MondayAlthough he hadn’t said as much, I think Jonathan really missed being out on the lake with his family over Memorial Day weekend. It has been a tradition in his family for many years now. As a result, when we came back to Central America after our two-week break in the States, he was already talking about wanting to come back for the July 4th lake trip. He had pretty much given up on that, though, thinking that we would not have enough time to get back to Tulsa by August 3rd, when a friend of ours is getting married. Well, being the loving wife that I am, I like to make his desires come true. I planned out the remaining stops in our trip, day-by-day, and came out with the evaluation that we had 2 weeks to spare, assuming that we had no delays. By the time you add in a few more rest or delay days, it would be safer to assume that we had about 10 days to spare. Armed with this information, I was able to tell Jonathan that we could make the July 4th lake trip. I could tell he was pretty stoked.
After checking out the airports from which we could leave, the flights offered, etc., we settled on leaving from Managua, Nicaragua on July 2nd (Tuesday). We wanted to surprise everyone, so we didn’t tell anyone. We left in the morning from Parque Nacional Masaya and drove the 10 minutes to a mall in Managua, where we hoped to get some free WiFi to book our flights and do some research. After wandering all around outside the mall area (it was still closed this early), we finally found a signal or two we could access for free. I booked and checked in for our flights and Jonathan looked up hotels at which we could stay. We found four prospects: two from our guidebook, one from hotwire.com, and one from a google map search near the airport.
[On a side note, we hate driving through the major parts of these cities. At nearly every stoplight is a set of window washers who see us gringos and think we will be easy prey. We get swamped every time with liquid and regular soap squirted all over everything. Despite our screams of “¡No! ¡NO PAGAMOS!” and swiping the wipers, they continue to clean and spray. We refuse to pay. One group even took our wipers and folded them out and left them out. So we had to stop at the next light and put them down. Obnoxious, absolutely obnoxious. With all the people that ask for a $1 payment, we would literally have to pay $10 to get through town. I tell you, I think they try to find the cleanest windshield to clean, thinking that they must be suckers or something. I don’t know. They even do this in the rain! Futile!]
We decided to work our way up from the cheapest to the most expensive. So we went to the first location, Hotel Los Felipe. It was cheap ($30 for a room a/c), but the rooms were a bit sketch, others costs included $2/day for parking, and $15/$20 there/back for airport transportation. It would have been fine, though, except that the parking area wasn’t exposed to sun. That meant we wouldn’t be able to leave our fridge on, which just wasn’t a good plan—I didn’t want to get rid of all my sauces. So, we went to the next location, Hotel Los Cisneros. That one couldn’t keep our vehicle for a week while we were gone, so it was nixed. Next was Hotel Mansion Teodolinda. The room was $60, the parking free and in the sun, but the airport transportation was $10 per person each way. With the cost up to $100, we figured we might as well check out the Best Western (priced at ~$100) near the airport before we made the decision. When we got there, the price for the room was $95, but the clencher was the $10/day parking costs. Jonathan asked them what the airport charges for parking. They looked at each other and said about the same.
Not really happy with any of our options, we went back out to the car and used the hotel’s unsecured WiFi to do some more research. We were thinking we would check out a few more options and then, if still not satisfied, we would go back to Hotel Mansion Teodolinda. Before we did though, we thought we would walk across the street to the airport and ask about the parking charges. They charged C$150 (US$6) per day (those Best Western liars!). As we were walking back to the van, Jonathan had the idea to ask if we could just camp in the parking lot. I thought he meant at Best Western (no idea why) so I had us across the street before we I realized he meant the airport. So we walked back across (did I mention it was raining?) and asked. The parking attendants were fine with us sleeping in the van and the restrooms were open until at least 10pm, if not all night, so we were set. The costs weren’t amazing, but at least they were much cheaper than any of our other options.
With the money saved from not staying in a hotel, we decided to go out to eat for lunch at El Garabato in the middle of town. We had the buffet for C$85 (US$3.40) per person. The chicken was tasty. Afterwards, we went to the nearby mall for internet and found a movie theater playing After Earth in 2D English. We enjoyed nice leather, rocking seats and air conditioning for C$165 (US$6.50)—movie prices are so much more reasonable in Central America, although theaters are rare. In the states, it costs us nearly 3 times as much to go to a movie. After that, we made our way back to get settled in before dark.
