dealing with unexpected delays when you travel

I was going to call this post Mosquitoes and Mudslides, as they were a prevalent part of our visit to Ecuador. But then I realized that was part of a bigger picture: what happens when your trip is delayed or impacted by an unexpected event or occurrence?

Making the most of unexpected travel delays

We had both factor into our one-week visit to Ecuador. We lost a full day at the Chocolate Jungle Resort (more on that destination in the next post) because the road we were travelling was closed for eight hours due to a mudslide. And my travelling companion was experiencing strange symptoms that made us think of malaria, so we spent a day in a Quito hospital while she was tested for everything under the sun. It turns out her ailment had nothing to do with those pesky mosquitoes, and Virginia’s condition was treated by the capable staff at Hospital Voz Andes. Here she is playing Drama Queen of Quito for the camera.


Were the symptoms deadly? Fortunately not, but they did cause us to spend a good number of hours in a hospital

The mudslide was just as dramatic. We left Quito in a small van with several other women who were travelling to Tena, the capital city of Napo Province. Tena has just under 35,000 residents and is a jumping off point for many people embarking on jungle expeditions as we were. As it turns out, everyone in the van was local and Spanish-speaking. Our driver couldn’t speak a word of English, but fortunately one of the fellow passengers not only spoke English very well, she is involved in the chocolate industry and is developing a cacao scrub and cream for sale on the commercial market.


Believe it or not, there was a two-lane paved highway underneath all that mud! The derrumbe (Spanish for mudslide) caused a significant delay in our journey to Tena.

Tena, Ecuador

Our journey to Tena was to be a four-hour ride but turned out to take 12 hours as we were delayed in the mudslide zone for a full eight hours. Plus we had to overnight in Tena which hadn’t originally been planned. It turned out to be a pleasant diversion as we got to explore Tena a bit and stayed at an affordable hostel thanks to the fact that the family who owned La Selva Hostel was in the van with us and offered us a room at $10 per person.

After being stuck in a stopped van all day, we were starved by late evening and really enjoyed the “Americana Pizza” at Patto’s Pizza. The next morning  we discovered how delicious tree tomato juice is during our breakfast at the Cafe Tortuga, a terrific riverside cafe for chocolate lovers as they sell Kallari chocolate bars and offer a delicious banana and chocolate pancake to get your day off to a tasty start. The tree tomato is called a tamarillo in Spanish and looks like a giant plum while tasting more like a kumquat. (More on the Kallari cocoa cooperative and the delicious bars it makes in a later post.)


the tree tomato juice at Cafe Tortuga was delicious

We’ll never quite know the experiences we missed by having one less day in the Chocolate Jungle Lodge, but the time we did have there was unforgettable. Stay tuned the week of September 10th when we’ll show you the new friends that we met there.

In the interim, please share your thoughts by telling us about any unforeseen travel disruptions that changed your plans and perhaps added something you would otherwise have missed on your journey. Or did an unexpected delay completely spoil your trip and cause you to miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime? Sometimes travel diversions can be better than our original plans. Sometimes they are better left forgotten.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

36 Responses

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  2. The mudslide was just as dramatic. We left Quito in a small van with several other women who were travelling to Tena, the capital city of Napo Province. Tena has just under 35,000 residents and is a jumping off point for many people embarking on jungle expeditions as we were. As it turns out, everyone in the van was local and Spanish-speaking. Our driver couldn’t speak a word of English, but fortunately one of the fellow passengers not only spoke English very well, she is involved in the chocolate industry and is developing a cacao scrub and cream for sale on the commercial market.
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  3. Trinity says:

    That mudslide was an epic one! An eight hour clean up would have caused some headaches for sure.

    I’ve got to say that you’ve got a great deal of patience, Doreen. If I’m delayed by more than 30 minutes on a plane I pull on my cranky pants! 😛

    Perhaps I’ll try and live by your example a little more and apply some more patience moving forward…or maybe I’ll just continue to play the drama queen like your friend at the hospital! Haha.

    • Doreen says:

      You raise an excellent point, Trinity.

      Had we had someone in the taxi van who was unstable or excessively impatient, it would have made the trip horrible for the rest of us. Fortunately … everyone that was in the group just rolled with the punches and did not get too aggravated. I’m indeed very grateful for that as there was no escape!

  4. Paul says:

    Hi Doreen,

    Great post. When ever we are going for any kind of travel or tours, we always have hurry to reach at our destination point. It feels really unusual if there is any delay in travel.

