Sunday, May 24, 2009

Backseater


After I landed the Mooney in Santa Cruz and unloaded the television equipment I was faced with a problem of transportation. There was only one of me and two airplanes in Santa Cruz, niether of which belonged there. Soon I got a medivac call and had an excuse to dig the C182 out the back of Hangar 84 were David had left her. She was sitting sleepily in the back corner of the hangar, dusty, neglected and in debt. I paid the minimum redemption price, put oil in her engine, air in her legs and feet and off to the gas pumps we went. We fought terrific headwinds all the way north some 350 nautical miles. I indulged my ever present urge to push the power forward and use 70% of the 230 horses up front. The indulgence came without gratifcation though, against the 45mph headwind we could only make a pitiful 85mph. I usually cruise at or below 50% power so I am used to slow speeds in the 182 but this was by far the slowest I´ve seen. It was a beautiful day and I had a full four hours to enjoy it before my first stop at Blanca Flor to pick up the doctor. The doctor wasn´t there so loaded up a nurse and reluctantly agreed to let her intern come along. The medivac turned out to be a woman with post-childbirth bleeding in Galilea about 20 minutes farther north. We landed and the nurse gave the patient an IV right away while the crowd gathered. I ended up with 7 people wanting to fill the 3 available seats. It was a hard decision but I decided to take the patient, her husband and toddler along with the nurse. The intern was quite disgruntled at being left behind and there were others requesting a trip to the hospital. Those are the hardest times to be a volunteer pilot. I wished I had come earlier so I could have made two trips but the sun was setting and I only had time for one. I managed to escape with a bunch of ¨maybes¨ and we took off for Riberalta. One thing that everyone must learn who uses small airplanes for transportation is that, marvelous as they may seem they are not a sure means of transport, especially if you happen to be at the bottom of the heap in importance. As far as I was concerned, the intern was just along for the ride and the ride didn´t go all the way. I have had to leave my friends places when they were along to learn and I ran out of seats but I feel bad every time. Still I felt better than if I had let them all cram in....The other villagers who said they were sick were walking around looking healthy enough so I set the requirement for the malaria tech to pronouce them worth of a medivac before I would make a second trip. In Riberalta I made a quick call to George, my manager and he backed up my decision. No word came from the malaria tech so I continued home to Guyaramerin.
Finally I was faced with a trip by land to Santa Cruz. The whole time I have been in Bolivia I have never been on an extended road trip and experienced the other side of Bolivian travel. For a day or two it was looking like I might be able to make part of the trip by motorcycle but I ran out of time. There were two donors in Santa Cruz waiting for a ride around to the various projects that they were supporting. George said I had to be in Santa Cruz by Friday and it was Wednesday. That left only one option; go by air to Trinidad and take the short overnight bus trip to Santa Cruz. It was strange but I really enjoyed backseating to Santa Cruz.
The first leg to Santa Cruz was with Aerocon, the local airline in a Fairchild Metro W4 19 seat turboprop. I chose a seat right behind the cockpit and I had a chance to watch the pilots moving the controls and reading the checklists in heavily accented English. The trip that takes me 1.8 hours in the Mooney took just over and hour and by 7pm I was on a motorcycle taxi pulling into the terminal. The normal mob of sales people decended and I tried to think fast. I had expected to be charged over $10 for a sleeper bus so I was thinking of taking one of the cheap normal (read uncomfortable) buses for around $5. Somewhere amidst the crowd I hear ¨forty Bolivianos to Santa Cruz, sleeper bus leaving at 8pm.¨ That was certainly too good a deal bu I figured even if it wasn´t a sleeper it would be in my price range. I gave a slight nod and four of the many hands grasping my arms tightened their grip and started pulling me through the crowd. When we reached the little office cubical I scrutinized my captors carefully. From previous experiences watching my friends buy tickets I expected the prices and the times to all be ¨stretching the truth¨or all out lies. The head captor sat down in her chair and whipped out a seating chart, stabbed at a block with her pencil and asked for my name. I did my best to look seasoned and ungringo like as I suspicously questioned her. When was the bus leaving? How much did it cost? With a receite? When was it leaving? Are you sure? Show me the bus? and so on. My fears turned out to be ungrounded. She really honestly sold me a seat on a sleeper to Santa Cruz, leaving at 8pm for 40Bs...just like she had said. I was impressed, and I slept well. I arrived in Santa Cruz to a shocking 60F in the early morning and crawled in the back of the big truck at the Channel to get a couple more hours of sleep under a good thick blanket before the day began.

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