The airport parking was a bit confusing. There was an entrance at the entrance of the drive, but when we tried it, the machine would not produce a ticket. So we backed out and decided to look for another entrance. The next opening was exit only, where one would pay. Finally, right before you exited the airport, there was another entrance. We pulled up, but the machine looked closed as it had plastic wrap around it. An attendant came out to eat or smoke and set down on the curb, ignoring us. Confused, we decided to pull up a little further. Maybe it was automatic. Turns out the machine was a touch screen, so they were protecting it with the plastic. We got our ticket and found a spot in view of the pay attendants for added security. We spent the night packing and getting ready for our voyage.
TuesdayThe next morning, we rose early, finished preparations, and got our passes. The great thing about security measures in other countries is that they are much more reasonable. It doesn’t take very much time to get through security. We were shortly seated in the terminal, waiting to see if we would make it on the flight. When I had checked last night, there were plenty of seats available, so I wasn’t worried. Sure enough, we were called up to receive tickets. Happy enough, we got first class! I tell you, that is the only way to fly, although main cabin extra makes it bearable.
In Miami, we arrived a bit early, so we thought we might try to catch an earlier flight. As I scoped flights, we decided we now had a better chance to catch the MIA-ORD-TUL flights instead of the MIA-DFW-TUL flights. So, as we walked to customs, I canceled our previous reservation and checked us in for the other Chicago flights. As I mentioned, the US customs inspections can take a while. While we were going back through security, we actually had to wait a five minutes to get a bag inspected. Turns out we had a dull pocketknife in there that had to be tossed. Oh well. By this time, we were starting to get really close to take-off time on the new flights, so we were getting nervous about whether we would get there in time. We hustled to the gate.
As we approached, we discovered the flight was delayed by about 15 minutes, so we had plenty of time. It was at this time that we started thinking something was off. When I had booked the flights 10 minutes earlier, the flight was supposed to be completely book except for two seats in first class. However, there was hardly 50 people in the gate area. We thought there must be a flight or two running late and they would be there shortly. After everyone in the gate had boarded, we went up. They said they were expecting a few more people to show up, and while they expected us to be able to get a seat, they wanted us to wait a bit more. Sure enough, a man in a blue Hot-Shottas soccer shirt came running up and told the agent that their group was coming. It was a group of 90 soccer players from Barbados and their chaperons. I hate groups like these. No one is responsible, so everyone takes their time. They came in at least three different waves. The kids were well enough behaved, but the adults would stop and buy magazines or something to eat. We definitely ended up waiting another 30 minutes for them to all board, and then after they had all boarded was when we they started counting to make sure they had everyone (not a list they checked off as they boarded). Very inefficient and annoying and made us very late. Because of the delays, we didn’t take off when we had been assigned, thus we had to wait another 30 minutes on the tarmac for the opportunity to take flight. Our 3-hour layover in Chicago became a single-hour layover. At least I was able to play musical chairs, swapping with passengers to sit by Jonathan on the way there.
In Chicago, we grabbed a bite to eat and then picked up some Garrett popcorn for the lake before we made our way to the gate. Garrett popcorn is pretty good, and whenever one of my former coworkers would fly through Chicago for business or pleasure, they would grab a big bag to share with everyone. We sat down at the gate and shortly were issued another set of first class tickets. Since we knew we were getting on the flight, we took the moment to send an email out to our ride in Tulsa telling him we would be there by 8:30pm. Literally, right after we finished sending our emails, there was announcement over the intercom that our plane had an issue in the cockpit and we were waiting on a mechanic to come fix the problem. Plane delayed. A few minutes later, there was announcement that our plane was not flyable and we would have to wait on another plane to take us to Tulsa. Instead of the originally-planned 6:25pm departure, we were now scheduled to depart at 8:00pm and would not arrive in Tulsa until 10:00pm. Well, at least we weren’t stuck in Chicago overnight.
Ryan, Jonathan’s good friend from days of old picked us up. We had only notified him that day that we were coming and told him to keep it a secret. As we drove back towards his place, we had to figure out where we were staying the night. We decided that since most of the crew had already left, we would just stay at Ryan’s place and surprise everyone the next day.