It’s a great time to be stranded out there in the world. It’s almost impossible to be completely on your own in such a situation. Throughout my journey I was able to keep in touch with friends, family, and other stranded people, mainly through connecting to the Internet on my mobile phone. When I needed to make a quick phone call, I was always able to no matter where I was because I had my mobile phone on roaming.
My Twitter feed after arrival in Cairo
Twitter was a God-send to me. Bharat got to calling me “Twitterer”, he saw me using it so often. I used Twitter for a variety of things. Before I decided to take the leap and make my journey back to Cairo over the European continent, I used Twitter to follow the latest updates by Heathrow Airport, Eurocontrol, and fellow Twitterers. By doing this, I kept up-to-date on the latest developments on the volcano eruptions and the reactions of airports and governments to them.
Our flight from Rome to Amman had left almost half an hour late. We arrived in Amman at 7:35pm on Tuesday evening. Bharat’s flight to Delhi was scheduled to leave at 8:15pm. Mine was scheduled to leave at 8:20pm. We both ran – I mean full run type of run – through the airport. We said our goodbyes very quickly and each of us continued to run to our gates. The boards said it was the last call for both our planes. I reached my gate and found it completely empty, save for two airlines’ men. Are you going to Cairo, they asked. I am, I huffed and puffed. Calm down, they told me, smiling. You don’t understand, I explained. You have no idea what I’ve done to get this far. Please do not let the plane leave without me, I begged. They told me not to worry. Where’s your boarding pass, they asked. I didn’t have one. In Rome, I was told I could only get my boarding pass to my Cairo flight in Amman. Two other Egyptians came up behind me. They were also on the flight from Rome and were trying to catch the same flight to Cairo. They also had no boarding passes. Hamdy Qandeel, the well-known Egyptian journalist, also appeared with no boarding pass. He, however, was important enough to let through without a second thought. Me and the other two Egyptians waited as the airlines fellow made a few quick calls. “Don’t allow the plane to leave,” I heard him say probably to the pilot. I still have a few passengers here who need to board, he added. It took only three or four minutes and they let us on the plane without boarding passes. Just sit anywhere, they told us. Everyone was smiling; the two airlines’ men and the flight attendant who greeted us on the plane. It was as if they had seen many people before us in the same situation the past few days. They seemed happy to be able to bring us home.
Bharat and I were lucky to arrive at the train station only 15 minutes before the next fast train to Rome. We bought our tickets and ran to the platform. We had good seats.
On the train to Rome
Both of us recharged our phones on the train’s electrical outlets and fell asleep. We had a long night and a longer day ahead of us. It was finally day time and it was possible to see the Italian landscape. Green rolling hills surrounded us on either side of the tracks. I was too tired to bother, though. I had missed so much already that it didn’t really matter if I missed more. My priority was to get home and in order to get home I needed to preserve my energy. I needed to sleep.
Abdallah arrived on time at 5:45pm. Bharat, the Indian man, was getting edgy. He had a flight to catch from Rome the next morning and he was in a rush to reach the airport on time. He also preferred to drive in daylight as much as possible.
We all rushed to the car rental parking lot and searched for our car.
It was a blue hatchback Fiat. We all luckily had small carry-on suitcases with us (man was I thankful I made the rare decision to travel light for this trip, otherwise I wouldn’t have heard the end of their complaining about women and their traveling). The car was small, however, so only three of our suitcases fit in the trunk. We placed the third, Abdallah’s, on the middle of the back seat. This proved to be a suitable make-shift headrest for sleeping later on.
I checked out of my comfortable hotel in the center of London at 9am Monday morning and embarked on the unknown. I felt excited that I was finally doing something. I made a conscious effort though to keep myself calm. I had a long trip ahead of me and I needed my energy. I did not have the luxury of wasting precious energy on excited emotions.
My train trip to Paris was scheduled for 11:30am. I decided it would be best to reach the train station early. I wasn’t sure my online ticket would actually work. I knew that there were hundreds of thousands of travelers trying to get out of the UK. I did not know what to expect at the train station. I needed some buffer time for unexpected circumstances.
Everything went surprisingly smoothly at the train station.
I’ve always wanted to be on the Amazing Race. You know what’s even more fun, though? Being in a real life Amazing Race as opposed to a reality television one.
