The radio tower, check-in, and seating area were all under one modest thatched roof. The concourse was merely a walk across the grass, and the runway was also used as a soccer field when the airplane wasn’t in use.
It had taken us three days on a bus to traverse the Andes Mountains, then two more days on motorized canoe down the Madre di Dios to get deep into the Amazon Rainforest. Flying out would be quicker, an arrangement that our tour guide had made as we proceeded to other parts of Peru.
Interesting “airport” and interesting flight. There were about ten of us in the travel group, and before we could board the plane we had to be weighed. All bodies and luggage were weighed on a scale like you see at the doctor’s office. After we stepped off the scale the attendant yelled our weight to the other attendant with the clipboard.
Earlier the scarlet macaws, roosters, and geese had distracted us while we waited to board; it was better not to think about any of this. Now we were excited because we would be flying over the Amazon River basin, the largest in the world. Great sights and great photos awaited us.
The take-off was a bit shaky. Trundling across a grass field is rough. With the windows rattling and our bodies severely jostling, we were all happy when our little bucket-of-bolts cleared the thick mass of trees.
We had a few minutes of utter bliss, seeing the massive, meandering river from above. The Amazon Rainforest, so thick and dense, for miles and miles in every direction. There was much animation and every camera was wildly clicking.
Then all the chattering stopped, almost in unison, when each individual body felt the effects of our unpressurized cabin. We were flying up and over the Andes Mountains–the world’s highest mountain range outside of Asia–in a plane that was not pressurized. The highest peak is 22, 841 feet (6,962 m) above sea level, I doubt we were up that high. But all ten of us suddenly had heads that felt like they were going to burst, and every breath was choked short. There was an older pilot and a younger pilot, they both wore oxygen masks from take-off to landing.
The worst of the mild hypoxia passed as we began our descent into Cuzco, it had lasted 20 or 30 minutes. The laughter started up in bits and pieces, the headaches subsided, and everyone was fine.
We landed on blacktop and came to a smooth stop. We all clapped because we were so happy to be on land again. The pilots seemed happy about the landing too, and then we learned their secret: the main pilot, the young one, was a student in training.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander