Taking off from Puerto Cabezas
We were awake before the sun on a glorious Monday morning, March 23, alone at last. We had the day to pack and get the house ready before our scheduled flight to Managua on the morrow, with a full day to chill before exiting Nicaragua on the midnight flight with Spirit Airlines. Confirmed. Or so we thought.
At 6:20 I received an updated notification saying flight 434 was still on for the 26th. At eight o’clock, however, Ana Benjamín came over. “Did you hear?” She said. “All the flights out of Nicaragua have been cancelled. It was on Channel Ten. They’re closing the border.”
“We don’t have a TV,” Nutie said.
I logged onto the Spirit website. The Thursday flight was indeed cancelled. So was the Wednesday flight. The one scheduled to leave Managua this very night would be the last one out. We needed to get to Managua ASAP.
Nutie says goodbye to Cristina (R) and Rosa (L)
Nutie was already packed. Ana helped her put the house in order. I promptly changed our La Costeña tickets so we could fly out of Puerto Cabezas that afternoon, threw some stuff into our shared bag (we paid Spirit for one forty-pound bag only), then biked around town paying bills and running to the tailor’s to retrieve a blouse that Jessi had given Nutie in Costa Rica. Danilo and Carlos agreed to drop everything and drive us to Port. We left Waspam at eleven. They did the three and a half hour dive in two and a half hours, Nutie laying her head on my lap because the high-speed turns on the rough gravel road made her nauseous.
The green hills of Nicaragua
We made Managua at five, but there was nobody at the ticket counter till 9:30 pm. The agent put us on standby and said we had a good chance of making the flight. “Come back at 12:40,” he said. That would be 3:40 am in Tampa, where my son Brian was waiting for a confirmation so he could pick us up in Fort Lauderdale.
An empty airport in Fort Lauderdale
The international airport at Fort Lauderdale is called Hollywood. It was empty, as Broward County COVID cases were beginning to spike. We were standing outside the exit door with our bags, watching from a safe distance the smattering of people getting picked up. Where was Brian? He wasn’t answering our texts. I finally got him on the phone. He sounded sleepy. “Okay, Okay, great! I’m only a few hours away. Where are you?” He had stayed up till three. We rented a car.
The Okeechobee Road was empty. Hendry, Glades, and Okeechobee Counties were still at zero cases. Highlands, one case. We stopped at Nick and Phyli’s to get our car keys. Scarlet wanted to jump into Nutie’s arms. “No, you can’t.” Scarlett recoiled, hurt. We said our goodbyes and headed out in a two-car caravan, but stopped at Publix to buy a sandwich. We hadn’t eaten since yesterday. Big mistake.
The route to Vero Beach was a two hour drive over two-lane blacktop. We were 2/3 of the way there and the full Ultimate Sub and bag of chips in my stomach were telling me it was time for siesta.
Nutie saw everything in her rearview mirror. Going 60 mph, I fell asleep at the wheel and drifted into the oncoming lane, then into the ditch. The roughness of the terrain woke me suddenly and I saw the bush straight ahead. Somehow, I managed to get back onto the road and into the correct lane before the truck slowing down in front of me. I pulled over and stopped.
Nutie pulled over behind me, jumped out of her car and into mine, breathing heavily. I was fully awake now, but strangely calm. “It seemed way too easy to right the car,” I said. “I was a goner. It was as though something helped me, the TRAC system or an angel or I don’t know what. I’m just thankful to be alive!”
Nutie said, “It was the angel of the Lord. God saved your life, Tom”
I really wanted her to compliment me on my reflexes and driving skill. I had acted quickly and not overcompensated. But Im learning not to initiate intellectual discussions on the probabilities of causation when Nutie is emotionally shaken.
“It probably was,” I said. I am a missionary. I believe in the unseen world. It was as plausible an explanation as any. We closed our eyes and napped in the shadow of the Almighty.
Our apartment in Vero Beach
We are here in Vero Beach, Florida, for the time being, renting a small apartment above the Rio Coco Café and practicing a modified self-quarantine. Our plans are on hold. Nutie has made the place look sweet. We are fine, and pray that you are too. Nutie has been very busy communicating directly with everyone by phone, video conference, email, and social media. Forgive her for not writing anything here. She loves you all so much. Me too. We hope to be able to visit Waipuna, return to Nicaragua, and resume normal mission activities as soon as God allows. He’s in charge.
We go walking every afternoon in the country or at the beach