It all began when, after 10 years of living in the U.S. I took a trip back to my hometown. As usual, LAX was packed, flights were delayed, too many announcements, and irritable; I was starving. For sure, the most stupid way to start my journey. The check-in line was long; the elderly couple behind me had a hard time, so I helped them get their luggage to the counter. The woman behind me said “Thank you!” and handed me a small card with the image of an angel. I took it and put it in my wallet, not knowing what it meant.
“Good morning, welcome to LAN Airlines. Passport please,” the check-in agent said, no smile, while hunt-and-pecking something into the computer, without even looking up from her screen. “Your boarding pass too,” holding out her hand in a gesture of dismissal and sipping a drop of her iced coffee.
Digging among all my crap in my backpack; feeling like it was about to burst at the seams; I managed to find my boarding pass and passport and put them in front of her. She did not even acknowledge either of them; she kept working on her computer screen. Finally, she looked up and gave me a tired smile, “your bag on the scale,” she mumbled and, back to her screen; I slowly lifted my heavy bag and put it on the scale, waiting for the verdict. As soon as it said hundred and thirty pounds, I knew it would be a long day. “Your bag is overweight. It’s going to be an extra fee of seventy-five dollars. Cash or card?” She asked with a raised eyebrow as if she couldn’t believe I was trying to bring my entire wardrobe on the plane. Hey, it’s been ten years. Seriously? Seventy-five bucks for a suitcase?
“I don’t have any,” I said, shrugging my shoulders and feeling embarrassed, “can I just leave this pile of crap with you?” I pleaded, noticing the disapproving look on her face. Her hair became menacing; her evil brown ponytail resembled a rat’s nest. She was clearly not a fan of overweight travelers.
“It’s going to be seventy-five dollars, cash or card,” she repeated; I sighed and felt embarrassed as people around me began noticing the drama.
I checked my wallet; there were barely fifty bucks. I had just lost my job and used the severance money to repay my debts and the ticket back home. I could not afford to lose seventy-five more bucks. Then, I made a horrible decision and fished my debit card out of my wallet, which fortunately still had some funds. The agent looked at me incredulously, grabbing my card and processing the transaction. “Thank you for your cooperation,” she said with a fake smile handing me a receipt. I could hear the rest of the passengers chatting and laughing.
I had just humiliated myself in front of the entire airport. I walked to the security checkpoint without even looking back. The security agent asked me to take off my shoes, belt, and laptop case and put them thru the x-ray machine. I finished putting my things on the security scanner, suddenly feeling a hand on my shoulder.
“Thank you again for helping us, kindness and compassion are so needed in the world today; are you alright?” It was the elderly couple I had helped at the check-in counter. They had seen the whole scene and were now comforting me; everything will be alright, they said.
“Yes, thank you,” I replied and smiled back.
I got to the gate and saw the flight was almost ready to board. I reached out to the gate agent and asked her if there was any possibility to get upgraded to first class. “Unfortunately we don’t have first-class seats left. But we may have the last business class seat available,” she said, “would that work?”
“Yes, absolutely,” I said, feeling the envy and scorn of the other passengers around. But I didn’t’ care. I was elated that I was doing some progress in life. I boarded and was seated in a fully reclinable seat; I took out my laptop and started blogging about the journey. Lesson #1 learned, never give your debit card to a check-in agent at LAX; it will only end in humiliation.
We were ready for take-off. Laptop closed, seatbelt fastened, and hoping for the best. We reached cruising altitude; the flight attendant started serving lunch. The Saltimbocca Beef Rolls in Malbec sauce were five stars. The attendant told me that the beverage and the meal were a compliment from the airline; she had probably heard of my embarrassment at the counter. Lesson #2: always bring enough money with you when traveling, in case you have to pay for your own meals. After lunch, I converted 1,000 miles of the journey into 2 hours of sleep. I woke up by an announcement at 35,000 feet: the pilots came on the loudspeaker and announced that we were making a modest flight adjustment. Apparently, there was some type of problem with the engines. We were going to make an emergency landing in Lima.
