KIds Sea Camp Magic
It’s not the destination; it’s the journey. Well, maybe not so much!
By Rod MacDonald and family
Now sit right down and you will hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip. Okay, this is not about 7 castaways and their misadventure, but about our family of four, Rod, Carol, our son Will (14) and daughter Lily (10) and our trip to the other side of the planet to go scuba diving with Kids Sea Camp in Yap and Palau.
I celebrated my 50th birthday this year and we wanted to celebrate with something big. We had learned about Kids Sea Camp, owned and operated by Margo Peyton from South Carolina three years ago where parents and their kids can Scuba Dive together as a family. We had already traveled with KSC three times before; to Belize, Bonaire and last year were Costa Rica.
I got on the phone with Margo, yes, she does pick up the phone, to discuss options. Lily was getting certified and we wanted to go somewhere that the diving was not too challenging. As we were mulling ideas and Margo reminded me of an offer that she had made the year before. Rod, she said, remember last year when Will hurt his foot on the beach and missed a few days of diving.
“Yes”, I replied. “Well, remember I promised to comp him for next year, should you come back.” I had actually had forgotten this gesture until Margo was kind enough to remind me. Margo also reminded me that Will had missed 3 days of diving because he had a metal spike lodge it’s way 2 inches between his toes. She thought it looked quite painful.
“Well, that offer still stands,” she said. “Why don’t you come with us to Yap and Palau, and his stay will be free for both weeks.”
Well, that cinched it. Trip of a lifetime for the 50th birthday. Lily get certified in paradise and Will travels free. Micronesia, here we come!
There was only one moment of sober second thought afterward which was when we looked at our travel itinerary. Toronto to Los Angeles to Honolulu to Guam to YAP then to Palau, then back to YAP back to Guam than to Honolulu then Los Angeles and finally back home to Toronto. Oh Well, what could possibly go wrong, right?
Four months later, after much anticipation of the big day of our departure was coming. We couldn’t wait! Two weeks of diving in some of the most pristine waters on the planet surrounded by coral, clown fish (Lily could not wait to see Nemo), sharks and manta rays.
It was the night before our departure. Our tickets had been long since purchased. We had just spent the last several days winding down our business. Our bags were packed and like all scuba divers, travelers had meticulously weighed each one ensuring that they were less than 50 pounds.
We had taken our kids out of school a week early before summer break, as both had insisted nothing really happens in the last week anyway. Okay, let’s go with that.
It was 10:00 P.M. on Thursday night prior to our 9:15 A.M. departure the following day. Carol and I are sitting our bed amongst the luggage going over last minute details. “You got the passports,” I asked Carol.
“Yes,” she replied.
I go downstairs to grab the file marked “Kids Sea Camp”, which held all the paperwork that Margo’s group had provided us to complete. Waivers, itineraries, there’s a lot, even Margo admits it. I had also had placed our printed electronic boarding passes amongst the other items, 4 months ago when I had purchased our tickets from Toronto to Los Angeles. All the other travel arrangements had been taken care of by Kids Sea Camp and Family Dive Adventures. I decide to give the tickets a quick perusal and something seems a bit puzzling to me.
“Carol,” I said, ok, wait for it, “What day is it today?”
“It’s the 20th,” she answers calmly.
“No, it’s not”, I nervously reply, “It’s the 19th, right, isn’t it?”
“No, I’m sure it’s the 20th. It’s my brother’s birthday tomorrow,” she replied, still calm.
At that precise moment, I’m thinking “Houston, we have a problem.” How could I have made such an enormous mistake? Quite simply really, as I hope many of you can relate too, I’m hoping for a little sympathy here. In our, oh so busy lives, where we literally run around constantly trying to achieve “work-life balance” I somehow locked in my brain that we were leaving Friday morning not Thursday morning. I was so positive of this fact there was no need to double check this important detail.
Everything around me changed to slow motion; however, my mind started to speed up, if that makes any sense at all. I had already deduced in seconds that we were totally and utterly screwed, but things were still were moving slowly around me. We were flying to the other side of the planet with no less than 4 connections, to a country called YAP which only has two flights arrive weekly.
