I hate to be so prosaic, but I am exhausted right now from a full day of traveling, so this post will be Day One.
The following was written piecemeal as I had time and inclination to write on Saturday, March 13.
I sit in the Nashville airport, 1.5 hours before my scheduled flight to Atlanta. Nashville does not offer free wi-fi access, and I am currently feeling too cheap to pay $8 for access for only an hour, so I am writing this unconnected. The netbook I am using hasn't really been tested in battle, but the initial tests I have put it through have produced positive results, so I am cautiously optimistic.
As I checked in, the kiosk informed me that the flight to Atlanta is oversold and they will buy my ticket and bump me if I am willing, which I am, especially since the only thing waiting for me in Atlanta is a seven hour layover. If I get bumped, I might actually pay for the internet access.
The last time I flew, I donated my favorite pocketknife to TSA because I inadvertently left it in my pocket when I went to Huntsville. My sister dropped me off at the airport and took off immediately, so I had no other option but to hand it over to the TSA authority. One week later, the underwear bomber made his attempt on a plane over Detroit. So I lost a 2-inch blade pocketknife in the name of security, but this idiot is able to carry explosive chemicals onto a plane and light himself on fire. Go figure.
My aggressive travel plans for the next two weeks led me to the conclusion that I would travel more efficiently with a large internal frame backpack rather than a suitcase. I've never actually traveled like this before, so it's a brand new adventure for me.
I chose to stay in hostels so I could get a firsthand experience and know exactly what type of facilities my students will be staying in when I actually conduct the study abroad trip next year. I will have a fairly luxurious four days at the Sol Melia while at the conference, but the purpose of the rest of the trip is to determine exactly how economical I can make this trip. I booked a single room for myself at more than twice the rate for a bed in the dorm rooms at the hostel, but I am still only paying $34 a night. Hostels are generally less secure in the sense that they don't have the privacy a large hotel offers. This being the case, I wanted something more transportable than a clunky suitcase.
I voluntarily bumped myself from the earlier flight out of Nashville and earned a $300 travel voucher and $7 for breakfast at the Nashville airport. I got on the 11:47 flight and am now sitting in the Atlanta airport, still too cheap to buy internet access, waiting to board my flight to Lima. There's quite a crowd gathered already, consisting of at least one youth missionary group. There's a young lady sitting directly across from me (not affiliated with the missionary group) speaking about obscene things to a friend on her cell phone. It's fascinating to me to see that some people are so wrapped up in their own existence that they forget that they are sitting in the middle of a room full of people, at least a dozen of whom can hear every word they say. Directly behind the young lady in question, the youth group is kneeling in prayer and has been for about ten minutes, each praying in turn. (Update: half of their group was stranded at a different airport and under threat of missing the connection to Lima. They arrived 10 minutes before we began boarding, so their prayers were answered.)
As I was walking to the gate here, I saw a tragicomic scene. Unfortunately, by the time I thought it was photoworthy and got the camera out and ready, it was over. I'll have to describe it.
There are smoking rooms at intervals in the different concourses in many airports, and Atlanta is no different. Bill Engvall actually has a comedy bit about the smokers aquarium, so I can't pass by one anymore without thinking of those, and this scene happened at the smokers aquarium. I walked past, not focusing on anything in particular, but as I scanned the walkway, I saw a toddler sitting in an umbrella stroller, and (I can only presume his mother) standing beside him, smoking. He was looking lovingly up at her, and she was quite engaged with him, motioning toward him as if to tickle him with the non-cigaretted hand. From my brief glimpse as I walked by, it looked like a doting, loving mother and her child. Then I realized it. He was sitting on the outside of the glass. Mom had parked him just away from the door, against the glass, and gone into the smokers aquarium to have her cigarette. I wanted to take a picture, but I just wasn't fast enough. When I got back to the scene, Mom had already finished and was releasing the brake of the umbrella stroller as she headed down the concourse in the direction opposite to the one I was traveling. My feelings are mixed on this one. At least mom respects her child enough to not subject him to the secondhand smoke, but at the same time, her own addiction was so strong that she had to arrange this little setup before she sould continue on her trip.
I am beginning to hear more Spanish spoken, and have spoken Spanish to one or two people already. My goal is to speak exclusively in Spanish while I am in Lima. I have been looking forward to this opportunity for a few years now, as my personal discipline won't allow me to speak Spanish 100% of the time with friends and colleagues. My affective filter is thickening, and I need this next two weeks to just be immersed in Spanish and brush up once again. Sadly, I realize that I have not been in a Spanish speaking country since May 2003. I have been to Brazil twice since then. I'm going to have to make these trips more regularly.
Thanks to my friend SD, I have something to read over the next two weeks. It is Richard Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. I have read the first two chapters and it is a good biography. I'll write more thoughts as I progress through the work.
I left my iPhone with CJ (intentionally), and plan on using Skype as the primary means of communicating with my family over the next two weeks. AT&T's international calling plan is a farce, and since I am visiting four different cities in the next two weeks, I don't feel like I want to risk breaking or losing my iPhone. I only mention it now because if I had brought it with me, I would have already called CJ and the kids a half dozen times since my departure this morning.
I arrived safely in Lima after a 6 hour flight. The in-flight entertainment was enough to keep me occupied the entire time. I napped for about an hour, read for a while, and watched three movies: The Invention of Lying, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Men Who Stare at Goats. I wasn't overly impressed with any of them, but Where the Wild Things Are has flashes of brilliance. I may have to show my children the movie and see if they pick up on the allegory.
My backpack, which I gate checked, was not returned to me at the gate, but sent down to baggage claim. It was the last one out onto the belt, so I was more than a little nervous for a few minutes. After the usual chaos of immigration and customs, (hand over your declaration form, push a button and wait: if red, you are searched, if green, you proceed,) I stepped through and was looking for my promised contacts, one taxi driver and one UNA recruiting agent. I saw the taxi driver holding a paper that said "Scott Infscager" and then another sign reading "UNA (I'm Bruce)." After meeting Bruce and his wife, introducing myself to the LDS mission president and his wife, who were waiting to receive a senior missionary couple, and then tracking down my cabbie, I enjoyed the frenetic 30-minute drive through Lima to the hostel. I checked in at 1:45am, found my room, and sequestered myself for the night.
I will be meeting Alfredo for lunch, and Bruce promised to call me at some point on Sunday to see that I am alive and well.