The year was 2000. The internet had just progressed from dial-up to broadband. Cell phones weren’t widespread. My rural Ohio alma mater, Muskingum College, still had a card catalogue in the library. So, it was at the beginning of the digital age that twenty Muskies booked a spring break trip to Cancun with estudenttravel.com. We paid for our trip, and were told we would receive our flight tickets and times the day of departure from Columbus, Ohio.
On departure day we gathered and waited for the call. We waited all day and by that evening, we had mostly given up on trip to Mexico. We tried to replicate a tropical destination in our house by setting the thermostat to 80 degrees, and spent half of our travel budget on drinks to soothe our sorrows. We ignored the snow outside and pretended to be in Mexico, while also planning to drive to Daytona the next day. To seal this deal, some of us tattooed Daytona 2000 on our arms with permanent marker. Meanwhile, more optimistic members of our party continued to try to find flights. A few hours later, their persistence paid off and we were told to be in Pittsburgh (two hours away) for a dawn departure to Atlanta – final destination Cancun. My parents returned with my luggage from a nearby hotel to find the party’s aftermath. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be allowed to leave when my dad had to ask “why is there a guy in swim trunks and flip flops talking to your mom?” That wouldn’t have been too out of the ordinary for Eric if it weren’t snowing, but I assured them again that were were actually safer to go on the trip because we were being joined by our normally very responsible male Muskies.
We somehow recruited local parents who were willing to drive us two hours to Pittsburgh in the middle of the night. At this time only birth certificates were required at that time to go to Mexico. Through the course of our consolation party, “J” (I’m using initials here) lost his birth certificate, but went to Pittsburgh anyway; I think the plan was to charm his way to Mexico? Thankfully while waiting in the line to check in, “A” found his birth certificate in her back pocket. Had “J” borrowed “A”’s pants sometime in the course of the evening and forgotten? Did he we decide that “A” would be the responsible one to keep our birth certificates safe, but then forget? Did “A” secretly not want “J” to go on the trip and decided to steal his birth certificate, but then at the last minute feel guilty and decide to let him go? It remains a mystery.
We did actually have flights to Cancun booked when we arrived in Atlanta. That flight, however, was delayed for 4 hours. And then again for another 4 hours, and then another 4 hours. Nearly 20 hours after arriving in Atlanta, we departed for Mexico. I remember our flight attendants doing the best they could. A few rowdy spring break passengers had spent their food vouchers on drinks at the bars at the Atlanta airports, and had to be reminded repeatedly that smoking wasn’t allowed in flight.
Living Afuera in Mexico
We arrived near midnight, and were thrilled to be greeted by a tour guide and charter bus from our travel agency. I cracked my complimentary Dos Equis and relaxed as we were driven to our resort.
The first red flag when arriving at our hotel was that it didn’t look like the pictures of the resort we were expecting. The second red flag was that there weren’t any reservations for a group of 20 available. The third red flag was when our tour guide ran back to the bus and jumped on as it tore away, never to be seen again. So we slept in the hotel’s outdoor bar. And on the beach. We set up a phone chain for our parents to keep them posted on our whereabouts. Someone’s shoes were stolen from the beach. It got dark.
The consensus was that Dannielle, the sweet, smart, and dainty blonde of our group, and Eric, the tall and brawny, would be the best negotiators, and sent them to the American Consulate. (Okay, I may remember that wrong; was it the Better Business Bureau? The Travel Agency?) Thankfully, in the first positive plot twist of our story, D randomly saw friends from high school who had chosen the reputable Apple Tours for their trip. Somehow, Apple tours found a lovely all-inclusive resort willing to take us in.
Okay, so my friend Chris , tells this part of the story, (and a few others), differently in his blog. I’m going with my “Dannielle saved the day” version.
UPDATE: After posting the blog some of the story was clarified. Dannielle did not go. (But I know there was discussion about her being the best negotiator.) It was the travel agency. Dannielle’s friends were there, but it is not clear how they helped. There was no baseball bat (as described by Chris). Dannielle has requested that she remain the heroine of our story.
We relaxed and did what spring breakers do in Mexico. Should we have been surprised on our return to the airport that the flights booked through EstudentTravel back to Columbus, Ohio didn’t actually exist? Most of us were able to find flights back to other airports, and we scrambled to find parents that could pick us up throughout the state. I was chosen to take one of the first flights back (in part because my Dad could pick us up from the airport in Cincinnati and in part because I was annoying everyone with my anxiety about getting in trouble for not being in history class the next day.) Two members of our party were only able to get as close as Atlanta. They did not make it back in time for class on Monday.