Six months ago Jeff and I had an opportunity of a lifetime to plan our dream adventure to Japan walking the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage in the sacred Kii Mountains on the Southern Peninsula below Osaka. The Kumano Kodo is one of only two World Unesco Heritage Pilgrimages. The other is the Camino de Santiago in Spain (which we walked last October). They are now linked as “sister pilgrimages” and anyone who completes both can become “Dual Pilgrims” and will receive a special certificate and pin!
We were so thrilled to find an amazing flight deal and everything fell into place for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For the past six months, we have painstakingly planned and prepared each detail of this special trip. We have read thousands of reviews, carefully selecting our lodging and itinerary. We have studied the Japanese language and culture, learned proper etiquette and customs, and watched hundreds of YouTube videos. We joined a Facebook Group for Kumano Kodo pilgrims, making friends, asking questions and following each other’s journeys and photos. We’ve researched Japanese history, including the beauty and harmony of the Shinto and Buddist religious traditions in the Kumano region. I dreamed every night of walking through this sacred forest of the 1000 year old trees.
Needless to say, this pilgrimage has consumed our lives and hearts for six epic and exciting months! We have been SO EXCITED FOR THIS!
Our red-letter day: Friday, October 11, 2019 – starting with a short flight to LAX, a long layover, and a much longer flight to Osaka Kensai Airport, arriving Saturday, October 12 at 6:30 PM.
TODAY is that magical day!
… until a monster Typhoon named Hagibis decided to create the same itinerary – heading straight to land in Osaka, the Kii Mountains, the Kumano Kodo, and the greater Tokyo area.
At the Very. Same. Time.
What are the odds of this happening to us?
Seriously. We knew it was the tail end of Typhoon season, but everyone told us not to worry. It was highly unlikely anything except some heavy rain would hit this late in the season, and certainly not what would be called the “largest and most violent typhoon in decades”, the “most dangerous storm on earth”, and “monster storm”. And what are the odds that both our arrival times would coincide?
Really crazy, and sad! Why would this happen to us?
48 hours of watching all the weather channels and searching for everything we could possibly find online about Hagibis [a.k.a. “Typhoon #19”]. Each passing hour the storm growing in size, velocity, and danger instead of shrinking as originally predicted. And it’s a bit shocking that no one else in America seems to even know this is happening. It’s not news-worthy until it started affecting the World Rugby Championship games currently happening in Japan.
This is not just any old average “run of the mill” typhoon. Nope. Hagibis grew from a tropical storm to a Category 5+ storm in just 14 hours. This is a storm like no other – go big or go home – and it’s headed right toward the home of a place and people we hold dear in our hearts.
It’s been a wild ride – not known what would happen with our trip. We prayed the storm would just change course, when that didn’t happen we prayed it would fizzle and die, or at least downgrade. No reason to panic or cancel our plans or anything. At most, we would just have to cope with a couple rainy days. That certainly would not be a big deal, right?
We looked up Japanese newscasts and papers and used Google translate to try to see and hear what the locals were seeing and hearing. The authorities and Japanese weather services were telling everyone to prepare for the worst. Gather at least 3 days of supplies of food and water. Expect Power outages, cell towers going out cutting off all cellular service. Infrastructure difficulties and failures were expected. Trains would not run due to high winds and power outages. Public transportation would be limited or halted. An entire region and country were headed to full-stop. Were we supposed to keep going?
SO MANY QUESTIONS
If we somehow safely arrived at the airport (flying directly through the storm path), would we even get out of the airport if there was no transportation? What would the infrastructure look like? Would our hotel have power? Would there be food and water available? Would the train be running so we could get to the Kii Mountains for our trek? Where would be stay if the train wasn’t running and we didn’t have reservations in the city? If this was a big storm and the rain lasted, we could not walk our pilgrimage safely on the steep forest trails…
We held vigil watching and waiting for what happened next.
At 8 am this morning the airline put a notice on their home page that all flights were being “suspended” to four major Japanese airports (including ours). However, the flights were not officially “canceled” yet, and until that happened we learned you cannot receive a refund. By the time Jeff and I finished our morning commute together we had determined to cancel our dream trip, and postpone our dual pilgrimage quest. Now came the extreme anxiety about all of the logistics, the emotional letdown, and the financial impact. Most lodging reservations were no longer refundable.
