The Flight to Colombia
The trip took place at the height of Marriage Encounter days. Keah and I had helped give these “marriage enrichment” weekends for Catholics, so there was a large support community in Tempe and Phoenix, and we had emotional ties to many, many people. It was difficult to leave, but they helped us out in so many ways including a ride to the airport in Phoenix to the old Terminal Two with its mural of the Phoenix Bird.
The flight from Phoenix arrived in Miami at 1:30 a.m.; the airport was colorful as ever, very international in flavor, old, and full of diverse characters. We would be traveling on Aero Condor, the economy (if I can be euphemistic) airline of Colombia. Avianca was the line wealthy people flew on, and Aero Condor had a reputation for carrying dope and breaking down. It turns out that Avianca did its share of dope carrying over the years as well – hashish, marijuana, cocaine, etc., all big cash exports to the US market by the cartels. This reminds me, the memory is fragile, but I think the old Republic films of Roy Rogers days, those old B cowboy “oaters,” used a condor logo. In Colombia when the advertisements for Aero Condor came on the movie screen everyone made a hissing sound and waved their arms, flapping like a bird. We took this airline because it was less expensive and according to good friend Jim Emery had no regulations whatsoever for baggage, although I don’t know how that would have affected us. Said rule however may be perhaps a clue why the airline would be investigated and run out of business eventually. Maintenance was supposed to be done in Miami; the airplanes were old 707s and painted a vivid orange.
The aircraft of our departing flight from Miami was filthy inside and smelled as well; it was totally unkempt. We piled in along with other economy passengers (you can tell them by the company they keep); the pilot revved up the engines, taxied out to the runway and then taxied back in. It possibly was an auspicious beginning to our trip. There was a three hour delay in the airport which was freezing cold from a more than efficient air conditioning system (Miami?). We passed some of the time talking with a pleasant Colombian family from Kansas City, the father being the consul there. By departure time we were already absolutely exhausted and miserable, much like one of my visits to Guatemala in 1970 but AFTER a fourteen hour flight from Rio. “The problem was electrical,” the unkempt, unprofessional looking mechanic announced at the front of the passenger cabin, dressed in an old green baseball cap like the ones I might use when painting the house. We received a breakfast “vale” and got a bite at a counter where the cook dripped bacon grease on his fingers, waitresses slammed plates around and generally irritated the customers. An omen?
We were back on the flight at 8 a.m. for departure. The liquor cart was “a la Brasileña” with liter bottles of whiskey serving the stuff straight in water glasses. Keah was a bit less nervous after one of those; my scotch was definitely “nacional” and not from Scotland. One can tell by the taste and the ensuing headache. The heating and the air conditioning in the plane seemed to be on at the same time, each coming out of separate vents, but we awoke from a nap nearly frozen. The plane passed over Jamaica with its mountainous terrain which did not seem particularly green at that time of year. Later, flying semi-low over the Colombian main land, all seemed mountainous and craggy as the plane followed the Río Medellín into the Valle del Cauca, our entry point in Colombia. The view was indeed magnificent with Aero Condor flying relatively low and zigzagging through the narrowest canyon I have ever traversed in a jet. I would compare it loosely to a 707 in the Grand Canyon. The jet-jockey was getting the most out of his plane and giving us a few thrills to boot. Keah had wet-palm syndrome with a clammy touch.