by Brent Sisson
Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #1340212
A memorable flight to Honduras
| Blind Flight|
Flying scares the crap out of me. Other than that, the flight so far from Houston was uneventful - just fine with me - what little flying I did in my 65 years only became tolerable if buttressed by a stiff drink. The passenger cabin, typical for a commercial flight this size, had two rows of three seats side by side. I sat in a window seat, not really the best choice for an anxious guy like me. Ample natural light bathed the cabin interior at mid-day. The “fasten seatbelt” sign turned on and the stewards took their seats for our final glide path into Honduras. Descending through the clouds, I gazed expectantly for a lush tropical panorama to appear.
Soft grey puffs of undulating mist passed outside the window, but no sign of land. A sense of unease nagged at me. Where's the ground? I looked more intently, as though I could compel the jungle landscape to materialize. The twin engines roared with a jolt, catapulting the plane up sharply. My grip tightened on the armrests.
We leveled off. People stirred, looking furtively at each other, speaking softly. A little boy, tightly clutching his mother in the seat in front of me, stared with widened eyes. I smiled reassuringly and winked. He quickly looked away. My wife, seated next to me, remained totally composed. Go figure...
The winter had been cold and dreary and Tara easily convinced me we should cut and run. Not spur of the moment, however. She carefully researched our trip, including a planned foray into the bush to spend several days at a jungle lodge. She determined to have a wild and exciting experience.
Tara is the more seasoned traveler, not a stranger to tempting fate. She had flown to Israel before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict erupted violently, stayed nearly a month, walked the streets alone where tourists are no longer permitted to go, and was robbed of her money and passport while on a bus - but that’s another story.
Once again, we descended. I closed my eyes and pretended to nap, listening to the steady throb of the engines. I resisted the urge to turn toward the window. What is the point? Finally, I relented. Uh-huh. As I thought, no discernible image, no contrasting formative patterns – only a view mindful of the consistency of cream chowder. An airplane like this should receive an electronic beacon to guide it safely to a landing, I reasoned; the pilot must know where the ground is: give it a rest!
I turned my gaze away, sank deeper in my seat, willing myself to relax. It will all be over in a minute. Take a deep breath, slowly, that’s better. Take a little snooze. Shuddering, the plane lurched sharply upward again, engines bellowing to life, straining forcefully, climbing for altitude. My heart missed a beat. What the devil is going on!
My senses, attuned to every little change in the whining pitch of the jet engines, every shake, every bank of the plane toward a new guide path, intensified. Where’s that drink when you need it?
The child cried, his momma nervously shushing him. Tara sat with her eyes closed. Oh come on, she has to notice all of this!
“Yes, until you woke me,” annoyed.
“How can you sleep? Don’t you know we’re not able to land this thing?”
“Third time’s a charm.”
Oh brother! The sweet thing I married has ice in her veins.
We began another approach. Divert yourself, put your mind elsewhere. Think about what fun we will have in Honduras: we’ll spend a week on the mainland, staying first at a jungle lodge by the Rio Cangrejal River in the midst of a tropical rainforest bounded by the Nombre de Dios mountains. We will raft the wild river and walk jungle pathways to a high majestic waterfall.
While on the mainland, we will mix with the Honduran people, immerse ourselves in their culture, ride their chicken buses, eat Garifuna food, and drink their local beer. We will take a ferry to the Honduran island of Roatan, link with our adult children who are flying straight to the island, and stay at a beachside resort.
On the island we will tour on motor scooters, fly over the jungle canopy tethered to a zip line, immerse ourselves in the breathtaking beauty of an eco-garden, and explore all the eateries. When we exhaust all that activity, we will walk the pristine, white sanded beach, lazily scuba dive the reef, sunbathe for hours gently massaged by a cooling Caribbean breeze and take in the indescribably beautiful sunsets.
My reverie ended abruptly with another aborted landing, another straining power climb. That got Tara’s attention, no longer so serene I see. Again, we leveled off.
“This is the Captain speaking,” a voice deep in tone and steady, “We are experiencing zero visibility at low level and have not been able to see the runway on our approach. The tower reports a high-pressure area is moving in and conditions may improve soon for another attempt. We are going to circle about 30 minutes and try again. If we are not able to land we will go on to San Salvador, El Salvador where conditions are reported better.” I cast an anxious look at Tara. “Yes!” she said, grinning, “Let’s go to El Salvador!”
“Wait a minute,” I protested, “El Salvador is not on our tourist destination list. They hate our guts, we meddled in their affairs, remember?
“You’re thinking of Nicaragua.” In fact, I probably had been thinking of Nicaragua, but El Salvador is not particularly enamored with the good old US of A either.
“You’re splitting hairs,” I responded, trying to settle the matter. Forget about El Salvador, damn it! Stay focused on Honduras. Honduras is different, much different - a democracy, staunchly pro-American, a nation that freely welcomes gringos - although surprisingly not exactly a magnet for American tourists.
Honduras suffers greatly from an obnoxious American propensity to lump South American countries together, failing to distinguish those nations who have a genuine historical grievance against us, apart from those who are friendly toward us.
This little country in fact is a partner with the USA in the war against terror and sent a small military contingent as part of the coalition fighting in Iraq. Most Americans are unaware of this commitment. What other Central or South American country aligns itself so brazenly with the colossus of the north?
It dawned on me when my wife first cast her eye about for an exotic and exciting country to visit in our hemisphere, she proposed going to Nicaragua. Yes indeed, she wanted a genuine, rousing, off the beaten track experience! She determined not to placidly succumb to predictable, prepackaged tourism fluff. I countered with the idea of going to Costa Rica, where I harbored visions of lying around on the beach sipping margaritas. She dismissed my proposal as far too tainted with American influences: “Why go somewhere overrun with American tourists? If we don’t mind a bunch of tourists, why not go to the Baja? It’s a lot less expensive.” Her logic, irrefutable as usual, carried the day. We compromised and settled on Honduras.
We descended once again, lower, lower. Rain spattered on the window. How close to the ground are we? Nothing visible, nothing, taking too long, nothing yet, enough! That is enough! Pull up! Flashes of form, hints of color, mottled panorama of coastal plane; greenish-brown tapestry of tropical jungle; a skittering glimpse of huts; lower, lower: touchdown!
Exuding a deep breath I released my death grip on the arm rests. The so-called international airport of San Pedro Sula lay in the distance; a simple, sun-bleached, main building adjacent to a hodgepodge of lean-tos, a makeshift hanger, an array of degraded structures and scattered airplanes. The tower is nowhere in sight.
The scene reminded me of a retrograde jungle outpost - rather than an expected semi-modern airport – wildly projecting a mind’s image of taxiing down the tarmac toward a dilapidated, war-ravaged hideaway of the infamous Flying Tigers.