I looked out the window and saw Lima coming closer and closer. I saw my life flash before my eyes. Smoke coming out of the engines. I couldn’t believe that Death was a fellow traveler on my plane; she was coming to take me away. I read the directions for an emergency landing on a safety card that the attendant handed me. The aircraft began to do swoops and turns; the cabin crew was screaming; the passengers were panicking. Great, a safety card in my hand and an angel in my wallet. This is gonna save me, right? I thought, scared to the bone.
Finally, we touched down and came to a bumpy stop. The passengers started clapping and cheering; I was one of them. We made it, well, barely.
When I was getting off the plane, I gave a hug to the flight attendant. I’d had too many vodka tonics that day, but I was happy to have survived. Lesson #3: always bring some book to your flight, preferably some comedy, to let your mind wander away from any turbulence or annoying passenger. I headed to the transit desk, where an airline representative took me to the VIP room, where I waited for my connecting flight to Santiago.
Ah, the lounge; celestial pantry from where all passengers can partake at the will of the most exquisite refreshments, whether or not they are hungry. I sipped a Margarita, read a new novel by Isabel Allende, and munched on a chocolate croissant. All was wonderful except when an airline representative approached me. She said my connecting flight to Santiago would be economy class. My seat on the previous flight was revoked; I had to go back to the regular Economy class passengers line when boarding.
I was furious. I felt humiliated, like an ordinary passenger, like shit.
I boarded the flight and sat in my mediocre coach class seat, sandwiched between a pregnant woman in the aisle and a middle-aged man in the window. The pregnant woman was snoring out loud, blocking any possible escape to the aisle; the middle-aged guy was muttering to himself. Crazy people. The only food we got during the flight was God knows what disgusting, funny-smelling sandwiches that ended up in the garbage can. Finally, after two hours of torture, we landed in Santiago. Lesson #4: Always bring enough snacks when flying, especially if you have to fly Economy. Flying is not always glamorous; it can be a lot of pain in the ass.
The airport in Santiago was almost empty; only a handful of passengers waited to get their visas checked or go thru customs. I waited for my bag; it never came. I started freaking out. I asked an airline employee if he had seen it. He said, “sorry, we don’t have any bag for you today. The bag is lost. But don’t worry, we will reimburse the bag fee.”
What the hell happened to my beautiful suitcase filled with everything I owned? All I had left were my laptop, my book, and the clothes and sandals I was wearing when I left L.A.
I felt sad, frustrated, and angry as if there was an imprecation in the air as if the skies were black with curses; maybe Death was angry; I dodged her that day. Maybe the whole trip was a bad omen. Anyway, after more than 12 hours of traveling, I was tired and didn’t want more drama dealing with a lost bag. I was determined to start enjoying my vacation in Chile.
I headed to the taxi area and took a cab to my hometown, Vina Del Mar. Vina is a city located on the central coast of Chile, with beautiful beaches and stunning gardens that make the city known as the Garden City. I was delighted at the sight of my hometown, looking at the familiar streets with their tall buildings, flowery gardens, and hilly landscape. That joy was short-lived, however, when I looked at the taxi meter and realized that the trip would cost me a fortune. In fact, it was the most expensive taxi ride in history. I paid $170 for a nice ride home. Lesson #5: Always consider the taxi fare when budgeting your vacations.
When I got out of the cab, I felt a fresh breeze blowing from the Pacific that came to take all my troubles away. Or so I thought. The weather was warm, temperate, and smooth.
I walked down the typical palm-lined streets, smelling the salty ocean breeze, feeling happy and grateful to be home. My phone rang. It was my credit card company. Fraud prevention service, calling to tell me my card had been fraudulently used in a shop in Santiago. Great! Now I have to worry about yet another theft, I thought. So far, the total sum of my journey back home was $870 in fraudulent charges, a lost job, a missing bag, failed business, a humiliating experience at the airport, a near-death flight, a cabin downgrade, and $170 in extortionate taxi fares. Exhausted and trying to calm my mind, I meditated for a moment in a big park with broad lawns, where I used to play soccer with my childhood best friend.
