Monday, June 7, 2010

A coming of age story of my St. Lucia trip as a Cub Scout (Pt. 2)

               LIAT Plane

All the Cub Scouts were gathered together walking inside of the cavernous Piarco airport. Some parents walked with their children and seemed to have a nervous look on their faces - maybe anxious about letting their children go off to another country without them. Others seemed to be just as giddy as their children – maybe happy about getting some free time away from their children. We were told that some parents were coming along with us as chaperones but we did not know which parents.

All I had with me was a very small light blue hard plastic suitcase. It was strewn among the other luggage piled a mile high next to the LIAT ticket counter. There was a woman in a LIAT uniform behind the ticket counter talking to Mr. Orosco and reviewing documents that seemed like birth certificates and airline tickets.

After a few minutes, Mr. Orosco turned to the group and said, “listen up boys. When I call your name raise your hand or say present.”

Mr. Orosco in a deep voice that could penetrate the thickest air drum called, “Khan!”

Curtis Khan, an Indo-Trinidadian lad that was smart as a whip and never seemed to leave the first row in class due to his excellent test scores said, “here!”

“Salandy!” Mr. Orosco called.

“Present sir.” I replied, making certain to have an air of respect in my voice.

And so it went, until all 26 boys were present and accounted for.  We were the Rosary Boys RC Cub Scout pack. Some boys were from Mr. Orosco’s class and others from various other classes at Rosary Boys RC.

Eight parents came along as chaperones as well as Evelyn, a 10 year old girl that was the sister of a Cub Scout from another class. She was beautiful, and dreamy, and nice, and with her mother who looked as no nonsense as Mr. Orosco. I had never seen Evelyn before, but on that day she was going to St. Lucia with me, on my plane, and I was overjoyed.

I was not the only one that noticed her. One of my friends made mention of her as he and I walked away from the check-in counter to the gate.

“Hey, did you see Erik’s sister?” said Joseph, a bespectacled slender boy like myself. Joseph was from Belmont and we often hung out together at recess.

“Yes.” I said, as I looked at him quizzically.

Why had he chosen me to point her out to? Had he seen me gawking at her with my mouth wide open?

“She is really pretty,” said Joseph, still looking at Evelyn, his head swiveling and eyes trained on her as he walked next to me.

“She is.” I replied. Trying to change the subject, I asked, “What seat are you in?”

“11a,” said Joseph as he finally took his eyes off Evelyn and looked down at his boarding pass.

“Great! I'm in 11b,” I said smiling, “Mr. Orosco probably put us together knowing that we are friends.”

We moved past the screening area where they checked our bags and scanned our bodies with a black magic wand that beeped when it passed over our belt buckle. We then made our way to the seating area for the departing flight. Mr. Orosco pointed through the big glass windows at the plane we were to fly in. It was a small twin propeller plane. It was LIAT’s plane of choice to ferry passengers from island to island in the Caribbean. It still is their plane of choice to this day.

Needless to say, I was expecting a big plane not a small rinky dink plane like this. How are we all going to fit in that small plane, I thought.

We sat playing for some time before an announcement came over the speaker that our flight to St. Lucia is boarding. We were asked to line up and were quickly shuttled to the entrance of the boarding gate. With my boarding pass in hand, I moved quickly to gate agent who ripped the pass in half, kept one half, and returned the other to me.

Joseph asked as we descended the stairs to the tarmac for our walk to the plane, “Are you scared?”

“No,” I said. “I have been looking forward to flying on an airplane for some time.”

“I have been too,” said Joseph as he looked to the ground.

There was a sense of unease in Joseph’s voice. Maybe he was scared. The doors at the bottom of the stairs opened up to the tarmac and sunlight filled our vision. My hands quickly went up to my brow as I turned my head slightly away from the sun. We saw an attendant pointing to the stairs connected to the plane and motioned to us to move in that direction. As we approached the stairs, we noticed our luggage being placed in the belly of the plane. I tried to find mine in the kaleidoscope of suitcases and bags that were being tossed into the cargo hold by two young men. No luck. What a great job they have, I said to myself.

We climbed the stairs being careful to hold onto the railing. I certainly did not want to have the misfortune of tumbling down the stairs and breaking my leg moments before my adventure. The thought of my grandmother’s friend tripping over our playhouse construction, breaking her leg, and having to cancel her flight popped into my head.

