March 25, 2016 @ 2:28 pm 
I’m currently sitting in PTI Airport with 10 kids (all between the ages of 13 – 18), one parent (belonging to two of the students), my youngest brother (Blake), and Gabriel. We were supposed to board our plane 4 minutes ago. It’s amazing how fast you can lose your mind in 4 minutes.

Our plane has been delayed, which will most likely cause us to miss our connecting flight in Atlanta. Where is our final destination? Nicaragua! But accordingly to the Delta worker’s body language (which is always more trust worthy than what is coming out of their mouths in such situations), the likelihood of us arriving in Nicaragua this evening is slim.

Gabriel told me he would take care of the situation.

“Just watch the kids while I sort this out.” 
“Should I tell them what’s going on?”
“No, not until we have more information. Just keep them entertained.” 

A task I’m sure he (the school teacher) thought was easy and fun. 

They’re actually playing a game right now, although they’re unaware of it. It’s called Who-Will-Notice-Our-Plane-Isn’t-Here-And-We’re-Stuck-For-Who-Knows-How-Long. The first person to realize it will receive a piece of candy. 

2:47 pm
Hannah, the sophomore and experienced traveler, won the game. She has the Delta app on her phone, which will give her an edge during Round 2 of the game: Who-Will-Figure-Out-We-Will-Have-To-Overnight-In-Atlanta.  

4:08 pm 
Still in Greensboro, we broke the news to the kids. Due to a mechanical issue, they’ve arranged another plane to take us to Atlanta this evening. We will receive meal vouchers (thanks to Gabriel’s assertiveness at the counter), hotel vouchers, and another flight out of ATL to Nicaragua tomorrow. 

“Mr. Sams, what?!”
“Mr. Sams, why?”
“Mr. Sams, what are we doing to do?”
“Mr. Sams, can we use the meal voucher now?”
“Mr. Sams, what time is our flight tomorrow?”
“Mr. Sams, what hotel are we going to stay at?” 
“Mr. Sams, where is my luggage?”
“Mr. Sams, is my luggage going to Atlanta?”

The questions fired off their tongues so rapidly, paralyzing me like a deer in the headlights. My own questions frozen on my tongue, I waited as “Mr. Sams” held up both hands and calmed the group. 

“Listen, this is part of traveling. You guys are getting an authentic traveling experience. These things happen. I know it’s not preferable, but the airline will take care of us. You know what’s worse than being delayed and missing a flight?” 

Ten teenage brains rummaged for an answer — the question posed was quite difficult, as what could possibly be worse than experiencing a delay on your Spring Break? After a few seconds passed with no responses, he continued. 

“Being on a plane that has a mechanical issue is worse than being delayed. I don’t particularly want to be on a plane with a mechanical issue, do you?”

I nodded my head in agreement with the others. 

“So being delayed is a good thing. It means the airline is taking the right precautions to keep us safe. Now grab a snack if you’d like and pop in your headphones. We’ll board our new plane within the hour.” 

Instantly, I felt more calm. 

6:37 pm
We’ve landed in Atlanta, only to discover our luggage is not at the designated carousel. Gabriel snuck off to find out more information. Meanwhile, we told the students to keep a close eye on the carousel in case their bags circle by. 

They are so sweet and naive, I feel guilty watching as they intently stare at the carousel. But it’s keeping them distracted while Gabriel discovers 1) where our bags are, and 2) if we can get the bags this evening. I pray they’re not on their way to Nicaragua without us. 

7:13 pm
I felt my phone vibrating in my back pocket and reached for it, hoping it was good news from Gabriel. Instead, I read: Send Blake. Need reinforcement

Not the text I was hoping for, particularly since the students have discovered their bags are not on the carousel. They are hungry and tired and bored. I am fighting to not show them that I am all of those things, too. 

8:04 pm
Anxious with no word from Blake or Gabriel, I decided it was time to try a new tactic. I previously asked the students to sit in the corner of the baggage claim area — an attempt to stay out of the way while the situation was resolved. 

Now, however, I think the airport staff needs more of an incentive to retrieve our bags and dole out our meal vouchers. 

“Ok guys, lets gather your things and move out!”
“Where are we going?”
“To the baggage claim office. Gabriel and Blake are inside. Let’s wait for them there so we’re close by when they come out.” 

I could see the office, down at the other end of baggage claim. It featured a glass wall that looked out over the carousels. Surely it wouldn’t hurt for the workers to see the children’s faces, instead of their names and ticket numbers on paper? 

For a moment, I thought about asking the kids to look really tired and hungry as they stared through the glass at Gabriel and Blake. But as I looked at each of their faces, I realized I didn’t have to. They were already done for the day, all energy spent. 

Somewhere deep inside, my maternal instincts kicked in and I glared through the glass at the workers. Not an angry glare, but one that was a warning — I had ten hungry kids that needed to eat and I would see that they were fed, sooner than later. 

8:12 pm
It took less than 5 minutes of standing at the glass before we had meal vouchers in hand and the promise of our luggage on its way! I would like to think my new strategy had something to do with it, although I know it was largely due to Gabriel and Blake’s steadfastness at the counter. 

