Heading Home: Travel Tales

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

Martin and I had decided to wear comfortable Tevas on the plane home, rather than our heavy hiking boots, which were now expertly stowed in our very-full travel bag. Feeling perky in my Tevas and socks, I step out of the hotel room, ready to head to the airport.

Martin and Dakota eye my footwear. “Er,” they both murmur doubtfully. “Are you, er, planning on going out like that?”

“Oh yes!” I exclaim cheerfully. “I love this look! Tevas and socks! It’s cute!”

Martin and Dakota exchange worried looks. “Noooooooo,” they say slowly. “Cute? No… not cute, not really.”

“Not cute?” I am surprised. “Tevas with socks? It’s cute! All the guys will be looking at me!”

“Yes,” they both agree unhappily. “They most certainly will.”

Come on, tell the truth. Aren’t Tevas with socks cute?

Besides, what do Martin and Dakota know about girls looking cute?

They’re just a couple of guys.

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There was chaos at the airport, a long line at the United Airlines counter. We pushed our luggage ahead of us as we inched forward. We were behind a biggish family made up of two adults and four children, ranging in age from mid-teens to early-twenties, and someone’s fat-cheeked baby. I became annoyed when I overheard them inform an airline official that they’d left their four bulging pieces of luggage unattended at the front of the line. They were going to snake their way up to the waiting bags.

Apparently they didn’t want to carry their luggage through the line, like everyone else.

They certainly had their hands full with the baby, stroller, diaper bags, the four kids, and tons of carry-on luggage. Still… The rest of us are managing to handle our own bags! Show some personal responsibility! If you can’t carry it, maybe you shouldn’t bring it!

And you certainly shouldn’t leave your bags unattended. Isn’t there a rule against that?

So when they finally got to the airline counter, I watched with smug satisfaction when it became clear that their biggest bag was over the fifty-pound weight limit. Inwardly rolling my eyes, I watched contemptuously as they hurriedly unzipped the luggage, revealing stacks of neatly-folded clothing. They quickly transferred a pile of T-shirts to another, lighter, bag.

“Morons!” I thought uncharitably. “They don’t carry their own bags through the line, and they can’t even get the weight limit right! It’s amazing they can manage international travel at all! They’re not like us. We know what we’re doing.”

And I shoved our own heavy bag forward with my foot.

Never forget: What goes around, comes around.

Our bag was over the 50-pound weight limit, just like theirs.

We could either remove four pounds’ worth of stuff, or pay a $200 fine. There was no other choice: We would have to pull out and wear our heavy hiking boots, and pack the lighter-weight Tevas.

Martin unzipped the bag that he had expertly packed, and threw it open for all to see. It was like Mary Poppins’ bag, holding far, far more than physically possible.

It was stuffed. And I’m not talking about neatly-stacked, neatly-folded clothing.

Underwear was stuffed into coffee mugs, bras were crammed between tripod legs, socks padded gift items, every article was nested tightly together to maximize space. It was a jam-packed puzzle piece.

And it all had to come out – all of it, bras, underwear, clothing, gifts – to get down to the hiking boots.

It was not pretty.

We crouched at the airline counter, pawing through the bag, flinging aside underwear and bras, tossing up socks, rummaging down to find the boots, completely unpacking our bag right there in the airport – and discovered a gift bag of coffee had broken open.

Coffee grounds were everywhere. They covered all our clothes, sifted into every crack, spilled from the sides of the luggage. Puffs of coffee dust wafted up as we scrabbled around looking for our boots. Fine coffee peppered the airport floor as we finally pulled our boots from the depths of the bag.

We poured a dusty brown waterfall of excess grounds from the shoes.

I felt daggers from other passengers being hurled into my back. “Morons!” they screamed. “These people don’t  know what they’re doing! It’s a wonder they manage international travel at all! They can’t get the weight limit right, they’re having to empty their whole bag, right here in front of us! Bras and underwear strewn everywhere, what a mess! They can’t even pack so their coffee doesn’t bust open!”

I could feel their contempt radiating into my back. I cringed; it seemed fairly deserved.

We hastily kicked off our Tevas, shoving them into the disastrous bag. Successfully under the weight limit, the bag was placed on a conveyor belt and disappeared onto the airport’s bowels, where it belonged.

We resolutely refused to think about that bag again as it was thrown from plane to plane, traveling across nations, shaken vigorously about during our turbulent flight home.

Coffee was undoubtedly pouring happily out of its broken bag with every bump and rattle.

I will never again think uncharitable thoughts about whoever is in front of me in line. Even if they kind of deserve it.

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We would have to buy breakfast on the plane. Guess what they were serving?

Breakfast burritos.

I’ve eaten a burrito – actually, two burritos, breakfast and dinner – virtually every single day of our two-week vacation.

I am done with burritos.

But at least it wasn’t made with unidentifiable meat and pressed cheese. That was a step up.

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In Houston, we stood in the “U.S. Citizen” line to go through customs and have our passports stamped. Signs surrounded us showing smiling customs- and border patrol officials, proudly standing in front of the waving American flag, asserting We Are The Face of the Nation! They pledged to treat us with dignity, respect, professionalism and courtesy.

