Arrival, part 1

I took the Super Shuttle to Reagan National Airport at about 3:30 in the morning. Since I’d been up late packing, that meant I only slept for an hour or two. That’s OK – I hate flying, so I like to sleep on the plane. [I like to think that my fear of flying comes in part from a vivid, sometimes morbid imagination. While the rational side of me knows the flight is the single safest part of any trip abroad, the imaginative side of me knows that NTSB investigators can determine whether a plane was downed by a bomb in part by analyzing the remains of passengers from different parts of the planes and making a map of their varying degrees of “intactness.”] One of the other Super Shuttle passengers was a brawny guy in his mid to late 30’s. We talked about where we were going; him to Miami, me to Guatemala. He said he worked in retail and it was basically a dead-end job, so he admired my balls (his words) at being able to quit my job, travel and go to grad school for what I’m passionate about. A little bit of travel talk and affirmation makes a 4 AM bus ride go much smoother.

The lines moved fine at Reagan, though in the luggage one I was stuck behind a big church group. You can often tell these groups because they wear obnoxiously colored matching t-shirts, seemed unused to travel in general, and are led by a guy named Pastor Bob (es la verdad!). They were headed to Kingston, Jamaica, for what I’m sure will be an extremely arduous one to three weeks spreading the gospel. I can’t be too negative though – I cut my teeth traveling with mission groups, and it’s a great way to get to environs that most non-church people of similar means rarely reach.

My flight to Atlanta and the transfer were uneventful, and soon I was boarding my plane for Guatemala City. There’s a certain psychological shift when you board an international flight; especially to a new country. Suddenly you’re on a plane that is half Guatemalans and half Americans. Or rather, 50% Guatemalans with lots of things they bought in the US, 30% mission groups in matching shirts, and 20% nondescript persons or soon-to-be mangy backpackers. And then you’re wheels up and there’s no turning back – just a few hours of napping and an optional $8 crummy airplane sandwich (no thanks) away from something completely new.

As we descended into Guatemala City the view from the windows was grand. The clouds only covered half of the sky, and the rest was mountains. Green, rolling mountains, not snow-capped peaks.

Touchdown, and the passengers break into scattered applause. That part never gets old.

(to be continued…)