by Robert & Doni Belau
We have some close friends who have traveled extensively, even more than we have, which is saying a lot. Once we start winding each other up about airline stories, passport mishaps and luggage calamities, it can go on for hours. That our friend is an Irishman with a great gift for story-telling usually means you’re begging him to stop so you can catch your breath in between bouts of uncontrollable laughter. Misadventure is funnier with an Irish accent. Today, we might have outdone him.
Travel during Covid and post 9/11 is a lot more difficult than normal, as you might expect. When you’re also traveling with an “emotional support dog” it’s even more challenging. (Who’s giving who “emotional support” is a question for another time). Add to the mix being in Mexico, not speaking good Spanish and traveling to Honduras, a country not many Americans apparently go to during this time, and you’ve got yourself the ingredients of a travel disaster. Considering that our company creates Luxury Tours For Women, what ensued turned out to be a little bit less than glamorous.
Add to the mix that we’ve been driving a rental car all over Mexico; not exactly a low-stress endeavor. The drive from Valle de Bravo to the Mexico City Airport is an adventure that would challenge Cortés himself – smoke from burning crop chaff blanketing the highway thicker than the thickest Maine fog, unmarked “topes”(speed bumps), toll plazas that require electronic tags that you don’t have, and dubious directions (thanks Google) taking us off
every free-moving highway and onto every congested city street. Seeing the Alamo car rental drop-off at the airport made us want to yell, “Land Ho!”. My husband slowly loosened his white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel, confident we were past the worst of it.
It’s when we arrive at the AeroMexico check-in and the attendant asks for our boarding passes that my husband realizes he doesn’t have his cell phone. There are certain body parts that this man, my lovely husband of 33 years, would miss less than his precious cell phone. This pushes him over the edge. Normally, a calm guy, he’s now frantically tearing through all our bags looking for his lost appendage. In the process, he, he breaks the zipper of a large suitcase and somehow injures himself. Now there’s blood running down his hand to contend with. Quick, get out your laptop and run Apple’s “Find my Phone”. You can clean the blood off your keyboard later. Foiled! No internet service in the airport! Call the missing phone; no answer!
And it’s hot, and we’re wearing masks, and we have a dog.
Somehow, I summoned the necessary calm, found a number for Alamo at the airport, and armed with nothing more than some 8th grade Spanish, tried to explain my husband’s cell phone may be there. At this point, the Luxury Womens’ Trips that I guide and wax on about daily seemed a distant memory. Wasn’t this exactly what people hired me to help them avoid??
Apparently, that little noise we heard when the rental car shuttle minivan took a corner at high speed was my husband’s cell phone falling to the bottom of the van. Disaster averted. An angel from Alamo returns to the terminal with the missing phone. Big exhale.
Back at the check-in counter, there was never a moment when the attendant wasn’t confused. “Where are you going? Honduras? I don’t think I’m aware of that flight. Oh, that flight.” On and on. Paperwork for the dog – “You sent it in? We don’t have it”.
Paperwork for Honduras, “You need to fill out this form You did fill it out online? Where’s the receipt? The website doesn’t issue a receipt? Hmmm. Let me disappear for 30 minutes to go talk to my supervisor”. “My supervisor needs to see that piece of paper you showed me an hour ago”. “Let me go talk to my supervisor again”.
If we had arrived unprepared, that would be one thing. But I had meticulously researched the requirements for traveling with a dog from one Latin American country to another during Covid. No mean feat, but I was prepared, filled out, submitted and signed.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking – tick tock, tick tock.
Despite our overland adventure to get to the airport and the missing phone drama, we were still at the airport hours in advance. But with each visit to her supervisor behind the curtain, or was it the Wizard of Oz, our cushion was feeling thinner and thinner.
Now there’s 20 minutes before our flight is scheduled to take off. We are fully contemplating the calamity of missing this flight – reclaiming our luggage, finding a place to stay in Mexico City, the money wasted on pre-paid bookings in Honduras, the next flight not for 2 days, etc when the attendant emerges from the AeroMexico inner sanctum, where dreams are made and hopes are dashed, and says, “Let’s go!”. We run to the airport security with the AeroMexico attendant, in high heels and a full-length wool coat I might add, running with us
I don’t know what our dog Hugo thought about the past several hours’ proceedings, but apparently his conclusion was that he really needed to pee. And pee he did. I’m running to security and can’t figure out why he’s being being so difficult when I look back to see that he’s digging in with his feet, sliding across the airport leaving a 50 yard trail of pee behind him. “Cleanup on aisle 5!”
At security, there’s a family with twin babies and an armada of strollers ahead of us. The babies must be held at arms length through the metal detectors, much to their horror. The strollers are harder to disassemble than a piece of Ikea furniture.
Our turn: take the dog’s collar off and hold him at arms length through the metal detector. Hugo’s not thrilled with that maneuver, but at least I know he’s already peed. He’s even less thrilled by being frisked by airport security. For a moment, I thought we were in for a canine cavity search. I suppose people have tried to smuggle drugs in every imaginable way, but a Cocker Spaniel mule?
Finally, we’re through security – 5 minutes left. What are the chances our gate is the very last one? 100%. With an escort from a new AeroMexico guy, we start running for it.
There’s nothing like a little run to get our Hugo’s GI tract working. As we race along past gate after gate, Hugo starts dropping poop bombs, one after another. To his credit, he never breaks stride. All I could think about was a line from Bridesmaids, “Look away! Look away!
We make it to the plane in a full Nixon flop-sweat. At least we know Hugo will be good to go for the flight.
There was a 1% chance we’d make that flight. Deep breath. Exhale. Laugh hysterically.
The flight to Honduras was uneventful, which, after the day’s events felt like winning the lottery. In the San Pedro de Sula airport, there’s a brief kerfuffle over animal vaccinations, how to print proof thereof, and how to pay a cash fee in Honduran Lempira before you leave customs and can get Honduran Lempira. As it turns out, everyone loves a crisp $50 bill.
We’re overnighting in San Pedro Sula before the 3+ hour drive the next morning to La Ceiba on the coast to catch the ferry to Utila. In the taxi on the way to the hotel, we remarked how unbelievable the day’s events had been, but soon we’d have an adult beverage and all would be forgotten. We had booked ourselves into the Hyatt Place.
The pictures online portrayed the swankest hotel in town – a welcome haven after an arduous day of travel. Luxury Womens Tours and that glamorous exciting travel sense seemed within reach again. When we arrive, there’s one small problem: it’s not open for business. How a hotel can confirm a reservation, confirm they allow pets, and not actually be open is something someone will have to explain to me one day.
We had passed a Hilton (above) on the way; let’s go back there and see if they have a room. The good news: they have plenty of rooms. The bad news: no pets allowed. Quick, start calling hotels with your 8th grade Spanish and see if they’re open, have a room available right now, and allow pets.
The cumulative effect of the day’s calamities must have shown on my face, because the woman at reception at the Hilton took pity on me, made a few calls, and got permission to give us a room. “The dog is well behaved, yes? You’ll pay for any damage, yes?” Absolutely. He only soils airports.
A lengthy session with Dr. Absolut and his band of merry ice cubes ensued. Travel can be so glamorous!
PS For much less drama and much more fun, consider taking one of our Women Only Tours … I promise you there will be no dogs involved!