We woke up at 3:15 am, took showers, had our coffee, and were on the road by 4:30. We got to Logan Airport at 5:01. There was a pretty long line at American, even for the self-service kiosks. We got into the security line at about 5:30. Nothing was moving, and the security folks were milling around an otherwise empty gate area. It looked as though the baggage scanning machines weren’t even booted. Of course there was no information on what was going on, just TSA employees saying “we hope to get everything going soon.”
6:00 came, then 6:15, then 6:30. We were supposed to be boarding! When they finally opened security, at least they opened all possible lanes to try to get people through. They were very efficient, and we finally got through. We ran through the empty terminal and stopped at McDonald’s to get hash browns and breakfast sandwiches to go. McDonald's didn't even look like it was open. We wondered if the food court had been evacuated as well. They prepared our food and we continued the walk to our gate. State police had cordoned off parts of the corridor with rows of seats, forcing everyone to walk through a narrow lane. We could see emergency vehicles on the tarmac. Still no idea what was going on. When we got to the gate, they were already letting everyone board the plane. We got settled into our seats and ate our McDonald’s breakfast. Our connection time in Miami was only 90 minutes, so every moment here counted. But the crew was really hustling.
We were scheduled to take off at 7:00. It was now 7:12. Not too bad. At 7:15 the luggage carts showed up, and luggage started to be loaded onto the plane. Craig and I were getting more and more nervous about the time. Humberto was taking the family into Guatemala City for the first time, to pick us up at the airport and then all go to the zoo together. It was a long drive and they had probably already left the house. If we missed our connection it would be catastrophic, and we would likely not make it until the next day. At 7:30 the pilot got on the PA and said that there was a “maintenance issue” and they were waiting for a mechanic. Could anything else possibly go wrong? We saw the mechanic arrive within moments...maybe this wouldn’t take that long. We could only hope.
The maintenance issue apparently being settled, we pulled away from the gate at 8:03. Now the pilot got on the PA again and said that there were baggage delays. Craig and I were about ready to pop at this point. When the baggage issues were resolved, we then had to get in line for the runway. We finally took off at 8:22. 82 minutes of our 90 minute layover were already lost. We definitely were not expecting to make it on time. Our thoughts raced. Would there be another flight from Miami to Guatemala City this afternoon? Or would we be stuck in Miami until tomorrow’s flight? Would Humberto and family make the 3 hour ride into the city today just to have to turn around and go back home without us? We pretty much stressed for the entire flight.
We landed in Miami shortly after 11 o’clock. We had apparently made up a little time in the air, and we started to feel a slight glimmer of hope. This was quickly squashed when there were vehicles at our gate that needed to move before the plane could park. They took their sweet time and it was 11:20 before we were able to disembark. Our flight was supposed to take off at 11:50. This was going to be close. We ran as fast as we could through terminal D, caught the train to Terminal E, and ran all the way to gate E21, arriving at 11:40. We thought there was no way we would be allowed on the flight. We looked at the monitor and saw that the flight had been delayed to take off at 12:05. They had not started boarding yet. I went to the desk to make sure we were still all set (and that they hadn’t given our seats to anyone on standby). We were assured that we were fine, and we were able to breathe a sigh of relief for the first time since Boston.
The flight was overbooked, and they were trying to get people to give up their seats. They were told that the next flight was indeed tomorrow morning. Thank God we had made it. We were sweaty and out of breath from running (I coughed a little and was careful to keep it under control lest anyone think I had H1N1 virus or something), but we were so relieved. Humberto and the family would need to wait for our delayed flight, but at least we would be arriving today! We boarded the plane and then there were some baggage issues (someone who had agreed to go on tomorrow’s flight had bags that had already been loaded, so they needed to remove the bags from the cargo hold). We finally took off at 1:04. We were finally able to relax once we were in the air. Despite everything conspiring against us, we would make it.
