Travel Day to Nicaragua

The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. to start my long travel day to Nicaragua. Ordinarily, the only time I’m awake at that hour is to rush Hadas to the hospital, so I was a bit disoriented while getting breakfast and a shower. Luckily, one of us is a morning person. The other one of us is “me.”

Unbeknownst to me, the security line at the airport is crazy long for early morning flights. This was apparently beknownst to the TSA, as they had a large squad there to handle the rush, and I got to my gate with 10 minutes to spare. I was considering it a good omen that I didn’t leave anything behind at security, until I was walking away and a woman called after me to ask if the see-through ladies cosmetics bag on the conveyor belt was mine. Apparently I exude “transvestite.”

The first leg of my flight, from Portland to Denver on Southwest Airlines, was uneventful. It was my first-ever flight with wi-fi, something I had been looking forward to with great anticipation and which promptly caused me to fall asleep. When I awoke I fired up my iPhone just in time for them to announce that we had begun our descent and it was time to put away electronic devices. I remain zero-for-inflight-wi-fi.

My subsequent flights from Denver to Managua were going to be on Continental Airlines, which is now sort of merged with United Airlines and sort of not. I think it’s a common-law merger. Just to confuse matters, the actual reservation was made on something called Copa Airlines, which was being operated by Continental. I would describe the whole relationship as “Airline with benefits.” I put the odds of actually seeing a plane at around 50-50.

I had received cheerful automated emails and phone calls from Continental the day before telling me I could check in online, and when I did so they offered to email me my boarding passes. Sweet! The attached file they sent by email was a PDF that said “We can’t give you boarding passes because someone needs to check your passport.” Thanks guys. Most helpful attachment ever.

Their mobile site claimed that I could get boarding passes at any Continental kiosk, so I dutifully found a Continental kiosk in the United customer service area (of course) and started the check-in process. After verifying my flight information, the kiosk informed me that I should scan my passport. The only problem was I didn’t see how I could achieve this. I attempted the following maneuvers:

  1. Tried to insert the magnetic strip of my open passport into the credit card slot. Result: fail. Not even close to the right size slot.
  2. Tried inserting my closed passport into the other slot in the machine, which I realized (in hindsight) is the slot where the boarding passes come out of. Result: sheepish fail.
  3. Looking around to make sure nobody was watching, I tried holding my open passport up to the touch screen in case the touch screen also had some sort of scanner built in. Result: mortified fail.

It turns out that there is no way to scan your passport at the kiosks, but nobody bothered to tell the person who wrote the software (presumably the same programmer who devised a PDF attachment to say “This PDF does not contain your boarding passes, nyah nyah nyah”). So I pressed the cancel button and went to my gate to wait for a person to show up so I could show them my passport. Eventually I got my boarding pass. If anyone asks me, I’m telling them the kiosks are voice activated.

The flight to Houston was uneventful. I slept some more and decided not to pay $7.99 for in-seat DirecTV, as I have no need to see “Whitney” at 35,000 feet (or at any altitude, for that matter).

(Please note that the joke in the previous paragraph has now guaranteed that some poor schmo googling for “Whitney Houston” is going to land on this blog.)

Upon landing in Houston I texted my ex-Texan friend Donna, as is the tradition, and she texted back with the traditional desultory Houston remarks. That accomplished, I went to the next gate where they re-examined my passport to make sure it hadn’t expired in the time it took me to fly from Denver. It hadn’t. We boarded the plane for Managua and were off!

In-flight movie: The Big Year. I didn’t watch it, but I would describe it as 90 minutes of Steve Martin and Jack Black making funny faces at birds.

Other notable details about the flight:

  1. They served a meal. I didn’t know they still did that. It was some sort of “chicken” patty on a bun. I made a funny face at it.
  2. The couple sitting next to me were from Houston. When we landed, they immediately turned on their iPhones and ran up $42,000 worth of roaming charges before they figured out how to turn off their phones. I should add that, at takeoff, they interpreted the part about “Please turn off your electronic devices” to mean “Please check Facebook while the plane is accelerating down the runway.” That farm isn’t going to ville itself, apparently.
  3. As we were waiting to de-plane, the couple asked me if I was traveling alone and when I told them I was they informed me that I was going to get mugged and die.

Going through customs was a breeze, with a $10 fee for, I think, dealer prep. I had to fill out the usual forms promising that I was not bringing any livestock or more than $500,000 in cash into the country. I’m not sure what the ruling is on $500,000 worth of livestock. As usual I was the only traveler with no checked baggage (he said smugly), so I was first to pass through the final exit, where they x-rayed my backpack to make sure it contained no cows.

I needed to get to Granada, Nicaragua, which is about an hour from Managua, or 36 minutes by the insane taxi driver who brought me here. The taxi, which was in a state of repair that I would describe as “dis,” was going about 70 miles per hour where the speed limit was 70 kilometers per hour. It was like watching someone play a Nintendo game, only I only have one life. I got several lessons in advanced physics going through traffic circles at high speed. I was also half asleep at this point, which was probably the only thing that kept me from having a full-fledged panic attack. Flying through the Nicaraguan countryside at night while Adele blares from the radio is very cinematic.

We arrived in Granada and got to the rental house, where the landlord (an American, who lives down here part of the year) gave me an hour-long tour, which included details such as:

  1. Don’t let anyone into the house.
  2. Seriously, don’t let anyone into the house.
  3. The house — don’t let anyone into it.

I think with some judicious editing the tour could have been reduced to about five minutes.

He also mentioned that the place had been fumigated that afternoon, so I “might wake up to a lot of dead bugs on the floor.” And there was a spot in the roof where bats roosted, so I “might wake up to some bat doots on the floor.” (I’m paraphrasing.) In reality, I woke up to goats at the front door, though presumably not $500,000 worth.

Eventually, after demonstrating how to operate the keys and the locks (remarkably similar to keys and locks in the USA, I’m happy to report) he left and I was able to get some sleep.

The view out my front door:

A mule (or equivalent) pulling a cart:

The most cheerful funeral home sign ever. A smiling guy in a tuxedo leaping out of a coffin. He’s either thrilled to be dead, or pulling one rockin’ practical joke on his family:

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