Something was wrong.
I had just landed in Maupiti and as far as I could tell, my airport pickup wasn’t here.
In most parts of the world, this wouldn’t be much of a problem. I’d jump online to research how to get to my guesthouse using public transport or, if that wasn’t an option, grab a taxi to wherever I needed to go.
In Maupiti, however, it wouldn’t be quite so easy. Because the main island is essentially a giant volcano with little flat ground, Maupiti’s airport is located on a small strip of land on the outskirts of its lagoon. There isn’t much of anything there: no roads, no accommodation, no restaurants, nothing. To get to your guesthouse, you needed to travel across the water by boat.
A boat that was owned by your guesthouse owners.
Your guesthouse owners who were supposed to be here to pick you up.
After grabbing my luggage from one of the wooden benches that served as a baggage reclaim, I had begun my search for said guesthouse owners. I’d wandered around in circles for several minutes, hopefully scanning every hand-written sign, watching as the eight other people on my flight were met with hugs and fragrant flower leis then led towards a small line of boats. One by one, the owners had kicked their engines into gear, then roared off across the pristine turquoise waters and out of sight.
With a sigh, I turned back towards the airport, although to call it an airport felt like an exaggeration. In front of me was a tiny open-air shelter with just one check-in desk and a couple of benches.
And it was then that I realised the only people remaining on this island seemed to be the handful of tourists that were lining up for the next flight.
A teenage boy sauntered up to me from behind a tree and said something in French.
“English?” I asked hopefully.
He shook his head and looked deep in thought. “You okay?”
I shook my head back at him. “My pension owner — not here.”
He asked for the name of my guesthouse, then looked around as I had done, frowning when he realised the owner wasn’t there. It wasn’t hard to see; there was now nobody in sight.
“Air Tahiti transfer,” he suddenly announced, leading me towards a small ferry. “Guesthouse there.”
He pointed at the main island and nodded.
I thanked him and clambered aboard, telling myself that this was exactly what I was supposed to be doing, but not really believing it. If I’d needed to take an Air Tahiti shuttle, wouldn’t my guesthouse owner have told me that in advance?
We moored and I climbed up onto dry land. The other couple stepped up to join me and were greeted by their guesthouse owner.
“Pension Tereia?” I asked hopefully, but he shook his head.
With a shrug, I grabbed my bag and made my way to the main road; the only road on the island.
“They’re probably just late,” I whispered to myself. I’d read so many articles about the importance of optimism; that people who are pessimistic tend to attract bad luck, and although reading anything about *energy* or *laws of attraction* makes me want to cover myself in slugs, by this point, I’ll try anything.
Everything will be okay, I reminded myself. Everything always works out okay. I’m still alive, after all.
I dropped my backpack by the side of the road and sat down on it. While I waited, I grabbed my phone in the hope there’d be an open Wi-Fi network, but there was nothing I could access.
A blonde girl was sat fifty feet away from me with a backpack, which gave me hope that someone was coming for me.
Surely somebody had to be coming for me?
The one thing that struck me was the silence. It was unnerving. There were no engines, no music, no conversations, nothing to indicate there was any life on the island. Just the sound of the wind and the crunching of gravel beneath my flip-flops.
My ears pricked up as I heard the distant rumble of an engine. It was going to be okay!
When I saw a pickup truck turn the corner and slow down to meet me, I stood up, my shoulders dropping when I realised he was here for me.
“Bonjour!” I called to the man.
“Bonjour Anna!” he called back.
The girl who had been waiting nearby jumped up, slung her bag over her shoulders, and jumped in the passenger seat.
I sat back down on my backpack and watched them disappear around a corner. I was alone again.
I couldn’t hear anything, see anyone, do anything. Maupiti is a tiny island of around 1,000 residents, most of whom have no need to speak any English. There aren’t any taxis and I didn’t have a map. I had no idea how to get to my guesthouse, or indeed any guesthouse.
