Time to spare, go by air – Toronto

“Hey mister, over here. Are you blind? Help! Aidez-moi!

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Vintage Kelty Backpack DOB 1998

Why can’t the security cameras identify me? Mayday-Mayday-Mayday.”

I’ve been spinning around this carousel for hours, loop after loop. I should have been airborne two hours ago. Instead, I’m stuck on the ground at this damn airport. If I get any dizzier I’m gonna’ decorate the conveyor belt with my guts.

Until a few hours ago, everything about this trip was SOS: “Same Old Shit” – routine and uneventful – not “Save Our Souls.”

I’ve been Mom’s trusted traveling companion since 1998. When we’re not on the road, I pass the time dreaming about the next adventure or, spurred by one of the dozens of “cloth tattoo” country badges sewn all over my body, I reminisce about past escapades -riding the roof of a chicken bus in Guatemala, bumping along dirt trails on safari in Tanzania, or jostling on top of a camel crossing the Saharan sand dunes.

Lola on Mrefu Sept 2003 TZ cropped 2
On Mrefu for a five-day safari with Masai, Tanzania

Mom hates sewing so I’m still waiting for the Kalimantan and Chile badges but that doesn’t stop me remembering lunch with the Orangutans and hikes in Torres del Paine Park.

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Hangin’ on, infant Orangutan, Camp Leakey, Kalimantan, Island of Borneo

Mom’s peripatetic lust for travel means that I rarely sleep in my cramped closet before she haul’s me into action. Four months was the longest and three days, the shortest. We knows that life at home will be familiar and easier, (and perhaps safer) than the challenges of travel but the seduction of challenge is a temptation she can’t resist.

Today, I’m packed light but tight. To accommodate our diverse itinerary, I’m overstuffed with a variety of goodies: hiking gear for Death Valley, evening wear for Vegas, and casual clothes for our small-boat cruise.  Bursting with these travel goodies plus tripod, swimsuit, sandals, and sarong, we crammed into our car for the 2-hour drive.

Within minutes of arrival at Pearson, I sported a new souvenir bracelet: LAS AC 1871. Mom wrapped me in a protective plastic raincoat and tucked me into a bin for oversize luggage. A supervising attendant assisted, ensuring that my new bracelet projected outside the plastic coat so that security cameras could snap a good picture of me with my new jewelry.

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Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

I was on my way. Or so we thought.

Days later, when at last reunited, I learned that the US Customs agent based at YYZ had advised that her luggage was “pending” and, without hint of explanation or apology, he brusquely refused her admission into America. He curtly dismissed her queries by waving the next passenger forward to his wicket while beckoning another agent to escort Mom to Air Canada’s Customer Service. Here, a determined Lebanese-Canadian employee of AC attempted to locate me, shocked that luggage could be lost within 55 minutes of arrival, especially as this was a first leg – not a transit.

Departure time loomed. Would I make it on the plane?

The kindly agent promised to continue searching so that I would be loaded in time. Long after his shift ended, I continued my circuitous journey. No one rescued me until after midnight, sixteen hours after I bid hasta luego to Mom.

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Manly Beacon, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California USA

Amazed that I could have gone astray, we had reassured ourselves that my unique body – teal green body covered with a riot of intriguing country flags and destination badges – should ensure rapid identification. Independent of each other, we concluded that I’d be on Saturday evening’s flight. (Later I would hear Mom remark that if attendants were there to help travelers use this new scanning system, they should have been trained to advise passengers that it was no longer necessary to enclose backpacks in clear plastic bags because the plastic prevented the security camera from getting good photographs).

That didn’t happen.

The Air Canada Lost Luggage rep at McCarran Airport, Vegas, had informed Mom that FedEx didn’t work on Sunday, but promised to request permission for same day service with an alternate delivery service or same day service on Monday with FedEx. Mom advised that she’d only be at Death Valley for four days: “If you can’t deliver on Sunday or Monday, please keep my backpack. We’ll get it when we return the car.”

Lodge at Furnace Creek
The Lodge at Furnace Creek, Death Valley USA

Though Mom’s room at Furnace Creek Lodge was luxurious compared to my spartan conditions, we both slept fitfully, awakening several times throughout the night. At dawn a search using my locator number indicated that someone had finally noticed me but not soon enough for Saturday’s flight. We were hopeful that I’d arrive on Sunday morning, 24 hours later than her arrival.

Wrong again. Would we ever be united?