Destination Unknown

Tomas and his wife Eleanor worked the last few months with their stubborn travel agent to plan a dream vacation much to their liking. Tomas and Eleanor were a quirky couple who did things bucking conventional tradition and sometimes wisdom. Their travel agent Unix, worked tirelessly to book their vacation to the exact specifications of the love struck couple. After months of back and forth planning of the details Unix was at complete wits end with the quirks of the couple. Unix simply wanted her social life back as she worked non-standard hours toiling tirelessly with the couple. Tomas and Eleanor could not agree on everything and bickered over the details. Eleanor wanted a place with numerous hiking or running options, Tomas insisted on a place that was not infiltrated with privileged white people drenched in wealth. Tomas wanted a place where he could be off the grid and Eleanor desired a destination where she could sit and relax in the sun.

Unix felt more like a marriage counselor than the professional travel agent she wanted to be. Unix met with the couple in smoky bar down by the docks overlooking a few tired looking fishing boats heading back into harbor. It was a tourist bar with a section set aside for locals doing business. Reading the mood of the table, Tomas and Eleanor were distracted as in previous meetings. These meetings were eating into Unix’s free time and her productivity as a travel professional. She had no plan for their meeting and suddenly, partly of frustration, and partly a desire for travel she made up a plan. She liked this couple but needed to be done with them.

Unix sat down with trepidation, and presented to the couple, admittedly a calculated shot in the dark. Unix passed a plain manilla folder which Eleanor accepted gingerly. She glanced briefly at the folder much like a poker player viewing their hand during the initial deal. She gave a knowing smile pretty much giving away her approval of the content. Silently, she slid the folder over to Tomas almost as if she was bluffing.

“What is this, this is an empty folder?”

Eleanor’s smile grew like a flower petal blooming. She had hinted this idea to Unix in the previous weeks and had only discussed with Tomas in passing.

“Tomas what I am proposing to you is a tad unconventional. I do believe over the last couple of months that you have many things in common. The one thing that stands out is your incredible sense of adventure. ” Unix looked Tomas squarely in the eyes as she said this.

“I know the little things you two like to do. Unix added with a wicked glimmer in her eye.

I know the little things you like to do. Eleanor you generally like to go for a run every day and I know you prefer running on trails. Tomas you want to be around water or nature. You both like eating foods that are unique and have never tried before. You both like experiencing the everyday life of the local people.

“So where are we going?” Tomas queried.

“You will not know until you get there and you may not even know then.”

They both agreed, the idea while unconventional, was a stroke of subtle genius.

On the day of their flight, they headed to their assigned gate, which had no marking or destination details. They had no idea how Unix pulled this off. Their excitement level increased with each passing moment. This was going to be so much fun with an underlying hint of danger. They were a little bit surprised to find the plane only a third full. The couple had the back row of the plane to themselves. As somewhat expected, the windows were not operational. Upon inspection, all the windows on the plane were exactly like this.

Both Tomas and Eleanor dozed off into a deep comfortable sleep before the plane reached cruising altitude.  They were jolted out of a deep sleep a few hours later when the plane landed suddenly. The flight attendant asked the sleepy couple to remain on the flight as most of the remaining passengers exited toward a destination unknown.  It was a strange arrangement yet both Tomas and Eleanor were more than happy players in this clouded obscure adventure.  They had taken the plunge and did not want to spoil the suspension of reality.

Their final destination was another two hours ahead. They were informed of this as their waitress in the sky handed them a couple of bags of pistachios, some flatbread and a small container of mango chutney.  This not being a conventional airline, they were given drinks both exotic and quizzical in nature.  They were presented with a martini type drink garnished with white asparagus and garlic cloves. The food and drink were unusual and offered nary a hint of the culture they would emerge.  They each had two drinks as a celebration of one of the better feelings in world.  That is travelling the world with a few weeks worth of relaxation and adventure ahead.  They were basically playing with house money at this point in time.

The airport was tiny to say the least. It only had six gates. Eleanor felt a bit light headed and stumbled once or twice as she navigated the breezy corridors toward where baggage claim should be. The airport smelled of sugar doughnuts and cilantro.

A tall man of indistinct European descent held up a large sign with their last names neatly printed in large block letters.

“Look Honey this is the first time in my life this has happened to me.  This is shaping up to be quite an adventure. “

“Hallo, ich heiße Gunther. Hast du irgendwelche fragen?”

She suddenly remembered she told Unix she spoke German and that was only partially true.

