Care for the stranded traveller

Travel, especially when you are an independent consultant, can have unexpected challenges.

I arrived in Khartoum in the early morning. That is how the plane schedule works. And I hadn’t thought to find out the name of the hotel where I was staying, because someone was going to meet me.

I had forgotten that I had to put a hotel name on the form you fill out for the immigration desk, so I made a stab at what I thought the hotel name might be. It didn’t seem to be a problem; I got through.

After I got off the plane, I had put on my head covering and the long coat I had gotten in Somaliland, in order to seem respectful of local customs. I got my battered suitcase off the luggage belt, and I headed outside the luggage area.

No one had a sign with my name on it. No one approached me to ask if I was the person they were supposed to meet. I got a bottle of water, and sat down to wait.

I waited for a long time, so long that most passengers had gone.

After a time, a taxi driver approached and asked if I needed a ride into town. I said I was waiting for someone to meet me.

He went off, probably to pray, and then he came back sometime later. He asked again, if I wanted to go into town. It was about 4 a.m. by then. He seemed like a kind man.

I asked if he knew any hotels in town where I might stay, and he said he knew one. I panicked, in the taxi, when I realized I didn’t know how far it was to town. Did I have enough US dollars? I asked him how much it would be, and panicked again when he said $50. But it turned out he was talking about the hotel, not the taxi ride.

He brought me to a nice-looking hotel, and I checked in. In the morning, I called my friend, who was by then worrying about me. A family emergency meant she couldn’t come to meet me herself, so she had asked someone else to do it. That person likely had not expected to see a North American woman wearing a head covering and long coat, so probably I had caused confusion myself.

We had coffee, laughed about the situation, and she took me to the hotel she had booked, which was near her office.

It was not the first time I had neglected to get details I needed before I travelled. One other time, I had been going to Juba, in South Sudan, and someone was going to pick me up.

I got to the airport, lined up in the self-organizing line to get my passport stamped, retrieved my suitcase, had it inspected, and moved out to the front of the building. But there was no one there to meet me.

I spent time chatting with some of the taxi drivers loitering there, explaining that I was being met. Soon, however, the sky clouded over and it looked as if it was going to rain.

I thought I had better take some action. I remembered a hotel name from an Irish friend who had been in Juba earlier that year, and a taxi driver took me there.

The cost of a room for the night was high – $125 US, as I recall – but the hotel said it had internet. I could send a message, and find out where I should be, I thought. And if the worst came to the worst, I could stay there overnight.

The storm hit as I was headed to the room, which was one half of a trailer unit. I tried to log in to the internet on my laptop. It didn’t work. Then I started to hear a loud pounding noise, which I thought might be coming from the other half of the unit. Was there a maniac next door, I wondered. But it was pouring rain outside, far too strongly to go outside.

When the rain finally slowed down, I ran to the main office to say that I couldn’t log on to the internet. Along the way, I discovered that what I had thought was pounding on the wall was actually nuts falling on to the roof from the trees above the huts. I laughed at myself.

The hotel let me send a message via their internet. Soon, the person I was meeting drove up to the hotel, explaining that another international person working with their group had had a major health emergency and they had been at the hospital with her since the night before.

The hotel was very pleasant and gave me the money back, although they didn’t have to, and several hours after landing in Juba, I was finally at the hotel where the workshop was taking place.

I had gotten careless, I guess, after much travel over the previous year. I should have made a note of relevant information like hotel names and phone numbers – and from then on, I did.

But these incidents were encouraging in a way. They showed me that in every place you go, no matter where it might be, there are people who will do their best to help a stranded traveller.

Airlines, unfortunately, are not so kind when it comes to the problem of a badly battered suitcase. Now I travel with one that is much harder to damage.