The airport on Ambergris Key is small and busy with various small jets shuttling tourists to and fro. We arrived early for our 'chartered' flight inland. We were told that no regular commercial flights went to the lodge. After waiting 30 minutes past our departure time and seeing jets take off and land, my husband went to the charter counter and asked about the delay in our flight. The uninterested clerk explained that our pilot was just running late. His demeanor indicated that this lateness was usual. We have traveled extensively and are quite familiar with the pace and attention to time as it is interpreted in other countries. You have to go with the flow or get an ulcer.
We continued to sit in the increasingly hot sunshine watching tourists while a small dented prop plane puttered up to the departure area. It was one of those scary, little one prop things that when you see it you wonder why anyone would place their lives on board. Well, as I am sure you have guessed, that was our plane.
It was the smallest plane any of us had every seen. Only six seats inside and no room for much luggage. The pilot was a tall, skinny and a scruffy representation of his profession. He had holes in the pockets of his jeans and his greasy cap looked as though he was the mechanic for the plane, as perhaps he was. He did not say one word to us and the only way we knew it was our flight was when the clerk indicated it was time for us to board. The only word we heard out of "Chuckles" the entire flight was prior to departure when he said, "Vamonos!"
Tucked inside beneath gray and frayed seat belts we truly understood the expression of 'sardines in a tin can.' Our luggage was piled unceremoniously in the back. The door on my side did not close completely and I could see about half an inch of daylight all the way around. The take off was breathtaking. Just the type of experience you would have if you put an airplane engine on a tin outhouse and took off with two wings and a prayer. The noise was too loud for talk and the vibration of the plane was loosening not only my teeth fillings but kept sliding my glasses down my nose preventing me from clearly seeing all the dangers we were missing.
I put on a brave face for the children although I was close to wetting my pants as we took off low over the Caye and the ocean and the open savanna. Before we reached the jungle we entered a low hanging cloud and moisture began to form on the outside of the plane and started to spray me through the crack in the door. I was soon quite damp in addition to being completely massaged.
Eventually we made it through the cloud and I gathered my courage to look out the side window and saw we were following a river up into the jungle. Hubby who is a social bunny (as you know from reading my blog) was attempting to use his Spanish and make small talk with the pilot who did not respond to a single thing he said. Daughter was taking pictures of the scenery outside the moist windows and son was taking everything in including keeping an eye on the gauges in the front of the pilot as they seemed to be varying their readings rather dramatically. I just kept very still as I was getting cold and wet and afraid any movement I made might dramatically shift the weight in the plane and alter our course for the worse.
At long last, and after I felt I had aged several years, an open gravel area appeared in the jungle beneath us. The plane began its descent as this gravel path was our landing strip. We landed on the path in a field with squash plants on either side. There was nothing in sight except a narrow gravel road leading somewhere off in the distance at the end of the landing strip.
(In the photo above the tall skinny guy is the pilot ogling my daughter who is standing at the tale of the plane. Do not let this photo deceive you, close up the plane was a piece of junk.)
The pilot got out and opened the door on my side and indicated that we should get our luggage. We unloaded everything and placed it on the ground. Then without word he got back in the plane and took off into the blue sky. The sound of the plane's engine died away in the distance and here we stood in complete and stunned silence as the jungle surrounded us. We sat on our luggage thankful we had all our limbs and not eager to go anywhere. There was not a sign or a single house in sight and we wondered, if like some wilderness movie, we were supposed to carry our luggage down the lone dusty road ahead.
We waited for about five minutes until we finally heard the sound of a vehicle approaching.
Out of the jungle a white bus appeared. A friendly driver emerged from the bus above and helped us load our luggage. It appeared that we had survived and now were looking forward to more jungle adventures at the lodge.