While wandering around the park, lost in thought, reminiscing about old friends, and revisiting childhood games, I saw a big white tent pitched in the middle of the park. Curious, I approached closer and peeked inside. I saw a young woman who looked gypsy. A heavenly angel, wearing a flowing dress of vivid colors and a crown of flowers on her head. Her long jet black hair loosely decaded over her shoulders and her eyes the color of the deep dark sea. She was sitting on a big white throne, surrounded by candles and incense. Lesson #6: Always be prepared to meet a divine presence when traveling. A tarot deck was ready to be consulted.
“Please, come and sit down,” she said in a soft, gentle voice, smiling with lips the color of ripe cherries. She pulled out a chair for me. Even though I never believed in psychics, I sat down thinking; that this might not be such a bad experience.
“What’s your name?” She asked; my mind was wandering, studying her beautiful face.
“Hello, my name is Christian, what’s yours?” She told me her name was Maria, but she usually goes by Maggie.
“Can I call you Chris? Please shuffle the cards,” while she gazed into my eyes. I felt naked as if she could see inside my soul.
“I want to be honest, I don’t have money for a reading,” I told her, thinking of my squeezed budget. She reached out and touched my hand; her touch was electric.
“It’s okay, I’ll read the cards for you, for free.”
I started shuffling the deck; something strangely comforting began to happen. The cards started to flow together in my hands, like a river of molten gold and the wisdom of the ages began pouring out of them, gathering to tell a story. Lesson #7: Always consult tarot cards in times of stress and confusion.
The first card that came up was a magician, a serene and confident man casting a spell with a wand in his hand, wearing a coat and a hat.
“You are being called to enter a new realm of experience, a journey to find your purpose in life and to start using your intuition,” Maggie told me as she read the card, “you’ll be meeting new people and gaining new knowledge along the way.”
The second card was an ugly horned beast, bat wings outstretched; its eyes blazed with fury, holding a torch in one hand that could set everything on fire.
“The Devil. Don’t panic, it's just metaphor for your passionate nature, the inner anger and rage that lie beneath your surface. Learn to channel and control this energy and you will achieve your goals. Miracles happen when you start doing this,” she said with a silvery, soothing voice.
Lesson #8: never dismiss anyone at face value, even if they look like a witch, shaman or gypsy, or even a tired elderly couple; you may be surprised at the life-changing wisdom and knowledge they share.
“What will happen next? What should I do?” I asked.
The next card was an angelical woman with her wings outstretched and a halo of light around her. “There is always a very powerful angel with you, her name is Angelica and she is going to guide you thru these times.”
“Did I help you understand anything?” She said with a sweet smile.
“Yes,” I said. I knew there was still a long journey ahead of me, one of heavy baggage. This one was not in first or coach class, that actually did not matter anymore, but one of reconnecting with myself and others. Deep down, I felt better, as if by talking to Maggie, I had exorcised some of my demons; and hopefully defeated Death, at least for a good while. Lesson #9: I was now open to change, kindness, empathy, to new beginnings, no matter how daunting they seem at first.
I apologized again for my inability to pay and thanked her for the session. She kissed me on the cheek and said that our paths may cross again. I gave her my business card; her tender caress with her lips lingered for long after I left the park.
The next day, a text from an agent with the airline popped up on my phone. Her name was Angelica; she said my bag had been found in Lima and was on its way to me. I was so ecstatic, that I sent an appreciation note to Angelica thru the airline’s website right away.
I also wanted to kiss Maggie again. But the tent’s not there. I will wait for her to call me. Or text me. Only one more miracle. Only one more small miracle. Only Maggie knows for sure…
Lesson #10: always be grateful for the small miracles in your life; appreciate the kind souls that reach out to help, and be that anonymous angel to someone in need. Thanks for reading my travel blog; I hope you found this post helpful.