Introduction by Chris Clarke – Today, we complain, because we are temporarily stranded, due to volcanic eruptions, computer crashes or strikes. Some airlines shoot themselves in the foot by forcibly removing passengers or worse. Despite the many more people flying, air travel has never been safer. This story from earlier times shows how far we have come since then. Thank Goodness! – Chris Clarke
Karin Knappstein Doglioni’s recollections are from her first trip to Peru in 1963 and edited by Joan Dewar.
In the days when flying was fun!
Husband Number One and I had just crawled out of the jungle, the Amazon jungle, that is, where a couple of most picturesque Yagua Indians had paddled us up along some tributary in a dugout canoe. Mr. Becker, an acquaintance, had enticed us to go along with him to visit a true and real Indian village, one more easily accessible in the early sixties, where he lived amongst the tribe with wife and child.
Oh, yes, we had been there, a place full of wonders, indeed, where nature goes crazy in designing vegetation, critters, and humans living as the true children of God with their grass skirts, blow guns, war paint and all. Fantastic!
Back in civilization we had been discharged at a rather dilapidated so-called hotel of past Portuguese Colonial splendor, typical of Iquitos’ rubber boom glory of 50 years prior. Magnificent it must have been, with its hand-painted majolica-tiled façades, now chipped here and there, ornate wrought-iron balconies, now brown and rusty, and wormy, carved wooden entrances, all surrounded by the thickest of tropical jungles with the father of all rivers, the Amazon, commanding all!
It was wonderful nevertheless to be able to strip off one’s smelly moist rags, take a shower and sleep in a real bed!
The next morning we were off to fly over the Andes to Lima. In anticipation of a more cosmopolitan environment, I dug out of the bottom of the duffle, my little white blouse and skirt and my one and only pumps!
We were at the airport punctually at 4 am. Flights must leave that early before the tropical thunder clouds obliterate everything and make visual flying too hazardous.
That little C4 Peruvian army plane standing forlorn on the tarmac was meant for us! So I learned, as we were ordered to climb up this very untrustworthy-looking ladder, not too ideal for city-heeled shoes.
It really was an army plane, not that I had ever had the honor of having been introduced to such a thing before, but husband, a flyer himself, was well acquainted and felt immediately at home. There we sat on army cots fixed to the fuselage running the length of the plane, snapped in with safety belts and facing other passengers sitting in a long row opposite.
The center of the plane was used as cargo space, with several very large drums that might-have-been used for diesel or some such thing, neatly aligned in front of us! A lot of racket came from more boxes and crates in the back – the crying and yelping of monkeys, screeching of tropical birds, and strange croaking.
We took our seats across from a very interesting young Peruvian couple who were dressed in full safari gear and hats decorated with many colorful feathers. The woman plunked a big jar full of water, with many little colored Amazon fish swimming around in it, on top of the barrel in front of me. And, tied up to the oxygen pipe running over their heads, swung a hanky with a very loud chirping bird peeking out! It truly seemed to be an Amazonian-flying Noah’s Ark!
In those days most Peruvians were not even aware that the largest part of their country was actually on the other side of the Cordillera de Los Andes. In their imagination the Amazon was a land of legends and fables. All that live cargo were souvenirs of that couple , I presumed, as proof -I was there !
With a great puff of smoke and shudder the first motor was started, at which moment the airplane door, which was situated right behind my husband, fell out onto the wing of the plane! There really was nothing on earth that ever disturbed or unsettled that man – he took off his seat belt, climbed out the hole, grabbed the door, and jammed it back in place.
The pilot or anyone else for that matter did not flinch – a promising start!
The other engine was cranked up puffing big blue clouds of smoke, out of which men emerged with fire extinguishers, and off we rolled along the tarmac. Up we spiraled, or rather bumped and bucked , flying over an endless ocean of green forest and slithering brown and black snakes of the Amazon tributaries, into the hazy blue yonder.
As we climbed and climbed, the flight attendant came around with a bunch of long black rubber hoses, ordered us to plug them into one of the pipes running overhead, and to hold the other end in front of nose and mouth. Oh, yes, we had to go up over 6000 meters and, of course, this was not a luxurious pressurized aircraft.
As the attendant explained this, a tremendous explosion just about shattered my eardrums! Lo and behold, when I dared opened my eyes we were still up in the air! At the same time, that glass jar, without fish and water, had landed in my lap!
Sorry, we were told – because of the air pressure difference the first barrel in the aisle had taken on a rather round form during that Big Bang!
The safari- geared lady, sucking desperately on her by-then-tangled-up oxygen tube, was frantically crawling around the floor to collect as many of her little colorful fish as she could grab as they swooshed back and forth between everyone’s feet. The monkeys and birds in the back became quieter and quieter for lack of oxygen, while the safari- geared husband generously shared his hose with the bird in the hanky!
I, in true terror, concentrated on breathing very, very deeply and must have used up a whole cylinder of life giving air, just by myself.
One after another of those drums took on their rather potbellied shape as we scraped over the pass of snowcapped mountain peaks just a few meters past the window. Finally, we lurched over the big hump and slowly spiraled back down towards the Pacific Ocean, accompanied with more explosions as the drums returned to their normal shape.
We landed in Lima! There had been no snacks or other refreshments on that flight – not even tranquilizers! I scrambled off the plane as fast I could, not caring if my suit was white, or any other color for that matter, or if any of those two or four-legged jungle critters made it off alive!
Planet earth never felt so solid and welcoming!! I almost sank to my knees to kiss the ground, just like the Pope when he lands in a new country!