With all great puzzles most get solved in small increments. So far they were no closer to solving a puzzle they were not exactly in a hurry to solve. That is, where exactly were they.

Gunther continued in German even though she told him her German was not all that good. She tried in broken German as well as English to no avail. Gunther marched on in German. He did talk slowly which helped her somewhat.  Gunther led them to a small parking lot where there was a large car waiting to take them to their new home for the foreseeable future.

Gunther escorted them to the car and opened the passenger rear side door of a blue and white 1957 Chevy.  They both comfortably situated themselves in the ample back seat. They even noticed the car had ashtrays in the back seat.  Gunther switched on the radio as they drove slowly through a landscape that defied place and time.  Exotic colorful birds flew purposely from tree to tree.  They had seen parrots before. Seeing them in the wild gave them great pleasure.  The cars they passed were mostly older, vintage American cars from an era they had only read about.  The radio played local music that hit the ear perfectly. It was a multicultural mix of southern European (mostly from Spain) with a hint of Portuguese and a splash of American pop. The radio announcer eloquently spoke either Spanish or Portuguese, neither of them was quite sure. For all Eleanor knew it could be Polynesian. Tomas assured here it was most likely Spanish.

They sat contently in the back seat holding hands, smiling at each other as they took in the sights and sounds. They pulled into a little village where sat about a dozen similar houses. Their house sat back in a plush shaded area. They immediately were impressed by the constant sounds of birds calling out to each other.

Still in German, Gunther informed them that there would be no electricity, usually from 10PM until sunup the next day.  He also told them this area had many cats some of which were feral and some that were not.  He did memorize one sentence in English. 

“Please do not feed the cats. You will be fined 15000 in local currency if you are caught feeding the cats.” 

They thought about this for a second, as they were not even sure of the local currency, as most expenses were pre-arranged. The village seemed to have a currency all their own.

The couple settled in comfortably into their new lodgings. It was much to their pleasing.  The windows in the house were mostly without glass. The south side of the house had glass windows serving as a protection from the rain.  It was a lovely existence. The house was stocked with the essentials and little luxuries for day-to-day living.  A gentle breeze blew through the house. There were plenty of trails to explore and a quaint town center nearby. Town center was a colorful place filled with vibrant music and local culture.

They never really asked, but they both figured they were somewhere in Colombia of maybe even Peru. It did not matter all that much.  They suspended reality for as long as they could. That was part of the fun. They never surveyed a map and did what they enjoyed most. That is blending in with and being part of the fabric of the community. Tomas’s splintered Spanish was enough to purchase local liquor or vegetables when needed. The locals did not mind speaking English when needed.

On their third day there, Eleanor felt confident enough to set out on a run. It was on a course her and Tomas had pretty much scouted on their walks the previous days.  Upon Tomas’s insistence, Gunther would serve as an escort.

This was what Gunther was paid to do.  His job was to keep the clients informed and safe. Gunther had made a international call to Unix protesting that this was not what he had signed up for. He insisted that his family had escaped Germany during the Second World War and he should not be subjected to death marches such as this.

Gunther was a blusterer and Unix knew his line of logic was shallow at best.

Unix responded with, “Gunther we pay you well and you know the job agreement.  Go buy a new pair of running shoes, put it on your expense account and go for a run.

It was a leisurely five-mile run where Gunther thought he was going to expire.  The new shoes propelled him faster than his legs and lungs were willing to go. Having Gunther along was nice for safety sake. After about a mile, Ellie told Gunther that she deemed an escort unnecessary and Gunther was more than happy to oblige. Soon after, the skies opened up and a warm steady rain fell. It was days like today, that Ellie was thankful for her fitness level. The miles passed effortlessly and she savored the warm rain-washing over her.  It was such a pleasant afternoon so she shortened her run so she could spend the rest of the afternoon with her husband.

When she got back to the house, there, on the front porch,  sat two little kittens eating out of a sliver saucer she recognized as being from their kitchen.

“I did not expect you back so soon my dear, hope you enjoyed your jaunt.”  Tomas said with a slight hint of embarrassment like he had been caught in the act.

“Tomas you are a sucker for animals, Have you been feeding them since we have been here?”

“Yes I have.”

“Meet Snowball and Coffee”

The next week was pure paradise for them as a couple. They both agreed this vacation was pretty close to what they were looking for. They prepared all their own meals using fruits, vegetables, spices and grains local to the area. Tomas became much more confident with his Spanish. When they dined out it was at little Mom and Pop shops and they picked up tips on how to prepare the foods expertly. They also became quite attached to Snowball and Coffee, They were greeted each morning with either a paw at the door or gentle little meows to be invited in. Ellie also found herself becoming attached as well. They both recognized cats running wild were a problem and they even talked about adapting one on their own.

