I had just finished leading a tour in Spain and was on my way to Italy to lead a walking tour through Tuscany. My flights seemed simple enough – Seville to Madrid then Madrid to Rome. Now as much as I like to fancy myself a good traveller, I am actually a terrible packer. I often get lazy when I pack and just toss everything in my checked bag. When I’m on the ball, I pack a carry-on bag with all the essentials – important documents, guide books, glasses, lipgloss (yes, it’s important), change of clothing, jacket, and extra contact lenses. In this instance I’d been so busy with my group in Spain, that I was not on the ball and therefore didn’t take the extra 5 minutes needed to pack my carry-on well.
I’d imagine they were a bit shocked when their tour leader showed up dressed for the tropics and not a cold, drizzly Florence. My group was lovely and our tour of Florence was great but when it finished, I was left shivering and sopping wet. I placed a call to the airline, they had located my bag, but it was hanging out in Madrid. Knowing full well my bag wouldn’t arrive before our departure for our hiking tour the following morning, I ran around searching for any shop open on a Sunday that sold more than wine, souvenirs, and cheese. Luckily I found a tiny sports shop where I bought a pair of trainers, socks, and a somewhat sporty looking outfit.
After a fabulous dinner with my group, I could not wait to take out my contact lenses as they felt like sandpaper in my eyes. Of course, I had no contact case nor contact solution so I resorted to using a plastic cup with saliva (I know it’s gross). Without either my contacts or glasses…I am basically blind. For reals. Not a little bit vision impaired but the “I have no idea who you are until you are a foot in front of me”, kind of blind. Just after I took out my contacts, I realized that I hadn’t put in a wake-up call for the group but instead of picking up the phone, I ventured downstairs to talk to the receptionist. I cautiously made my way down the stairs and to the front desk, grasping my way along. The receptionist must’ve thought I was a creepy, close-talker as leaned over the counter, but it was the only way that I could sort of make out what he looked like. I was pretty sure that he was handsome so I just smiled a lot. Retiring to my room and sitting on my bed, I had a horrible realization. My bed had been turned-down. I didn’t do it. Oh no. I leapt up and stumbled into the bathroom in search of my precious cup with my contact lenses and saliva. There it sat rinsed and upside down beside the sink. Gone. My eyes were gone. NOOOOO!!! I sat on the floor and cried. How was I going to lead a walking tour of Tuscany when I couldn’t see anything?!
The next morning, my bag hadn’t arrived so I put on my sporty outfit, gathered my few belongings and fumbled downstairs to meet the group. I stood there in the middle of the lobby like a deer caught in headlights. Smiling. I couldn’t even see well enough to recognize my own group. After seemingly an eternity, one of my group members tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was okay. Was it that obvious? Yup. He helped me round up the troops, find our bus, and load everything up. It was during these moments that I was actually relieved that I couldn’t see, as imagining the mortified looks upon my group members’ faces as they learned that their “fearless leader” was blind, was horrific enough. “I’ve led this tour heaps of times,” I attempted to reassure my group and myself. All I could think was that I had never so much as walked down the block in the past 15 years without contacts or glasses…how the heck was I going lead the group through vineyards and medieval hill towns?
Feeling car sick as I was unable to focus on anything, I attempted to talk on the microphone about the scenery that I couldn’t actually see. Not a great start. All things considered however, our first walk through the Tuscan countryside went pretty well – we didn’t get lost, I didn’t fall down, I didn’t lose anyone, and everyone sounded quite happy. As soon as we arrived at our new little hotel, I called the airline to find out about my bag which, as it happened, was still hanging out in Madrid. Our charming hotel was in a tiny little Tuscan village that had no pharmacy nor optician, only shops selling prosciutto and wine. So…I bought some fabulous chianti, drank it, and cried.
The sweet ladies in my group took pity on me and lent me some of their clothing which I hesitantly accepted – to say our fashion sense differed was an understatement. I put aside my vanity as I figured that my outfits were the least of my worries and besides, I couldn’t even see myself. Other kind souls in my group had extra pairs of glasses which they tried to lend me but most were bifocals or trifocals which made me walk like I was underwater and high. After the failed attempts of borrowing glasses, someone had a brilliant idea and lent me a small pair of binoculars on one of our walks. Genius. These binoculars saved the tour, my career and my sanity! Over the next four days, I successfully led my group through vineyards, olive groves, cypress covered lanes, and walled medieval towns wearing the clothes of women more than double my age and a pair of binoculars basically strapped to my head. Sexy. My eyes were swollen and blood-shot from strain, my head screamed, but I was determined to make this an unforgettable trip for my group.
Just when I had given up all hope, nearly 6 days after parting ways with my bag, we were reunited! I was so ecstatic that I burst into tears, kissed the receptionist and ran to my room. I quickly put in my contact lenses, put on my make-up and got all dolled up before I met the group for dinner. No more binoculars! No more old lady clothes! Lipgloss! As I was making my way to the lobby, I saw 3 of my group members in the hallway, I posed and smiled…they walked right past me. They didn’t even recognize me. “Did I seriously look that bad before?” I asked. I didn’t need the answer, I knew.