We landed in Guatemala City two hours late. The airport had changed a bit – there were some new walkways separating disembarking passengers from the gates with glass. We had seen this work going on during several past visits. Now the project was finally done and it loked really nice. We went through immigration and customs and then headed outside. Humberto was there waiting for us at the curb. He called the driver (who was waiting elsewhere in the van with the family) to come and pick us up. He told us that everyone had come to meet us, including his mother, sister, and niece Rocio. This was a nice surprise. He had his camera and showed us some pictures from earlier in the day, when they had all gone to the commercial center. This was the kids’ first trip into the city, and the first time Humberto’s mother had been in years. She rode an escalator for the first time. He showed us pictures of the family posing in front of a Hummer limo, and tried to convince us that the limo was our vehicle. He is such a joker.
The van pulled up and we could see the kids through the windows. Paola, Yoselin, and Aracely jumped out immediately for hugs. Aracely came right to me, saying ”Estephanie!” Paola had become my online chat buddy for the past few months, and it had really kept me on my toes Spanish-wise to have to chat online in real time en Español. We piled into the van and joyfully said hello to everyone. It was so great to see them all. We could see Humberto's mother and sister's smiling faces in the back seats, as well as Vanesa, Rocio, Paulina, and Yasmin. We were honored that everyone had come to pick us up. And we finally got to meet little 8-month-old Eddy. He was awake and wide eyed, looking at us with curiosity. We had been so excited to meet him ever since Humberto announced his birth last October. Humberto and Paulina had asked us to be his godparents, and we were quite honored. But this visit didn't line up with the church's baptism schedule, so we would schedule our next visit around his baptism date.
Humberto asked how our Spanish was coming along. “Mas o menos,” I replied: More or less. Paola didn’t skip a beat. She pointed to me and said “Mas” and she pointed to Craig and said “Menos.” We all laughed in agreement. She’s a clever one, that Paola, and she has a hearty sense of humor. That would become an inside joke for the remainder of the trip.
As we drove through town, all of the kids were looking out the windows with interest. Yasmin called out red and green lights. It was starting to rain. The girls wanted to have lunch at Pollo Campero, the ubiquitous fried chicken fast food restaurant. They are plentiful throughout the city, but there are none in their home town of Panajachel. Our driver tried to pull into the parking lot of the nearest Pollo Campero, but it was so crowded that cars were backed up onto the street. He decided to keep going and we stopped at another Pollo Campero instead. Paulina loaded Eddy into a bundle on her back and he remained all wrapped up for the entire time, falling asleep.
As it was now raining, employees with big yellow Pollo Campero umbrellas met us at the van and escorted us in with a friendly “Para servirle” (happy to serve you). I carried Aracely and we all congregated inside the door of the restaurant to wait for a table that was big enough to seat all of us. The place was absolutely packed with families. Paulina and Humberto scoped out a table and we all took a seat. Humberto plopped down a plastic bag filled with tortillas onto the table to supplement the meal (this was common practice as we saw similar bundles on the tables where other families sat).
All was right with the world. All of our stress immediately melted away. We realized that all of the airport delays had really gotten to us so much because we missed the kids so much. We hadn't seen them in a year, which was much too long. They had all grown so much. Aracely was a little lady now, no longer a baby. And we had of course been dying to meet baby Eddy, and had been cherishing photos that Humberto had sent in the 8 months since his birth.
Aracely sat next to me. Our driver sat down to eat with us as well. Humberto ordered everyone three piece fried chicken meals with fries and cole slaw, and we had orange soda with ice to drink. When the food arrived, Aracely took the ketchup bottle and squeezed some onto her plate and then licked the cap. Kids are kids in any culture. One of the employees said something to Humberto is Spanish about the bundle of tortillas. We weren't sure exactly what was said, but we assumed that outside food was not allowed in the restaurant. But Humberto made a gesture pointing out that every other Mayan family also had brought a bag of tortillas with them, and the issue was eventually dropped.
