Me Vs. the Volcano: Stranded in the U.K.

Contributing writer Lisette Mejia blogs from Scotland while waiting for Iceland’s volcanic ash to subside

By: By Lisette Mejia

It's not very often that I get to send an e-mail to family and friends that begins: "A volcanic eruption in Iceland producing a massive ash cloud has left me indefinitely stranded in Scotland."

Journalists read about cleared airspace in the UK // (c) 2010 Lisette Mejia

Journalists read about cleared airspace
in the UK // (c) 2010 Lisette Mejia

As dramatic as it sounds, I have been caught up in the undeniable chaos of what some U.K. news outlets are dubbing Volcano Gate. Eyjafjallajokull's eruption on April 14 occurred hours before I was to board a return flight home to the U.S. In the corridor of my Glasgow hotel, the news — delivered to me at 6 a.m. by my fellow travel companions — left me in a state of disbelief as hazy as the ash cloud that would halt all European airspace travel for the next six days.

I had arrived in Scotland nearly a week earlier with five other members of the media to attend the VisitScotland Expo 2010 and tour the countryside. Alongside the scenic backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, we spent most of our time canoeing, hiking and mountain biking. On the last leg of the trip, we attended the expo; there, we mingled among 800 or so other visitors, our future comrades in the worldwide brigade of marooned travelers. Little did we know our adventure-themed trip was to take on a twist of its own.

No one immediately realized the gravity of the situation. I needed to be back in two days for a family celebration — others for pressing work meetings. "Oh, you'll be home by then," was the group consensus. Yet as each day wore on, we would awake, log onto Continental Airlines' Website and find that flight reservations had been canceled and rebooked for a later date. References to the film “Groundhog Day” became a conversation staple.

The lobby of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow, our residence until booking became problematic, overflowed with travelers desperately seeking a way out. Concierge staff took over the daunting task of finding much-coveted alternate forms of transportation, but available seats on ferries, trains and buses were scarce. Thoughts of taking a Eurostar train to Madrid, one of the only European airports open for a period of time, and nestling aboard cargo ships across the Atlantic had crossed my mind.

In hearing reports of three-generations of families sleeping in airport cots and of those who may face job loss as a result of the debacle, I couldn't be more thankful for my fortunate situation. Now, we have relocated to Fraser Suites, apartment-style accommodations. An in-house laundromat has put a stop to jokes that everyone is donning their cleanest dirty shirt.

I am currently waitlisted for a flight out this Thursday (April 22) and am confirmed for another flight out on Sunday (April 25). With the news that British airspace has finally been reopened, I have renewed hope that it won't be long before I'm kissing the ground in California.

In the mean time, I'm enjoying Glasgow and its lively ambience. Outside hotel walls, streets seem as upbeat as they would be under normal circumstances. I've gotten an opportunity to browse many of the city's quaint shops, restaurants and pubs — and have done so with great company. Our group has become a stand-in family of sorts, sharing detergent and passing along calling cards to phone home. Last night, we threw a birthday celebration for one of our own. It was a gathering replete with horn-blowing and tiramisu.

We amusingly recalled that several of us, at one point or another, had wished we had one or two more days on the itinerary to explore Glasgow. At the risk of sounding trivial, I dare say the joke's on us.