I find that I don't generally write about travel unless it is to rant about terrible service or whine about buses. I am not alone; my friend ATK recently wrote a searing piece on the Frankfurt airport. But even though my trip home from Nicaragua was obviously booked by a sadist, and there will be no small amount of whining, I'd like to also celebrate the quirky, the cute, and the kind people I crossed paths with on my journey.
In booking my flight home I had to check with my parents to see how their schedule could coordinate with picking me up from the airport. (After a full year in Nicaragua I was not traveling particularly lightly and could not have managed public transit.) My parents informed me that they were leaving on vacation the week I was planning to come home and so I would have to leave the day after my birthday. Since my birthday ushered in a new level of ancientness it seemed only appropriate to go to bed at 9PM. I am mostly kidding; my flight was at 6AM and I wanted to be slightly coherent in the morning just in case something weird happened and I needed to be able to think. For example, on my trip to El Salvador my name was spelled wrong on the ticket and that caused a teensy bit of trouble at an ungodly hour.
As on all trips leaving a country for forever, I had carefully calculated my currency so that I would have minimal cordobas going home. In fact, I had slightly less than $20 which I thought would be enough to pay for my taxi (who last time had charged me $10). However, last time wasn't at three in the morning so the taxista charged me a full $20. Evidently I hadn't slept quite enough to be coherent because instead of just negotiating him down to the cordobas that I had, I handed him a $20...which meant that I was going to have to spend a bit on earrings and chocolates in the airport.
I hauled my luggage up to the counter where a man told me that not only did I have way too many bags but also that one of my bags was over 50lbs. (Note: Nicaraguans use pounds for some reason. Just so you know. Once my physical therapist asked me what I weighed and I was all proud of myself that I could do the conversion to kilograms in my head and he completely deflated me by asking, "Oh, but what's that in pounds?") Again, at 4:00 in the morning my logic escaped me and I blurted out something like, "ugh. credit card me." First note about lovely people: the man in line in front of me helped me heft my behemoth bags on the scale despite having two children and several bags to wrangle himself. It was very sweet. Second note: the man at the ticket counter booked me an exit row seat. I think he felt sorry for me having to lay down about $300 on luggage. Especially after I plaintively remarked, "That's like a whole 'nother flight home."
After being freed from my luggage I set off to liberate myself from my $17 in cordobas. First I bought a box of chocolates. I sadly didn't have quite enough money for two. So I bought a pair of super pretty earrings. The saleswoman looked me straight in the eye, smirked and handed me my change in all coins. If there's anything worse than having $3 left to spend, it's having it in the form of 40 heavy pieces of metal. I subjected the poor snack woman to my ire by buying a water with those coins. She actually did not react poorly, probably because I was using the Bolivian tactic of telling her that she would forgive me before I did something wrong. ("Me va a disculpar pero...") I'd never used it in Nicaragua before. They tend to rely on the opposite tactic of forgiving wrongdoing with a "No biggie." (No hay falla.) I wonder what their disparate methods for diffusing small conflicts implies?
Then I went through passport control where I had the same problem I have every time: describing my profession. In Bolivia, every professional is either a licenciado or ingeniero. I decided early on to say that I was an ingeniera forestal or forester. The Nicaraguan officers ALWAYS have a problem with this. I'm not sure if it's because the concept does not translate in Nicanol (I never hear anyone use the Lic. or Ing. title there) or if they know that the forestry trade is largely controlled by the Nica government so there's no way I could be involved, or because I'm a woman. Then the discussion reveals that I work in international development (another tricky concept) for a Catholic agency but no one can ever think of a job title for that, least of all me. Generally, they resort to writing down "missionary" which drives me nuts.
On the plane in my spacious exit row I was seated next to a Nicaraguan woman and her American boyfriend. As we took off, the Nica and I started crying. Me because it has been a weird year that didn't go very well and her because this had been her first time back in Nicaragua in 18 years and she was leaving her family behind again. This created a bond between us and she and her boyfriend shared with me some of the Nica treats they were carrying back. We ate corn cakes and rosquillas and drank terrible coffee. When we got our customs form the Nica wrote out a list of food items to declare that rivaled War and Peace for length. It made me seriously rethink my shopping choices; hibiscus flowers and chia and coconut oil would go way farther than rum and coffee. I also subtly cautionws her that she may not want to admit to everything.
We parted ways upon landing because I only had one hour between flights. An hour between flights is pretty standard except when you need to go through passport control and customs like we all did. Like I mentioned before, a sadist booked my flights. So I grabbed my three four-hundred pound bags and went to the customs line. At one point I must have looked confused (or been staring at someone blankly) because another traveler ahead of me in line asked me if I was ok. As I finally neared the customs official I noticed that I was behind the couple carrying every single Nicaraguan export. They, surprisingly, breezed through. Maybe they took my advice. I, however, found it very hard to describe my job without using words like farm, agriculture, and plants. As I saw the gleam in the officer's eyes that indicated that he had finally nabbed a dirty farm-going hippie and would subject me to a first-degree inspection and quarantine I blurted out in a last-ditch effort, "It's an office job! I've never even touched a cow!" Phew. He left me with a parting admonition not to hold my passport in my mouth because "Who knows what these officers have touched." Not a cow though. They haven't touched any cows.
The next officer started a friendly conversation and for some reason asked how many languages I spoke. He then gave me further directions in French. Luckily they were appropriate to my pidgin level. It is always so nice to have a friendly interaction with airport personnel. (I'm not being facetious or sarcastic. It really is the little things that can help you bear lugging 150 pounds of luggage around for hours.)
Next I dropped off my bags and got in line for security. At one point a TSA agent was shepherding a man through the line saying that his flight left in 30 minutes. I blurted out, "But mine leaves in 20!" She left him right behind me. I made it onto my plane and was immediately confronted by a shrieking three year old. Hysterical. And this another one of those friendly interactions: one of the flight attendants whisked the screaming banshee and his grandma away to the galley and fixed him a juice and somehow calmed the kidlet down. They returned to their seat where the little one sang the alphabet song for the entire flight. My favorite part was "vee, dubble-ubble, ex, why, zeeeeee."
Somehow the flight arrived 20 minutes early which was the only reason I had time to pee and get something to eat before my next flight. Because, yes, the sadist travel agent could not get me a direct flight from Miami to NY. Also let's take a moment to kvetch about how airlines don't provide food anymore. I mean I had prepared in advance but there are only so many linseed granola bars a girl can eat...especially without peanut butter.
And that's all. I made it home to NY safely with all my luggage and I send thank you to the guy who helped me lift my bags, the desk attendant who gave me an exit seat, the Nica couple who shared their food, the woman who worried about my mental state, the French-speaking customs agent, the child-whisperer flight attendant, and all the people who didn't stare at me as I stretched in the airport.
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