I was stranded.
So what did I do to get myself out of this situation?
A group of local men wandered up from behind and one of them uttered something in French to me.
“English?” I asked nervously, crossing my fingers tightly by my side.
They frowned, but one of them stepped forward. “All okay?”
I shook my head. “Pension Tereia? They should be here. A pickup?”
He looked confused and spoke to the other guys for a few minutes. Eventually, he pulled out his phone and started talking on it. I allowed my shoulders to relax slightly. This was a good sign.
“They will come for you,” he told me, pocketing his phone with a smile.
I thanked the men profusely, over and over and over and over and over. Because god knows what I would have done if they hadn’t stopped to help me out.
I waited alone on my backpack for twenty minutes until a pickup truck pulled up by the side of the road. There were two blonde girls inside. They didn’t speak any English, but they helped me into the back of their truck with my backpack and we slowly made our way around the island.
I let out a sigh and unfurled my fingers. Maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be okay.
“Lauren!” a voice cried out, and I watched as a plump woman rushed across her garden to meet me in the driveway.
“Bonjour!” I called back to her with a grin, immediately forgetting everything that had gone wrong before.
It was all going to be okay. I was here now. I was in Maupiti.
“I am so very sorry,” she said, a look of concern etched across her face.
“Oh no, it’s okay,” I said, waving my hands dismissively. “I got here eventually! Don’t worry about it.”
“But we are fully booked,” she continued.
My smiled dropped.
“I do not know what happened but I lost your booking. We do not have any beds for you.”
“But…” I bit my bottom lip to stop it trembling.
A bird squawked overhead and I craned my neck to see if I could spot it. I needed a distraction to keep me from crying. All around me was jungle — I couldn’t see a single building. How was I going to find somewhere else to stay?
The owner placed her hand on my back and walked me back to the pickup truck. I clambered back up to sit with my backpack, unable to utter a single word.
“I am sorry” she said once more, and we started back the way we’d come.
Ten agonising minutes later, we turned into a driveway and stopped. One of the girls turned around in her seat and motioned for me to climb off the back. They both helped me lift my backpack up onto my shoulders, then pointed at the building in front of me and waved their goodbyes.
“This is so weird,” I mumbled to myself, before taking a deep breath and stepping inside the house.
“You speak French?” a teenage guy yelled at from the sofa. At least he seemed to be expecting me.
“A little,” I lied.
He took my bag from my back and led me into a small bedroom. There was a giant cagelike mosquito net contraption over the bed that looked like a cake topper and a ceiling fan spun uselessly overhead.
“Goodbye,” the guy said cheerfully and shut the door behind him.
I had no idea where I was.
I didn’t know what the name of this guesthouse was; or if it even was a guesthouse. I didn’t know where on the island it was. And — most terrifyingly of all — I had no idea how much it would cost to stay here.
Because I’d only spent 12 hours in Tahiti, I had only managed to withdraw $300 in cash to pay for my stay in Maupiti. The island didn’t have a single ATM and everything I’d read online said that the guesthouses didn’t have card readers. If my stay ended up totalling more than $300, I was going to be very, very screwed.
If there’s one thing my dozens of travel disasters have taught me over the years, it’s that everything has a way of working itself out in the end. This situation was no different.
I didn’t run out of cash, because the owners of my new guesthouse charged me the original amount I was supposed to pay at the guesthouse that lost my booking. The guesthouse I ended up in was lovely. I made friends and the owners were kind. It was far nicer than the one I originally booked and bonus: it was located right on the only public beach on the island. I spent the rest of my time in Maupiti climbing mountains and avoiding rain; passing the time blissfully incident-free.
The journey to get there, it turned out, was just another travel disaster to add to my list; another ridiculous story to tell friends; another reason to remain optimistic.
Everything works itself out in the end.
When was the last time you were truly scared while travelling? Share your story in the comments below!
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