Serendipity, Part 1

All travelers eventually find themselves in a particular boat: the boat of No Hope At All.

Everything has gone wrong, a series of poor choices has collided with fickle fate, you missed your flight, the cab driver drove off with your purse and passport, the sun has burned out, whatever…you find yourself simply screwed.

The only option that is available is to take a very deep breath. (Try not to scream on the exhale–it’s poor form.) Take stock. Assess the damage. Ponder your next steps (likely options: bank, hotel, embassy, hospital, nearest orphanage), and figure out how to get yourself out of the current mess. Sometimes, you realize you must simply submit to the whims of the universe, suck up whatever misfortune has befallen, and live to fight another day. Count your blessings–the miracles of modern overnight freight, the internet, and international toll-free calling have reduced many travel emergencies to the “inconvenient” level.

I’ve been on the boat of No Hope at All so many times, I should be considered honorary crew. Missed flights and luggage missing for 9 days in Honduras, 24 hours of travel time to Georgia with no hotel or pickup details (or money or ability to contact my colleagues), jumped by a devious Italian in Rimini…but, generally, everything turns out alright after the discomfort and inconvenience and fright have passed.

But sometimes, you get a little something special. Your entire world goes to shit, and then the universe rewards you with something you never expected. Something you might not even have suspected you deserved: Serendipity.

Before the internet made travel a lot easier, a friend and I planned a dive trip to Puerto Rico that involved circumnavigating the island, staying in a string of paradores–small, family-run inns. The inns all worked together to coordinate travelers’ reservations and routes, so we could essentially have one inn call ahead to the next to arrange our stay. They were all certified by a government agency to uphold certain standards of cleanliness and amenities, while being a low-key, local alternative to big chain hotels.

At the third parador, we ran into a difficulty. It was described as being “centrally located, close to everything.” We’d hired a driver to get us to the small town, where the diving was said to be excellent. We couldn’t find the inn on our map, nor could we figure out where it was in relation to the town or dive shops, but we figured all would be fine.

Turns out, it was, indeed, centrally located: Equidistant from every fucking thing we could possibly want–groceries, restaurants, diving, ANYTHING resembling human habitation. We needed a rental car, we decided. We had not wanted to rent a car, but when the dive shop, the town, and anything resembling food was 5 miles away, we didn’t have a choice.  We talked to the front desk–they called around. No cars were available. We were stranded for an unspecified period of time. We wouldn’t be able to dive. We wouldn’t be able to eat. We walked around a bit, and found an ugly strip mall a couple of miles away. We also found a payphone, and decided to make some calls.

The next valley over had a high-end, 5-star resort. Surely they must have a car rental desk? We called them. No, sorry…nothing available.

As we cursed our shitty luck, we simultaneously ran out of coins for the phone.

My travel buddy asked a nearby man–a nearby, shady-looking man–if he had change. He did. Then he asked what was wrong. She told him the whole story, while I cringed, thinking he was up to something no good, and she was giving out way too much information.

Then the man says his “friend” works at the resort, in the car rental section. You don’t say, said my inner cynic, wondering how the scam worked, exactly. AND it turns out he’s a taxi driver, who happens to be off-duty, and he’ll take us to the resort to pick up the car.

Yeah, right.

I reluctantly get in his taxi with my friend, assuming we should probably live or die together. She is aghast at my suspicion, my lack of talking, my narrowed/untrusting eyes. She sits in the front seat, chatting up our “savior,” while I glower in the backseat. Bad cop to her good cop.

We arrive at the super-fancy 5-star resort and walk up to the rental counter. Where we encounter the taxi driver’s dear friend, who whispers to us secretively: there’s really only one car left and it just got returned and hasn’t been checked in yet.  We wouldn’t have gotten it if she and Raul weren’t the closest of friends. We go out to see the car. It is the only one in the rental area. The taxi driver and the rental agent hug warmly and say goodbye. The taxi driver turns to us, and, with a huge smile, says “Enjoy your stay in Puerto Rico.” He drives off.

I, of course, feel like an asshole. A blessed asshole.

We now have wheels, can go diving, and–most vitally–don’t get stranded again for the rest of the trip.

Click here for part 2.

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