This last post is a celebration of life and all that truly matters: tight friendship and family bonds and the whole natural world we live in. The rest is brief and insufficient when the subject is human fullfillment. After going through so much adventure together and working for our individual and group survival, we were faced with the unexpected.
The trip from Vancouver to Dallas went just fine and right on schedule. As we arrived to our destination, we went straight to the gate to make sure we knew where to board and right after, hit the shopping and eating again. Can they ever get enough? Sweets, hamburgers, perfume, etc. And just as I was approaching the gate attendant to ask for information, she took the microphone and announced American Airlines needed volunteer passengers of our flight to give up their seats for U$800, hotel accomodations and all other expenses covered. For a brief second, every one of us thought inside our heads "Wouldn't that be a good deal?". Later we even vented that idea out loud, but it surely turned into a joke, because we all needed and wanted to get back home soon.
So, up we went on our plane to São Paulo. The kids were in the back with a huge group of teens coming from Disney World and I was by myself in a middle set in the center of the aircraft. It started out a bit annoying for me because I just couldn't get the screen in front of me to work - I must explain it'd been 23 days without any kind of television or screen, apart from a Harry Potter movie. But calling the flight attendant wasn't of much help, she just asked me to wait for take off and then the problem might have been solved. Well, what could I do? Nothing, only wait patiently while the kid next to me was alreay having a blast with all the entertainment available on board. Ready for take off!
Something didn't feel right and as the plane got off the ground an unbearable heat started to hit me, to the point I was already talking to myself in the hope to get calmer and wait for complete take off to be over. Maybe then all my problems, screen and heat, would be solved. The thing is I couldn't take it and at some point I had to say something to the one next to me "It's getting really hot in here, I wonder what's happening.", as I looked round to see if people were feeling as bad as I was. Immediately after, the captain on the speakers to informed us there'd been some problem with an engine and we'd be heading back to the airport and landing in 2 minutes! I looked at my next seat partner in awe and exclaimed "I knew this heat wasn't normal!". Surprisingly, people wouldn't dare speak too much and it was all short whispering. Two minutes sounded like a pretty reasonable amount of time one could last wihout having a maor panic attack; at least I was planned to endure. What we didn't know was the landing would be as rough and there'd be such heavy smoke coming out of the plane outside. By then we were already stopped in the middle of the runway and as I was about to start counting my last minutes, the captain came on again to give us more detailed informaiton about the landing and the smoke: as it was an emergency action, the brakes weren't enough to hold the heavy plane, so the tyres blew up and for that reason so much smoke was coming out. OK, thanks for that! It sure came as a relief, but my questions about the heat inside the plane since take off still remained unanswered...But I was determined to make this story right and kept my conversation going with the passenger next to me; it turned out he was the principal of an international school in SP and we had much more in common than we'd ever imagine, besides the fact we might be living the most thereatening moment of our lives together.k Now thinking, it sounds hilarious, me trying to ask him things about his work and the conference he'd been to and eventually looking out the window where the firefighters tried to control the situation outside. The truth is, I think it was a group experience on this flight and we were all convinced we wouldn't give into panic or drama, and that we would wait patiently, because for some reason we knew we could make ti out of there.
And so we did. Slow and steady, and in the case of our group, the last ones to be rescued by buses that came to the runway to take passengers back to the airport. The only thing that kept me uneasy during the whole process was not to know how the kids were in the rear. As soon as the seatbelt signs were off, I ran back to help my kids and...Do you think they were worried, crying or panicking? Sorry, this is not a sensacionalist broadcast news, they were cheering and already wondering about spending the night at a cool hotel in Dallas, and who knows, maybe a chance for more shopping???? I just had to laugh and let myself go, even if this was the end, because being young is about believing life is forever and living every moment as if were the last. Let it rip then! The rear was a party of around 60 or 70 teenagers backed up by some adults, like me.
End of waiting, a couple of hours later, we were taken back to the airport and received hotel and food vouchers for the night. Now we had to get out of the airport and catch a courtesy van to our hotel and make sure we were back the next morning for our 9:00 flight to SP.
Do you know that 80s song "The heat is on, the heat is on, on! And it's on the streets!" Well, that's what it felt like when we got to the street in what I called "Inferno Dallas". And we walked on the deserted sidewalk in the burning night before we could find the supposed courtesy van, where we immediately hopped on for the cool breeze of air conditioning. We ended up at a pretty fancy hotel, the West Win, which unfortunately turned out to be the wrong destination; that one was for first class passengers. When we were about to go crazy again, a sweet soul pointed outside and told us we could just cross the street and we'd find our Wingate Inn. It actually looked pretty nice, not so much the lobby but the rooms with king-sized beds and a great bathroom. Dinner was at Denny's, right next door, with our 12-dollar-vouchers that paid up a rather decent meal after a heck of a day.
Early morning we were bavck on the run with bags, breakfast, van, gate, boarding and...flight! Only this time we were all quieter and most trying to keep themselves as busy as possible so as not to get into some unwanted thinking about yesterday's events. People would not dare mention the truth of what had happened, we had just all realized it had been serious enough and it was great fortune we were there flçying again.
In some ways, I can't help think about our Adventure Group and the team spirit it involves, and how much that ends up working as a protective aura these people build around them. We, passengers of AA963 became one as the Explorers and helped each through it all, without once getting impatient or rude with anyone. Brazil and its people are truly special and there are no words to express the feeling we had as we stepped on Brazilian grounds SAFE and SOUND!
This is the end of our exciting journey as the Explorers and my last words will be directed to them, my group buddies and endless entertainers. Adventure, Adventure! Stay tuned because I1ll soon be posting a personal letter to each of you.