September 18, 2002

Leaving on a Jet Plane

By Armando Huerta ©2002

Los Roques is an archipelago about 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela. It's a chain of 150 islands, most deserted, with long white sandy beaches and a cooling breeze. I honestly have always meant it when I say that the best beaches I've ever been to in my life are those in Los Roques. Nothing compares to hiring a boat with some friends, cooler in tow, to a barren island where you can spend the day swimming, drinking, laughing with no one to bother you. You know what I'm talking about... fat housewives with so much back fat, from behind they look like melting candles. White trash families who show up with a hibachi, a complete 8 piece Wal-Mart lawn chair set and a ping pong table.

In all of Venezuela it was my favorite place to visit and I was lucky enough to go there with my dear friend Dede for Easter vacation two weeks before leaving the country for good. It was Sunday and we found ourselves in the airport, hungover and blue about returning back to reality. Well... I was anyway, Dede was heading out the next morning to Trinidad where she was going to serve as maid of honor, wedding planner and token drunk in a friend's wedding. Our regular flight had been cancelled since the plane did an emergency landing the day before with an engine engulfed in flames. (I think I forgot to mention that one of the main airlines to service Los Roques uses DC-3s which were made in the 1930s). I have no issues flying but it wasn't very reassuring to see the plane covered in black grease sitting on the end of the runway.

Luckily we were rescheduled on another, more modern carrier and were hanging around the airport waiting for the flight to be called. Before I go any further I should say that the airport in Los Roques is nothing more than a glorified parking lot. The short runway is pock marked, a wooden saw horse separates the passengers from the tarmac and there is no lighting of any kind. For that reason, understandably, flights are forbidden after 6pm. Our flight was one of the last that night, scheduled to leave at 5:30, so we had time to grab a sandwich and return to the "concourse" before departing. Much to our surprise, when we were walking back from the main street to the airport we saw the plane taking off. It was 5pm and that fucking piece of shit was sailing off into the wild blue yonder. After tearing the ground staff a new asshole we ran around trying to get seats onto another plane. I really didn't mind staying another night but Dede had to make the sole flight from Caracas to Trinidad that was leaving at 8am the next morning.

We had befriended some locals, one of whom was the daughter of a chartered flight company owner in Caracas. He was happy to send us a plane but couldn't that evening because a plane couldn't get there and turn back around before closing time. Dede at this point was ready to kill someone and I was searching for another pack of cigarettes to tuck into. As luck would have it, a couple on their way back from Miami had stopped in Los Roques for a lobster dinner before heading back home. Our new-found friends were familiar with the pilot and asked him if he minded some extra weight on the way back. He was game and we found ourselves ushered to the end of the runway where his plane was parked. It was gorgeous. Dark blue body, gray smoked windows.... As we approached the door I saw that the entire entrance vestibule had mahogany paneling. Mother of God... We were flying back in a fucking private jet! Here we were smelling like airplane fuel, cigarettes and Barney from the Simpsons and we were about to be whisked back to Caracas in contour leather chairs, plush carpeting and picture frame windows. We were for all intents and purposes hitchhikers being given a ride.... it just happened that it was on a someone's jet. Dede still talks about the grin I had on my face when we took off. It was as if I was a child again when flying was still a miracle and every flight an adventure.

Armando Huerta is a writer from Athens, Greece.

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