Sunday, May 17, 2009

Life Story #29 - Getting There

A number of years ago, when I knew that my daughter was close to becoming engaged and my son was close to graduating from college, and I was trying to suppress another empty-nest panic attack, I organized a family trip. I knew this would be the last trip we might ever take with just our family of four and I wanted that time together and that memory. We spent a week on an island called Ambergris Key in Belize. This was before the island became so famous by being a location for the TV show Survivor. It is (was?) a low key resort with small hotels and lots of long beaches and hole-in-wall restaurants of various quality and cost. This first week was filled with beaching, snorkeling and bike-riding. The second week was to be our adventure into the jungles of Belize staying at an eco-lodge. This post is about the adventure of getting to the lodge.

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.


  1. What an adventure! I'm glad I knew it had a happy ending because you are still here to write about it; otherwise I would have expected the crash.

    I flew in a small plane twice (I think it was a Cesna) but the worst thing that happened was the need to use facilities that small planes don't have. That's a harrowing story in itself. ;-)

  2. Oh my what at interesting life you have led and still leading.
    This would make a good movie.
    My experience with a small plane was years ago when I took two of my youngest children to Puerto Rico
    They were 4 and 11 and thought it was fun - not mom.

  3. I haven't flown much in my lifetime, and I am not really a fan of flying. I would have been terrified. When I saw the photo of the plane, I was thinking it didn't look that bad. The photo must have been flattering!

  4. That sounds like fun to me, actually. I love flying. You remind me of a time when we were flying from Denver to Craig, Colorado, in a plane not much larger than yours. It was euphemistically called "Rocky Mt. Scareways". We hit an air pocket and my soda left my glass and elevated/levitated above it for a few seconds before coming back down into the glass. I didn't spill a drop!

  5. This post had me on the edge of my seat. No, no, no way would I have even entertained an idea for such and adventure much less step one foot on that plane to begin with. I'm not sure if I admire your bravery or your insanity.

  6. Wow.. and I bet you needed to get back on it after your jungle adventure. Great story.

  7. I LOVE when you tell a story. I was laughing but out loud but at the time I bet you were not laughing. lol

  8. And all I can think is ... and then you had to go back the same way. Reminds me of the time we got a helicopter out of the Grand Canyon Havasupi Reservation.

    I have always wanted to go to Belize. Didn't know about Survivor.

    I so related to your keeping mum, as a mum.

  9. I'm going home to the Philippines in August and since I'm taking the cheapest airline I could get, reading this post scared me a bit. :)

    Hope you had a great adventure in the jungle. :)


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