Two Flights to San Salvador

May 2010

As our plane ascended, the New York City skyline was a silhouette of pillars, backlit by the rising sun. The sky, a hazy blue-green frosted with clouds.

  • 5:26 a.m. (EST): The first time I check what time it is since we took off.
  • 23 hours: Amount of time I have been awake.
  • Around 6 a.m. (EST): We pass over Charlotte, North Carolina, at 32,000 feet and at a ground speed of 531 miles per hour.

Now the sky was glowing pink and yellow, and the clouds had transformed into an inky purple. Two other passengers were both passed out to my right, leaving me to entertain myself by writing, drawing little sketches of the plane wings, and listening to The Avett Brothers.

  • 5:25 a.m. (CST): We pass over Havana, Cuba.
  • 5 ½: Years I had taken of Spanish classes in school.
  • 1: Year since my last Spanish class.
  • 70%: The percentage of words and phrases that I was willing to bet I’d be able to translate.
  • Less than 40: Minutes until the landing strip. 
  • 10,000: The approximate number of shades of green I saw out of the tiny plane window as we descended towards San Salvador.

The orange sun had turned to a warm, butterscotch yellow and the once-pink horizon turned a welcoming shade of periwinkle blue, laced with strings of white clouds. Tucked in between those clouds was an expansive mountain range poking up towards the heavens.

Countless farms spread out over the countryside in patterned blocks like some endless quilt. Bordering the land was a long shore, and I could see the white foam of crashing waves. It was my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.


October 2010

The feeling of weightlessness between atmospheres is what I think I love most about flying. I live for that flippy little feeling in your stomach as the front wheels of the landing gear lift off the asphalt. 

During the first few minutes of our flight, I pull a magazine from out of the pocket above the hinged tray in front of me. Everything is in Spanish with the English in smaller text below or beside it. I’d forgotten about this.

Since my ticket was the last one booked in our group, I’m sitting between two women I don’t know. One woman, a blonde American, tells me she’s flying to Honduras. She lives there with her family. As the flight goes on, I look over to see what she’s reading. She has two books with her: Christian Heroes: Now and Then and Battlefield of the Mind. Later, after she’d taken a nap with her mouth wide open, sucking in recycled air, she pulled out a religious workbook and began filling in true/false and fill-in-the-blank questions about God. When she’d put that away, I watched as she made out “thank you” notes to various friends and family, I imagine. She wrote in one that she had just spent a few weeks in the U.S. on a religious retreat.

The woman to my right, in the aisle seat, is flying to Guatemala, or so it says on her second ticket stub. She is quiet, and I assume she must only speak Spanish. A couple of hours into our flight, after ordering my drink and meal in Spanish, the woman asks me how I learned the language. In school, I tell her. She continues to speak to me in Spanish, asking me where I was headed, where I was from. She tells me my accent is very good. I tell her all about how I stay with a host family when I go to Nicaragua, and that this has greatly affected my pronunciation and the slang I use.

With about another hour and a half left in our travels, the pilot announces that the skies are clear as we pass over the Gulf of Mexico, and I slip my headphones on, lean back in my seat, and lift my icy cup of Coco Light to my lips as I stare out the window.


Danielle Susi studies creative writing and political science at Quinnipiac University. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Pink Pangea, an online women’s travel magazine, and her photos and poetry have been featured in Montage, Quinnipiac’s literary and art magazine. She was recently awarded a writer’s residency at The Vermont Studio Center.

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