The History of Flight: December 2005 – January 2006
Between 1963 and 1984 Boeing produced over eighteen hundred 727s, making that plane one of the most successful airliners in history. As noisy as they were popular, they’ve been displaced from the US airspace by more efficient models and scattered to emerging markets like Africa and Central America to live out their days in sunnier, less regulated climates.
Imperial is the national beer of Costa Rica. Brewed at a sprawling, walled compound near the San Jose airport, the beer will materialize any time a traveller’s average speed drops below 2 mph. We saw this happen over and over.
Our arrival into San Jose the day after Christmas was delayed an hour and a half – first prior to takeoff to remove two bags whose owners never showed, then on arrival when nobody on the ground could figure out how to attach the jetway to the plane.
Waiting at the airport for us to show up with the rental car paperwork Eric and Cindy made friends by plying the cab stand operators with duty-free scotch.
“A terrible eyesore.” – Frommer’s
In October 1986 a Fairchild C-123 cargo plane carrying CIA agent Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua. The incident sparked the Iran-Contra investigation, catapulting Oliver North to fame and almost landing a large chunk of the Reagan cabinet behind bars.
The plane carrying Hasenfus was one of a pair based in Costa Rica and purchased to covertly ferry supplies to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Its sister plane sat abandoned in San Jose hangar until 2000, when it was purchased by a restauranteur and disassembled. 10 inches too wide for the awful bridges along the Pacific coast, it was ferried to Manuel Antonio and hauled up the hillside for reassembly.
Immediately after our visit to the Manuel Antonio butterfly gardens we found ourselves under one of the Thunder Pig‘s wings, enjoying the view of the coast and soaking up the Imperials that suddenly appeared.
Tables now surround the plane and the cargo bay serves as a cavernous pub (the Contra-Bar). A terrible eyesore? All it needs is a little love… and maybe some engines in those underwing pods.
TACA is Central and South America’s glue airline. While we’re antsy about flying non-US carriers this offers the most realistic connection between Costa Rica and Ecuador.
There’s a Chivas Regal bar at the San Jose International airport. 9 AM is a little early for whiskey, but ask for a bloody mary and they’ll hand you one big enough to make 7-11 reconsider its business model.
We lucked out and got to see Shaun Ryder’s ugly mug on the Latin American MTV video countdown. Another round.
Much like US carriers, TACA is cutting costs by charging for in-flight meals. But in a classy nod to a more refined era of travel it’s open bar up there.
Cerveceria Nacional Pilsener is the national beer of Ecuador.
Our drink of choice in Ecuador was the Capirinha. Imported from Brazil and loaded with cachaca (to sugarcane what Everclear is to corn) it’s South America’s answer to the Margarita and our new favorite thing ever.
But man it takes Ecuadorians for-frickin-ever to put one of these together.
Tame (TAH-may) is the national airline of Ecuador (“All Ecuador in yours hands”). No American carriers fly to the Galapagos – you either hop an Ecuadorian plane or hitch a slow ride on a freight ship. When I first researched this trip I read a post about an old Tame 727 developing an electrical fire and returing to Guayaquil. I can’t find the post now, but I swear I read that somewhere.
Even though Tame has upgraded many of their planes to newer A320s, the flight to the islands was the one part of the trip that had me apprehensive.
It turns out Tame isn’t the only airline that lands at Baltra airport – little Aerogal (Aerolineas Galapagos) runs its two-plane fleet from Quito to the Galapagos with a stop in Guayaquil. Our tour company teamed with Aerogal, and sure enough we drew the old 727-200 for our flight out.
It’s a slow roller but it did eventually leave the runway, and we made it out to the islands without any uncontrolled fires on board.
Much like TACA the drinks were complimentary. Would’ve been great if there was any booze on board.
The Coral I
On the flight to Galapagos we were handed entry cards to fill out – after the usual residence and nationality information we were asked to circle the top three reasons we were visiting the islands: “To see unusual wildlife”, “To be in a unique place”, “Photography”, stuff like that.
Eric kept turning the card over, looking for the “Drink on a boat” entry.
A lightweight tripod and a snootful of duty-free scotch
Our flight back to Quito was on Aerogal’s other plane, the 737. Remembering the airline’s beverage service we parked ourselves at the tarmac bar and slugged down a few last Pilseners along with an order of ceviche. Mmmm – airport ceviche.
We hated to see the trip end – we tried to keep the good times rolling on the way home but domestic business class service has gone to hell. I’m back on the ground in DC now, saving my nickels until I can afford an old 727 airframe and park it in Costa Rica, stocked with Imperial and cachaca and sporting a clear view of Arenal’s lava flows.