Humberto switched Aracely’s seat to one next to him, since “she can’t eat it by herself.” The food was quite tasty. The girls put ketchup on the chicken as well as the fries. After the girls finished eating, they took the camera and headed to the indoor play area. Today was Humberto’s birthday (and two years to the day since we had first met Paulina and the girls). I sneakily procured a paper crown emblazoned with “Pollito Campero” from an employee, and put it on Humberto's head. Rocio (who looked beautiful in a traditional Mayan huipil and skirt) got a picture of her grandmother wearing the crown. I think we were the only gringos in the restaurant – there were lots of Mayan families and it is obvious that this is a real treat for the children.
It was still raining when we were done eating, and the men with umbrellas once again escorted us politely to the van. The plan had been to go to the zoo now, but the weather prevented it. The girls took this news pretty well. The driver started pulling out of the spot when we realized that Vanesa was missing! Humberto hopped out with a smile and went back into the restaurant to get her. There were 13 passengers in all, and it became difficult to keep track of everyone. Aracely fell asleep on my lap immediately. Most of the girls had experienced some motion sickness on the windy roads on the drive from Pana to Guatemala City this morning, so Humberto had the driver stop at a pharmacy and he bought some Bonine for them. I tried to wake Aracely so that she could take some, but she was out. I held her up and she was dead weight. That kind of sound sleep impervious to distractions must be a function of having 5 siblings. Luckily, being asleep prevented her from getting sick on the ride back.
The driver picked up his son, making 14 passengers. Most everyone else fell asleep on the ride. Craig and I chatted with Humberto, and he showed us some photos of Eddy on his phone. Vanesa showed us some funny videos that the girls had downloaded. Humberto’s ring tone is Woody Woodpecker’s laugh, which we found hysterical.
Aracely didn’t wake up until we got back to Pana. The van dropped us on the street and we walked down the familiar alleyway to their house. We were shown into our room. Even more progress had been made on the guest rooms, and our room now had a ceiling light, and there was now a light in the bathroom. We chuckled, as Yoselin had often laid in our bed and taken photo after photo of the hole in the ceiling which was now replaced by a light fixture. Humberto carried in two tables on which to put our bags.
Humberto ran to the store and bought a couple of bottles of Gallo beer and some wine. Then we gave the girls one of their presents: backpacks. School resumed tomorrow after a short break, so we wanted them to be able to go back to school with their new backpacks. Rocio liked Yasmin’s better, and so Yasmin cheerfully traded with her (Yasmin seems to like to trade). Paola traded with Yoselin as Yoselin’s was a bit bigger. We gave Eddy a little wooden toy with blocks and beads on it. He took to it immediately, and we were impressed with the dexterity with which he moved the pieces. The other girls were enamored of it as well, and someone was always stacking up the blocks or taking photos of of the blocks with my camera.
The entire family (including Abuela, Rocio, and Juana) gathered around the dining room table, and the adults made a toast to Humberto’s birthday. We gave Humberto a card and put a dollar in it as a joke (we always put a dollar in the kids’ birthday cards). Aracely, who was sitting with him, immediately usurped the dollar and squirreled it away. “Mio!” Mine! We noticed a large sign with hearts and tissue paper flowers that said in Spanish "Happy Mother's Day" in gold glitter. This was Paola's work. Craig joked with Humberto that he didn't see any Happy Father's Day signs. On another wall of the dining room was a styrofoam model of the solar system, and various school papers, also Paola's work.
Paola, Yasmin, Yoselin, Aracely, and I went into our room for a little while. They wanted to play “aviones chocadores.” Aha – one of my vocabulary words...chocar = to crash. So we all ran around the room with our arms extended like airplane wings. We crashed into one another and then flopped down on the bed. Meanwhile, Craig, Vanesa, and Eddy were having more low-key fun in the dining room. They played with Eddy’s new toy. The girls and I eventually joined them. Eddy is a really great baby – very wide-eyed and curious and very content.
We didn’t eat dinner tonight as we were all so stuffed with fried chicken. We were all tired after a long day of travel, and we went to bed at around 10:40 pm. Tomorrow would be a school day for the girls!