I don’t know why I thought booking a flight that left at one o’clock in the morning was a good idea.
Here I was, checking my bag at eleven o’clock at night on a Saturday. The guy behind the counter glanced up as I handed him my ticket. “Did you enjoy your stay here in Vegas?”
When I told him that I lived here, he glanced back up and blushed. “Sorry, I should have known that. You certainly don’t look like you’re from Nicaragua.” Score one for the bag guy. As I walked away he yelled, “Make sure you wear sun screen!”
I sighed. My neon reflecting epidermis once again left me blushing. I don’t think anyone could tell, though. I was probably blinding fellow travelers with my legs. But bag check boy need not worry. I was bringing so many sun protecting products, Coppertone should have been paying me as a spokes model.
I was pretty certain this wasn’t the last comment I’d be getting about my translucent complexion throughout my travels.
My connecting flight to Houston would be an easy flight to sleep through. I was assigned a seat next to a cute, docile French couple and considered myself lucky. I could have been seated next to the group of baseball players who were kicking each others’ seats. Another Vegas lesson I seemed to have missed: looks can be deceiving. That couple chatted (in French) from take off to landing. I had developed a hysterical twitch by the end of the trip. I spent my layover staring into space, too tired to think, move or sleep.
One of the other girls going on Holly’s retreat was taking the same connecting flight to Managua as I was. We had agreed to meet up at the gate. It felt like a blind date, since neither of us really knew who we were looking for. I felt like I should have a rose pinned to my sweater or something.
I kept trying to catch the eye of single girls walking around the airport, hoping they were my travel buddy. I’m pretty sure they all just thought I was a lesbo.
Finally, I heard someone call out my name behind me. I turned around to meet a tall slender woman with blond wispy locks. Emily was dressed in trendy clothing and looked completely at ease with herself. I was suddenly intimidated by her confidence, appearance of worldliness, and eye contact.
In the fifteen minutes I spent with her before boarding the flight, I became overwhelmed by her essence. Emily was a 46-year-old pet photographer from Seattle. Her husband was in a punk rock band who helped start the punk movement. She often made last-minute plans to travel out of the country while he was away on tour. She had traveled the world and enjoyed extreme sports (such as surfing and scuba diving). She even took a month-long trip to Syria just because she’d heard some Syrian music and had to go see it in person. Hearing her talk about her trips and the harmonious relationship she has with her husband made me feel like I had a lot to learn about life (and balance).
We ended up sitting in the same row on the plane, with a frail Nicaraguan woman squished between us. As we boarded, the old woman was silent and stared at her weathered hands. Emily fell asleep immediately and I sat awkwardly next to this woman, wondering who was going to get the arm rest.
The flight was uneventful until the stewardesses handed out the customs papers. The little frail woman became very animated and whipped her head around frantically. She kept trying to tell me something in Spanish. I was useless to her, since my Spanish was terrible. She kept repeating, “No puedo leir.” Even though I smiled at her, I could tell this wasn’t an acceptable response. It took my brain about twenty minutes to kick in and realize that she didn’t know how to read.
Emily woke up, hearing the woman talking to me. We tried to help her fill out the customs paperwork. It wasn’t asking the questions that was a problem (the customs papers had both English and Spanish labels that made it pretty simple) but trying to figure out how to write her answers. She would often times give lengthy explanations. I would ask her how to spell it and she would scowl at me. I didn’t blame her.
The woman’s name was Rosa. She kept telling me that it was very important for young girls such as myself to be bilingual. Even though I was laughing inside at the irony of her argument, I couldn’t have agreed more.
After we got through the customs paperwork, Rosa turned into a happy Chatty Cathy. I didn’t understand most of what she was saying to me, but I smiled and nodded. She asked me what part of Nicaragua I was visiting. I told hear a place near Chinandega. She asked if I was traveling with family. I said no. She was quiet and stared at her hands again. Then she started repeating, “Ten cuidado Nicaragua… criminales.” I knew what that meant. I felt grateful that Emily was with me when we entered Managua.
After nine hours of travel, we touched down in Managua. Exhausted, delirious, and slightly overwhelmed from my Spanish lesson on the plane, I could not have been more relieved to see the taxi driver holding the “El Coco Loco” sign outside of the baggage claim. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of the venture and the madness to come.