Someone asked me afterward how it felt at that precise moment. The best way I can describe it is; you show up for your wedding at 11:00 A.M. on Sunday in your tuxedo. You walk into the church and you ask the janitor “Where is everyone?” With an incredulous look, the janitor smiles and replies, “don’t you know your wedding was yesterday, son.”
It’s a total “Twilight Zone” moment where that spinning vortex thingy makes you dizzy. I am instantly sweating and feel totally sick to my stomach and said, “Carol, I don’t think we are going on our trip.”
Carol looks at me and says, “What?”
“Carol our plane to LA left twelve hours ago! There is no way we can be in LA tomorrow morning at 8:45 A.M, when our flight was to leave to Honolulu with Margo and the other Kids Sea Campers.”
Carol looks right at me and replies loudly, “OH … WE’RE GOING ALRIGHT!”
Now, I am one of the most fortunate guys I know, because, at that very moment, Carol could have, oh I don’t know, had an absolute crazy fit, but no, she just knew that somehow, the MacDonald family was going to make it to our much-anticipated destination. Not to break her optimistic spirit, I decide the best course of action is to go along with this delusion to delay any possible inevitable but justified, the release of tension that was most certainly going to come my way.
Next thing I know, I am sitting in front of my computer on Expedia, or Travelocity or “I don’t know” as I can’t really remember much about that moment. So I’m looking at a new possible alternative travel destination to (the Moon), knowing I had just about as much chance of getting there, as to YAP. My heart is not in it. Carol is sitting beside me, as is our son who now also knows of the dilemma.
His first comment is, “Does this mean I have to go to school tomorrow?”
“No, William, you don’t have to go to school tomorrow,” I replied. I then start thinking that our whole family is going to be hiding out in the house for the next two weeks with the curtains drawn so no one ever finds out about my massive blunder. Of course, this also means that we are going to have to Photoshop pictures of each of us on images that we downloaded from the internet of YAP and Palau sunsets.
Now my fingers are hitting the keyboard with all the determination of linguine when the phone rings. I pick up the phone and it’s Margo Peyton from Kids Sea Camp.
“Hi Rod,” says Margo, “How are you guys doing?”
I had actually had left a message for Margo on her voicemail earlier, to let her know not to be looking for the MacDonald’s the following morning in Los Angeles where we were supposed to meet them. “Oh we’ve had better moments,” I cheerily replied.
Well, without skipping a beat, Margo says the following. “Rod, this is what you are going to do. Since you left your message for me, I have been on the phone with a travel agent I know in “Guam”.
“Guam?” I reply.
With all the confidence of a field general or an NFL quarterback, she replies, “Yes Guam. Her name is Enna and we have already figured out your alternative route. You ready to write this down?”
From the sympathetic but matter of fact tone in Margo’s voice, I know that there is no time to discuss the futility of our situation so I obediently write down the instructions.
As I am jotting down our new incredulous travel plans, I’m thinking; who is this person on the other end of the phone? I know Margo runs this great little company with a loyal following of families, some of whom have traveled on as many as 14 Kids Sea Camp adventures. She is in the Scuba Diving Hall of Fame with over 5,000 dives to her credit. But I did not know she was this tactical travel guru that must clearly have a mobile travel console where she quite literally could reroute planes in order to ensure that her clients were not going to miss their Kids Sea Camp destiny. Actually, Margo has worked as a travel agent for over 20 years and from the instructions that were to follow, clearly, she is a good one.
So the new plan as follows; we were now going to fly from Toronto to Denver to Japan to Guam (where we would catch Margo and our fellow campers) and then onto YAP. All we had to do was contact Air Canada at 11:30 P.M. book 4 tickets to Denver leaving from Toronto, 9 hours from now. If we could pull that off, Margo had arranged with her Guam contact to change all of our other flights with United, read these next few words slowly, at no extra charge or penalty. No extra charge. Gee, why hadn’t I thought of that?
