Guatemala and Ecuador 6/30/16 - 7/20/16

Monday 7/4/2016 - Flying to Ecuador with Aracely and Vanesa

We all woke up early and Paulina, Aracely, Vanesa, Eddy, Ian, Craig, and I piled into the van. Humberto's nephew Victor's wife Rosa also joined us. By 5:15 a.m., we were on the road, with Humberto driving us toward Guatemala City.

At around 7 a.m., we stopped at a D'Marta restaurant on the outskirts of Guatemala City for breakfast. It was a nice breakfast, and a big treat for the family. Coffee was much appreciated after rising so early. Aracely and I got fluffy pancakes, and everyone else got huevos rancheros. Eddy and Vanesa also got fruit and cream parfaits.

We spent around an hour at the restaurant. Craig and I couldn't help being a bit on edge. We knew that we still had to go to the Ecuadorian embassy before going to the airport. Because Aracely is a minor traveling without her parents, Humberto had been told that we needed to go to the Ecuadorian Embassy to fill out the proper paperwork. We had no idea how long that would take. Our flight was at 2 p.m., and we were supposed to check in by 11 a.m. Craig and I were distracted by this and found it hard to really enjoy ourselves until we were safely at the airport with proper paperwork in hand.

We left the restaurant at 8 a.m. and drove to the embassy, arriving shortly before it opened at 9:30 a.m. We waited in the nicely manicured grounds until someone invited us in. We sat on a couch waiting until the proper person was free to talk to us. Humberto explained that Aracely would be traveling to Ecuador with her adult sister and godparents, and that he had been told that Ecuador required her parents to sign some documents so that she would be allowed in with us.

They explained that paperwork was indeed necessary, but not on their side. The paperwork was required to let her out of Guatemala. Human trafficking, especially involving children, is a big problem here. The Guatemalan immigration authorities would require notarized documentation indicating that Aracely's parents give their permission for her to travel internationally in someone else's care.

To get that paperwork, we would need to see a lawyer. They were quite helpful, but the whole embassy visit had eaten up another hour of our tight timeframe. The lawyers are located on the opposite side of the city, so we had to deal with city traffic just to get there, let alone any time that the lawyer would take to prepare the documentation.

We arrived at the lawyer's office and Humberto explained our needs. We waited in the waiting room and Craig and I were getting more and more antsy. Poor Rosa was trying to distract us with small talk, but we were too freaked out to be very sociable. All kinds of scenarios were going through our heads, none of them good.

Eventually we were called into the lawyer's office where he drew up the paperwork. Paulina and Humberto signed the extremely detailed documentation authorizing Aracely to leave the country in the care of her adult sister.

By the time we had the letter in hand, yet another hour had elapsed. It is very important to keep kids safe from trafficking, so we understand the need for this. We just wish they had told him ahead of time so that it didn't make for such a nerve-wracking morning.

We were supposed to be at the airport at 11 a.m. for our 2 p.m. flight. We didn't leave the lawyer's office until 12 p.m., and we still had to drive back across town to the airport! Humberto had been playing it cool, but we learned afterwards that after paying the lawyer's fee, he didn't even wait for his change. He told them to keep it in an attempt to get us back on the road as quickly as possible.

We were so nervous that we would miss the flight. Since the family has never flown before, they didn't realize the full extent of the implications. As we were stuck in traffic on the way to the airport, Humberto asked us what would happen if we arrived too late for the flight. We had to break the news that if we missed the plane, that was it; there would be no trip. This wasn't like a bus, where if you miss one, you just catch the next one. After we explained this, the mood in the van shifted to match the mood Craig and I had been in all morning.

Craig and I tried to stay as positive as possible, but our minds kept wandering to the possible repercussions. Not only would Aracely and Vanesa be utterly disappointed to miss their first trip, but our compadres in Ecuador would be very sad that the four of us would not be able to visit at all. There was nothing we could do at this point but take a few deep yoga breaths and hope that it would work out.

We arrived at the airport at 12:30 p.m., 90 minutes before our scheduled take off, and 90 minutes after we were supposed to have arrived at the airport. I was panicking. Luckily there was no line at check-in. We each checked a bag. I was quite frazzled as I filled out departure cards for Craig and myself, and helped the girls to fill out theirs. My heart was beating out of my chest.

