The tricky thing about social media is that it typically portrays only the best parts of our lives. Take Instagram, for example (my personal favorite form of social media). Nobody wants to post an Instagram photo of a crappy work day; we want to post a photo of our awesome Friday night out with friends. And that's fine – it's great to dwell on the pleasant things in life! But then we sit and look at social media, and we start comparing our lives to the heightened versions of our friends' lives that social media portrays. And then we start to feel like maybe our lives aren't fun enough, aren't glamorous enough, aren't... enough. And therein lies the danger.
I'm totally guilty of this; scroll through my Instagram page and you'll see countless gorgeous photos of all the beautiful countries I've traveled to. As a cruise ship entertainer, I have even more opportunities to “glamorize” my life than most people do. And don't get me wrong – there are glamorous aspects. I get to see the world, and I get to play music for thousands of people every week – and for that I'm truly grateful. In the spirit of honesty, however, today I'd like to share an epic story of not-so-glamorous reality. It happened a few weeks ago, as I was attempting to join a cruise ship in Lima, Peru.
I was coming from home (Indianapolis), so the trip involved 8 total hours of flying, 2.5 to Miami and 5.5 down to Lima. I've experienced so many flight delays and cancellations at this point that I always kind of dread the worst, but on this day everything went without a hitch: flights on time, scored a seat with no one beside me, and no issues getting the violin through security and onto the plane (which in itself is sometimes a stressful task). I arrived in Lima at 9:30 pm, feeling pretty good. The ship was docked there overnight, so no hotel this time – I just hopped in a cab for the 25-minute drive to the port. The driver didn't speak a word of English, but the dispatcher did and had explained to him where I needed to go, so I was all set. Or so I thought.
The port of Lima is actually in Callao, which is a pretty dangerous area, and it's one of those huge industrial ports, where the actual ship might be a mile from the port entrance. As we approached the port, I could see that there was a huge line of cargo trucks waiting to get in. My driver pulled up to the outside entrance and indicated that we had arrived and that I could get out. I shook my head; at this point we were still nowhere close to the ship, and the area was way too sketchy for me to wander around in the dark with my luggage, trying to find my way. The only way in seemed to be to join the endless line of cargo trucks, so we did. That's when things started to go downhill.
That line was truly the slowest-moving line of traffic I've ever seen. We would sit at a standstill for a solid five minutes or more, then inch forward about two car-lengths, then sit again. And repeat. Meanwhile, all of the truck drivers were having honking wars, laying on their horns at one another for no apparent reason, since it certainly didn't speed anything up. There were also men on foot in tattered clothes, running around in between the three lanes of trucks, shouting in Spanish. Some of them came and banged on the windows of our taxi, gesturing to the driver to roll down his windows. He shook his head, and gestured to me to put my phone away, clearly scared for our valuables. I glanced at my violin case sitting beside me, and gulped.
Over an hour ticked by like this. And I wasn't even positive we were headed the right way; there were absolutely no signs to guide us. The port area was huge; what if the ship was in the other direction? Finally we saw a port worker in an orange vest that glowed in the darkness, up ahead on the side of the road. As we approached, my taxi driver rolled down his window to ask if we were going in the right direction to reach the cruise ship. The worker shook his head and gave an explanation in Spanish that I couldn't understand. Then he leaned forward to peer into the backseat, and saw me. He waved at me, and I gave a brief wave back. He started talking to me rapidly in Spanish, and rubbed his fingers and thumb together to indicate that I ought to give him some money. “No hablo espanol,” I told him firmly, hoping he'd go away. He kept talking at me, though, raising his voice, and I started to feel slightly panicky. The taxi driver intervened, speaking rapidly to deescalate the situation, and he gave the worker a few coins just to get him off our case. Before he went away, the worker leered at me one more time and made some smooching noises at me. I looked away, hating my life.
Through Google translate, the taxi driver explained to me that according to the worker, taxis were not allowed to enter the gate into the actual cruise ship area. Instead, he had to take me to a designated shuttle pick-up point, where I would wait for one of the port shuttles to come and get me. We had spent well over an hour in that truck line, all for nothing. So we got turned around, and he drove me to the shuttle point, which was way back near the port entrance. There was a straggling line of what looked like crew members waiting there, clearly headed back to the ship after a night out on the town. I rolled down my window. “Are you going to the ship?” I asked one of the girls. She nodded. Relieved, I hopped out and thanked my driver profusely. I also gave him a wad of cash, even though I had already paid for my ride at the airport taxi stand. The whole ordeal had taken up an hour and a half of the poor driver's time, and it wasn't his fault. He seemed very grateful for the compensation.
