Well, I’m out of the darkness and back into the world of the light. The experience was varyingly intense, peaceful, joyful, challenging, boring, exciting, scary, and highly insightful. I plan to write a much more detailed piece about the experience in due time, once I’ve finished transcribing my darkness journals and utilizing the benefit of hindsight to process more of what I experienced.
For now, however, I’m going to share the saga of my journey home, which turned out to be quite the adventure. As I started writing this, it was around 1:30 p.m. Central Time on Monday the 30th of May. I was sitting in a beautiful stone building, a restaurant and hotel called the Hacienda Maria Inez. I was “supposed” to have been back in Phoenix by 6 p.m. the previous night, but nature had other plans.
At the time, I planned to write a relatively short piece about how my experience in the dark had helped me channel patience and gratitude in the face of challenging circumstances. But, I lost power. Good thing though, because the journey to arrive home and the subsequent challenges to my inner peacefulness were just beginning.
Sunday, May 29th
Two of my friends, Akshay and Tim, did the darkness retreat at the same time I did. We were in separate rooms, but afterwards, had greatly enjoyed discussing our various experiences. We were looking forward to continuing this on the trip home. We left the beautiful Santosha Refuge in Mazunte, Mexico behind, and strapped in for a winding, hilly, one-hour drive tothe Huatulco Airport in the state of Oaxaca.
We were prepared for a long day of travel. Akshay and I were going to be flying from the Huatulco to Mexico City to Las Vegas to Phoenix. Tim was going to be flying from Huatulco to Mexico City to Santiago, Chile. Upon arriving at the airport at 7 a.m., we learned that our 9 a.m. flight to Mexico City had been cancelled. There was a Category 2 hurricane brewing, and the airline, Volaris, decided not to take their chances. In general, people seemed a bit on edge, as hurricane season in this part of the world is typically not until much later in the year, so it was highly unusual for one to have formed in May.
After a bit of standing around, we learned that Volaris had cancelled all flights until Tuesday. Surprisingly, AeroMexico, the other major airline with flights between Huatulco and Mexico City, had not chosen to do the same. As angry, tired, scared, and frustrated passengers converged on the lone Volaris employee as she arrived for work, the three of us pondered our next move.
All flights from Mexico City to Huatulco were fully booked. If we wanted a slower option, it was a 12-14 hour drive to Mexico City. Given that all of the cars we’d ridden in during our stay in Mexico had manual transmissions, plus the possibility of mudslides due to the potential for heavy rainfall, we opted against this course of action. Airbnbs were either fully booked, hideously expensive (though the $800/night villa did look pretty sweet), or too close to the coast to be feasible during a hurricane.
Channeling a not-too-far-gone but still ancient-feeling era, we actually called the landlines of two potential hotels in the small town of Santa Maria Huatulco, which was about a 20-minute drive diagonally inland. Neither hotel offered the option to book online, so I was given the opportunity to practice my Spanish skills enough to inquire whether either one had three available beds for the next two nights.
We eventually settled on the Hacienda Maria Inez, and we couldn’t have been luckier with our experience there, and I’ll elaborate on that more in Part 2 of this piece. In the meantime, we settled in and enjoyed a relaxing day, then got to work changing our flights.
Monday, May 30th
What should have been relatively straightforward was anything but. Kiwi, the travel agency we’d used to book our return flights, made three separate reservations instead of putting all three flights on the same ticket.
This meant that the airlines were only obligated to reschedule our cheap, 45-minute flight from Huatulco Airport to Mexico City. So, for the flights from Mexico City to Las Vegas and from Vegas to Phoenix, Akshay and I were logged as “no-shows” and lost the ticket. They’d need to be repurchased. Not wanting to spend any more hours on the phone with airline customer service, we went ahead and did just that. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the last time we needed to re-book flights.
This is because on Monday afternoon, when the hurricane made landfall, all surrounding areas lost power, internet, and cell service. However, the weather was clear, so we hoped that if we simply made it to the airport, things would be fine.