    Also I am really enjoyed reading your post. Waiting for your next post. 🙂

    Thank you


  5. Trish says:

    Would you be interested in trading guest blog post on our blog, We are a blog whose audience enjoys reading anything about travel (e.g. “Best spots in Philly”, “Top 10 beaches in Spain”, “How to travel around Tokyo on a budget”, etc). And, of course, you’ll receive a FOLLOWED link to your blog or page of your choice.
    Please let me know if you’re interested. I think you’d be a great fit with our audience, and we’d also like to talk with you about other partnerships.
    Talk to you soon

    • Doreen says:

      Hello Trish: I haven’t had any guest bloggers on this blog as primarily, it has been a personal diary of my chocolate research trips in preparation for my upcoming book, “Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate.” But I may consider doing a guest post for your blog on chocolate travel. If you’d like to e-mail me at we can talk further. Thanks for your interest in my blog.

  6. Doreen says:

    Thanks so much for your comment, Sherryl.

    Yes, eventually, I do intend to have advertisers on the site, where folks will be able to buy the book and other chocolate-related enticements. Stay tuned!

  7. Doreen,
    My travel diversions pale in comparison to yours. The last experience that I had due to a travel delay was traveling back home from FL. That ended up in two extra nights and we had a wonderful time. The only thing we missed was one day of work for my husband.

    It sounds like it may have been very fortunate for you to have had this unexpected delay. Any chance of us seeing cacao scrub and cream for sale on your chocolate site?
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  8. Leora says:

    Glad your friend’s symptoms turned out to be not a big deal! It sounds like quite an adventure, your trip. Look forward to your next post about Chocolate Jungle.

    We have had our trip disappointments, but I can’t say they worked out as well as yours.
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    • Doreen says:

      Thanks for your comment, Leora. Travel will always have its ups and downs. My preference is to find the shining light in every situation. It sure beats sulking or complaining. And a smile inevitably attracts a smile. 🙂

  9. phoenix says:

    Hi Doreen, I love reading about your adventures as you travel around the world! Even when things don’t always go as planned, thankfully it all seems to work out in the end. Like Geek Girl mentioned, sometimes the delays are for the best.
    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about unsettling events in peoples’ lives. I guess it’s what we signed up for!;) Cheers!
    phoenix recently posted…Religiously Conditioned WomenMy Profile

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks for your comment, Esther.

      Yes, sometimes indeed the delays or unexpected turns in our plans lead us to something much grander or more meaningful than the original plans. That’s what this post is all about. To keep our minds and eyes open to the opportunities that may present themselves when we travel. I think we Canadians are quite good at that as we seem to travel with an open mind and an open heart.

  10. Last summer while doing driving/exploring a 6000 km loop from Nova Scotia through New Brunswick, Quebec, Labrador and Newfoundland, we were storm stayed for four days on Battle Harbour, a small island in Labrador. I was so happy I danced a jig. For one thing I was in the same bed for four nights and that was pure pleasure. But the main thing is that I could spend time with people, hear their stories, and get to know the handful of locals who lived there. Bonus: I also got a cooking lesson in how to make fish & brewis. So this delay turned out to be a Godsend.

    Interesting question Doreen (and interesting replies!)

  11. Shamis says:

    Aren’t you just lucky to always bump in to someone who speaks English during this trip? This time it was a bonus too because she was in chocolate industry eh. Oh this reminds me how much I don’t like mosquitoes. Glad your friend had nothing serious.
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    • Doreen says:

      Hi Shamis and thanks for your comment. Yes … come to think of it, you’re right! Without Monica in the taxi van with us, it would have been an entirely different trip. And having John as a guide with us in Quito was indeed a blessing. We’re so very fortunate when those travel “angels” unexpectedly show up. It reminds me of that TV show that used to run. A young woman played an angel who showed up at opportune moments to protect people from tragedy or to enlighten them along the way. That’s why I believe it’s important to accept the help of strangers after some consideration. They usually greatly enhance your journey.

  12. Keith says:

    A few months ago, I was flying from Whitehorse in Yukon, via Vancouver and Toronto to Halifax, Nova Scotia. A delayed departure from Whitehorse resulted in a missed connection in Vancouver. WestJet booked me onto a flight to Halifax via Calgary but that meant a 9-hour stay at Vancouver Airport. I tweeted about my delay and both WestJet and the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver Airport responded. WestJet arranged a day room at the five-star Fairmont and the hotel upgraded me to a spacious suite and treated me to meals and drinks. 🙂 An annoying missed connection turned out to be my best delay ever!
    Keith recently posted…Ten tips to stay healthy and fit while travellingMy Profile

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks for sharing that info, Keith. It goes to show you how our tweets are being read by people who may be able to help us! And how delays can occasionally turn into most memorable experiences. I hope you enjoyed Canada. I’ll have to drop into your blog and catch up on your posts!

