A couple of days ago, Bob and I found ourselves in Hell, so named for its black limestone formations. The folks from Hell, Grand Cayman have made a cottage industry of selling trinkets. We parked next to the tour buses, strolled past the pods of cruise ship day trippers and the Canadian posing as Satan, asking “How the Hell are you?” We did our bit; bought two shot glasses and mailed ten postcards from Hell.
The rest of our stay on the island was a mixture of heaven and hell. Heaven being the most perfect beaches we’ve ever seen and hell being traffic congestion and the cost of groceries. This was the first (and last) time we’ve ever paid $15 for a six-pack of beer. Had there been pricing on the shelves, we wouldn’t have made that blunder. It was a case of “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.”
Predictably, the wave of humidity that hit us in the face as we stepped from the plane onto the portable steps made me nostalgic. We love the tropics and were happy to be back in the land of waving palms and shrieking grackles. Within an hour or so, after watching time stand still at the rental car office, we found ourselves blinking at the bright bougainvillea on our way to the beach.
I walked straight across the soft, white sand into the water, bathtub warm and clearer than most tap water. Larry, our host ordered up some “Caybrews” and we watched the sun set over the sea. Our day was complete!
We did a lot of swimming, eating, bird watching and walking during our stay, making the most of our vacation. The curry at the Sunset House was so good, we ordered it twice. Bob took me for a long walk through the Botanic Park, which is famous for its people-friendly Blue Iguanas. We even got an introduction to Dominos, a game played with companionable vigor in the waning island afternoons.
Larry’s friend, Arnie took us over to Rum Point on his boat one lazy afternoon. After he and Larry set the anchor, we all jumped into the two-foot deep water. Arnie started right off, telling Cayman Brac tales. Before you knew it, we were all taking turns telling stories. Arnie had cut his finger cleaning fish, so he had to hold his left hand in the air away from the water.
The four of us must have been a curious sight, on our knees in the water beside the boat. But there was no one around to see us except for a little (18″) stingray that swam right on through our little circle. Pretty soon, all that talking made us thirsty, so we splashed over to the bar on the beach and had a beer and when we were done, we waded back out to the boat.
Five sun sets and many beers later, it was time to return the car and walk our bags down the palm shaded sidewalk to the airport. Inside, we found out that the flight wasn’t in their computer yet, so we walked back outside. Larry drove up to say goodbye and we tarried at the cafe with some Jamacian Red Stripe (they were out of Caybrew) – talking about biodiesel, movies and whatnot and watching the curly tailed lizards hop around looking for scraps.
When we returned to the counter, the same couple was at the head of the line and another five groups had queued up behind them. The employees behind the counter moved back and forth, touching papers and blinking at the line until another woman strode purposefully in from the back and set them in motion, booking us onto the flight.
At the first checkpoint, Bob was turned away because the name on his passport (Robert) didn’t match the name (Bob) on his ticket. I waited anxiously on the other side of the door, unable to see Bob and unwilling to go through security without him. Finally, he was allowed through, after going back to the counter and getting someone to come over and tell security that Bob was just another version of Robert.
At this point, we should have known how this trip was going to play out. But, we continued automatically onward, a bit like two cows inching our way towards McHeaven, unblinkingly resigned to our fate.
We walked the few feet to the gate and settled in, taking turns going to the restroom, and hoping the woman with the two loud children wasn’t going to Houston. Bob considered picking up some duty free rum before finding out that we would have to squeeze it into our bags before rechecking them at customs.
And then the gate was opened and we walked out into the sun along with the rest of the passengers, including the beleaguered mother of two. We felt lucky when we saw it was far from a full flight, and quickly traded our seats for some a little further from the undisciplined kids. Everything seemed to be flowing smoothly right up until the pilot jammed on the brakes halfway down the runway.
“What the?!!” we thought as we we thrown forward. This was a new maneuver for us. After a bit, the captain explained that the engines hadn’t “sounded right” so he had aborted the takeoff. He reset everything and turned around for another try. My heart was in my mouth as we taxied toward the sea again. I tried to relax and recapture that wistful feeling generally brought on by my final glimpse of the island.
And so it went. Halfway to Houston, our stomachs dropped to the floor when the pilot “jumped” over a small plane in our flight path. Outside Houston, he found we couldn’t land there because of heavy thunderstorms. He made a circle or two and lit out for Austin, to refuel. The kids had now been whining and crying for four hours and half the people on the plane were doing their best to placate them, which only increased their volume.
Our descent into Austin sent drinks cups flying when we hit the edge of the storm and then we sat on the ground, with eight other grounded Continental jets and waited for word from Houston. The children were momentarily stunned into silence. Our flight to Houston, an hour or so later, was relatively uneventful. Ever hopeful, we told ourselves the worst was over.
It was well after midnight, three hours behind schedule, and we had made it to the baggage carousel, having gotten past immigration and customs without issue. For the first fifteen minutes, we stood by the conveyor belt wearing our carry-on computer back packs. Then we took them off and put them on the floor. Another fifteen minutes and we found ourselves sitting and staring numbly at the now motionless belt.
A few dejected travelers milled about the dead carousel, and no headway was being made at the lost baggage counter. Finally, we faced the truth – our bags were not coming home with us. So, Bob called the Park and Fly shuttle, retrieved our car and drove me home.
Had we known all of this was going to happen, we might have spent one more day in Heaven and avoided The Trip From Hell.