I had envisioned giving the girls a tour of the airport, getting something to eat (maybe Pollo Campero), etc. But there was no time for any of that. We got a wheelchair for Craig because we knew that he couldn't make it to the gate in time otherwise.

We went through immigration, and it was a good thing we had procured that document for Aracely because they studied it closely. When they were satisfied with the legalities, the stamped the girls' passports with their first stamps: exit stamps from Guatemala.

We went through security and had only 10 minutes to spare before boarding the plane. We have never cut it that close before. By now I was hot and sweaty after rushing around the airport, but I could finally relax.

We were allowed to board first because of Craig's wheelchair status, and we showed the girls the plane through the window of the jetbridge. I took some photos now that I was able to relax a bit. We had four seats in the same row, three together and one on the other side of the aisle. Aracely sat in the window seat, with Vanesa in the middle, and me on the aisle. Craig was across the aisle from me.

We taught the girls plane etiquette and explained how everything would proceed. Although it was lightly raining in Guatemala City, we were soon up above the clouds where it was bright and sunny. The girls enjoyed taking photos and videos out the window.

The flight to Panama City was around 2.5 hours. Even on such a short flight, Copa Airlines provided cheeseburgers and Coca Cola. We appreciated it, as we hadn't had time to get any food or drink at the airport. Aracely made a paper airplane out of the tin foil hamburg wrapper, and wanted to keep it. We told her she would have plenty of REAL souvenirs, so she didn't need to hold on to a greasy foil wrapper.

The girls really enjoyed the flight, and before we knew it, we were preparing for landing. We told the girls not to unbuckle their seat belts until the light was turned off. After a safe landing, many other passengers immediately unbuckled themselves, but we were proud when the girls patiently waited for the light to go off.

We disembarked, and the girls, for whom a regular escalator is a novelty, found the moving walkways to be very exciting.

Aracely still had her heart set on eating a donut at the airport after hearing me make an offhand remark about having a donut for breakfast at Logan Airport when we left Boston. I sure hoped there was a donut shop at the Panama airport.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw someone carrying a Dunkin Donuts bag. I promptly asked a member of the flight crew where the Dunkin Donuts was. I laughed that they probably thought I was such a stereotypical American, but this was actually for my Guatemalan goddaughter (not that I would pass up a donut myself).

They gave me directions to Dunkies, and we made our way there post haste. The girls picked out the most archetypal donut imaginable: a Homer Simpson pink frosted donut with sprinkles. Craig and I got the same, and we each got a drink.

We went to our gate to enjoy our donuts and relax during a relatively short layover only to find that our connecting flight was delayed by 2.5 hours. We learned that the plane had been struck by lightning on its journey to Panama City. The girls' eyes grew wide upon hearing this, suddenly realizing that such a scenario was even possible. We explained that this does happen, and that nobody was injured, but that they need to ensure that the plane did not get damaged and was still safe to fly.

We were certainly thankful that safety was the top priority. However, it would make this long day even longer, meaning that we wouldn't arrive at the family's house in Morochos, Ecuador until quite late at night. Welcome to air travel, girls! Craig and I were the ones in charge here, and had to downplay any frustration that we felt to reasuure the girls. It sure was an exhausting day, though!

We realized that we should contact Ecuador right away to tell them about the delay. We hoped that we would catch them before they left home, to avoid them having to kill a lot of time at the airport waiting for our flight to arrive. Unfortunately, they were already en route by the time I was able to send the message.

Because of the delay, Copa Airlines distributed $10 meal vouchers to all of the passengers on our flight. Craig stayed with our stuff at the gate while I took the girls to the food court to spend our vouchers. An entire plane's worth of people were cashing in their vouchers simultaneously, so every place was very busy, and we had to wait a long time. Vanesa and I ordered sandwiches for ourselves and Craig, while Aracely ordered a cheese pizza. When the food was finally ready, we returned to the gate and ate dinner with Craig.

While we had been gone, Craig had noticed our flight's First Officer looking at the flight status, realizing that we would be delayed. They made eye contact and smiled in a "what can you do?" sort of solidarity.

