Thursday, July 28, 2016

We Speaka Da Spanish... Sorta

I have been often asked, "What do you do in the off season, when the crops are harvested and the bugs are on vacation?"

Well, one of the things I did to occupy my time and get my mind off of chasing bugs was to ferry aero-planes from one place to another. Say for instance, from a lil ole village in Nebraska to the out-back in the jungles of Panama in Central America.

I happened to be acquainted with a missionary pilot type name Lee German. Lee had been a missionary pilot in the Philippine Islands for some twenty years. He wife became ill and he had to move back to his home in Nebraska. So he was asked by the missionary organization to head up a aviation department. 

Lee immediately went to work on this and established a home base where he collected aircraft of one sort and another, did some repair work on them, and trained young fellows in this type of flying and ferrying airplanes from the base to where ever they were needed. 

He called me about the time my ag-flying season ended in Idaho one day and asked me to accompany him on a trip to deliver a Cessna 185 to a missionary pilot in Panama. The missionary pilot down there with the help of the natives had just completed a new airstrip deep in the heart of the jungles of Panama near the border with Columbia. I decided this would be a useful way to spend my time in the off-season. 

I packed my battered bag and took a flight on the airline down to a commercial airport near Lee’s home base. I had worked with Lee in the construction of his home hangers, etc., and we flew some together so he knew I was a reasonably experienced pilot.

When I arrived Lee laid out his route that we would follow including gas stops, hotel, border crossing stops, and so on. He made sure my passport and visa papers were in order. The Cessna had a belly pod strapped under the fuselage for extra baggage and freight. We filled the plane full of a lot of stuff that the missionary needed but couldn’t get down there in Panama. Then we cast off one fine morning and headed south. 

We got to the Brownsville port of entry too late to clear customs so we had to spend the night and take care of customs the next morning.

Then we pretty much followed the Gulf side coast line all the way to Veracruz, Mexico. Lee had asked me if I could speak Spanish and I told him a little bit. He said he could speak a little too. When we got to Veracruz I called the tower in English. No answer. So I tried out my Spanish. The conversation went something like this:

ME: Torre de Veracruz, es Cessna 5432, 10 millas al norte. Solicitar permiso para entrar en patron de trafico. (Veracruz tower, this is Cessna 5432, 10 miles north. Request permission to enter traffic pattern.)

The tower came back at me with, "Bla de bla de bla de bla, Estan habilitados para entrar entra en trafico."  All I got was that I was cleared to enter traffic pattern.

I fell in line with the other traffic. Lee said, “Did you understand all that?”

“Heck no, but I’m pretty sure we are cleared to enter the pattern.”

We made the downwind leg and turned to the base leg. I heard my number called by the tower and something like, "Blab blab blab, se borran a la tierra, blab blab blab." I was fairly certain he meant, "You are cleared to land."

I made the final turn and Lee said, "I hope they aren’t sending the Federales out to meet us!"

I landed without incident and taxied up to the parking area and a gas truck came out to meet us. I guess no one was interested in my semi-Spanish. The young boy who ran the gas truck looked at our Cessna with the bulging belly pod and said, “Et looks likey et is goin’ to have some sons.” Lee laughed and told him it was definitely pregnant.

We got something to eat and cleared customs. Lee called the tower on the telephone and tried to explain that we had very little Español. I guess one of the tower persons understood a bit of English. Lee said his reply was a mix of the two languages - but mostly it seemed that they were all laughing at us. 

I asked for permission to depart. “Blab blab blab blab, número cuatro, blab blab."
I took that to mean we were number four to take off. We pulled into line and when I heard, "Número 5432 Cessna, se borran para salir (you are cleared to take off)," I poured the coal to it and we took off headed southwest across Mexico to the Pacific coast. Next stop Guatemala City.

As we flew along Lee said, "Roberts, your Spanish is about as sorry as I have ever heard."  

I retorted, "Well it got us in and out of Mexico without being shot or arrested. And by Montezuma’s whiskers, yours is worse than mine."

"Naw, naw, mine is fluent compared to yours," he insisted.

"The heck it is! I heard your so-called Spanish when you talked to the tower on the phone. You said, 'We no speaka de Spanish mucho good.' Ha!"

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