Our family experienced a relaxing Christmas vacation in one of our favorite places, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We sat by the pool, body surfed, read books, played ping pong, took beach walks, rode ATV’s in the mountains, and ate delicious food. We were all set to come home just in time for the New Year, to celebrate our 23rd anniversary on New Year’s Eve, and still have more family time since the boys would have another week off from school. All that changed when we were about twenty minutes away from landing at the Tijuana airport.
We have traveled to Mexico numerous times, and with San Diego being so close to the border, we have often taken flights out of Tijuana. There is a new Cross Border Express which simplifies getting across the border and makes for easy access to the TJ airport. We have never had any issues. The only problem is that they do not translate into English at the airport or on the planes, so we have to rely on what Spanish we know and the people around us who are bilingual.
It was 8:00 pm on December 30—our plane was scheduled to land at 8:30 in Tijuana, and with our car parked at the border express, we would be home easily by 10:00 pm. But the flight attendant came on and said something and many of the passengers moaned in disappointment. The man next to me translated and told me that the plane could not land because of fog and that the TJ airport was closed for the night. The plane was going to land in Mexicali. (geography lesson—Mexicali is about two hours east of San Diego, with a large mountain range in between). Then the man told me that this has happened to him before and that the airline would probably shuttle all of us back to Tijuana. This news wasn’t great, but at least we would get home at some point that night. Then the flight attendant came back on and said that we would land, but that everyone needed to “find your own resources” to get back to whatever HOME was to you. Another translation by the kind man next to me and another huge moan and groan from the passengers. The flight was filled with many passengers who were American and needed to cross the border. We landed in Mexicali, and waited on the plane until they told us that everyone needed to get off, get their luggage, and find their transportation….or we could sleep in the airport and wait until 8:00 am, but with no known time of departure back to TJ. More moans and groans.
Now let me describe the Mexicali airport: my son Micah described it as “an abandoned office space.” It was literally one large building with two rooms: one where the luggage came and then a small area outside to wait. There was no Starbucks, no bar, no restaurant. There was a vending machine that took pesos and had no bottled water. The planes land on the tarmac and the luggage is put on carts and wheeled to the luggage carousels in which one worker lifts each piece of luggage onto the moving carrier. All this is done with a large window where we passengers can see everything going on. It would have been much easier to just get our luggage ourselves and walk in with it. So here we were with about 150 nervous and angry passengers who were waiting for our luggage, on the phone trying to find transportation, and calling relatives.
As we stood waiting for our luggage, we watched two other planes land, passengers walked in and their luggage came through the carousels. People started going to the window searching for our luggage and didn’t see it. Then people started knocking on the window, talking to the crew, asking where the heck is our luggage. People were scrambling-- talking to each other: “What are you doing for transportation?” “What is going on?” People started talking to the Federales, the airport crew, and the airline workers who simply walked away from us.
We finally found out that our luggage had not been released from our plane because “our plane wasn’t scheduled to land here, so we are not a priority.” I swear, I felt like I was a hostage and that there was going to be a mob attack on the airline workers at any moment. And it was all in Spanish, so I was at the mercy of the people who translated for us. In the meantime, while we were waiting for our luggage, we had checked into renting a car (nope, couldn’t cross the border with it), taking an Uber (nope, the Uber guys didn’t have Visas to cross the border), or taking a taxi (same, they could only take us to the border at Calixico). Plus we had seven people—two of whom were over 6’4 inches tall (we were traveling with our friends the Deckers), seven large sized suitcases, and one very sick husband. (Side note: Let me just add that this whole time Greg has been super sick—he had caught a head cold in Mexico, but when we left he was feeling okay except for a cough. But on the plane home, he got increasingly worse, and was experiencing chills and weakness and fatigue. By the time we got off, he went into the waiting area to lie down and the rest of us worked on trying to figure out transportation. This is NOT like my husband—I have not seen him this miserably sick in all our years of marriage, and for him to not help in this sticky situation was very telling).
Our luggage finally got pulled off the plane THREE HOURS later, and by this time I had secured two Uber guys who said they had Visas and could take us to El Centro (shady and sketchy mind you; once we got everyone and our luggage, they took off with out us). We then found two other Uber guys who smashed our luggage, our tall people, and my sick husband into their little cars and drove us to the Calexico border. Then one of them walked us through two blocks of sketchy neighborhood rolling our luggage on cobblestone streets and me holding Greg up as he tried to make it shivering and coughing to the border crossing. We went through customs and now had to get to El Centro where our friend Adrieke and her son Alex had driven a car and a truck from our home in Poway out to a Denny’s in El Centro (super sketch once again) and were going to meet us there to drive us the final two hour leg of the journey home. (Yes, you can applaud them for Friend of the Year award). We found out from the customs agents that there are no Uber drivers in Calexico, but told us that taxis were right outside….by this time it was 1:00 am. We found a line of six taxis and there was not one driver in any of them, except the last one had a driver who was sleeping and when we knocked on the window, he couldn’t start his taxi, nor roll down the window, so we headed up the street to find two taxis to transport our motley crew another 20 miles to meet our friends. We did finally make it home by 3:00 in the morning, thanks to our friends who made a four hour round trip car ride to retrieve us. And mind you all, that our car was still parked at the TJ border express! (Huge shout out to our son Noah and his buddies who drove back down to the border on Sunday to get our car and bring it back to us).
Whew, I am exhausted just recounting this story—and I hope you haven’t lost me yet!
So this is how our 23rd anniversary started: in an airport in Mexicali, with a husband shivering with chills, and no idea how we were getting home…..
And this is what I observed: I have two sons who have learned how to deal with frantic travel situations (they have been through Uganda, Mexico, and with many “bus camp” trips under our belt—shout out Young Life crazy camp stories—we have learned to deal with some insane transportation issues). They stepped up to the plate when their dad was tired and weak.
No one in our group got cranky, even though we were tired and hungry. No one freaked out, (well we all did on the inside, but kept it together). Everyone kept a positive attitude and a clear head, and everyone did what they needed to do to get through the situation.
During this whole ordeal I had texted our friends to cancel our NY EVE plans, and ended up giving my husband cough syrup and cold medicine on our anniversary instead of filet mignon and champagne. When 2018 arrived, our house was strewn with luggage, mounds of laundry, piles of unopened mail, an empty refrigerator, and four excited dogs who were thrilled that we were home. It was not the neat and tidy beginning to a 2018 that I had anticipated. It was not the anniversary that I had expected. I was feeling a sore throat and a sinus headache coming on, and I was grumpy. I wanted a “do over.” #restart2018.
And then I began to calm down a bit and reflect and realize things—things that are important and true about me and my family and the chaos of life.
Life IS chaotic, and it IS unexpected. Things don’t go as planned and don’t meet our expectations. Things are thrown at us all the time and it is how we react and respond that show our true character.
Maybe the New Year didn’t start the way I wanted it to, but then I remembered that with Christ, every day is a new beginning, filled with his riches and his grace and his mercy. Maybe my house was a mess, my husband was sick, and our plans were foiled, but hey, we were together, as a family, and we are bonded with the love of Jesus.
And now….now we have this crazy story that we can all tell… about how 2018 started and how our 23rd anniversary unfolded. And one day we will laugh….because it is OUR story. OUR family memory. Chaotic, yes-- cherished….absolutely.