Flight #3: Lima to Asuncion

September 17, 2011

This leg of my journey to Paraguay was considerably less uneventful than the first two. I was in the same seat, same row, and what do you know, it was empty again! (And this time, no one tried to give me a lap dance for a spot.) Woohoo.

The hot meal served was a seemingly innocuous pasta with meat sauce, but it turned out to be inedible thanks to some crunchy, undercooked noodles. There was also another alien baby salad, but with mashed babies. Noooo, thank you. I slathered my bread in butter and called it dinner.

After another seriously shaky landing (9.0 earthquake in the air, anyone?), I disembarked to discover a hoard of Chilean rugby players hogging up the line to go through immigration. Joy. Eventually I made it through and wrangled my giant luggages on a cart. Considering the ticket counter lady at LAX told me that my extra suitcase could arrive in nine days as it was considered stand-by (even though I paid $125 to check it in…), watching all three suitcases round the carousel was a sight for sore eyes, even if they were heavy. Airport personnel tried to help, but as I had no Guarani cash to tip with later, I doggedly insisted on doing my own wrestling. Shew.

The rest of the evening, er, morning was a blur with the entire CMA Paraguay team there to greet me with hugs and warm, humid weather, and then a daze of a trip back to the Director’s apartment where I will be staying for a few weeks until my own living arrangement is settled. A rattling thunderstorm with lightning and the works crashed in just as I plopped into bed. Ah, springtime in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’m here!

I settled into my aisle seat (again) and watched as people piled onto the plane, progressively panicking about the decreasing overhead compartment space. Carry-ons were not fitting, and ohymgod, my-life–is-going-to-end-right-now-if-I-don’t-have-somewhere-to-stash-this-gigantic-bag hysterics were building. I waited for someone to stop at my row, request me to stand up, and allow them to scoot in. But it never happened.

I watched as row after row filled up, and glancing behind and in front of me, I noticed the aircraft was completely packed, save for my row. I mentally high-fived myself and chuckled selfishly at the three very large Brazilian men crammed together in 18 A, B, and C. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep before we even left the ground.

I later awoke to something strangely suffocating my legs. I opened my eyes to find one of the Brazilian giants practically sitting on me, as he tried to surreptitiously claim one of the empty seats to my right. He giggled nervously realizing he could not have slid 200 pounds by me without my noticing. I think he tried to make up for it with conversation.

Rambling in friendly “Spanish” (which was really 90% Portuguese), he recounted the tales of the surf trip he was returning from in El Salvador, going so far as to show me all the pictures of waves he had taken with his cell phone (shout out to B). My comprehension was at about 60% with all the Portuguese my one quarter at UCSD did not prepare me for and all the wheezing laughter. This guy thought he was hiiiiilarious. Or maybe he was laughing at me because I kept nodding when he asked non-yes or no questions. Oops.

For lunch, we were served some creamy pasta garnished with mushrooms of death, and a side of “fruit” salad made with mayonnaise and alien babies. For the record, alien babies are NOT delicious.

Flight #1: LAX to San Salvador

September 17, 2011

A fragile grandma sidled up to me and asked if I spoke Spanish. I nodded in the affirmative, waiting for her to question me on flight logistics or something. She then commenced speaking to me in Portuguese about having just met her young grandchildren for the first time, how she was now returning to Brazil alone, how the purported boarding time was not fortuitous, and how my carry-ons were far too big. For lack of words, I matched her commentary with copious amounts of nodding. Little did I know what a theme this would prove for the day of travel ahead of me.

Alcohol was free (I decided not to participate at the happy hour of seven AM), so the man in my row had four cups of whiskey with only three ice cubes to accompany each round. We proceeded to have an hour-long conversation about…rocks. I scrambled to recall everything I learned perusing the precious gems exhibit in the Smithsonian about, oh you know, nineteen years ago. And then my newly friended geologist went into detail about his collection and how he splits the rocks open with his teeth to check for quartz or amethyst in the center. As you can surmise, nodding on my part took over from there.

Across the aisle was a band of equally interesting characters. Did I say interesting? I meant obnoxious. They had clearly never been on an airplane, and talked the ENTIRE flight. In the loudest decibel possible, of course. I had ear plugs in and I could still clearly hear them yelling. Thank God it wasn’t a red-eye. During the rough landing (finally), they were literally whooping and hollering about how much fun the dips (no, they weren’t twelve-years-old) were and how the engine had been turned off (mid-air) to ensure our safe landing and how beautiful the sea looked. Until someone informed them that those were, in fact, clouds.

Speaking of turbulence though, the second the whirring of descent kicked in, synchronized murmurs of Hail Mary’s rose as people starting crossing themselves in between crying out, “I have to live, God! I’m planning to go to Pollo Campero as soon as we land! Oh god, their chicken…”

Welcome to Latin America.

…and I literally don’t know when I’ll be back again.

My one-way ticket to Asuncion, Paraguay has officially been purchased.

The countdown starts now: T-minus 103 days…