Saturday, March 21, 2015

Part One: A Blog Post with Baggage

By Conor King Devitt

I find the cliché questions and answers surrounding exotic travel quite funny.
“How did it change you?”
“It really opened my eyes.”
“It made me thankful for what I have.”
“It was so real, you know?”
Not to say that all or any of the sentiments are untrue. Clichés become so for a reason. Yet, as a group, they seem to exist in the worlds of how and should, while travel itself just is.
Academia and career fields ask and answer with how and should. That is how they operate successfully, how one learns to navigate their difficult and unforgiving waters with grace.
But apart from the blending routine of work and play, a journey just is something, without a systemized input, output or road map.
Mining any benefit from it involves experiencing that something. Something forking the straight road of stagnancy, forcing the mind to adapt to the unseen and unknown. Something more salient than the plodding circulation of academic work weeks and boozy weekends. Something activating your sense as a human being, alive and absorbing. Something that is.
This week has been something.
We didn’t sleep on Friday night, electing to depart Pullman at three in the morning to catch a 7 a.m. flight out of Spokane. Jitters and last-minute tasks kept me awake until my alarm sung at 2:30.
The airport security guards were amused at our destination.
“Galapagos Islands? How in the hell you swing that one?”
Obviously they didn’t peg us as security threats.
The Delta gate was surprisingly crowded. Midwesterners heading home for spring break. The fully caffeinated desk lady kept chirping into the intercom.
“We have a full flight, ladies and gentlemen,” she said. “That means we need people to volunteer their bags for checking. It will be free! Please do so, because we’ll need to do it anyways and this will speed up the boarding process.”
I looked at my bulging duffel bag.
This ain’t making it on the plane, I thought.
The elderly lady sitting next to me agreed.
“Just check it,” she said. “It’ll be easier.”
I lumbered over to the gate, duffel in hand. It held my sleeping bag, all of my clothing and one of the Murrow College’s cameras, on loan to me (approx. value: $500) for the week. The mustached baggage man reached out to tag my luggage. I didn’t relinquish it immediately.
“I’m going to Quito, Ecuador,” I said. “You think this’ll make it there alright?”
“Oh yeah, no problem,” the baggage man replied. “What you taking, three flights? Yeah, it’ll it get to… whatever that place is. Can’t pronounce it.”
Alright, sounds like a safe bet. Makes my marathon travel session a bit easier, right?
Our flights ate the duration of the day. Spokane to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Atlanta, Atlanta to Quito. It was 10:30 pm by the time we cleared Ecuadorean customs. Finally, our first real destination. Just had to swoop my bag on the way out.
“Conor De-Vitt, please report to baggage claim immediately.”
My bag didn’t make it. Of course. Delayed by a day, set to arrive the next night in Quito.
“But I’m leaving for the Galapagos tomorrow morning!” I said to the baggage clerk, nervous sweat setting fire to my forehead.
“It’s okay,” he said. “We send it there. We’ve done it before.”
The clerk filled out a yellow slip and asked for a number to call.
“I don’t have one that works in the Southern hemisphere,” I replied.
He penned a few digits on the back of the slip.
“You call tomorrow,” he said. “Need to call to confirm.”
And that was begrudgingly it. I assumed there was a 50 percent chance I’d ever see my bag again. Marc and I left the airport and met up with the people arranged to take us into Quito, a local university student and his father.
We zipped along the Ecuadorean highway, central streetlights making the curving road look like a nighttime ski run at Snoqualmie Pass. After 40 minutes, we entered boxy Quito and pulled up at an apartment building.
We took the matchbox elevator to the 8th floor. Our host, Olga, was waiting for us. After dancing for a minute in what seemed like a glacier-fed shower, I fell asleep wearing a pair of Marc’s shorts and no shirt, feeling a bit under-clothed in the foreign night.
We slept for about five hours and then scarfed a breakfast of mango juice and eggs. Olga’s husband quickly drove us back to the airport, 90’s American pop music blasting from his USB plug-in.
I had to figure my shit out before departing for San Cristobal Island. I tried dialing the yellow baggage slip’s two numbers on a payphone. Dead ends. Checked my e-mail on a pay computer. Nothing. Couldn’t find any Delta employees working yet on check in.
I combed the airport for offices, finding a secure hallway with signs pointing to the Delta office. Blazing past a security guard with rushed, butchered Spanglish, I found Delta’s door and knocked.
A young man in a suit answered and assured me they would route my duffel to San Cristobal. It would arrive tomorrow, probably early in the morning. I was partially convinced.
At 10 a.m., we boarded the plane to the islands. Our carry-on luggage was fumigated on the way, hopefully preventing the unwanted taxi service of any invasive species.
Three hours later, we landed. The island looked fairly desolate, but the pungent Pacific air tasted sweet and breezy. Marc and I hi-fived on the tarmac. We’d made it.

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