When I got back with the girls, Craig suggested that I ask the First Officer if there would be any way that the girls could get a tour of the cockpit. This sounded like a good idea to me, so I politely approached the First Officer. He was quite friendly, and I explained to him that this trip was the girls' first experience on airplanes, and that they had never before left their native Guatemala. He said that the girls would be most welcome in his cockpit. We kept this a surprise for the girls, but it was also a treat for Craig and me, who had never been in a commercial airline cockpit ourselves.

As we waited to board, we were standing next to a pro soccer player. His suitcase was printed with a photo of him (Alvarez, #9) playing football. There's somebody who wants to get recognized, but since we don't follow soccer, we had no idea who he was or what team he represents.

When we boarded the plane, the flight attendant called to the captain, who let the girls sit in the co-pilot's seat one at a time for a photo. He even put his pilot's hat on their heads. Vanesa was extremely polite and friendly, initiating a handshake, thanking them, and asking their names (Captain Johnny and First Officer Enrique). Craig and I were so excited that it had worked out. We certainly wanted their first airline journey to be memorable and special. After a day that had such a hectic start, things were really falling into place.

For this flight, we had two seats in one row and two seats in the row behind. We asked the girls their preference: would they prefer to sit together with us behind, or did they want to split up, one with each of us? They were already so comfortable with flying that they decided the two of them would sit together. We were obviously very proud of them!

It was fun to see the lights of Panama City as we took off at around 10 p.m.. Even though they had already provided free meals in the airport due to the delay, Copa fed us once again - chicken burgers, plantain chips, and Coca Cola this time! This was our first time flying on Copa and it certainly won't be the last!

We landed in Ecuador at 11:30 p.m. The girls got their second passport stamp as we went through immigration. We brought them to baggage claim and rented a luggage cart. We waited by the carousel until our bags appeared. The girls were happy to be reunited with their bags. We went through customs and then emerged into the waiting area.

By now it was midnight, and the family had been waiting for us at the airport for four hours. We introduced Vanesa and Aracely to Antonio, Rosa, Aida, Sisa, Yupanqui, and Shina, who welcomed them with open arms. The kids presented each of us with a rose and a bottle of water. We felt bad that the family had to wait so long for us, but they insisted that it was not a problem.

The girls noticed immediately that although their family in Guatemala calls us by our first names, the entire family here addresses us by title. Craig is Achi Taita (godfather in Kichwa) and I am Achi Mama (godmother). In Kichwa culture it is a sign of respect. If the kids here so much as wish us a good morning without tagging on "Achi Taita" or "Achi Mama," Rosa will prod them to address us properly.

We walked out to the parking lot and met our driver. We piled into the van and were soon on the road to Morochos. As excited as the family was that we had finally arrived, it was late and they pretty much all fell asleep in the van after a few minutes.

Aracely dozed a bit, but Vanesa seemed wide awake and ready to take everything in. She studied tourism in school and works in Humberto's tourism office (Lago Aventura), so she was "on" and ready to start learning about a new place from the perspective of a tourist herself.

We arrived at the house in Morochos at exactly 2 a.m. Everybody was pretty much a zombie by then. We got the girls settled into their guest room and made sure that they had plenty of extra blankets. It's a lot colder here overnight than it is in Panajachel. After they were settled in, we said goodnight and retired to our own casita. We have items that we leave here in storage, but it was so late and we were so exhuasted that we only set up the bare minimum before collapsing into bed.

After everything that transpired today, we couldn't believe that we were really here, introducing one set of compadres to another!
Breakfast at D'Marta: Vanesa, Humberto, Eddy, Craig, Rosa, Paulina, and Aracely

Breakfast at D'Marta: Vanesa, Humberto, Eddy, Craig, Rosa, Paulina, and Aracely

Aracely and Vanesa preparing to board their first ever flight

Aracely and Vanesa preparing to board their first ever flight

The long-awaited donuts at the Panama City Airport

The long-awaited donuts at the Panama City Airport

Aracely in the cockpit

Aracely in the cockpit

Vanesa in the cockpit

Vanesa in the cockpit

Ready for takeoff from Panama City

Ready for takeoff from Panama City

Meeting the family at the Mariscal Sucre airport in Quito

Meeting the family at the Mariscal Sucre airport in Quito

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