Dakota remembered being welcomed back into the United States after an international flight, and what a nice feeling it was, to be welcomed home.

But I remembered coming back from New Zealand and stepping into utter chaos and confusion and, yes, downright unfriendliness in Los Angeles. I wasn’t welcomed home. I was processed. Check, stamp, move along, next!

In Costa Rica, people were nearly universally friendly, smiling, gracious, and kind. I eyed the “We are the face of the nation!” signs skeptically and scanned the faces of the U.S. officials in their booths. They all looked very serious. Most wore a scowl. They didn’t look inclined to welcome me home, notwithstanding all the proud, smiling, patriotic signs around.

When it was our turn, I stepped up and brightly said, “Hi!” I thought maybe I’d startle the guy, make him look up at me. Then I’d flash him a big happy grin, and he would be inspired to say, “Well – hello! And welcome back to the United States! Good to have you back!”

But he took my passport without a word, stamped it, and asked something about whether I’d brought any contraband items into the country. I thought about making a joke (“Just the ten pounds of cocaine. That isn’t a problem, right, Officer?”) and thought better of it. No, no contraband.

Who would be dumb enough to admit it, anyway?

He wordlessly slid our passports back to us and indicated with his head that we could move along now, like cattle. I don’t think he ever even looked at me.

I can’t say he was disrespectful, or unprofessional, or discourteous… but he certainly wasn’t friendly or welcoming. This is the face of our nation? I understand he has to process a lot of people in a short amount of time, people who may often be jetlagged, exhausted, hungry, stressed out, worried about connecting flights, short-tempered, and even angry.

But Costa Rican (and New Zealand) officials have to do that, too, and they almost always do it with a friendly smile and some eye contact. Why can’t we? A quick look in the eye, a smile, and a murmured “Welcome home” would go a long way. Read the sign, buddy! You’re the face of our nation!

That, or get rid of all those stupid posters.

Because unfortunately, after the signs showing smiling customs officials, passengers are guaranteed to be disappointed with the real thing.

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We were starving after all that plane-sitting and line-standing. Wandering towards our connecting gate, we kept an eye out for fast food. There was no time to sit down in a restaurant. We needed something quick, but wanted something satisfying and yummy.

How about a nice gooey pizza, with stringy melted cheese and greasy pepperoni? Or a big ole juicy cheeseburger? Yum!

We walked and walked… past gift shops, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, bookstores, vending machines, bakeries, snack carts… Where’s the food?

Unbelievably, there was only one game in town.


Someone up there must be really pissed off at me.

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We touched down in San Francisco. We had been sitting for two days. The previous day we had driven almost eight hours from our ecolodge to Liberia. Today we had sat all day on airplanes. And Martin and I still had a two-hour drive ahead of us to get home.

The airplane taxied to a stop. I was eager to get off. The loudspeaker crackled to life, and the pilot made an announcement. To my surprise, it was not the standard “Welcome to the Bay Area, don’t forget your belongings, thank you for your business” message that I expected.

Implausibly, no one was available to procure our landing ramp. Passengers could not exit the plane. We would just sit there and wait for someone to come over and attach the landing ramp to the plane. Whenever they could get free, you know – no telling how long it might be. Until then, we’d just have to hang out and wait. Get comfortable, and thanks for flying United.

I shifted in my seat, wishing I were in Tevas and socks. I sat there, and waited.

I guess it could have been worse. They could have come around and served us burritos.

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We step into the cool San Francisco air.

It is very disorienting to be in the remote and steamy jungles of Costa Rica one day, and in the middle of San Francisco, California the next.

Our trip had been extremo-maximo-super fantastic. It was full of heady adventure, heart-stopping birds and animals, awe-inspiring beauty, and lively conversation. The trip was hugely enhanced by Dakota, whose friendship enriches our lives, buoys our spirits, and fills our hearts. As a bonus, he provides us ample and pretty much continuous fodder for merry ridicule.

Go ahead, go kayaking with the guy.  Better yet, take a hike with him around nightfall! You’ll be laughing, too.

I kick my feet, comfortable again in really-cute-looking Tevas and socks, onto the car’s dashboard for the drive home. I am heading back to my beloved dogs. My perfect husband – a man to whom I feel both grateful and lucky to be married – is at my side. I don’t have to eat another burrito for as long as I want.

Life is very, very good.

2 Comments Heading Home: Travel Tales

  1. Karen Gake

    Ok Carol, I love you, but Tevas and socks just SCREAM “Old Person” (I’m always telling Michael that you only see socks and sandals in a retirement home!) 🙂 I do have to agree with you that TSA people can tend to be very grumpy, like workers at the DMV. They know they can be grumpy because they have the power of a job where nobody can argue with them…it’s not like they get paid based on customer satisfaction!!
    Love you girl, but ditch the socks and sandals!

    1. Carol

      Karen, I’m grateful you helped me buy those cute pajamas for the Costa Rica trip, saving me from the Old Lady nightie. But I really don’t think I can give up the Tevas and socks. 🙂


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