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Kelly Cheek
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Til then, I walk alone

Linda left forPortugal a week ahead of me. We were both supposed to go at the same time, but due to issues with Linda’s passport, and other problems a while back, the details for the trip fluctuated as circumstances changed.

Major subject change, but you’ll see why in a minute.

I subscribe to, which is really, I think, more about pet-sitting. For a very reasonable annual subscription price, we can go on as many trips as we want and get house- and pet-sitters for no charge. Any of you who have pets and who travel know how expensive boarding is.

All sits are insured, all subscribers have background checks done, and they receive reviews from previous sits. For that annual subscription rate, people who want to travel and see different parts of the country can apply to house- and pet-sit for you. You look at their profiles, read their reviews, and then choose one. A few are retired people, but most are young professionals, digital nomads.

I had confirmed a sitter, Josh, early on, but when the date for our trip changed the last time, he had already been confirmed for a different sit. He was only available for the last two weeks of our Portugal trip.

I kept the listing up on, but the trip was getting close. At such short notice, we just weren’t getting any more applications.

So we made a difficult decision. I’ve written in the past about Linda’s specific needs concerning her home environment. I have some too, but not as severe as hers. For instance, she lived in Seattle several years ago and discovered how severely the constant rain and overcast affect her. She also has more specific preferences, while mine are a little more general. So I decided that, if only one of us can go for the first week, it should be her. If she finds a place in that first week that she really likes, chances are good that I’ll like it, too.

With those fluctuations in the trip early on, the tickets had already been through one change. At this point, they were non-changeable and non-refundable.

So I went online to look for a plane ticket a week later. Almost a year ago, I signed up for a credit card that rewards travel points. I’ve been using that card for everything that I used to use my debit card for – groceries, gas, Amazon, etc., then I would pay off the balance every month.

In the past year, I had accumulated enough points to get a new flight to Portugal, with a thousand points left over. So while it sucks that I’m missing that first week, at least it’s not costing me anything (except those points).

My flight was scheduled to take off at 12:50 p.m. Friday. Linda had experienced a number of issues on her flights out, due to various issues related, directly and indirectly, to travel in a time of COVID. So, in hopes of giving myself enough time to deal with these same issues, I set out early Friday morning to begin my journey alone.

Having purchased my flight through my credit card’s travel site, the airline wouldn’t allow me to check in online the day before, as I usually do. So the first thing I did when I got to the airport hours early was go to the airline counter and get paper tickets for the first time in years.

That’s where they checked other COVID-related requirements – my PLF, or Passenger Locator Form, a sheet with a QR code on it that could supposedly be used to track my proximity to COVID carriers. They didn’t look at the sheet, just noticed that I had it. I didn’t have to present my vaccination records, either, though I had uploaded the results of the COVID test I had gotten the day before.

From there, I went through security, also with no problem. Early Friday morning is, apparently, a good time to go.

And suddenly, I was at my gate. With over three hours to spare. Good thing I had my Kindle. I finished one book and started another while I sat there.

When my group finally started boarding, the airline checked my bag. I was allowed one carry-on and one personal item. I had made certain that my carry-on fit their size limitations, but apparently they were overly concerned about space in the overhead compartments. I say “overly concerned” because before we took off, I saw a lot of empty space in those compartments.

Linda had flown a different airline and knew in advance that she had to check her bag. And they lost it. They later found it and delivered it to her the next day, but still, that was a concern as I thought about the three different planes I was going to be on.

The first part of the journey, Denver to Dallas, was fine. Relatively short flight, no customs to bother with. I had a couple of hours between flights, a good portion of which was taken up by traversing the airport to the next gate, then standing in line for boarding.

This second flight was the one I was dreading. An overnight flight from Dallas to London. I’ve never been able to sleep on planes, and this long overnight flight meant that, counting all light dozing I accomplished, I got maybe a half hour of sleep. I was pretty wiped by the time I got to Heathrow.

As London wasn’t my final destination, I didn’t have to go through customs here, either. But I did have four hours to kill. I spent it exploring a bit. I discovered that Heathrow is basically a big shopping mall that also has airplanes. For me, a little of that goes a long way. So, coffee and Kindle.

Heahtrow Mall

Unfortunately, this is where the trip went south. And I don’t mean to Portugal. British Airways was announcing numerous flights that were delayed. My flight was one of them, due to a lack of cabin crew. That meant more coffee and more Kindle.

My flight was supposed to leave at noon. By 3:30, they announced that they had assembled a cabin crew, but they still had to get through security and get checked in. I don’t know if there were any other Americans on the flight besides myself. There were several who looked as if they were likely Portuguese. And I heard a few English accents.

When the announcement was made, I didn’t hear a single “‘bout damn time.” Instead, the people who had been waiting patiently those three and a half extra hours cheered good-naturedly.

Since we started researching Mexico and Portugal and so many other countries, we’ve heard about what’s known as the mañana mentality. People aren’t that concerned with being strictly on time. Construction jobs, for instance, take a lot longer than in the States because of this ‘we’ll get to it tomorrow’ feeling. So it’s something that we’ve recognized that we’re going to have to get used to.

That’s probably why the travelers to Portugal were just calmly accepting the delay while I was churning internally, wanting to get to my destination.

Of course, I was also missing Linda on top of only a half hour of sleep the night before. So I had good reason for being impatient!

Anyway, the flight crew got on board, then the passengers got on board, and we began our flight. I didn’t get to Lisbon until after 7:00 p.m., more than four hours after I was supposed to. And I still had to get through customs, which turned out to not be a problem at all. Again. A look at my passport, not even a glance at the other papers I had out, and I was through.

Because of arriving so late, though, I missed the train that was to take me from Lisbon to Tavira. I spent the night at a Holiday Inn near the Lisbon airport.

The next morning, I caught that train to Tavira, traveling through the Portuguese countryside, and through a few towns which, before then, I had only seen pictures of in Google Maps or Wikipedia. I arrived in Tavira a little before 3:00 p.m. and messaged Linda that I was there. When I saw her walking down the street toward me, what a sight for these sore old eyes!

She had to teach a few lessons shortly after we got to the apartment. So, just minutes after I was reunited with her, I was on my own again, for a little while. So I went for a walk down the old Roman bridge that crosses the Gilão River and into the central part of town. I wandered around, took some pictures, sampled a bottle of Portuguese beer (very good), then went back to the apartment to take a much-needed shower.

My lonely journey was over. Linda and I could now continue our exploration together.