off. Just check in for your flight to San José while he heads for the dizzying heights of Manchester. Then go get a coffee with your mum before you head on through security and she waits around for her later flight at 8 o’clock. You wait for 15 minutes for someone to search your bag and confiscate your scissors, and make it through to the departures lounge just in time to hear your name being called as you’re delaying your flight. What? The departure time is 6:45 and it’s only 6:20! But you were supposed to catch the shuttle bus out to the plane at 6:15… Oh. So you run to Gate 1J and make it onto your plane with all six of the other passengers, and enjoy a relatively quiet and unperturbed hour-long flight.
It’s going to get a little easier now. As your mother did in fact heroically finish the repairs on the infamous shoe, you’re feeling pretty mobile right about now, which is exactly how you need to feel. Only a two-hour wait in Manchester airport (which, you make a mental note, can function as a wedding venue), until your mother arrives and you can wait the next two hours together for the next exciting stage of your journey – an hour of chilling on the runway on a plane followed by seven more of transatlantic cruisin’. Now all you have to contend with are the temperature, which makes you all clammy and uncomfortable and moist; the attendant who snaps at you when you ask for sugar for your coffee; and the lack of even the usual 2% incline on your seat back.
Yes, you’ve been allocated a seat on the shittiest row on the plane again: it’s almost as though it’s reserved for you on every plane you take. Four times is it, now, that you’ve been stuck here? Not even on the non-reclining emergency-exit seat where at least you get extra leg room and VIP access to the exterior of the plane in the event of a crash: no, you’re in the non-reclining seat in front of it, directly over the wing so there is no view, and next to the engine which rumbles into your brain for seven hours solid, threatening to vibrate your neo cortex right out of your head as you nap for six-minute periods at a time.
After all this, if you’re still in the game, you can handle just about anything. So you barely even care when you’re so desperate to bathe yourself in travel wipes that you duck out of the immigration queue and return to find in your way an influx of migrants who all probably had time for a shower that morning. You just enjoy the cheesy ‘Welcome to the United States’ video and the not-so-gentle irony of the plaque that reads “We pledge to cordially and courteously greet and welcome you to the U.S.A.”, over which the CBP officer yells that the lady behind you is the last woman she’ll serve and the rest of them better get back in the general line.
You push on through. You make it to baggage claim and re-check your suitcase at customs. Then you clear security and, finally, make it to the gate for your third and final flight of the day: the one that will touch down in San José, Costa Rica, at what would be 3:30am back home (remember what time you fell asleep last night? Yeah, that 3:30am).
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So how did you do? Make it to Level 12 – San José? As for me, I’m not actually there yet. I think the account of my glorious arrival in San José will want to be as far away as possible from this – let’s call a spade a spade – slightly pessimistic entry: which is fair enough, I suppose. I’m pretty used to the whole 15-hour+ journey thing, and the most important lesson I’ve learned is this: the day of that journey does not count as a day. A day is a period during which you get up in the morning, prepare yourself for the next several hours, set out goals and tasks and get through them, occasionally stopping to rest or eat before preparing for bed and returning to it, to repeat the next thing again tomorrow. This journey is not one of those. Just write it off. Nothing you say or do matters except clearing those checkpoints and making those flights. Your personal feelings do not matter.
This lesson is also known as “Choose Your Battles”. Some days are just lost causes, not worth fighting for. I almost cried twice today, in quick succession. The first time was on the long-haul flight when the coffee-serving flight attendant responded to my “Excuse me – excuse me, sir, do you have any sugar?” (Exact wording, I swear) with “Did you ask for sugar?”, and my response of “No…” with “Well I guess I’ll just have to give you some now then”. The second time was later when we had landed and were pussy-footing about on the funway (by which I mean, runway) when all I wanted was a bathroom where I could strip off and go to town with those handy travel wipes. I felt so disgusting, I can’t even describe. (That’s why I didn’t take any pictures to accompany this post – sorry :P)
But again, you have to pick your battles. I will never be that girl in the airport, wheeling her tiny designer carry-on suitcase behind her chic four-inch wedges and her pretty summer minidress from which she extends her waxed and tanned legs; hair perfectly curled and fixed with spray, lip gloss just so, fresh as a daisy. Maybe if I had a straight flight from Newark to Miami as she presumably did, I could look like that if I put a couple of hours effort into it. But I don’t, so I’m not going to bother trying to win that one. As for me, all I can say is thank the good Lord that I don’t have a strapping, clean-shaven young man waiting for me at the end of this particular saga. I mean, I miss you Grant, but trust me – it’s better this way.
There it is again: choose your battles. And the fight to see my boyfriend is better off won in three short weeks than right now. After all, it’s still the 1st of July, and the 1st of July is a write-off, remember? It doesn’t count. All that has to be achieved is my (and Mum’s) arrival at the Casa del Parque hostel. Everything else is as insignificant as I feel up here in the clouds, looking down at the tiny bustling beings in the whole huge wide world.