Okay, this sounded like a nightmare in the making. I mean as a diver we swim with sharks which to many of our friends seems cuckoo away, but this scenario scared me to death. But wait a second; Option 1. I say no and we miss the vacation and I have to wear that, for the rest of my life. Option 2, we pay for 4 new tickets at a substantial premium knowing perfectly well we are now just throwing money at a problem that is just going to go from bad to worse.
Well, we took option number 2 of course. To make a long story even longer, I spent the better part of 4 hours on the phone with ticket agents trying to purchase our tickets. Somehow the next morning we find ourselves at the Toronto International airport not having slept a wink.
We arrive 2 hours and 45 minutes before our flight is to leave. Not so fast, remember they say you need to be at the airport at 3 hours before departure. Well, we could have used that 15 minutes because after ticketing, customs and security we find ourselves running through the airport terminal with belt and sandals in hand and are informed by the gate staff that if we had come 15 seconds later, the door would have been shut. As we all know, once the door is shut, it’s SHUT!
We are now sitting on the plane, entirely exhausted and we haven’t even started our trip yet and Carol says, “You think our luggage will make it?”
Now at this point, I have inflicted enough stress on my wife, so, of course, I answered, “Yes, I’m sure it will be fine.”
Carol wasn’t buying it either, but just shut her eyes as did I. Our travel from Toronto to Denver to Japan was uneventful thankfully and we got to fly on a brand new Dreamliner. This was a great experience as our kids got to watch unlimited movies allowing Carol and I to grab some restless, but much-needed sleep.
So we arrive safely in the land of the rising sun and get the unexpected bonus of having a stamp in our passports that says Japan, super! While waiting to leave to Guam, I decide to text Margo to let her know that the MacDonald’s had successfully made it this far. I thought if there was any difficulty with our tight connection in Guam, Margo knowing this, might prove beneficial. Remember this little detail.
The plane departs and we arrive in Guam and are instantly faced with another long line to clear Guam customs. Once again we feel compelled to look at our watches every 15 seconds as if that might slow down the space-time continuum. It doesn’t. After clearing customs we once again seem to be auditioning for a Hertz-rent-a -car commercial, running through the airport.
We can’t believe that we have made it this far, knowing that we are going to miss our last flight. Oh well, I guess we are going to learn a lot about Guam history over the next couple of days. When we get to the gate and guess who is waiting for us, that’s right Margo.
Margo Peyton knowing that our family had gone through “travel hell”, was literally going to get arrested by Air Marshals if that’s was what it was going to take to get the MacDonald’s to Kids Sea Camp. The first person who receives from a big hug from Margo was William as his foot had healed completely from the previous year’s mishap and once again is the fastest runner in the family. After hugs all around, we walked down the walkway onto the plane.
As it turns out we did not know any of the other Kids Sea Camp families on the plane as we had not traveled with them before. However as we slowly walked to our seats at the back of the plane, we could tell who were the Kids Sea Camp families as all of them were smiling knowingly. Margo, of course, had told everyone about the Canadian family who against all odds had done the impossible and “won their own amazing race”.
We may have been the last team to arrive but based on our next two weeks in YAP and Palau with Kids Sea Camp, Margo and her team, the MacDonald family won the million dollar prize. A few days later when we were diving with the celestial manta rays for our first time, we realized just how close we came to missing a trip of a lifetime, somehow it was more amazing, more humbling and dare I say a bit sweeter.
From the MacDonald family, Carol, William, Lily and me, we would just like to thank Margo and Tom (Margo’s husband and partner) and don’t forget Enna, the Guam travel agent, from the bottom of our hearts. We will definitely be back next year!
PS: In 19 years of running Kids Sea Camps, Margo has never had a diving mishap and has never had a family miss a trip (knock on wood). I guess, Margo really wanted to keep that record going. By the way, in case you were wondering, our luggage made it too, dive gear and all.
Rod MacDonald and Carol live in Canada with their kids and numerous sea kayaks.