Thursday, December 20, 2012

Day 1

View From The Plane
  It started out like any other day that begins at 3:30am after just a couple hours of sleep.  Misplaced tickets to Tikal created a spike in a certain someone's stress level (that would be me), and the mad rush to pack six people for two weeks away from home, plus care packages for our sponsored students, plus gifts for our hosting organization, plus donations for general distribution made for a restless slumber.  Although I always promise the incredibly patient Jay that I will be ready well in advance of big events, I inevitably get caught up in the distractions of everyday life at McFadyen Central.  And, of course, this was the case yet again.

But, when the alarm sounded in the early morning hours, we jumped out of bed with excitement in anticipation of the long but life changing journey ahead; first a three hour flight to Miami, followed by a two and a half hour flight to Guatemala City and ending with a three hour van ride to Panajachel.  It would be a long day, for sure, but we had been planning it for months and talking about it for a year, and we were ready to roll.

As we drove out of Captain Circle, we shouted Feliz Navidad to our dear neighbors as they slept, and we enjoyed a van ride from Tewksbury to Boston with nary an oncoming headlight in sight. It was eerily peaceful but did not prepare us well for the chaos that would soon ensue.

Upon reaching the American Airlines check-in desk, we were promptly told that the three Rubbermaid totes that we had carefully packed full of donations were banned due to a Christmastime embargo on boxes, bins and anything that did not resemble true luggage. I locked eyes with Jay, hoping that - with his near million miles of travel on American - he would know how to navigate the system and use awards or points or cold hard cash to magically get those bins on the plane. Sadly, all of his valiant efforts failed, and we were forced to use Plan B.

As this was my fifth trip to Guatemala, I had the forethought to pack two empty duffle bags, just in case our purchases overflowed our original baggage. I reminded Jay that they were in the very bottom of the largest suitcase, and he quickly dropped to the ground and dug through the clothing and raincoats to find them.  At this point, we had just a few minutes before boarding was to begin, and we had yet to pass security. The American Airlines representative scolded us as we scrambled to shove as many donations as possible into the two duffles and every open crevice of our backpacks and suitcases.  We were mostly successful and only left three quarters of one bin behind... shoes and stuffed animals that we could later send in a humanitarian aid shipment, thanks to a quick airport pick-up trip by Jay's wonderfully accommodating Mother.

Our Christmas spirit was feeling quite low as we raced through the priority security line (Jay's only perk that day) and asked a couple of twenty somethings if we could step ahead of them because we were running late.  Scrooge himself emerged as the young man denied us, but a kind security officer held them back so that we could pass. Thankfully, it would be smooth sailing ahead.

The flight to Miami was, thankfully, uneventful, and our greatest challenge while awaiting our connecting flight was finding a mutually acceptable place to enjoy lunch. Boarding the full flight to Guatemala City was the childrens' first sign that we were indeed heading to a foreign land.  Spanish speakers surrounded us and the majority of passengers were most certainly Guatemalans.  As we sat and awaited departure, I had a nervous feeling in my stomach. Would the kids be ok? Would they be nervous and afraid? Would they feel guilt and sadness? Would their increased stress spiral them into constant melt-downs? There was no turning back. This trip was founded on faith, and faith I must have. "Flight Attendents and anxious Mamas: Prepare for take-off."

Another smooth yet shorter flight brought us over the spectacular highlands of Guatemala where we easily spied volcano after volcano. And, although the airport itself was recently renovated, the runway views of dilapidated hangers and broken down planes is like a scene straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. We arrived at the gate, hit a brief paperwork speedbump at Customs, and moved on to gather the myriad of luggage, original and unplanned, before heading outside the airport doors to find a very familiar face.  Mayan Families had sent Charlie, a young man I had met on my previous two trips to Pana, to retrieve us from the chaos at the arrival doors. Along with driver, Philoberto, we began the three hour van drive to our hotel.

The sights and sounds and smells of Guatemala are all new to the other McFadyens; lots of buildings made with lamina tin sheeting, the constant honking of horns and the smell of chicken bus exhaust.  As we drove out of the city and into the more rural areas, we saw tiny children playing streetside without parental supervision, and we viewed field upon field of monster sized corn. The sun had set not long before we reached the mountain road down from Solola to Panajachel, so the lake view would remain a mystery until morning.  Safely and happily, we arrived at Porta Del Lago and were greeted with warm hospitality and comfortable accommodations. We had arrived... in more ways than one.

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