04 February 2009

In Country: Brasilian Blues

Okay, let me say this up front: I have flown in airplanes all my life. My father is a small aircraft mechanic who, for most of my childhood years, was also a small aircraft pilot. Family vacations often consisted of flying into remote regions, where my gregarious father seemed to know every mechanic, air tower operator, and flight instructor between Alaska and Mexico. I have also flown quite a bit as an adult, to Bangkok, Boston, London and Vancouver Island. You get the idea.

So, what's the point of talking about previous travel experiences in a blog about Brasil? Because last night was our first domestic air travel in Brasil and it was a doozy! To start, the flight left at 11:55pm (yep, that's almost midnight) and arrived in Manaus at 1:55am (yep, that's the middle of the night). Because we were traveling back in time (how Hollywood is that?), we lost two hours. In other words, we were in the air for 4 hours but arrived 2 hours after we had departed.

Time change I am used to but the next part is where it gets really weird. Our boarding pass said we were to board the plane at 10:55pm. That's a whole hour before departure. Despite the stated time on the boarding pass, we actually didn't board until about 11:30pm. Unfortunately then we sat in the airplane for a good 30 or 40 minutes. Why? Oh, I thought you would never ask! Because, oh wait, did I mention that we were departing Sao Paulo in the midst of a thunderstorm? Yep, that's right. We had to sit in the airplane because we were waiting for a lapse in the lightning that flashed all around us. Finally someone more experienced than I in determining when it's okay to fly during lightning storms decided we were ready to take off and so . . . up, up and away we went. Had the lightning stopped, you ask? Of course not! But we made our ascent with the flashing lights on the aircraft wings taunting the flashing electric storm in the sky.

While strapped into our seats awaiting departure, and perhaps to take our minds off the storm, the steward people passed around small pieces of candy and head phones. So I listened to Bruce Springsteen sing "Born in the USA" as the plane taxied down the runway, the engine gained speed and, suddenly, it occured to me that it sounded like . . . a small lawn mower. There we were sitting in a metal canister with an engine that sounded like David's yard equipment while enormous quantities of electrical energy stabbed the air around us. I may have been born in the USA, but surely I was going to die in Brasil.

Alas, it was not to be and we passed through the storm unscathed. The steward people turned down the lights and everyone sank into a shallow airplane slumber. And then, it happened! Without warning (or was that what the intercom voice had just said in Portuguese?) the cabin lights blinked on. Why? Because surely you must know that at 1:00am in the morning everyone needs to eat chicken, rice, salad and a coconut dessert treat.

Like lemmings we dropped our tray tables, ordered our drinks and ate our dinner in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, then the steward people forgot about us. Half eaten dinner rolls, empty drink cups, and greasy dressing packets sat before us on a bed of crumpled tin foil and saran wrap coverings. Indeed, we were left with dinner remnants on our tray tables for oh, about an hour as we shifted and squirmed to get comfortable in the reduced space. Just try getting up to use the restroom if you are on the window and have three open tray tables between you and the aisle.

Finally relief came when the steward people removed our dinner remains and the cabin lights were dimmed. Sleep and the hum of the lawn mower. A woman snored. Hope, in her sleep, kicked the man sitting next to her. Desculpe.

I wallowed into slumber with Hope's head buried in my lap. Then I awoke. The cabin was stifling hot. Sweltering hot. Choking hot. Did I mention it was hot? I glanced at David across the aisle. He was gasping for air. Poor guy.

Suddenly, the lights came on. In Portuguese the intercom voice told us the plane would land in 13 minutes. Cold air flooded the cabin. I could breathe.

The plane nosed down onto the tarmac in one of the softest landings I've experienced in a long time and we had arrived in Manaus: the Amazon.

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