  13. Jan Napier says:

    Hi Doreen,

    I recently returned from Barcelona in a wheelchair; and last year I got to enjoy (not) Dallas emergency to deal with a kidney stone on the move. So I can sympathize with you and your companion. I guess if you travel often enough medical interludes are bound to happen.

    • Doreen says:

      Hi Jan and welcome to the blog!

      Wow! You’ve had some tough breaks (literally?)

      You’re right. I guess the law of averages is bound to kick in. If you’re on the road enough, you’re bound to encounter hiccups or speed bumps to make you slow down for whatever reason. But I’d rather be adventurous and get out there and enjoy whatever happens, vs sitting at home where it’s “safe.”

  14. Irene Gordon says:

    This was a very timely blog as I just completed a trip between Winnipeg and Toronto return by train. We were supposed to leave Winnipeg at 10:30 Sunday evening. We finally got on board about 11:15 and I went to bed in my cozy roomette. It was not until next day that I learned that — due to mechanical/electrical difficulties we hadn’t left until 4:30 a.m. Monday. By the time we reached Toronto, we were 11 hours late. On the return trip, we were only 7 1/4 hours late.

    It was obviously frustrating for people who were missing connections etc., but I just kept thinking how much pleasanter being late is when travelling by train rather than plane — something I have had wide experience with.

    • Doreen says:

      Interesting comment, Irene. I’d never thought about how much more passenger-friendly train travel can be. Unless, of course, one has the pleasure and good fortune to fly first class and be in the comfortable airport lounge while waiting for a flight. I’ve been in some of those lounges where they have showers and chefs to give you all the creature comforts.

      Thanks for dropping into the blog and happy travels!

  15. Doreen says:

    Thanks, Cheryl. Glad to have you along on the virtual ride.

    Yes, I always try and find the good in any situation that is beyond our control. It’s better than sitting there complaining!

  16. Geek Girl says:

    I am really enjoying reading about your trip. You may have been delayed but there may have been something you avoided as a result. I always try to look at the bright side, as you did with your delay. You are having a great time and meeting new friends. Sounds pretty enjoyable as well as productive. 🙂
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  17. Doreen says:

    Hi Susan and thanks for your comment. It’s always great hearing from you.

    Well, I definitely wouldn’t call sitting in a van in the rain and mud for 8 hours fun … but we made the best out of an unpleasant situation. And when we keep a positive attitude, those bumps along the way don’t seem as serious as they did at the time. My life wouldn’t be nearly as rich without those travel adventures to spice it up!

  18. I always love reading about your adventures. I agree, some times some of the best experiences are born out of an unexpected event. Despite the fact that you were delayed, it looks like you made some new friend and had a fun experience.
    Susan Cooper recently posted…Life’s TransitionsMy Profile

  19. Doreen says:

    Hi Virginia and thanks for your comment.

    I must say it’s delightful travelling with you because you’re a sport no matter what the conditions or challenges. Must be all that backwoods/bush training you had in your geology days. Mind you … you do equally well in a 5-star resort, so you are indeed the quintessential traveller. Looking forward to our next adventure.

  20. Hi Doreen:
    Mother nature can be a cruel beast. I think our mudslide was probably the longest delay I’ve experienced on the road, but a few years earlier I was trapped for a couple of days in Lima as a hurricane passed over the transfer hub in Miami. Luckily, I was on assignment, so I was well taken care of as I took the extra time to explore the city.

    There were regular weather delays when I was working in the bush and the plane/helicopter couldn’t get to us (sometimes we’d hear them or see them overhead, only to feel the ache of disappointment as they turned around). But they were just part of the job and all you could do is hope you had enough Spam leftover to fend off starvation!

  21. Reading your posts always leaves my mouth watering. Thanks for sharing. Glad everything turned out ok.

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks, Susan. I always try and sneak a culinary diversion or two in there with any post. Glad you’re enjoying them!

      Stay tuned for more delicious diversions from Ecuador!

  22. Doreen says:

    Hi Linda: Yes, Monica was a godsend. I must e-mail her and see how she’s doing.

    Gone are the days when travel was fast and seamless for the most part. Or maybe it’s just that we’re all travelling more now, and to far-off places where such delays happen. I know that mudslides are quite common on the road to Tena and our host, Elizabeth, had warned us that the very thing that happened might indeed … happen.

  23. Linda Strange says:

    What great good fortune to have an English-speaking (& chocolate involved) person on the marooned van, along with the owner of the Hostel!
    Certainly more interesting than a free airport sandwich while waiting hours for an airplane part!.

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