Sunday, September 23, 2012

Up Up and Away

So, I know a guy who owns his own plane.  He actually flew it down to PR from Colorado…you know, instead of flying commercial. 

Of course, it’s not quite as glamourous as it sounds…it took Robert and Sonja 4 days to get here from Colorado, and they spent 4 times more on gas and landing fees (one way) than I did on my last round-trip plane ticket.  But now they’ve got a plane here.  And that certainly has its perks.  A trip to the small island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico takes them under an hour…and they don’t have to worry about getting up early and driving to Fajardo to catch the ferry, like I do.  San Juan is a 20 minute flight rather than an hour’s drive.  And they always have a great view. 

Last Sunday, we had an airport party, made possible only by Robert’s generosity.  A bunch of us—13 total, actually—got together at the airport in Patillas where Robert keeps his plane.  We brought food and drinks and spent the day sitting outside in the sunshine.  Meanwhile, Robert took people up in his plane one at a time for 20 minute rides up and down the coastline—anyone who wanted to go. 

Getting there early, I snagged spot #2 in line.  I was pumped.  Always a thrill seeker, riding in a plane with an interior no larger than a sports car intrigued me. 

Getting into the plane proved to be the hardest part (and probably also the most entertaining for onlookers).  Word to the wise: don’t wear a sundress and attempt to juggle a camera and a phone while getting into a tiny plane with the propeller running.  It becomes a lot to handle.  First, as I sat down and fished around for my seatbelt with the door still open, my phone fell off my lap and out of the plane to the asphalt.  I hopped out to pick it up.  At the same time, I tried to keep my skirt from blowing up.  Half-successful.  Back in the plane, a little flustered.  Out fell the phone again.  I jumped out again, and I’m sure this time Robert (and everyone else) got an eyeful as I scampered to grab the fallen phone and my skirt DEFINITELY blew all the way up around my waste.  The third time the phone fell from my lap, I left the camera with Robert to hold, got out of the plane again (skirt flew up again), and just gave the phone—which had fallen out of its case this time—to Sonja, who’d come over to help the helpless.  Oh dear.  Not a graceful start.  And so much for uploading photos immediately from the air or texting snapshots to make family and friends jealous.

But then we donned our headsets, buckled our seatbelts, and we were off.  The ride was incredibly smooth over the water, which was a brilliant blue, and the coastline was perhaps even more beautiful from the air than from the road which winds along it.  

El Faro (lighthouse) de Maunabo

After a few minutes, Robert told me it was my turn to fly.  I was all for it…until he started briefing me on the controls, and I realized there were pedals in addition to the yoke (airplane word for “steering wheel”—I just looked it up to refresh my memory).  When I realized I had to worry about not only the wings, but also the rudders, not only right and left, but also up and down, I began to think it was too complicated, and basically decided not to make any turns while I was in control.  Before I took complete control, though, Robert yanked the plane into a steep bank to show me I didn’t have to worry, because the thing could handle a lot.  I’m certain I whooped in surprise as my view turned from coastline to deep blue ocean.  So exhilarating! 

When it was my turn, I tapped the plane left and right only slightly…but I was controlling it!  I was flying!  It may not be for me, but I loved every second of it. 

When, a few moments later, Robert asked whether I like roller coasters,  I said yes rather tentatively, because I do, but in a plane?! 

He pulled us into a steep dive and banked hard.  Just like on a roller coaster, I laughed and screamed all at the same time.  And like a child, when he pulled us level again, I wanted to screech, “Again!  Again!”  But for some reason I didn’t, and soon we were back on the ground.  I exited the plane much more gracefully than I’d entered it, and Josh took his turn. 

It’s not every day I get the chance to ride in a Cessna 150, and Sunday’s experience is one I won’t soon forget.  It’s another thing I’ve added to my mental list of “things I had no idea I’d get to do in Puerto Rico,” thanks to Robert’s generosity and genuine affability.       

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