Well it seemed to be a good idea when Don suggested we hop into the Cessna and check out one of the jungle strips to see if it was still functional. Wrong!
It had been a long time since that particular strip had been used, but we were considering a development project in that area and a plane trip of one hour sure beat a week paddling up river systems. We were in Sarawak.
Now the tropic is a tricky place to maneuver small aircraft, as the heated atmosphere sometimes plays tricks with lift needed to get a plane off the ground. We’d already experienced some anxious times with Roy in Irian Jaya finding our way to Wamana, up and over those majestic mountains covered in cloud with zero visibility. That should have been fresh in our collective memories.
As if that were not hair-raising enough we’d been treated to another tricky landing in the Indonesian jungle. Updrafts from a deep chasm tossed our Cessna about mercilessly. Just when we thought we’d conquered the updrafts and were well on the way in our landing procedure, a herd of village cattle decided to graze directly ahead us on the landing strip. That was when I first understood what it means to have your heart in your mouth.
But we were in Sarawak now and Don was an experienced pilot. As we had to wait for the rest of our team Don decided to share some of his experiences with me. Pilots love to share their experiences. Don proceeded to tell me about one of his experiences in South America. No jungle strips there, so they had to find a convenient beach on the mighty Amazon to land their planes and deliver supplies to waiting canoes. Sometimes canoes travel miles to the rendezvous point and wait patiently for days for the plane to arrive. On takeoff Don wondered why he was having trouble getting the plane up again. He had tree branches tangled in the wheels to remind him of the near miss when he finally got back to base. What was the trouble? I guess he forgot to adjust the flaps. I was beginning to feel uneasy about the proposed trip now.
At that point the rest of the team arrived and started eyeing seats inside the Cessna. Don decided our Chinese representative in Sarawak and I should occupy the rear seats. We were the smaller travelers. You’ll recall that a Cessna narrows down at the tail end, so my friend and I were crammed in like sardines but managed to belt up and get ready for take off. The rest of the team was from North America, and as the US usually exports giants over 6 feet to do their business overseas it was understandable they should have the more spacious seats toward the front.
Remember me telling you about flights in the tropics? Well this was a bumpy ride indeed, and to make it worse my Chinese friend and I found to our dismay our cramped seat hadn’t been bolted to the plane. Why did we have seat belts on then you ask? Good question! Each bump sent us on a roller coaster ride around the back of the plane to the amusement of our front passengers seated comfortably and properly anchored.
But their mirth was suddenly arrested and replaced with anxiety. They noted Chinese and Australians can turn the same shade of green under this kind of treatment and began to cast about quickly for airsick bags. Obviously there was a need, and it had to be resolved in a hurry. No bags!
Grabbing the hat from our startled pilot Don they handed it over in time to catch the first eruption, and I was the grateful donor. There was silence in the front seats and they all grabbed for their handkerchiefs. My Chinese friend was made of sterner stuff and managed to hold on in spite of feeling desperately airsick along with me.
I was most grateful when we finally arrived back at the airport and returned the hat which Don carefully put aside for disposal. But not before my US colleagues took out their cameras and had me stand on the tarmac holding the cap as a fisherman displays his catch of the day.
Several weeks later I received a package in the mail from my US colleagues. It contained a supply of airsick bags which they’d cadged from their flight home, with a note advising me to carry these with me in future.
Isn’t it great to have friends?
PS. Yes, I’ve changed the names of those concerned but as they say on the Judge Judy show, “The people are real,” and they know very well who they are.
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