We Have Begun Our Descent into Managua
The city’s lights came into view as we descended from 35,000 feet on a hot March night. The lower we got, the clammier my hands, and the more active the butterflies in my stomach. I glanced at my FitBit. Resting heart rate of 104. Nope, not anxious at all.
“What am I doing? Maybe I should’ve stayed in Houston.”
It’s not uncommon for me to feel a bit nervous landing somewhere new. That moment when I’m released from the airline’s embrace and thrust out into the wide world can be an apprehensive one, but I’d never been gripped with this level of anxiety and self doubt before. For some reason, I had an unease throughout my entire trip planning process that I couldn’t fully shake. I would read glowing blog posts about Nicaragua and I would get excited (volcano boarding!), then I would stumble on a story of someone being kidnapped in a taxi or robbed in the street or women being harassed and all my misgivings came back.
“Yep, I’m probably going to get robbed. It’s going to happen. But there are beaches and volcanoes and it’s so cheap!”
So why did I keep coming back to Nicaragua as my vacation choice? I didn’t want the same vacation as everyone else back home. All-inclusive resort in Cuba? Vacation rental in Florida? They’re fine, but I wanted my beach with a side of adventure. Plus, it was cheap, which matched my spending mood at the time. I’m also a stubborn Taurus so once I said I was going to go, that’s it, I had to go.
So I armed myself with knowledge, reached out for advice, and forged ahead booking flights and rooms. But despite assurances from travellers, I still found myself getting worked up into a tizzy as the plane touched down in Managua. Once an idea gets into my head I latch onto it like a newborn to a nipple. And the thought currently lodged in my grey matter was “this was a bad idea.”
My heart rate crept higher and higher the further I got from the comfort and safety of the United jet and the closer I got to the city of Managua waiting outside the airport doors. 110. 117. 128 as I exited customs and headed to the baggage carousel. Jesus.
After collecting my bags, I searched furtively for someone holding a sign with my name. I paid a few extra dollars to the hotel to have someone pick me up so that I could avoid the uncertainty of taxis. As the arrivals area cleared out and still no sign of my ride, panic was getting ready to launch a cheeky little attack on me. I waved off taxi driver after taxi driver with a “No” and shake of my head. I tried to appear the confident worldly traveller but I looked anything but, suspiciously eyeing everyone near me and keeping a hand on my purse. I was ridiculous.
Eventually a lovely, kind looking man came up and asked if someone was supposed to pick me up. “Yes! I think I’ve been forgotten.” I gave him the name of my hotel and their phone number and he called and confirmed that, oops, yes, someone was supposed to have been here but would now leave asap. With that sorted and panic quelled, we made small talk until, 10 minutes later, a man strode in and asked if I was Melissa. Indeed, I was.
As relief washed over me, I followed my driver outside only to be accosted by a fresh wave of apprehension. My chariot wasn’t a newer company branded vehicle, but an older white Toyota with a large graffiti style decal sprawled across the top of the windshield and things hanging from the rearview mirror. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in a street race. And there was someone in the passenger seat. The driver’s buddy it seemed.
“Ok, maybe tonight we’re going to get robbery with a side of kidnapping.” This fleeting thought wasn’t founded in any logical sense, my mind was just running amok at this point.
Assuring myself that this was all on the up and up, I got into the backseat. I called up my pre-loaded Google map on my phone and watched as my blue dot flashed and pinged as we pulled out from the airport heading in the right direction. I relaxed for the next mile until we turned off down an unlit road. I knew that Airport X was in a residential area but the “gated community” didn’t look how I expected. The darkness didn’t help. Crazy scenarios ran through my head. Overactive imaginations aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
But, of course, a minute or two later we pulled into the hotel, looking just as it did on TripAdvisor. My check-in was smooth, the room was clean, and the wifi was working. As the room door clicked shut behind me, I let out a deep breath and my anxiety of the past two hours whooshed out.
After checking in with friends and family, I shoved my doorstop under the door, crawled into bed, and passed out. Fear was exhausting.
When I woke in the morning, the sun was shining, people were smiling and all was right with the world. Even the little lizards eyeing us from the building walls looked chipper. Everything always looks better in the morning.