It never fails – I woke up at 6:30 am, when I really didn’t need to get up until 7:30 am. Actually Ana Maria didn’t get us up until 7:45 – she was running a bit late.
I took a nice warm shower and then got Dave up. We had everything just about ready and I was thinking about what we might do for breakfast. Mariana had just gotten up and was telling us all about the date she had the night before with the boy she just started dating, when the doorbell buzzed. The taxi was a bit early – 8:40 am. Ricky helped us load our backpacks and luggage into the car, and we said goodbye to him and to Mariana, and then we were off to begin our long day of traveling.
The taxi took us to the airport, trying as well as possible to take backroads to avoid traffic. It wasn’t too bad, and we got to the airport probably not much later than 9 am. We checked in, got rid of our luggage and backpacks, and then headed upstairs. We finally found a place to mail the postcards we had written on Saturday. We poked around a bit in the shops, and then realized we needed to make breakfast our first priority.
The only place to get breakfast food in the airport was, of course, Dunkin’ Donuts. We had some donuts and I had a latte, and we sat in aluminum chairs in the airport food court being very amused.
We did a bit more shopping, then we headed in toward the gate area. We paid the stupid airport tax, went through immigration where they took away our visas and stamped the Exit stamps in our passports, then went through security.
We got to the gate and had some realizations. 1) This was not a normal gate, but instead we’d have to take a tram to get to our plane. 2) There was nothing interesting down at this gate – the only shopping was a tiny Duty Free stand. 3) We needed to get rid of our soles. 4) We had no idea what time they would tell us to get on the tram, because while our boarding passes said the boarding time was 11:00 am, the flight time wasn’t until 12:30 and it seemed insane to get on the plane that early.
So Dave, who is typically my go-to guy when it comes to spending money, went upstairs to the touristy airport shop to see if he could spend 40 soles. He came back with two chocolate bars and a patch of the Peruvian flag. Unfortunately the woman at the cash register had neglected to charge him for the chocolate bars, so he had something like 30 soles left.
Uncertain of whether this would cause me to miss the tram to the plane, I went upstairs to see if I could dispose of the soles. It seemed ridiculous, but it didn’t seem like enough money to make it worth changing it back into dollars. The worst part was that there was nothing for 30 soles that I really wanted to buy. Finally I ended up buying an irreverent Peruvian magazine called “Etiqueta Negra” and two Snickers bars. That just about did it.
I went back down to the gate, and I had not even come close to missing the flight. It was 10-15 minutes before they finally started calling for passengers to get onto the tram, which took us to the plane, which was being boarded both front and back. Boarding from the back worked out quite well for us, as we were pretty near the rear of the plane, but it was poorly organized, so there were passengers getting on at the front of the plane and walking all the way down the aisle to the back, and vice-versa.
I suppose the plane took off somewhere around 12:30 as planned. I slept for the first hour of the flight, then read for a while, then slept some more.
It was just before 4 pm when we arrived in Comalapa International Airport in San Salvador, El Salvador. We managed to get past the ferocious drug-sniffing cocker spaniel and into the airport. We walked up and down the airport to see what there was to see. The most remarkable thing in this airport was the lack of consistency in the temperature. We probably passed through a 20 degree temperature range, but at various different points in the airport.
The airport was full of designer clothing shops, mom-and-pop restaurant/bars and surprisingly differentiated duty free shops. We opted for a restaurant/bar with dark, imposing-looking wood, which paradoxically had some teeny-bopper TRL-type music video show on all the TVs. The show featured mobile phone text messages scrolling along the bottom, which people had sent via their text messages soliciting calls and/or text messages from hot chicks btwn ages 14-17 – “no feas” (no uglies). We were fascinated and alarmed at the same time. We had amazing Salvadorean sandwiches – beef and sausage on a sourdough bread roll with refried beans as the spread. They were very filling, which was good, considering it was the only real food we had all day.
A little after 5 pm, after the music video show degenerated into a teeny-bopper telenovela, we ditched the restaurant to hang out at the gate. Unfortunately the large flatscreen TV there was blaring informercials about El Salvador’s tourism opportunities and its products (and occasionally the Lord’s Prayer, sung in English, with Spanish subtitles). We bailed on this and went to the large spacious waiting area at the end of the terminal, where we read our books for a while. When this terminal got too crowded and it got closer to our boarding time, we headed back to our gate, where we managed to spend about 10 minutes waiting beneath the air conditioner, until an airport employee shut it off. Then we sat in the waiting area, and I amusedly watched a frazzled Salvadorean-American father try to corral his young daughter Amy, who was probably not quite 2 years old. She reminded me of my sister Amy when she was tiny.
The flight from San Salvador to Los Angeles was pretty uneventful, and we landed at LAX at 11:45 pm as scheduled. We got off the plane and headed toward Immigration, and we stopped at the restrooms just before getting to the line. I turned on my cell phone to find that my sister Renae had just left me a phone message saying that she and her boyfriend were there waiting to pick us up. Unfortunately, as soon as we got into the (extremely long and slow) line for Immigration, the cell service was non-existent. It seemed like an eternity before we were officially allowed into the country, and then got our bags. In reality, it was over 45 minutes.
We got out into the fresh air of Los Angeles after 12:30 am on the 4th of July, our nation’s birthday. As soon as I went to call Renae, I received a call from her. She and Jordan were just driving by our terminal; but, unable to pull over to the curb in time, they had to do a lap around the airport before they could come back and find us. We finally piled all our stuff in the truck and headed south to San Diego.
We got to our apartment around 2:45am – home sweet home! The four of us were just starting to get settled and had (thankfully) all used the facilities when the toilets started going haywire. Here begins an adventure of a completely different kind… welcome back to civilization!