Lost in Transit: Arriving

Tunisia – December 2009

I was not supposed to be here. I’d planned out a month-long trip through Southeast Asia that perfectly filled my winter break. However, it meant that I had to depart no later than Saturday, December 12. Slight problem: One of my best friends was getting married on Sunday, December 13. Back to the drawing board.

While I had considered other trips besides Southeast Asia, looking over them now that I needed an alternative, I came to the realization that none really interested me anymore. Then I received a catalog from a tour company I had traveled with before and noticed they had started offering a week-long trip to Tunisia and that got my attention. Traveling from Southern California to Tunisia for less than ten days wasn’t the best plan, but Tunisia was a country I’d always wanted to visit, and something was better than nothing.

Normally I fly through Los Angeles, which is a ninety-minute drive from my house in good traffic. As flying to Tunis was going to require a layover anyway, I decide instead to fly from Ontario, which is less than a thirty-minute drive. It’s not an ideal route—Ontario to Salt Lake City to Paris to Tunis—but it beats having to deal with LA traffic.

While waiting for my delayed Salt Lake City flight, I receive a text from Air France letting me know my Tunis flight had been cancelled and thanking me for my understanding. After nearly an hour on hold, I reach someone at Air France who confirms that my Tunis flight has been cancelled but they can get me on the last flight out that day. Just as this is being completed, they realize that since I originally booked with a different carrier, I’d have to contact that carrier to complete the transaction. When I do, they do not show that my Tunis flight has been cancelled, so I head to Paris with the status of my Tunis flight unknown.

As my connection to Paris is now under fifteen minutes, I’m moved to the very front of the plane so that I have the best chance of making the flight. Once in Salt Lake City, I’m let off first and make a mad dash for my Paris connection. I just make it, then sit on the tarmac for over an hour because the plane is overweight, and they need passengers to volunteer to disembark and stay the night.

I arrive in Paris nearly two hours late and head to a long line for Air France filled with other passengers who have missed their connections. When it’s finally my turn, I am informed that yes, my flight was cancelled (though I would have missed it anyway) but they can get me on a flight leaving the next day, getting me to Tunis by 3pm. As the tour I am joining is leaving that morning, I suggest just returning me to California. Suddenly a place for me is found on the 9pm flight, which departs at 11pm, landing in Tunis just before 2am.

By 3am it’s clear that my luggage did not make it, so it’s off to another long line at lost luggage. I had fully intended on traveling with only carry-ons this trip but changed my mind at the last minute. Now I’m stuck with a day pack that essentially carries only my camera, travel guide, and phone. To make matters worse, every so often a load of found luggage is brought out and you have to make the choice of staying in line and assuming your bag is not there or getting out of line to see if you’re lucky. I wasn’t lucky.

A lost luggage claim finally filed (thank you high school French), I arrive at my hotel at 4:30am to discover I have a 6:30am wake-up call scheduled. I shower and clean my clothes as best I can. I try to rest a bit but am awoken at 6am by the day’s first call to prayer from a nearby minaret. When I finally meet my guide, she informs me that I’ll be able to retrieve my lost luggage only when we return to Tunis, which is in five days. Time to improvise.

I don’t join my tour for breakfast, opting instead to try to get a bit more rest in my room, so the first time I see any of them is on the bus. That’s when I notice a striking Chinese woman who appears to be traveling with her mother. My journal from that time notes “a beautiful Chinese girl with a lovely British accent” and further, inaccurately records that “I could be smitten if there wasn’t the fact that we’ll never see each other again.” She’d later become my wife.

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