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Latin America Abeja Dispatch

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Mayday! Mayday! Abeja's Flying the Plane!

Yeah, it's pretty, but pretty only goes so far
You can only swim in clear blue waters so long, especially when you get sunburned the way I do! Eventually, you have to eat something other than coconuts, fried fish, and fried plantains, no matter how much you like them. And, despite our promise not to fly, eventually, we have to make it to Peru.

Flying through the air, the sea and land below, sets my heart on fire,
but a fire drenched with my own tears of confusion.
For have you no logic or reason?
Is your beauty merely random?
Sea so clear, but blue, no wait it's green,
approaching the land in cautious friendship.
Islands never truly round but badly misshapen,
unequal in size, competitive in their presence.
White clusters of waves breaking
over haphazardly placed coral reefs.
Jutting rocks that scream with envy
for they were once islands themselves.
Jagged rivers flowing aimlessly without direction
through unexplained valleys of unspecified depth.

Uneven mountains harboring imperfection
of mix and match trees never meant to be together.
Have you no purpose, no theme to be followed?
Without structure to adhere to, shall I delight in your improvisation?
Although I observe from high above, who am I to judge?
You are the elements, you are nature, always perfection.
It is you, the element of chance that makes
the moment between birth and death a long meaningful one.
Out of the Earth, Water, Air, and Fire, I too was born.


My calendar said, "First Peru Update" in bold dark letters on today's date. Hmmm... Not gonna happen. The man at the maritime office on the little island of Porvenir, where we'd been staying, promised that the boat we've been waiting all week for would be there, tomorrow or the next day. That's what he said yesterday, too. And the day before.

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Map with San Blas Islands, Puerto Obaldia, Turbo, Medillín
Cargo ships carry sodas, toiletries, and canned goods to the islands from the mainland, and pick up coconuts from the islands to sell on the mainland. They travel from Colon to Porvenir and then through the San Blas islands, stopping at a few dozen islands as they make their way to Puerto Obaldia, the last port town in Panama, on the north side of the Darién. The total distance, by water, is around 100 miles, but the trip takes five to seven days. I really wanted to do it by boat, but we still had the islands to get past, plus Columbia-which some warn is very dangerous-and Ecuador, where they just finished a nationwide two week strike. Who knows how hard it will be to get through? So our timeline was looking grim, and the boat was still a mystery.

I admit it, we cheated - just a little. A small two-seater cargo plane let us hop a ride to Puerto Obaldia. We had decided that morning that if anything came, we would take it. I was sitting out in the ocean on David's sailboat, when Kevin ran to the beach, yelling for me to come in. I dove in and swam to shore, pulled my clothes off the clothesline, changed and shoved my wet bathing suit into my dry backpack (oops!), and got into the little puddlejumper.

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Kevin, are you happy to be stuffed in with the cargo?
I sat in the cockpit as co-pilot, and Kevin rode in back with the boxes of cargo and our backpacks. This 40 minute trip, which was only 83 miles by air, cut out one week's travel time, getting us to South America that much sooner. Will you forgive us? Hey, we didn't get "frequent flyer miles," or anything.

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Wait!  Look at how beautiful that is! I want to go back!
What!?! No little bags of peanuts!? I have to say, though, it was pretty darn cool. We flew East along the coast, lush green jungle on the right, clear blue water and tropical islands on the left. The uninhabited islands were all coco-palms, white sand beaches, and stark coral rock formations. They have no freshwater source, so people can't live there. Some of the inhabited islands had just a few palm roofed huts, with lots of palms and beaches, but most had huts all the way around, filling the entire island and even extending into the water on stilts. Sometimes, several islands were connected with walkway bridges to each other or to the mainland.

There were only two villages on the mainland, and one was deserted. The pilot explained to me that everyone living there had died of sickness. He didn't say what. Maybe it was malaria, which is spread by the mosquitoes that live on the mainland, and are supposed to be particularly bad around there. "Welcome to the friendly skies," right?

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Would you trust Abeja to fly the plane?
I was fascinated by the cockpit, all sorts of controls and gauges-an altimeter to tell you how high you are, levels to tell if you're tilted up or down, left or right, and magnetic compasses to tell what direction you're headed. The latitude and longitude of our current location and that of where we're going were displayed on the computer. I don't remember exactly what our coordinates were, but I realized that we're less than ten degrees north of the Equator now, which is the furthest south I've ever been! With that information, the computer figured out how far and exactly which direction we needed to head, in degrees. With north being 0 degrees and south being 180, we were headed at around 120 degrees the whole time. Hey, maybe there's a reason to study geometry after all!

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Yes, this is the runway
So what was the in-flight movie? Try watching me...flying, that is. After I showed so much interest in how the plane and the controls worked, the pilot actually let me steer for a while! The ride got a little more bumpy, but if I strayed too far, he could use his steering wheel (there were two) to correct me. Turning the wheel left and right tilts the plane one way or another, pushing it tilts it up, and pulling it tilts it down, and the foot levers turn it without tilting, supposedly. It was all a really delicate balance that was a lot more difficult that it looks, especially with the wind throwing in its two cents.

Finally, we were at Puerto Obaldia, a tiny port with a few boats and a battered concrete landing strip. Despite my amazing skill, I let him do the landing. Little planes sure do have bumpy, scary landings!

Hurray! We're so close to Columbia now! Sometimes, it's good to bend the rules! (Don't tell your teachers I said that.)


Team - Eight Days and Counting - Team Members Missing
Abeja - Bermuda, Bahamas, Come on Pretty Mama…Down to Porvenir
Kevin - Jaws!!!:Kevin's Attack
Kevin - Don't Be Afraid of the M-16!
Abeja - Heavy Breathing in Ecuador
Making a Difference - The Fate of Colombian Killers
Meet Abeja | Abeja's Archive
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