22 hours. That's how long it took from the moment when I left my home at 5am (Spanish time) to when I arrived at the house in Columbia, SC at 9 pm est. I had spent the last couple of weeks working out all the details of the trip and making sure I packed everything I would need to shoot a wedding abroad. Being a frequent flyer I have now perfected my packing method. It pretty much consists of opening a suitcase and literally tossing everything I am taking into a huge pile. Once I am done with that, I call my older sister Amber who carefully takes everything out and through a series of rolling and pressing somehow manages to make everything fit nicely once she is done.
The past couple of weeks had also been ones of having terrible weather. I impatiently kept an eye on the weather forecast for the days preceding my trip, and got more and more anxious as the date draw nearer and I didn't see a more positive forecast. I always anticipate things like these happening, so whenever I am shooting internationally I always find a second shooter who is within driving distance who can roll in and save the day if for some reason I ended up stuck in an airport somewhere. To this day, it hasn't happened. *Knock on wood*
The morning was, let's face it... dreary. It was cold and rainy and the winds had peaked at 40km per hour. As we sat in the plane the pilot announced that we may have a shaky take-off, again, because of the winds. I pretty much shrugged it off and continued to visualize everything that had to get done in the next couple of days. As the plane accelerated down the runway and eventually took flight there was an obvious force pushing against us. The entire structure of the plane was shaking from side to side and after about a minute we suddenly felt the plane free-fall for about a second. Everybody on board screamed, including the business men in their nice suits. Moments later I saw women's hair flying straight up as we suddenly lost another instant of altitude, and again... more screaming. People were swearing and really freaking out. It was at about that point that I started getting nervous about the flight, starting to wonder if we should have taken flight at all. Starting to wonder if we would even make it to our destination.
So what does the international photographer do, thousands of feet off the ground, and with tension in the air that you could chop through with a dull axe? She sings hymns! Haha. All kidding aside, I remember holding my hands steady on my lap and singing the words to a popular hymn. As I did I immediately felt peace running through my body, and minutes later we were on to a perfectly safe flight all the way to Madrid.
Footage taken at the local airport on the day I left made the evening news in the US!
My connecting flight from Madrid to Miami also involved another unexpected situation, but this one was much more welcome. As it turned out, the seat next to me was empty. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed a 9 hour flight where I spent 80% of the time sitting sideways across both seats of sleeping in fetal position. So much better than awkwardly fighting with the passenger next to you for that 50% of the arm rest that is "rightfully yours" or going through the "Should I wake up this perfect stranger, or not? Because I really need to use the restroom" ordeal.
On arrival to Miami, it was a different story. I was running short on time and I made good use of all the cardio training I've been going through in the last couple months as I raced by everyone on my flight an walked across the terminal like the bionic woman on steroids. Only to make it to immigration and find out that I was mistaken about the immigration forms only being for non-US Citizens to fill out. By the time I was done filling mine out, the immigration section was full of passengers and I was running really tight on time to catch my connecting flight. A couple of super nice senior citizens let me cut in front of them, and once I went through I definitely ran to baggage claim. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. The screen suddenly said that even though our bags were supposed to be on the carousel, apparently they wouldn't show up until 4pm. I had a 4:15 flight. I am personally confused as to why it's even a requirement for me to personally take my luggage across the border. We definitely don't do that in Spain. As a lady on her way to Peru cussed her way around baggage claim demanding for her luggage to appear, I kindly asked a man if he knew what the delay was. He walked into a back room and a minute later my suitcase popped out and on to the carrousel. Really hoping and praying that I wouldn't be asked to open my suitcase or questioned about my possible intentions to kill the United States president, I managed to sail through customs and literally ran with my trolley all the way to the security checkpoint while yelling "Excuse me, COMING THROUGH!!"
Security. There were at least 200 people there, in a line that didn't seem to be moving. I had 30 minutes to go through, find my gate, and be on my flight. As I walked up to the TSA lady and she saw my gate number she said I should walk to the other side of the checkpoint because it would be closer to my gate. When I got there, another TSA agent said I had to go back to the first lady. At about this point I had to control myself from wanting to kill people and be locked up for the rest of my life for being a potential terrorist threat. Instead I walked back up to the original lady, smiled, and let her know that the other TSA agent wouldn't let me through. She sighed and rolled her eyes, clearly having a long day. I smiled and joking around simply said "The world is full of "special people" isn't it? I really just need to get to my flight in less than 30 minutes." she looked up at me, smiled back and said "I'll hook you up!" as she motioned to another TSA agent who immediately motioned back for me to go through. He then opened up a straight empty aisle for me and I walked right through to the front of the line. Feeling as guilty as I did awesome, no doubt. I will spare you the details of going through the full body scan and how complicated things can get if you accidentally leave two quarters in your back pocket, but just be advised that the TSA lady yelling "Ma'am put your hands in the air!!" is not a life experience that you want to be a part of. Also, for the ladies out there... I know those really cute golden-threaded clothes are very in, but they actually contain metallic fibers. Airport security is not a big fan and may or may not be responsible for holding you back even further as you are already running late for your flight.
Once again, I ran all the way to the gate. Somehow I made it on time, had a non-eventful flight all the way to Charlotte, NC. Once there it didn't take long before I was enthusiastically welcomed by my awesome aunt Linda (who I lived with in VA for a couple years) and we quickly started on our drive down to Columbia, SC, my final destination. After much catching up and a few too many Bojangles country fries, I safely arrived at my lovely BFF and cousin Jenni's house. At the time I already knew that I was not only entering my aunt's house, but also what I was sure would be some of the most memorable days of my career as an international wedding photographer. I stopped at the door, took a deep breath, and walked right in through the back door. Jenni was right in front of the door and instinctively I walked up to her to cash in on my well-deserved hug. As I took the moment in, reuniting with her for the first time in two years, I leaned towards her ear where the first thing to come out of my mouth definitely was "You owe me, BIG TIME!"