South America! Evoking visions of tanned womens dancing with bananas on top of their broad-brimmed hats. Monkeys swinging from tree to tree. And me, temporarily escaping the throes of a snowy Flagstaff winter for a little summertime fun. 90 degree days! The sun staying up until 8:30 PM! Ahh paradise. Swimming pools, movie stars. Oh... wait I almost forgot - this is work.
North Coast of Cuba
After gathering in Orlando, Florida, we boarded our private jet for a 5 hour, 30 minute flight to the city of Manaus on the Amazon River. Bright sunshine with small, fleecy clouds greeting us at 33,000 feet as the north coast of Cuba came into view beneath our wings. One of the jobs I have taken on for these trips is to move up and down the aisle to assist folks in seeing what is visible out the windows below us. It's a service I enjoy doing, especially since most people just don't think to look out the windows anymore. "Please lower your shades ladies and gentlemen for our in-flight movie. Shut out that horrible world outside and revel in the fantasies of our own human created environment, where we'll blow up 133 cars in the latest sequel of Terminator 16! Blah blah blah". People just don't look out the windows of jets anymore and so I try to go up and down the aisle to get people to look, in the hope they'll start to see.
Of course, there's a secondary thrill for me when we pass over places with emotionally charged names like Cuba. Invariably, someone will have a knee-jerk response to the word Cuba and these are ripe times to hear the kind of comments that you know you'll never forget. "The north coast of Cuba out the window just now Mortimer", I said to the gentlemen casually reading his Orlando Sentinel. "Cuba"!, he exclaimed. "Are we gonna leave a few bombs for Fidel" Not bad, but I've heard better. "Coast of Cuba below you right now Margaret". Puzzled and not quite sure whether to look or not, she asked me if we were allowed to fly over Cuba. "Why yes we are Margaret", I replied. "The last I checked we were not at war with Cuba and although our two counties have chosen different economic systems, its perfectly fine to fly over it at 33,000 feet". "Oh? Well alright, thank you", she said as she turned to see what it might actually look like. I move on.
Guantanamo Bay on the South Coast of Cuba
Not more than 10 minutes later we flew right over Guantanamo Bay and saw it out over the left wing. We still hold this small piece of Cuba as a kind of giant middle finger raised west in defiance towards Fidel's Havana. I almost wanted to say, 'There's that little torture chamber we've put in on the western shore of the bay", but I refrain. Apparently we are allowed to fly over Guantanamo Bay as well.
North Coast of Venezuela
An hour later, the north coast of Venezuela comes into view and as I run up and down the aisle, there were more wise-crack remarks thrown out towards a perceived enemy. I wonder where these people develop their hate? Their government? The media? It's all of the above. They are very kind folks for the most part but their never challenged, never questioned patriotism almost demands that they create demons and diss them whenever they can. As I start to get a morbid sense of pleasure out of noticing their contradictions, Mortimer grabs my arm as I pass by and shouts, "I like that you're here with us Wayne. This is fun"! Luckily, I caught myself just before I whispered under my breath, "Mission Accomplished".
The Rio Negro Shining in Afternoon Light
The great Amazon came into view before too long and after landing in Manaus, we went to the grand old Opera House, built in 1896 with money from the great rubber boom.Manaus Opera House at Night with Moon Here we had a private performance of classical music which was flawless! The trip has begun!