I asked for adventure and the Universe delivered.
It was only day two and nothing was going according to plan. But that’s okay— unpredictability was expected, it was, in a way, part of the plan.
I almost postponed my flight to Florida just a week ago, worried about COVID restrictions and rising infections, toxic algae in the Gulf of Mexico, and facing this new world shaped by the pandemic in which uncertainty reigns and flexibility is mandatory. But I was reminded that this scenario isn’t likely to change anytime soon and if I want to travel, I’ll have to adapt.
So I left Colombia, again, and flew to Fort Lauderdale. My flight was delayed and seemed to take an eternity, which should’ve given me a clue about what was coming.
For hours, I had to deal with the FLL airport, which easily jumped to the top of my ‘worst airports in the world’ list: staff are unfriendly, disorganised, and unhelpful. There were thousands of passengers waiting to get their luggage, pass immigration, and catch connections, but that was of no consequence to the airport staff who stood around expressionless as people begged them for answers: Why is the line so long? Why isn’t it moving? Why are there only four immigration officers on duty? Why did every single plane from Latin America and the Caribbean land at the exact same time? People missed their connecting flights and I stood in line for about three hours before finally making it outside.
I was expecting to be picked up by the hotel shuttle but that didn’t happen either and I guess pay phones (or free phones like I’ve seen in other US airports) don’t seem to exist here, which made calling the hotel impossible (can’t buy a SIM card either!). So I took an Uber and when I finally got to my hotel room just before midnight, a notification popped up on my phone: my morning flight to Tampa had been cancelled. Sorry!
No further action could be taken. So I ordered tacos (delicious, wonderful, amazing tacos), showered, and sat down to find a solution. Unfortunately, trains were all booked out and flights were too expensive last-minute, which is how I ended up booking a seat on a bus across Florida.
I didn’t feel like spending a couple of hours watching Fox News in the hotel lobby so I figured I’d go to the bus station early. That was a mistake. I was dropped off at the train station instead and had to walk under the blazing sun to a bus stop in the middle of nowhere and sit for over an hour with no bathrooms, vending machines (they’re a staple of American life, come on) or an internet connection where the only nearby structure was a juvenile detention centre. And did I mention it’s really hot in summer in South Florida?
At least I wasn’t alone: I met disgruntled travellers from Haiti, Brasil, and Argentina and we bonded over the awful smell of the overflowing garbage bins and the absurdity that this —this bench in the middle of a concrete parking lot— was the official bus stop for state-wide travel.
It wasn’t fun but it was kind of funny, I have to admit; I left Colombia in search of something better and this is where I ended up? The Universe definitely has a sense of humour.
And although I would only wish the hell that is FLL on my worst enemies, it all worked out and I eventually made it to my home for the next few weeks: St. Petersburg.
I’m sure this won’t be the last time something like this will happen as I attempt to cross the Atlantic in a few weeks and get to Europe, but I’m ready for what the road will bring and what (and who) I will find on the way. Because it’s the people I meet in the endless queues and remote bus stops that make those moments memorable and remind me there is still some good in the world— sometimes you just have to go out of your way to find it.
Follow along on my blog and social media @LauraRepoOrtega and keep me company on this new journey, wherever you might be and wherever I may end up.
All photos shot on iPhone