The much anticipated travel day is here. (Queue the perilous music)
When my alarm goes off at 3 am, instead of feeling excited for 18 fun filled days in beautiful Guatemala... all I feel is impending doom. My stomach feels like a kaleidoscope of butterflies as I get dressed and pack my last minute toiletries. The Drive to the airport happens so fast that I don't even have time to wind myself up into a ball of panic, it feels almost like we have used a teleportation device instead of a car.
I am so paralyzingly nervous that I need to concentrate on each basic task I need to complete before boarding the plane. Get out of the car, close the door, say good-bye to Linda, get luggage, breath, check in with my airline, breath. One step at a time, and I will get through this. Right?
I planned to take some Gravol during the flight, hopefully to make me sleepy enough that I have a nice, pleasant nap while in the air. I had only one recent memory of taking Gravol and it knocked me right out for the entire night, so since I have a terrible fear of flying, I was thinking that I may start with half a tablet and go from there. The last thing I wanted was to arrive in Guatemala drooling and groggy, frisked and questioned by the armed Guatemalan police who don't speak English - second only to the plane crashing, of course.
I began thinking of my connecting flights like rounds in Street Fighter II - and for this one, I desperately wanted to be knocked out!
ROUND ONE : FLIGHT!
Checked in, sitting at our gate - now we play the waiting game. After 4 bathroom visits in 40 minutes I decide it's time to take some Gravol. The attendants announced our flight was boarding, nothing felt real and I tried not to think - just be. My thoughts would only plot to take me away down a spiral tunnel of imminent disaster.
Out of all the plane rides we were about to take, I assumed this one would be the largest aircraft, and so would be the smoothest ride. As we walked down the gangway I couldn't help but think, "Are we sure this is the right plane, it's looks kind of small.." Stepping onboard, I noticed the one row of single seats, the aisle and a rows of doubles. This was officially the smallest plane I have ever been on in all my days. This sudden realization sent me into a panic. Deep breath. As long as I'm not sitting by a window, everything will be okay. Fought Steve for the aisle, and won easily. Thankfully, our helpful but awkward steward made time pass by serving refreshments four times, which made the flight more bearable.
ROUND ONE: FLIGHT! Ratings:
- "Omg we are going down" scares: 1
- Turbulence rating: 5 (10 highest)
- Sleep: 0 hrs
- Comfort: 2 (5 highest)
- Airline: United
First layover! Hello Houston! (We will meet again!)
ROUND TWO : FLIGHT!
Found our gate fairly easily and, since we didn't have much time to kill, decided just to wait. Overheard other travelers' conversations about what parts of Guatemala they planned to visit, and attempted to eavesdrop on some Guatemalan couples and families to "practice" my Spanish.
Soon enough I was seated on the largest aircraft of my entire flight, which sent measures of comfort and joy through my body. Squished between a native Guatemalan and Steve, I thought I could breath a sigh of relief. Cramped in my seat, we still hadn't heard the safety rules before take off when I suddenly started to overhear the conversation that was happening in the back cabin. Something wasn't working, and this was preventing us from taking off. Delays of any sort make me nervous. If something insignificant can suddenly stop working, couldn't something vital just suddenly break down? It doesn't matter how unlikely that is to occur either, the simple fact that it can occur is enough for me. I'm convinced that I'm unlucky, therefore it can happen. I'm not a person who plays the odds. In fact, I should also get this off my chest right now - I don't care how unlikely I am to be in a plane crash and how more likely I am to get into a car crash on the way to the airport - stop telling me that! You are unlikely to win the lottery, but look at how many people do that every week.
40 minutes later we learn it was some kind of kitchen item malfunctioning and all had been repaired. Good to go. Ready to take off.....
The satellite TV advertisements on the seat in front of me was enough to take my mind off of the bumps and cramped seats. Eventually, we started our descent. With every jostle and bump I had to glance over at the window to ensure we were still descending at a reasonable pace and not falling. I had a bit of a love / hate relationship with this particular landing. Guatemala, however, looked amazing. All the mountains and hills, cities and villages were breathtaking. However, on the other hand, the mountains and hills were terrifying and I could only manage to look for short moments. Deep breath. Touchdown! Two rides down, one to go!
ROUND TWO : FLIGHT! Ratings:
- "Omg we are going down" scares: 1, but a big one!
- Turbulence rating: 6, there wasn't many but some unpleasant ones.
- Sleep: 0 hrs
- Comfort: 1
- Airline: United
ROUND THREE: FLIGHT!
After a 4-hour wait and wander, we watch our first Guatemalan sunset. Shortly after dark we begin to board the plane for our final leg. I won't lie, I have had nightmares about this flight. This was the one I was MOST worried about, because it was a tiny propeller plane in a developing country. I was terrified of the amount of turbulence I was convinced we were going to experience. Got to our seats after our first language-based confusion and shortly, we were Flores-bound! Even though the flight wasn't even an hour long, the stewardess came around almost immediately with a meal! This was the only flight that included a meal, so I was impressed! And distracted! Food makes me quite happy!
And yet, I waited with anticipation for some kind of turbulence. I knew it was coming. A bit of a dip that seems unexpected, and a nervous moment thinking, "There is no way we are already landing... I haven't even felt one bump or haven't been able to convince myself we are going down. This cannot be right." We continued descending in the darkness and I can begin to see the lights of Santa Elena, near Flores. Smooth approach. I am finally able to realize: I am in here. I am in Guatemala... and this trip is going to be amazing!
ROUND THREE : FLIGHT! Ratings:
- "Omg we are doing down" scares: 0!
- Turbulence rating: 0!
- Sleep: 0 hrs. (too short to sleep anyhow)
- Comfort: 3.5
- Arline: TACA
NOTE: Best flight ever!
I step off the plane and immediately feel the evening humidity. I walk along the runway to enter the Flores airport, which I thought MUST be bigger on the inside. It is definitely the smallest airport I have ever seen and could probably ever imagine. The airport was about the size of my high school's gymnasium growing up (Notre Dame shout-out!) and that includes the restaurant - which probably takes up about half of it.
On the floor, there is a giant map of Guatemala. While we wait for our luggage, I walk our mostly planned itinerary. Finally, the luggage starts rolling in on the world's smallest luggage conveyor. Their big, happy, well fed Labrador Retriever stomps around with his waggy tail, sniffing every bit of luggage. As the luggage begins to trickle down, I notice that a few familiar bags are missing. At the same time, I expect them to be the next ones that pop out. In my mind, there's no way they aren't coming, because that would be ridiculous. And yet, the conveyor reached the end of its cycle and we do not have our bags.