I raced the ashes of Eyja (I’m done with trying to pronounce or remember the Icelandic volcano’s real name) and won. As I said on Twitter last night once I had reached my home in Cairo and kissed my children good night, “I pity the volcano that tries to keep me from my children!”
As the situation progresses, it’s come a time when I need to make a decision. Should I continue to wait for British airspace to open or should I start working on getting home by ground?
My decision on Saturday was to wait. My flight to Cairo that Saturday was cancelled because of the volcanic ashes. I was able to get a another ticket from London to Cairo on Tuesday, April 20. Hopefully the airspace would open by then.
There are advantages and disadvantages to being held hostage by a volcano in London.
In terms of disadvantages, if you are being held hostage with hundreds of thousands of other people trying to escape, I’ve discovered the UK island is virtually impossible to leave. If you aren’t flying out, your only options are by train or ferry to reach the European mainland. And if you and hundreds of thousands of other people are trying to leave at the same time, your chances of finding a spot on a train or ferry in time to reach a functioning airport with an actual seat on a plane back home for you are quite slim. London is also a very expensive city to be held hostage in. Yesterday I had a tuna sandwich and some sort of fruit juice concocted from every kind of artificial flavor and sweetener one could imagine. It cost me 5.40 GBP. That’s a whopping 45 Egyptian Pounds. In Egypt, I could buy a really nice dinner with that.
In terms of advantages, if you do have the money, there are quite a lot of things one can busy oneself with while one’s volcanic captor is busy spewing ash.
It’s over. There’s no way out of the United Kingdom. A friend took his scooter down to the Eurostar office in London and found a line 200 people long in front of it. By the time he would have reached the front of the line there would not have been a single space on any train. I can’t drive out because I’d need to take a ferry or book a spot on a train for the car out of this large island. The ferry ride is very long and the drive would make it longer. It would make more practical sense to take the next available flight out of London, which is Tuesday, April 20. I’ve made my reservation on that flight now. I’m stuck in London for four extra days. I can only hope that the winds are in my favor and that the volcanic ash will allow me to leave on the 20th.
I’m absolutely heart-broken. I travel all the time. But I organize my home and work schedules very delicately around all my travels. Now that it’s disrupted, my home and work schedules are also disrupted.
Most importantly at home, two of my children needed my help in their studies as their final exams near. They were so happy that I was actively involved in their studies. Now I’ve left them alone to fend for themselves. Their aunt is staying and will help out. But they still need their mother.
My work schedule has gone all a muck as well. I’ll need to seriously consider cancelling a business trip to Italy in May because of what this trip now has done to the children. After this, there is no way I can jump on a plane in less than three weeks to come back to Europe. No way.
Regardless of all this, I’m going to try to forget everything and have a nice day in London. It’s beautiful out this sunny Saturday morning. I’ve been to London several times but have never had the time to do some sightseeing. Perhaps this is a sign from the Gods that it’s about time to get on with it and see the sights of London.
We always see news items on TV about people getting stranded in airports for a variety of reasons: strikes, civil disturbance, and natural disasters. I never thought I’d be in this situation myself.
I came to London on a very short trip. I had two days of meetings. I organized my travel to arrive the night before and leave the evening later. While in London on our first day of meetings, we heard of the volcano that erupted in Iceland and that it might disturb flight schedules. I hardly thought twice about it. That type of thing doesn’t happen to me. It happens to other people. And how could a volcano in Iceland affect my flight back to Cairo from London? Ludicrous!
It’s not. I’m now stranded in London trying desperately to get back home.
Friends on Twitter are envious. One could really be stuck in a worse city. But I have four children at home that really do need me. I need to get home.
All night last night I was thinking of ways to get back.
We have a contemporary history of Egyptian immigrants being illegally smuggled out of Egypt to southern Italy by sea. If I could only find those smugglers and get me a trip on the return route back to Egypt. But where does one find a smuggler?
Of course by morning I was thinking more clearly. The plan now is to find a flight out of another southern European country before they are all booked up and to try to beat the south-easterly winds that are causing the volcanic ash to spread all over Europe. I need to beat the ash to southern Europe and get out as soon as possible.
I’m now in a desperate race against time. Find a plane out of southern Europe and a train to that southern European country, all in time before the ash arrives.
Follow me in Twitter for the updates on how the drama of it all (yes, I’m being very dramatic about it) unfolds.