I got into St. Louis at about noon on Thursday. I was tired and sore and scraggly-looking. But my mom was pleased to see me, and it was good to be back.
My departure began on Wednesday. Yoli and I spent the day finishing the last details of the website, then burning CDs for everyone I had done projects for–the seminary, El Jordán, and Casa Hogar Nacer. I made sure I burned a special CD for Glennie that included the lone Jerry Douglas song I found for him.
For lunch, Louise and Chris took us to the Gringo Limón restaurant, which was quite fancy but utterly empty. Apparently it stays very busy on weekends, but on this day, there was almost noone. The food was good, though, and the menu was humorous. The entree names included all sorts of jokes, many of which I didn’t get because they were in Spanish, but Yoli was particularly amused by them. I had chicken in a picante sauce. The menu said it was for macho cambas, but it didn’t turn out to be too hot.
In the afternoon we continued working, and then once I had burned all the CDs and we had called to confirm my flight with LAB, I returned to my room to pack. I was in a big hurry, but the packing went fast. It helped that I had washed and folded most of my clothes the day before.
I had spent some time in the morning writing thank you notes to the folks who had spent a lot of time with us or invited us over. I wrote a few more in the afternoon and made sure i gave them all out and shook hands with folks. I didn’t really get to say goodbye to Glennie, because he left Monday evening to go to Canada for a medical check-up. I also missed Dave Turner, who was working on the antenna for the Quechua radio station the mission is setting up.
I dressed in my warmest clothes–khaki pants, a long-sleeve dress shirt, and a t-shirt underneath. I did that since I’d be returning home to cold weather, but I probably should have worn shorts and changed in the evening. I was hot all day.
Finally it was dinner time. But we didn’t have dinner just then because unexpectedly some old friends of Yoli’s showed up. It was very bad timing and an awkward situation, but I was introduced to them and she talked with them for a while. Finally they left and we were able to eat and finish the pot of soup we had cooked yesterday.
We only had about an hour left before Louise would come to take us to the airport. So we went for a walk to have our last real private time together. It was a nice walk, and a little sad, but I tried not to dwell on that. Before returning to the seminary we bought some bread for me to eat in the morning (when I got to Miami) and some mani con chocolate (chocholate-covered peanuts, kinda like M&Ms).
It was 30 minutes or so to drive out to the airport. The three of us talked a little, but it was also quiet for some of the time.
Once inside, we made our way through check-in and customs… I paid my $25 fee and thankfully had no problems. We went upstairs to the waiting area. Viru Viru is not a big airport. Apparently you could wait in two places… We were in one. There were no seats in the main part, but if you went into this Euro-esque coffee shop, you could sit down in stylish seats. So we did that and spent time talking and stuff. Louise took a few last pictures of Yoli and I with our cameras, and we showed her some stuff on my computer.
Then it was nearly time for me to leave, so Yoli and I had our final goodbye. I got in line and and saw her for the last time and went through the immigration area and got my passport stamped.
Then I arrived in the other waiting area, the actual gate area. There were lots of seats, and lots of people. But curiously, I realized that my gate was practically empty. I thought that was weird, since it was 20 minutes before my flight was supposed to take off. Then a woman waved at me and asked if I was going to Miami, which I was. She then hurried me over toward the gate, tore my ticket and pushed me toward the plane. It turned out they had boarded early (I have no idea why) and I was the last one on the plane.
The flight itself was fairly uneventful. I got a little sleep but not a whole lot. We had a decent airplane dinner. Around 2 or 3 am we arrived in Panama and many folks got off the plane. I was cheering silently, thinking I’d get three seats to myself and be able to lay down for the second leg of the flight. But it was not to be… A larger load of folks from Panama boarded the plane and one of them sat in my row. Oh well. At least I got a donut for breakfast.
When I got to Miami, things weren’t so great. I was tired, and it was 5 am local time. I got in the wrong immigration line, and then realized it very late. So I ended up being the last person to go through the U.S. citizen’s line, even though I was one of the first off the plane.
I had filled out my I-94 form truthfully, and was worried I might have my stuff inspected since I was bringing back food (coffee) and had been on a farm (Casa Hogar Nacer, but only for a day). But this didn’t turn out to be the case. The lady indicated they only cared if I brought back meat, and waved me toward a special desk past the search areas. I was pleased my bags weren’t going to be inspected, then discovered instead my shoes were going to be washed. Yes, they had a shoe-washing desk designed to kill the germ infestation on my shoes. I guess they weren’t too worried about what I had already tracked all over the airport’s carpet.
After getting my shoes back, I went to the baggage area to pick up my suitcase. It was then that I realized I would have to carry my suitcase across the airport from one end to the other to check in again before making my connection.
That was an ordeal but I made it alive. Unfortunately ahead of me in line at Delta was a Southern family (Smith, apparently) that was coming back from a hunting trip in Argentina. They took forever to get through check-in. Finally it was my turn. I got my suitcase checked, and was about to leave when the lady told me I would need my suitcase inspected.
Not too bad, right? Wrong. The gun guys were also getting inspected. Each and every rifle case was opened and dusted and scanned and probed. I clenched my fists and waited. Finally they went through my stuff (no bombs, yay!) and I was able to leave.
Then it was the metal-detector and X-ray line. This part was always tough, since I had to remove all my computer stuff from my carry-on and put it in separate containers. I had exposed film I was concerned about, but the man at the X-ray machine said the machine wouldn’t hurt it. I wasn’t convinced but said nothing. Then I looked over at the wall wear the Transportation Safety Authority conveniently listed my rights… among them was the right to ask for a hand inspection of photo equipment. Always eager to exercise my rights as an American, I asked for the hand inspection of my film. But it was too late. As a different lady (some sort of boss, I gathered) explained that my film would not be hurt by the machine, my stuff went into the machine on the conveyor belt before I had time to protest more. That made me very angry, but I was too tired to fight.
Ahead of me the line wasn’t moving. Then I heard some guy say behind me that we were in the “special” line, meaning the line where you get the extra heavy-duty search. Wonderful, I thought.
Finally I got through the metal detector (amazed my keys, coins, belt, watch and other accessories didn’t set it off) and was led to a chair where I watched them go through my stuff. I had to remove my shoes and jacket for them to inspect. Then I had to stand up and have this detector thing waved all over my body every time it beeped, they checked to see if something was there. It kept beeping near my upper leg, so I had to empty my pocket. But it kept beeping. So they had to feel around to make sure there was nothing there. Even more wonderful. Even though the thing kept beeping, the guy let me go. Thankfully I didn’t have to go to the changing rooms nearby (I’m not kidding) and get strip searched.
I got my jacket and shoes back, and then I had to re-assemble my carry-on. I made it to the gate. I didn’t have the 3 hours free to play with my computer that I thought I’d have. I was pretty ticked off about all the security rigamarole, but finally we got on the plane. I ate some food from my bag, then called my mom and told her my horror story. It was nice to hear her voice, though.
The plane ride was no good though. I developed a headache along the way. Thankfully things were better in Atlanta (no security check) and the plane ride was smooth. I even got a little sleep.
And then I arrived in St. Louis, back in the familiar confines of Lambert… I got to the baggage claim and found my mom, and she drove me back home.
It was good to be back, to see Jed, and the house and the familiar streets and places. But it was also very, very weird.
It’s nice to be back, but it’s obviously bittersweet. I miss Yoli and everyone in Bolivia. But I have the hope that I’ll be returning to them soon, hopefully in 6 months.