Tuesday, May 31st
When we arrived, the airport was closed. They simply weren’t letting anyone enter. With no internet or power, there wasn’t any feasible way for them to safely allow planes to take off. Further, they had no idea when power, internet, or cell service would be restored. The best they could tell us was to come back at 3 p.m., because, “We might be open by then.” As we searched for a nearby hotel where we could drop our things for the day and stay overnight if need be, our cab driver offered us an interesting option. “I can drive you to Oaxaca City,” he said. “It’s the closest one with an international airport.”
“How long does it take to get there?” we asked. “Seven hours,” he replied. At this point, we were eager to be somewhere with internet access and electricity, and we decided it would be far better to go to a location we knew had both, rather than waiting around with no way to communicate with the world. Probably the hardest part at this point was not being able to let our loved ones know we were safe. The last thing any of them knew was that we were preparing for a hurricane. Then, they hadn’t heard from us for over 24 hours. It’s easy for the mind to go to some dark places in circumstances like this.
So, we decided to begin an exciting road trip. But, a mere 45 minutes into the drive, we heard Wilber, our amazing cab driver, mutter a not-so-nice phrase in Spanish. Around the bend, we could see a giant line of cars going nowhere fast. It turns out, last night’s hurricane had caused a mudslide, and this part of the road was impassible. What followed was a beautiful display of human togetherness and ingenuity, as average citizens got out of their cars to help the military engineering corps clear the road. Two and a half hours later, we were finally on our way.
While driving, we let our loved ones know we were safe, and got to work booking a third round of flights. Tim still needed to fly to Santiago, and Tam Airlines was incredibly accommodating in switching his booking to a new city on a different day, free of charge! You certainly don’t expect that level of customer service from any U.S.-based airline. Akshay and I were looking to return to Phoenix, but good old Volaris had no options available. But, we did find an American Airlines flight from Oaxaca City to Phoenix with a layover in Dallas. With nothing to do except laugh at how much we’d already “donated” to various airlines, we went ahead and reserved it.
Wednesday, June 1st
The next morning, the first portion of that flight went off without a hitch. But, immediately after landing, we heard other passengers start to grumble that their connecting flights were cancelled due to approaching thunderstorms. Sure enough, we got the same notification just a few minutes later. “Well,” Akshay and I thought, “at least we’re back in the States. Let’s enjoy some good Texas BBQ tonight, and a nice air-conditioned room in whatever hotel American Airlines books for its customers in situations like this.”
Well…after standing in a long rebooking line, American Airlines informed us that they were under no obligation to put us in a hotel for the night, since the delay was weather-related and not due to issues under their control. Further, the best they could do was put us on an 11 a.m. flight to Arizona…Flagstaff, Arizona, that is. And…this would come with a 6-hour layover in this city, a mere 90-minute drive from home. By now, the experience had well and truly crossed over into the realm of absurdity, so Akshay and I embraced the madness.
Figuring the cost would actually come out slightly cheaper and that we’d arrive home many hours sooner, we opted to rent a car and drive 14 hours from Dallas to Phoenix. Who knew Huatulco to Oaxaca City would be our shortest road trip of the week! After buying a gas station & fast food feast, plus what would be a week’s worth of caffeine in regular circumstances, we were on the road by 9 p.m. and made it to Sky Harbor airport by 8:45 a.m. the next day. We didn’t speed that much, I promise! We got two hours back due to the time zone difference.
Thursday, June 2nd
After dropping off the car, Akshay and I exchanged a big hug and parted ways. Almost immediately thereafter, Tess, my saintly wife, pulled up and drove us the final 15 minutes back home. At this point, it felt a little surreal seeing her, as it had been just over three weeks since I left for this whirlwind journey. That first hug made it completely worth it, though.
And, here’s the thing. Those four unexpected days were incredible. They were filled with fun, laughter, great conversations, natural beauty, and incredible people. It could have been so easy to miss out on all of that by being upset about circumstances I couldn’t control. This piece has gotten long enough, so I’m going to elaborate on all of that in next week’s post, where I’ll also share the juicy details of what I learned, experienced, and saw (yes, saw) in the dark.