It was a dark and quiet morning disturbed by the unusual tones coming from my cellphone's alarm clock. I had chosen a particularly odd set of alarm ring tones so as to not oversleep my 4am wake up call, and I was not to be disappointed. Six hours earlier I had laid me down to sleep and prayed the Lord my soul to keep while all of the others continued to chat basking in the evening coolness of the cabana. At one point I drowsily recalled hearing Pastor Scott and Bernardo come in, but my consciousness was not awakened much more than that. And I had slept on to the accompaniment of my now familiar friend, my CPAP machine. The side benefit of this little device is that I awaken fully refreshed even with just a few hours of sleep. And this was the case on this dark morning.
I took care of my morning post wake-up needs and found myself dressed, packed, and ready to go by 4:20am. I went outside and tried to determine if there was life in the ladies' bedroom. Hearing nothing, I waited until 4:30 before knocking on the door and a drowsy but beautiful Angela came shuffling across the floor. It seems that her watch alarm had not awakened her.
True to his word, Adrian was there promptly at 4:45am and we loaded our gear into the van. The roads on the way to the airport were dark and it was especially important to not hit one of the many bicyclists or horse drawn carts that have no lighting or other alerts to warn traffic coming up from behind. But the flip side of the early hour and darkness meant that there was little traffic. Adrian skillfully wove the van in and out and around various slower moving vehicles with his customary beep of the horn and flash of the headlights. It was a quiet ride and we didn't say much. We had had a good week together and knew that no further words were needed. We left it all during our time of service.
Arriving at Augusto Sandino Aeropuerta around 5:30am, the first vestiges of the dawn light began to show. We exchanged goodbye hugs and words, and I left Adrian with a few things including a package of his beloved Cheetos. I had purchased them a day earlier but never got around to eating them. Inside the terminal, it was a beehive of activity. It seems that virtually all of the major airlines have departures around the same time, and there were hundreds of people in the check-in ques. We found ours and dutifully waited our turn to check the two bags we weren't carrying on. Armed with our boarding passes and a completed Nicaraguan immigration form, we wound our way through the airport to immigration and cleared that just fine. Then we went through the airport security with it's scanners and obligatory laptop out of the luggage and in a bin step. I observed people not taking their shoes off, so I didn't, but forgot to remove my cellphone. No worry, I just removed it from my pocket after going through the scanner, and the security lady wanded me right on the spot, and I was cleared to pick up my other items. Try that at a TSA checkpoint in the states.
At our gate we had a short wait for our 6:45 boarding. Like last year, there is a secondary manual search of carry-on items, and that went well. Soon we were on our airplane and headed for Miami where we had our longest layover.
Disembarking the plane in Miami, one has to walk down a labrynth of halls and walkways and escalators to reach American immigration where once again we joined the que ( one of 20 or 30). Clearing immigration, we discovered that we had to claim our luggage and then follow the yellow dots on the floor (affectionately named the Yellow Brick Road by Angela) to leave the checked luggage at the collection point and then follow the blue dots on the floor to our departure gate (well at least much of the way there - the rest was a Lewis & Clark discovery mission). Right next to our gate was a little sandwich vendor and I enjoyed a nice little Italian baguette sandwich while Angela enjoyed a salad.
Boarding the plane, we took our assigned seats; and waited for take-off. And we waited, and we waited some more. Soon a vicious rain squall came across the airport.
Finally the pilot came on and indicated they were being delayed due to the weather and how it was affecting the loading of the cargo door. Finally nearly an hour after our scheduled departure, we began to taxi. But that was soon to come to a stop when the pilot announced that we were number 12 in line for take-off. I did some quick calculations and figured we would arrive in Dallas' DFW airport about the time our flight was to be boarding. And we were not to be disappointed. The flight was smooth and I continued to read my Neal Peart book, Roadshow, which is a fascinating account of his motorcycle ride between venues of his last concert tour with the band, Rush, of which he's the drummer and lyricist.
Arriving in Dallas at 4:05, it took 10 minutes to taxi to the gate and another 10 minutes to get off the airplane. We walked quickly to the overhead tram which whisked us down to gate 30 from about gate 11. As we walked up to the gate, our names were being called, "Bowman, party of 2, you need to be on board!" We literally walked on along with another fellow from our flight and found our seats and this packed S80 took off for its nearly 4 hour flight to Seattle. I found it amusing that the longest flight leg had the smallest plane and no video or audio. So, I listened to a bit of Steve Green until my Zune lost battery power; and finished my book.
There was a fluffy blanket of clouds covering the area to the south of Seattle/Tacoma and Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier poked their snowy peaks through the fluff. Over the 520 bridge the pilot executed a sweeping left hand 180 degree turn to set us up for a southbound landing on 16R (the new 3rd runway that I had never landed on). Angela was able to see our neighbor's new grass from her seat. A smooth touchdown led to a short taxi to the gate. Upon deplaning, we made a restroom stop after which I struck up a conversation with an elderly gentleman who asked me where we were traveling from. (He might have noticed my Nicaraguan shirt). When I said I was coming from Nicaragua, he mentioned he was 82 and on the board of CAM (Central America Mission) and he had spent 52 years in Haiti and led teams there and to Brazil and was very familiar with the various works in Nicaragua. It was a good conversation. I hope I can be as energetic at 82 as he was.
On the chance that our luggage may have made the flight, we headed for baggage claim. There was really no way it could have made the "touch & go" connection in Dallas. After a few turns of the luggage system, however, I spotted the flourescent CCM luggage tags attached to each piece of our luggage. Wow. American Airlines really scored in getting our luggage to us with no delay.
So the 2009 mission trip comes to an end. It certainly had its challenges. It had its victories and accomplishments. And I trust we made a small impact on lives in Xiloa (actually the barrio was called Miraflores). The need is there. Would you consider joining us next year?