Be flexible. Those words from Mission Director Brian Walker could not be more appropriate for the first 24-36 hours of our adventure heading to Retalhuleu.
From San Francisco we flew overnight to Miami, where we had a five-hour layover (5 a.m. to 10 a.m.) until our flight to Guatemala City and truthfully, the exhaustion was already starting to show for many of us. The flight to Guatemala City was uneventful and many of us were happy to get a three-hour nap.
We landed in Guatemala City to sunny skies and San Diego-like temperatures. We managed to find all our boxes full of the medical equipment and other supplies and get them on a truck to Retalhuleu. While our boxes were on their way, we boarded an air-conditioned coach bus. A few of us half expected to be on a "chicken bus" — those colorful school buses used by the locals to get to their destinations.
After a short ride, we arrived at a Westin Hotel and were greeted by local Rotarians and lots of Guatemalan press, who were covering our arrival and our mission. After a lunch of tortilla soup, a beef dish and slice of a sponge cake with strawberry and mango sauce (yum!), we went to the front of the hotel to wait for the bus to take us on the four-hour drive to Retalhuleu.
But it was not to be: The bus we had been on just a few hours earlier was nowhere to be found due to mechanical problems and a replacement bus was on its way. Nearly two hours later and some souvenir shopping, our new bus arrived. We were happy to get going again, given that daylight was fading and we still had a lot of work ahead of us.
We had no idea that another "adventure" awaited us. About 90 minutes into the drive, all traffic came to a dead stop on a two-lane highway. People ditched their cars and trucks and stood on the highway, trying to discover the cause of the delay. Outside, it was misty and humid.
As we waited, quartermaster Alan Bowman exclaimed: "I don't think this place really exists." I think some of us probably agreed. : ) Eventually, the traffic began to move and we all made a mad-dash to get back on the bus. We were so excited to be on our way. But, as it turned out, we didn't get very far…the traffic moved at a snail's pace and by 7:30 p.m. we still had a two-hour drive ahead of us. On top of that, our bus was running low on fuel!
Rebecca Weaver, who will be in charge of the recovery ward, graciously passed around peanut butter M&Ms, which never tasted so good. :) We (eventually) got to the resort-like hotel we were staying at and were greeted by the resident peacocks and peahens. After getting to our rooms, it didn't take long for many of us to fall asleep. It wouldn't be long before the alarm would go off at 5 a.m. for the next day's adventure: Pre-clinic day.