What do you do when you just brushed the end of your life?! Laugh it off, pinch yourself, and keep your classy composure. Of freaken course.
Trust me for the amount of times I have had to pinch myself in my life, you would think I would have scars all over my arms that we could play connect the scars with – and when we finished, they would create a world map. ‘Well would you look at that, Petrena, your scars create a world map!?’ Seriously though, the majority of my friends would not be surprised, and their response would be, ‘only you petrena‘. Fortunately though, I am very adaptable, and so is my body, so it has gotten used to all the bumps, bruises, and skin loss – and it heals like a little Gem. Although this particular bump, almost got the better of me…….
Here I was in English Guyana, South America, in Region 8, deep in the jungles. This was when I was a group leader on volunteer projects. My group leader partner and I had to visit the villages we were working in prior to the volunteers arriving, you know, to assess the work, and the living conditions, etc….
The only way to get to these remote villages is by a tiny third world plane, that seats 3 – 5 people, and has duck tape holding things in place. Up until that point in my life, I had a fear of small planes – but I am not one to back down from things, and when I say I will do a job, I do a job. As if me facing my fear wasn’t enough, I was so lucky to get invaded with an extremely bad stomach bug(oh the perks of loving travel so much). Maybe I should re-think the next time I blurt out that I like a challenge – as this was definitely that.
The morning we were set to leave I woke up with a dodgy tummy, of course I was given Pepto Bismol, but that was not going to cure this bug. He laughed in Pepto’s face, and decided to wreak havoc on my insides. Basically trying to chase anything that was inside of me, to the outside, and more, through any exit there was. I am surprised my Organs were still in there by the end. However, not so fast little stomach bug! I won’t go down without a fight.
The plane was delayed, so I had 5 beautiful(well not the most beautiful I have ever enjoyed) hours to stand out like a sore thumb in the tiny airport being the only foreigner in there, fevering and dying on the couch, and running to the bathroom room to be sicker then I have ever been in my life, every 10 damn minutes.
I refused to call in sick, we only had a week to get out there and back before the volunteers arrive. There was work to be done. Finally when I was sure an organ was jumping ship next, the plane arrived while I was in the ladies room, and I had my Group Leader partner yelling down the hallway to hurry up cause the plane is going to leave.
So I hauled ass, quick splash of water in the sink, quick pep talk to myself, ‘Come on Petrena, you got this. Its only like a 2 hour flight. Your Empty inside’. And off I ran, only to get to the tarmac and see the smallest most beaten up plane of my life, with duck tape holding some things in place. Yup, the stomach dropped so low, it basically fell out. I knew I would lose something dang it!! However! I made it. Barely. I borrowed some duck tape from the pilot to hold myself together.
Well after a very uncomfortable week of recovering in the jungle, and a 7 hour extreme hike from one village to the next, carrying enough stuff for a mule, we were on our way back to Georgetown to await the volunteers arrival.
Here I was the day after that intense 7 hour hike and myself still recovering from being attacked by that stinken travel bug – I feel I masked it pretty darn well.
So the little plane arrives on the little red dirt landing strip to pick us up. The Pilot tells us he has to do some deliveries, so he will have to drop us off in another village, do his deliveries, and then come back and get us. So, off we went. With all of us off the plane in the next village, he loads up and gets ready to take off, not before asking me if I would like to go on a ride though. ‘Heck yes I do!‘. I was thinking this was going to be a great opportunity to see other remote villages that foreigners rarely see. Woop woop.
Yet what he actually meant was…..’Do you want to go for a RIDE?!’ We fired up the little plane, sped down that little bouncy red dirt air strip, and not any sooner than we had taken off and launched upward, were we going straight DOWN!! All I could see was trees coming straight for us, and I had one arm bracing each window, and the only words coming out of my mouth were, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!!’. Just as the trees skimmed the plane, he pulled back up, then we were upside down, then we were sideways, it all just meshed together really. And throughout the whole time all I did was brace the windows and say ‘Oh my God!!’
Finally after that unexpected roller coaster, and so that’s what it feels like to have your whole life flash before your eyes moment, he straightened out. Well obviously I was catching what breath I could possibly gasp for, and pinching myself harder then I knew I was capable of.
The pilot turned to me with a big grin on his face and asked, ‘Soooo, how was it?’
Trying to be as calm, cool and collected as I could, I replied, ‘Haaahaaa(due to lack of air), ahhhh, it was fun(that was extreme sarcasm though), but please don’t do it again’, and I preceded to break the cement of shock off my face to flash him the best fake smile I could find in my pocket. ‘No worries’ he said while rubbing my arm, ‘it is totally safe’. I just continued with my complacent smile, while thinking ‘HA, yah freaken right, so is the duck tape’ he was wrong, that was definitely not safe, and at the same time I was still questioning myself to see if I really did survive that. I have mastered the art of smiling no matter what my circumstances are, obviously freaking out on the inside.
See, I had it so together I could even take a chummy photo with my buddy who nearly ended it all for me. All is well that ends well.
Three things came of this,
1 – Suddenly I was no longer scared of small planes anymore, because it all just happened so fast anyway, there really was no chance to be scared.
2 – I realized I should stop accepting rides from people in random places around the globe, because something crazy always happens.
3 – I also discovered, ‘Wow, duck tape really is amazing, and totally does hold things together extremely well’.
Although, after the whole project was finished, 2 volunteers and I were on board another tiny duck taped plane back to Georgetown, and we were blown away with the surprise of flying straight down face to face in front of these stunningly majestic falls, and all the way through to the end of the Gorge walls. Something that never would have been possible if we were not on that taped together micro plane. Yup, it made me feel just as ‘alive’ as surviving the tree skimming upside down ride.
And that my friends, would be, how to stay classy no matter what jungle your in.