Despite explaining to the kids that the meal vouchers were worth USD 15 and needed to be spent all at one time and in one place, half ran to Burger King and blew the voucher on a USD 7 burger and fries. 

Not I. Since we’d passed through security, we were limited with our options. But the Atlanta Chop House caught my eye as we toured the terminal, and we glanced at the menu. Each of us found an item of our liking for USD 15 or less, so we ventured inside. 

I selected the “Chop Chop” salad — a mixed bed of greens topped with smoked turkey, gouda, avocado, dried blue berries and toasted pumpkin seeds, drizzled with a pesto vinaigrette. Gabriel went for a classic Reuben, while Blake opted for the Signature Burger. 

As we sat waiting for the food to arrive, the day caught up with us. We glanced at the bar and noticed the tap handles of local breweries. I’m not sure who suggested it first — in all likelihood, it might have been myself — but suddenly we all had a fancy for a pint. 

Had it been the three of us traveling sans minors, ordering a pint would have been a no-brainer after being stranded in airports for 9+ hours and left unconvinced that our luggage would appear at the conclusion of the evening meal. 

But since we had a strict, no alcohol rule for the students, we felt it slightly hypocritical to down an ale ourselves. 

We looked at the taps. We looked at each other. We looked at the taps once more… 

The waiter must have picked up on our yearning, because he walked over to our table and asked us if we would like to order some drinks? 

“Um…”
“Well…”
“Er…”

It seemed we were incapable of uttering the word “no.” Before we completely confused the poor man, Gabriel spoke up. 

“Let me ask you a question — do you have any opaque cups? Like, a red coca cola cup?”

The man looked even more confused, and I understood why. As I glanced around the establishment, I saw only quality glassware on the tables and behind the bar area. Gabriel clarified, further. 

“You see, we’ve had a really long day. We’re traveling with a group of students, and a beer does sound really good right now. But if the students happen to walk by…”  

The man nodded his head, then proceeded to lift his chin slightly — a grave, but somehow simultaneously mischievous look on his face. It was the expression of someone accepting a serious mission tasked to them. 

“I got you.” 

With that, he disappeared. And a few minutes later? Three paper coca cola cups (including plastic lids and straws) appeared at the table.

“My lady, gentlemen — your… coca colas. Please enjoy.” 

He managed to utter the phrase with a straight face, which made the situation even more hilarious. 

Despite drinking the beer from a paper cup (the vessel being the bottom hierarchy of how a beer should be served), it was delicious. The salad I ordered was also delightful — so much so that I forgot to take a photo before it disappeared in my stomach. 

atlanta-chop-house
sweetwater-420
hierarchy-of-beer

Hopefully we will now receive our luggage, a lift to the hotel, and a bed to fall onto. 

March 26, 2016

9:54 am
I am so ready to leave this city. We did not gain access to our room until nearly midnight. The hotel staff claimed we did not have a reservation (the one the airline made for us, earlier in the afternoon). I think they simply gave it away to someone else. 

When we made it to our room, Blake’s bed didn’t have sheets on it — a cherry to top off the front desk’s cantankerous personality. Granted, I do work with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, who pride themselves in customer service excellence in luxury travel. I didn’t anticipate the Four Seasons experience at the Best Western, but I did assume there would be sheets on a bed someone was expected to sleep on.

The view I woke up to this morning from our non-accessible balcony matched my mood.  

best-western-atlanta
best-western-atlanta

I believe the students have had enough of this “authentic travel experience.” We’re all ready to be in Nicaragua. 

11:59 pm
We are finally in Nicaragua! As soon as we landed (sometime around 9:30 pm), we went through customs and exchanged our US dollars for Nicaraguan cordobas. Exiting the airport, the thick, muggy Nicaraguan night swallowed me whole in its 92º fahrenheit temperature — a sharp contrast to our early spring weather in North Carolina.

Next, I was swallowed again — this time by our tour director, Raquel. She embraced me in a giant hug, a warm welcome rolling off the tongue in her native Spanish dialect. Suddenly, everything was OK. The hiccups we encountered were forgotten as she instructed us to our bus and we left Managua for Granada.   

None of us were hungry, but we were anxious to try the local flavors when Raquel told us dinner awaited our arrival. The restaurant, Bistro Estrada, was beautiful — we sat in a courtyard with a fountain and lush vegetation all around. Because it was so late, only one couple occupied the restaurant with us. I sat, soaking in the moment and breathing in the smells, memorizing my first hour in this new country.  

nicaraguan-art
alfresco-dining-nicaragua
nicaragua-architecture

Our food promptly slid in front of us — tilapia with rice and steamed vegetables, along with a side salad and coconut pudding for dessert. Stuffed, we boarded the bus once more and journeyed to our hotel. 

There’s something magical about arriving in a new place under the cloak of darkness. Everything is subdued — the sounds, the colors, the smells… The spell will break in the morn, once the first rays of light touch the earth and the muted symphony of Central American culture comes to life again. 

Until then, it’s time for some shut eye.