On one of the last days before they were scheduled to depart, Tomas did something a tad out of the ordinary. He offered to go out for a run with his wife and Ellie was elated with the idea. Running was not something Tomas enjoyed but it was a nice growth opportunity for the couple. Ellie was not exactly an animal lover and she came to embrace the kittens and plight of the local feral cats. Tomas realized a vacation such as this is a perfect opportunity for a couple to learn and grow together. They also realized they were pretty darn privileged as many people in this world could not afford a vacation such as this. Some people got no vacation at all.

Their run took a trail overlooking the village where they were staying. They took in the vista of the tranquil village and reminisced on how lovely the place has been. It seemed like the village had chosen them. Some people run to escape everyday life but on this day they ran free and easy savoring what life had to offer.

They returned back to their place full of optimism and zeal. Tomas thought to himself that if this is what running is like, he needed to give it a fresh new look. As they approached their home they noticed a note pasted to their front door. They assumed it was a note from Gunther with specific directions for their upcoming departure. Unfortunately it was not.

Upon inspection, the local authorities slapped them with a fine for feeding the cats. They were to appear in the local courthouse the following day or they could simply pay 15000 in local currency and be on their way. The informality of the note struck them as curious.

Tomas, an animal rights activist when provoked, loved these cats and insisted they fight, what they viewed as an extreme punishment. Ellie loved this about her husband and she was right there by his side. They loved this little village, the people and certainly the cats who were born into this sad predicament. The cats had not chosen this this village rather the village had chosen them.

Despite their love of the this village , they were not equally enamored with the laws of the land. They felt like they were set up, as who in their right mind would not feed these adorable cats.

They went to their favorite little eatery that night and shared a festive little feast with the locals.. Armand and Pilar, who owned the Hollow Goose, set aside a large table so that the locals could join as they wished. Hearty laughter, tumblers of red wine and local Tacos were the flavor of the night. The air was ripe with cilantro, parsley, guascas and chives. A special soup was prepared using white yams, onions, lime juice and queso costeno ( a coastal artisan cheese). The talk of the hearing about the cats filtered into many of the conversations.

Some of the older locals had a bit of a grudge against local government but did admit things were markedly better in the last fifteen years. As the celebration wound down, Armando allowed a kitten to finish the remainder of a soup bowl left on the table. Soon another a persian kitten joined in.

The hearing the next day took place in the house of a local official. Tomas and Eleanor arrived about ten minutes before the appointed time. They sat anxiously in a large colorful room that exuded class and style. The room was painted a burnt orange, colorful art decorated the walls and a ceiling fan spun lazily overhead. The room was empty, beside Tomas and Eleanor, and they shared an unease about local governments knowing stories they had read about third world countries. More specifically the unpredictability of the judicial systems was of concern to them.

At about ten minutes after the appointed hour, the locals, many who were at dinner last night, started filtering in. Most nodded to the couple indicating that they were there for them. The ceiling fan continued spinning slowly seemed to stir the conversation in the room. The mood was more solemn and subdued than last night. At about half past the hour, a distinguished woman walked into the room, donning a white robe, indicating the hearing was to begin.

She sat down in a floral covered reading chair, and without hesitation, looked at Tomas intently and back toward the crowd gathered before her . A small hush enveloped the room.

“Tomas Polanco is that the name stated on your passport?”

“Yes your honor.”

“You can skip the American formalities, a simple yes or no would suffice.” The judge said while smiling warmly.

“Yes your ………… , That is me.” He replied with a hint of a smile. The mood of the room seemed to relax a little bit.

“You seem to have made your presence felt in our village and you seem to have assimilated well. Did you feed the cats during your stay here?”

“Yes but…..”

The judge stopped him mid sentence and suddenly declared the hearing over. A hush once again circulated  around the room. Eleanor squeezed his hand indicating what he already knew. She supported him no matter what. She was by his side.

The judge asked if he was prepared to pay the fine and did not allow Tomas to reply.

“Let it be known to the court that Tomas agreed to pay the fine. Tomas the fine is approximately $49.00 in your local currency. These fees will go to making sure these two cats are adopted and taken care of. We will find a loving home for them. Are you okay with that?”

Muchas gracias su honor”

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