I started to make phone calls. Our credit card company, American Airlines, Japan Airlines, the Kumano travel agency. I literally spent 6 hours today speaking with countless people… and also being placed on countless “hold please” torture minutes and I was forced to listen to mind-numbing MUZAK on repeat… At one point it became so maddening and overwhelming I texted Jeff and told him it was going to be much easier to simply take our chances with the typhoon! But, I persevered. And, I learned a lot about stuff “I never knew I never knew” [and never wanted to know] regarding Airline fine print, and travel contracts, The chess game of “cancellation”, and the tango dance between the issuing airline and their partner airline… not to mention all the creative interpretations of Acts of God versus nature versus ‘that’s life’.
HOLLY’S 5 TRAVEL TIPS
A CAMINO MIRACLE
When we walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage last year we learned the common phrase “Camino Miracle” – used to explain the unexplainable events that would save the day, and make impossible things possible.
Today we experienced a stunning Camino Miracle.
I am still trying to wrap my head around it.
Since our flight wasn’t listed as “Cancelled” it could not be refunded.
But, we were given a couple of offers:
1. Rebook our same flight 5 days from now, to arrive at KIX free of charge with all change fees waived. [not possible for us logistically, nor logical considering the potential damage to our destination!]
2. Receive a voucher for a future flight [with an expiration date that we knew would be impossible for us to use by that date].
I understand how airlines must look out for their bottom line, but I did not mind them keeping my money as long as I was just given a flight in return! I mean, here we are – all paid, packed, and ready to go… somewhere. We have already taken off all of our time at work, trained the people covering for us, made arrangements for the house, I even cleaned out the fridge.. you know, all the really important I’m-going-on-a-trip stuff – including being mentally prepped for some serious DOWNTIME … The clock is ticking! We don’t want to miss a day!
They agreed I could rebook a new itinarary if I paid all of the [exhorbiatant] rebooking fees. I reasoned that if JAL had already offered to waive fees for me rebooking to a place with damaged infrastructure, that potentially could also become another canceled flight… then, why not just allow us to book a flight to somewhere else? You know, like a good human thing. That was my ask. While Chase, American Air, and JAL all hashed out the logistics of that – I did some quick messaging to my friends at Flights from Home and they messaged back with some links to stunning last-minute flight deals departing from SLC today.
Among them was the city that I KNEW was THE ONE!
“Can you book this one for me, please?”
That’s when the Camino Miracle happened. They said YES! They allowed it! They actually waived all of my fees and booked the two remaining seats for our amazing new destination…
IS THIS REAL LIFE?
Yes! Seriously! Can you believe it? We are actually headed back to Spain to have a whole new pilgrimage experience. We have never been to Madrid – unless being in the airport for 1-hour counts (and no, it doesn’t count).
As of an hour ago we had nowhere to sleep. Then, we found a wonderful AirBnB which was completely booked except for our specific dates. (waiting for us)
We only have a vague idea of what we might end up doing. But, just received a fabulous message from our host with a sample itinerary and lists of things to do… PLUS, he is arranging an airport ride! Sweet!
We are gloriously winging it and letting this adventure unfold in all of its sparkling mystery.
The best part is how calm and peaceful Jeff and I feel right now. It is the antithesis of the anxiety and unease and “internal storm” we were experiencing every time we thought we would just go … but, knowing it was “not right”. And now everything finally feels “right”. For whatever reason. This is where God wants us to go.
He sure had a dramatic way of sending us there though, right?!
We are praying with all our hearts for the dear people of Japan. We are worried about all of our fellow pilgrim friends who are on the steep mountain paths of Kumano… Please, anyone and everyone in the path of this storm, be safe! Be cautious! I’m praying this will pass over you safely, and that damage will be minimal. Jeff and I are counting the days until we can return for our Dual Pilgrimage. And it will be twice as sweet and treasured now.
I am overwhelmed by the kindness and grace being offered to us. We are receiving little messages one by one from our hotels and lodgings in Japan waiving all the cancellation penalties which they totally had the right to keep. Oh, bless all of those dear souls! We have landed very softly from this storm on our feet, and we pray that they will too.
What kind of reason or outcome could possibly be so important to suddenly hurl us from our carefully planned pilgrimage to the opposite side of the earth?
Let’s Go Find Out!
Side Note: At 01:08 this morning I received a text alert that my flight to Osaka KIX airport was officially CANCELLED. This means everyone on that flight can now request a full refund. I am glad to know that we would have gotten it – but, if we had simply waited, we wouldn’t be going to Spain today!
[Making 6 hours of agonizing MUZAK TORTURE justified?]