Thinking the worst was behind me, I got into the line of crew waiting for the shuttle. “How often does the shuttle run?” I asked the girl in front of me. She shrugged. “It's supposed to run continuously,” she said, “but we've been waiting half an hour and it hasn't come.” I groaned inwardly, but reminded myself that at least I knew now how to get to the ship.
The minutes ticked by. Twenty minutes later, a white shuttle van arrived, but it was small, and the line of crew was long. Only the first eight or so fit in the van, and they drove off, leaving the rest of us standing there miserably to wait.
Time dragged on. It was nearly midnight at this point, and getting cold out. I shivered in my sweatshirt and hugged my arms tightly around myself. To distract myself, I pulled out my Kindle and tried to read a book. Presently, though, I noticed several men loitering across the street, shooting glances at all of us and talking to one another in low voices. Nervously, I put my Kindle away and stood there clutching my violin case, feeling on edge. An entire hour went by, as we all huddled there in the cold, before another small white shuttle van arrived. Once again, it could only hold about eight people, and I wasn't even close to making the cut. I watched it drive away, wondering if I'd ever felt more miserable in my life.
After that second shuttle departed, the remaining crew and I began our longest wait yet. I began to wonder if the shuttle driver had decided to just go to bed. I asked the crew if anyone knew how to call the ship. None of them did. Brilliant.
At long last, at around 1:40 am, another shuttle arrived. I was the ninth person in line at this point. Everyone in front of me got in, and the girl right in front of me took the very last spot. I wanted to cry. She looked at me, and bless her heart, she said, “Here, give me your suitcase.” She and the other crew helped me hoist my suitcase and violin onto their laps, and then I clambered in, crammed in so tightly that I was practically sitting on the lap of the person next to me. But I didn't care. I was headed to the ship, at last.
We drove to the cruise terminal entrance, where we were stopped at a security gate and everyone was asked to show the security worker their ship ID to be allowed in. I gulped; I had no ship card yet since I was just joining that day. Normally in these situations, the security officer has a list of embarking passengers, and they typically just ask for my passport to verify I'm on the list. I started to explain the situation to the worker, but he shook his head; he didn't speak English. One of the crew that spoke Spanish translated for me, but the worker doggedly shook his head again and gestured for me to get out of the shuttle. “No card, no enter,” he said to me in broken English, smirking. I was full-on panicking; in that moment of terror, I honestly feared that if I got out now, I might never make it to the ship alive. (“American violinist, 27, found dead in the port of Callao!”) I knew that the rest of the crew had already been pushed to their limits from waiting hours in the cold, and if they had to sacrifice me to get themselves to the ship, I figured they probably would.
In desperation, I pulled out my phone and opened the email that had my contract attached, to prove I worked for the cruise line. I showed it to the worker, and he frowned at it; it was written in English, of course, and he couldn't read it. The same crew member that had translated before grabbed my phone and read the contract out loud, translating it into Spanish as he went. The worker deliberated for a moment; it felt like an absolute eternity. Finally, he shrugged, and waved us onward. I let out a long, shaky sigh of relief.
At long last, the lights of the giant ship loomed ahead; I had never been so happy to see them. We clambered out of the van, and the crew all flashed their badges and disappeared into the ship. The ship security officer collected my passport and said I needed to wait while he called documentation. Of course, it was 2 am, so the documentation officer had gone to bed. The security officer had to call her private cabin phone, and she grumpily told him she'd be there in half an hour. “Can I please wait just inside the gangway?” I asked the officer, through chattering teeth. “I've been outside for three hours, and I'm freezing.” He shook his head. “Sorry, but it's ship protocol,” he said. “You have to be escorted onboard by the documentation officer.” I turned away, and used every last ounce of willpower I had to refrain from bursting into tears right there on the spot.
I ended up waiting alone outside the ship gangway for 45 minutes, shivering with the cold and fatigue. At long last, the documentation officer came out to get me, and I finally made it to my cabin at around 3 am. I felt like I was half-dead.
So there you have it: an episode of my “glamorous life” that was anything but. To be clear, this experience was a worst-case scenario; I'd say it ranks somewhere in my top ten worst travel days of all time (my catastrophe in Myanmar takes the cake... but that's a story for another day). Nevertheless, it's not at all uncommon for me to be fighting back tears alone in an airport, as I deal with one travel nightmare or another. Those are the moments that don't get very much social media exposure... but trust me, they happen. In the end, I guess I just have to chalk it up as character-building life experience.
And, of course, the stuff of good story-telling.