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I almost go Dumpster diving in Malaga, Spain

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | Dec 03, 2012


I finally know what my Spanish minor in college is good for. (Okay, I didn’t actually finish it. I got to 300-level classes, couldn’t get A’s competing with classrooms full of Mormon returned missionaries who were immersed in the language for 2 years. I dropped it, for a quick-and-painless Poli Sci minor.)

My trip to Malaga, Spain was an epic adventure, and not in a good way. Speaking Spanish (rather pathetically) wasn’t just handy, but critical.

The morning after we landed, I went for a run and got lost. Thanks to the fact that every road twists and turns and lasts only 100 yards before it meanders 20 degrees and becomes a different street name altogether. I run everywhere, all over the world, and haven’t ever been lost before. I supposed I was due for it.

Two hours of wandering later, I’m supposed to be at the clinic meeting Dr. Jenkins. I don’t have my cell phone with me, or any money. I have no recall of the address of the flat we’re staying at, not a street name, nada.

Instead I find a police station: no phone number to call, and three policia have taken my photo, vital stats, and interviewed me. I’m totally humiliated and stressed, with tears welling up in my eyes.

Fortunately I know enough Spanish to NOT say “Estoy embarazada,” which doesn’t mean “I’m embarrassed.” It means, “I’m pregnant.”

Finally I get back. (Turns out I was two blocks from home. Even more embarrassing.)

Unfortunately, I go in the apartment building next DOOR to mine, can’t figure out why 6D doesn’t look anything like I remember, and have to walk to the Budwig Clinic to find out that there are TWO identical apartment buildings side-by-side. I meet Dr. Jenkins with a tear-stained face, no makeup, in running clothes. To ask him and his staff what the problem is, that I cannot find the apartment I was dropped off at, the night before.

I tell Dr. Jenkins I’ll be back in an hour, cleaned up. For the rest of our visit to Spain, Shari tells me, to make me feel better, “This town is SO easy to get lost in!”

On our way, we’ve come through Charles de Gaulle airport, with only a 45-minute layover, and have to sprint, inasmuch as one can sprint, dragging a carry-on with wheels. They hold the gate for us, luckily. But unluckily, our luggage never makes it. Not for THREE DAYS. The Malaga airport gives us a toothbrush and a white t-shirt. We spend three days hand-washing our only set of clothes, hanging them on our balcony to dry, and sleeping naked.

Travel lesson learned: take a change of clothes in carry-ons, if you’re checking a bag. I’ve always heard that before, but now I’m actually going to DO it.

Trying to leave Spain, later, having finally just gotten our luggage, we’re dropped off at the airport to learn that all the pilots in the country have gone on strike today. We’re forced to get on an Iberian Airlines plane for $2,000 to Germany, in order to be at the next clinic, late that night, and we will sit in airports in Malaga and Madrid, waiting all day.

We arrive in Germany and find the bad luck hasn’t left us. The prearranged driver isn’t there, so we have to take a $200 taxi ride, driven by Ahmet the chain-smoking Jihadist….to a clinic in a tiny little town, population 50, where our “hotel” turns out to be dark, closed, and locked.

But back to Spain. In the ill-fated Malaga airport, a nationwide strike isn’t our only challenge.

I’d bought a $65 carryon bag with roller wheels, because my Nike bag was killing my shoulder. In the U.S., I have Gold Medallion status and Delta looks the other way at my too-heavy suitcases. In Europe? Forget it. No forgiveness.

One ounce over, and they have you opening your suitcase in front of God and Everybody and pulling out all the heavy stuff, to carry it in whatever’s on your shoulder.

Turns out the $65 bag is a P.O.S. That’s short for “Piece of Sh**,” if you didn’t know. Two airports and the thing is falling apart already. Drags on the ground, hard to pull.

I break down buy a nice $350 Samsonite carry-on set in a luggage shop in the airport, and I ditch the P.O.S. bag in the middle of the airport.

Two hours later, having gone through security, sitting at the gate reading a book, I remember that all my cash for the trip was in the P.O.S. bag I abandoned. $1,000. In a tiny little zippered compartment.

Keep in mind I just had to fork over $2,000 to get us to Germany. Through Madrid. At midnight. Plus the overpriced luggage.

I’m grumpy.

I tear off through the airport, back to the scene of the abandoned bag.


Lost and Found? “No lo tengo!” they say.

Ah, la policia in Malaga! Otra vez! Geez, these guys won’t be sorry to see me leave the country.

They gather around and make calls and find out that an officer found my P.O.S. bag abandoned and threw it away. The head of Security hangs out with me, while two officers go into the bowels of the airport, where apparently a Dumpster contains the P.O.S. bag I refer to as “mi maleta roja,” since I do not know the translation for “piece of sh*@.”

The chief of airport security is no novice at discovery. He grills me. In Spanish of course:

Chief: So, you left the bag in the airport on purpose?

Me: Yes.

Chief: And it was empty.

Me: Yes.

Chief: But you want it back now?

Me: Yes.

Chief: Why?

Me: Because it has something in it that I need.

Chief: We looked through it. It was empty.

Me: Yes Except in one small part.

(You see what I’m doing here? I’m giving as little information as possible. He’s good, though, and isn’t going to let it go despite my dodginess.)

Chief: Ah. And what is it you are missing?

(You can see his curiosity is very high at this point. And it’s at this exact moment the elevator doors open and two officers walk toward me, holding out the P.O.S. red bag.)

Me: Dinero!

I open the bag and all 3 men peer into it with me, as I unzip a tiny pocket and pull out a folded stack of $100 bills. Their eyes get VERY WIDE.

I thank them and shake their hands. The $2,000 on the airfare, the $65 and then $435 luggage, losing half a day sitting in the airport….all my annoyance is gone. Instead I’m high on recovering something that was lost.

I’m feeling lucky that we’ve escaped a strike. Add that to my other travel adventures in recent years: outrunning a landslide, a fire, two hurricanes, and an earthquake. As my friend Laura says,

“Either things turn out well, or they make a great story later.”

Looked at from that angle, “It’s all good,” verdad?


Posted in: News

6 thoughts on “I almost go Dumpster diving in Malaga, Spain”

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  1. Karen says:

    Robyn, I have traveled all over the world and I have a few good stories but that hands down is the most hysterical, crazy, downright miraculous story I have ever heard! Glad you made it back in one piece!

  2. Shellie says:

    Robyn, Please take ME with you next time! Yo hablo espanol from living in Honduras for a year and a half and would love to be your translator! You’ll need one, you know, in the future to make these trips more enjoyable for yourself! Please take me! Take me! Take me!

    Ok, and I’ll even pay for myself!

    P.S. I’m not kidding here.

  3. Laura says:

    Sometimes you just can’t make that stuff up! Thanks for sharing and the laugh 🙂

  4. Cherilyn says:

    Me encanta la aventura! Living in Peru for 2 1/2 has certainly brought some misadventures that definitely make for a great story later. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Janet Cox says:

    Thanks for sharing this funny, unbelievable story, Robyn. Happy to hear you got home safely and recovered the cash from your POS! I just got back myself from a week in Panama, where I also had a couple of language dustups, but nothing on your scale. (A taxi driver took us to a completely wrong part of the city, far away, then left us stranded; plus I was amused to receive a bottle of catsup after asking for salsa — isn’t “salsa” one of those words understood in every Spanish-speaking country??) I hope your recent experience doesn’t deter you from returning to Spain — I’ve lived there twice and it’s a wonderful country.

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