Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Adventure Begins

My shuttle to LAX was scheduled for 1:15 am. My bags were packed, two very full and very heavy carry-ons...

The following is part of a multi-part series to run over the next few months. Melissa Baffa, Vice President of Program and Volunteer Services  for GSCCC, will be joining the Corps of Exploration this year on the adventure of a lifetime. This blog series will chronicle her dive into the Unknown.

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My shuttle to LAX was scheduled for 1:15 am. My bags were packed, two very full and very heavy carry-ons, thankfully with very sturdy zippers. My brain and body were a buzzing mixture of excitement, anxiety, exhaustion, and anticipation. My emotions ran very near to the brim. A certain look from my husband or one of my kids was enough to send one or both of us into tears.

Three weeks' worth of stuff packed into two small carry-on bags: hope those zippers will hold!
Three weeks! Such a very long time to be away. So exciting. But so overwhelming at the same time. My list of things to accomplish before 1:15 am was two pages long. So much to do!

It’s funny how the littlest things that you normally take for granted in day-to-day life take on so much significance on a day like today. Taking the kids to school, having dinner together as a family, tucking them in at night. When you realize that these little actions will be so dearly missed while you are away, it really brings things into focus.

And finally, the last few moments at home had come. When I stepped on the porch in the cool night air, it was so silent in our neighborhood, my husband and I whispered so as not to break it. My mind raced again and again through my list….did I forget anything? Was there something else to do? I went in and woke and kissed the kids goodbye, as I had promised, and then there was the crunch of tires on the gravel outside:  my shuttle had arrived. It was time. The adventure of a lifetime had begun. 

Arriving at the airport at 3 am means nothing is open yet, not even the ticket counter. A small crowd of us stood and stared at each other, slowly swelling to about 100 before the ticket counter opened. An uneventful check-in, pass through TSA, and wait in the terminal, and then – whoosh! – we were off on the nearly six hour flight to Panama. 

Rain spattered the windows as we arrived at the airport.
It was cloudy as we made our final descent. The view out the window was streaming wisps of gray of white, and slowly through the mist I could start to see the ocean below. Ocean, ocean, swells, clouds, and then suddenly, ships! Dozens of them, all lined up, headed in or out of the canal. Dropping lower, I could now make out the heavy swells headed in toward shore. The color of the water changed as we got closer to land, and suddenly, I could tell the water was very shallow, and there were long lines of breakers peeling in toward shore, and it was low tide: hundreds of yards of mudflats reached out toward the ocean. A city rose, all cement and steel and glass, looking very out of place clinging to the muddy banks. Then we were swooping over green tangled growth, water everywhere. 

Outside the airport in Panama City.
It was raining. When I stepped out of the plane into the gangway, the heat was oppressive. I put my hand on the glass to confirm that it was truly that warm outside. The line at Immigration was long and moved very slowly. Customs was even longer. But finally, I made it through. There was a driver waiting to pick me up outside of Customs.

As he whipped through traffic, I was very thankful to not have to drive myself. The lanes are barely marked, people swerve and dodge like lunatics, and the only signals drivers seem to use are their horns. By the time we got to the hotel, I was feeling carsick. By now, I could not contain my yawns. I had been up for more than 32 hours straight. 

A huge photograph of an ammonite (nautiloid creature) welcomed me as I entered my hotel room.
After checking in to the hotel, phoning home, and taking a shower, the city called to me to explore it with my camera. But the bed called louder with its crisp white sheets. Plunging into it, I rose a few hours later to order a meal, watch a little TV, and return to bed for more. Panama would have to wait. The view from my window would have to suffice. For now, I had to recharge.

Tomorrow, it would be REALLY real – tomorrow I would step foot on the ship for the first time.

Skip to the next blog post by Melissa: Panama

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