Although there is a wet and dry season to this region, there is not much water available on the land, with the notable exception of the rivers, which is the vicinity where most people live.
After an hour-and-a-half flight, the landing strip at Tres Nacion came into view. We touched down without incident and the three of us exited the plane and walked the short distance to the river to inspect the put-in. When I was here a little over a year ago on the reconnaissance mission, it was the wet season and the river was full, flowing just a little below the top of the embankment.
The river was moving fast and carrying a lot of vegetation that had been ripped loose from the sides of the riverbanks. Now, we were looking at just the opposite; the dirt embankment presented a steep drop-off that plunged forty feet to the slow-moving river below. Several Cayucos – small canoes made from a single tree, floated freely in the sluggish waters, tethered to the bank of the river by a slender rope.
As we walked back to the Islander, I again cautioned the two guides to be extremely careful in not disturbing or upsetting the villagers through whose property they would have to pass, in moving the boating equipment to the river. The guides had the rest of the day and all of tomorrow morning to transport the equipment to the river.
It was anticipated that I would fly in tomorrow morning with the passengers and then give instructions on how to assemble the boat, get it into the water, and how it was to be loaded. On this, the three of us were on the same page, and I departed with the pilot for our return trip to San Cristobal.
The major airport for the region was in Tuxtla Gutierrez, about twenty-five miles north of San Cristobal, down a steep mountain. It was here that I would meet my twelve passengers. To my relief, they all arrived on the same flight. After the passengers reclaimed their baggage, we assembled on the sidewalk in front of the airport, then using my nonexistent Spanish, I hired, more like haggled, three taxicabs to transport the passengers up the mountain to the airport in San Cristobal. We all made it to San Cristobal safely, but the passengers reported it was the wildest Mr. Toad ride they’d ever experienced.
At the airport, I had arranged for two pilots to make two trips to the airstrip at Tres Nacion. Eight passengers would go in on the first flight, and when the planes returned in the early afternoon, the other four passengers and I would fly out. The planes departed around 10:00 a.m., and using my new Ford pickup, I drove the remaining four passengers to the Indian market where we killed time awaiting the return of the planes. The pilots returned at 2:30 p.m., and without apology or showing any embarrassment, announced that the weather had changed and they would not be flying again that afternoon.
“Not flying,” I stammered, not believing the words I had just heard. The pilots were able to speak some English.
“Well, how about tomorrow?” I queried.
“We don’t know,” replied the pilots, “It all depends on the weather.”
Think for a moment the logistical nightmare that had just been dumped into my lap. I have two guides and eight American passengers, for whom I have total responsibility, sitting at an airstrip 150 miles out in the Mexican jungle, patiently awaiting my arrival with the other four passengers. When it got dark and we didn’t show, their anxiety levels would start to go through the roof.
“What’s happened to the rest of the group?” they would ask their guides, who are just as much in the dark as they are. The passengers would have to be fed, but the guides, not knowing what the menu was, would rummage through the food boxes finding anything they could to give to the passengers. Menu planning was now being compromised. Tents and sleeping bags had been provided for the guests, and the guides found them and distributed them to the passengers, who bedded down in the dirt on top of the river embankment.
In San Cristobal, I suddenly found that I was responsible for providing lodging and meals for four people, for which monies have not been budgeted. I told the passengers to sit tight at the airport while I went in search of lodging. I found a motel close by, paid for two rooms, retrieved the passengers and got them settled in their rooms, and then we all went to dinner.