We arrived at the airport early and had no problem checking our luggage, (except that Suegra had over-packed, exceeding the alloted 50 lbs. per bag, and demanded we shove some of her stuff into our suitcases.) People watched us enviously as we skipped the long line and got into a special short line for those who had checked-in via the Taca website and printed boarding passes at home. (Highly recommended.)
While waiting at the gate, we ran into some very good family friends from El Salvador who, as it turned out, would be riding on the same exact flight as us. This may seem like a shocking coincidence, but I’ve gotten used to unexpectedly bumping into Salvadorans we know or who know someone we know. You ever hear of the 6 degrees of separation thing? I think that with Salvadorans, it’s probably more like 3 degrees.
Before we got on the plane, I told the boys that when I was little and went on my first flight, the capitan gave me a little “wings” pin to wear on my shirt. The boys were excited by this idea and I assured them that I’d get them their “wings” even though Carlos said he doubted they still did this. When we finally boarded, I put my hands on the kids’ shoulders and told the pilot proudly in Spanish that it was my boys’ first flight. He answered, “Oh, sí?” and welcomed them aboard before turning to greet the next passenger. Carlos started laughing as he pushed me along towards our seats. Apparently they don’t give wings anymore.
This was actually not my oldest son’s first flight, but he was a baby when we went the first time, so it kind of doesn’t count. Both boys were really excited and I thought it would be special to get their reaction to their first take off on video. My younger son couldn’t stop laughing and my older son was pretty happy, too.
The flight was mostly uneventful after take off, besides some turbulence and a constant line down the aisle for the bathrooms, which I found odd. Every other flight I’ve been on, you have a few people get up to use the bathroom, but this line was half the length of the airplane for nearly the entire flight. (At one point, un viejito in a cowboy hat accidentally locked himself in the bathroom and a stewardess had to unlock it from the outside to let him out. That probably didn’t help the line situation either.)
Speaking of stewardesses, I couldn’t help but notice that nearly the entire flight crew were young, (handsome), Salvadoran men. In fact, one of the stewards gave me my first piropo of the trip. I sat in my seat obediently listening as they announced landing instructions. I happened to have a pair of sunglasses on top of my head and when he walked by he caught my eye and smiled. Pointing to my sunglasses he said, “Tiene que bajar los lentes para el aterrizaje.” (You have to lower your glasses for landing.) It was totally cheesy and made no sense, but he made me blush. As he laughed and then continued down the aisle, Carlos who had watched the encounter as he sat right next to me, cleared his throat and told me to behave.
You know, people always complain about airplane food, but we liked it. Arroz con pollo, (granted, it was heavy on the arroz and light on the pollo), cheese and crackers, potato chips, and a very delicious brownie. Obviously this meal wasn’t designed by a nutritionist, but it tasted good.
For entertainment, there was something on the television sets which I didn’t pay attention to because I was busy reading the magazine.
The Taca magazine included a bilingual crossword puzzle which I thought was super chévere.
After we landed and made it through customs, we were greeted by a Tía who picked us up in a van. While we loaded the luggage into the vehicle we were assaulted by pushy old women selling lottery tickets. Our second assault was only minutes away, when we pulled over to purchase agua de coco. Before the tires even stopped, we were surrounded by vendors shoving things through the windows such as bags of sliced mango and peanuts, agressively asking and then demanding that we buy them. The boys were completely wide eyed and unsure of what was going on. I, on the other hand, was just being way too polite with my very gringa-ish, “No, gracias” which made the vendors think they had a chance to wear me down and sell something.
The Tía who had picked us up in the van calmly purchased the few agua de cocos she had come for and then slid the window shut mercilessly saying, “Ya no,” with admirable finality, almost taking off the fingers of a young vendor.
The van pulled away from the side of the road and entered the unruly traffic. With the windows down I enjoyed the breeze, the scenery, and the sound of Salvadoran Spanish rising and falling around me. On our way to Soyapango, I tried to take in everything I could, the shacks, the green mountains, the brightly colored store fronts, the people riding in the beds of pickup trucks, and the graffiti on cement walls. While most of the graffiti was a tangled mess of gang tags, one particular piece caught my attention. On a wall off the side of the highway about ten minutes from the airport, someone had written a message for all the Salvadoran lost souls who had found their way back to their homeland: “Bienvenido a su patria, hermano salvadoreño.”