We entered the cabin of the plane. The flight attendant was a beautiful lady with a broad white smile. “Welcome Cub Scouts!” She said with a voice that seemed to envelop me with warmth. As I passed her, I looked back at Joseph and raised my eyebrows. He responded by giggling and giving me a slight push in the small of my back.

The aisle was narrow with two seats on either side. Joseph and I walked on down and found our seats. I grabbed the window seat and Joseph did not complain with the aisle seat. We buckled in and sat ready for takeoff.

The flight attendant closed the cabin door and indicated that the plane was ready to depart. A few minutes later, the plane was barreling down the runway - shaking and making more noise than I had anticipated. Joseph grabbed my arm and asked, “Is this normal?”

I said, “I do not know, I have never flown before remember.”

Soon the noise had subsided and we were in the air. I could see the airport down below getting smaller and smaller from the open window.

“Wow!” I said as I looked out the window on the sprawling land that was Trinidad. “The cars are tiny and I can’t even see the people!”

Joseph stretched his neck to see out the window. “Next time I am sitting by the window,” he demanded as he viewed the earth from 1000 feet in the air for the first time.

Excitement filled the cabin since this was the first flight for most of the boys. There was much chatter on the 40-minute flight to Grenada. Boys were yelling and turning around in their seats to talk to others behind them. Mr. Orosoco was up front with some of the parents and seemed not to mind the noise.

Landing in and taking off from Grenada were uneventful. And the 30-minute trip between Grenada and St. Vincent was okay as well.

However, things changed dramatically on our ascent away from St. Vincent. The flight to St. Lucia was expected to take 30 minutes. But ten minutes into the flight the captain came over the intercom and said we were going to experience some turbulence.

Turbulence, what is that, I pondered. Just then, the term became crystal clear. The plane started to shake violently. Moments later it dropped and my stomach felt as if it was trying to escape my body through my throat and mouth.

There were lots of screams. Boys that just a few hours earlier seemed impervious to risk, played with snakes, captured bugs, climbed tall tree, and professed to be the world's greatest footballer were reduced to crying infants that pleaded for their mothers or just simply yelled for their God.

The plane stopped dropping and leveled off as if a big hand was placed on the underbelly. Sobs and whimpering clearly could be heard, some coming from Joseph next to me. I was scared but not to the point of terror. I thought it was cool actually. I never experienced free falling and that is what it felt like.

I looked over at Joseph and asked, “Are you alright? You do not look good. You are sweating really badly.”

“I feel like I am going…” Joseph said as the words coming out of his mouth were replaced by a torrent of vomit.

“Oh no! That’s nasty.” I said, as I moved far away as possible from the mess that was littering his clothes, shoes, seat, the cabin floor, and dripping down his chin.

I stood up and looked to the front for Mr. Orosco. I saw the flight attendant at another boys seat four rows up. She was bent over the boy doing something. When she stood up, I could see she had a bunch of napkins in her hand and a disgusted look on her face. Those pearly white teeth and broad smile were hidden for the moment. I motioned to her saying, “Miss, my friend vomited.”

Boys turned their heads to look at me as if I had said a bad word.

“I will be there in a minute,” she said as she walked back to the front of the plane. Moments later, she came back with a fist full of napkins and started wiping up the vomit from Joseph’s lap and clothes. 

“Are you okay sweetheart? Let us get this cleaned up for you,” she said as she started to wipe up the mess. She seemed to be wiping and keeping an eye on Joseph at the same time. I didn’t blame her. I would have done the same to prevent becoming a victim of further vomiting.

The screams, turbulence, and rising stench went on for most of the flight. By the time we landed in St. Lucia, most of the kids and adults seemed traumatized. Fortunately, I was not.

As we disembarked, it was obvious that many more boys had thrown up. I would not want to be the crew to clean that plane, I thought. That did not seem like a good job.

We descended the stairs attached to the plane and were directed inside the terminal. Mr. Orosco had gathered the boys and parents and inquired as to everyone’s well-being. We were all fine - just shaken a little.

We got processed through immigration in a timely fashion. Some boys had to go to the restroom to clean up however. I accompanied Joseph to the restroom just in case he needed my help. The other boys went to retrieve their luggage and we joined them moments later.

We gathered our luggage and headed through customs and into the streets to a row of vans waiting to shuttle us to the school.  I had survived my first flight. Little did I know as we drove away from the airport, I would have to survive something more sinister on this trip.  

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