The back-up plan(e)
Trip Start Jul 22, 2009
163Trip End Ongoing
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Ready early so I decide to take a walk to the coffee shop that had free wifi before meeting up with Florian in front of his hotel. For some reason my website, and relatedly, my email, was down. Waiting for a reply to a few emails but I guess that'll have to wait.
Florian shows up at about 7h10. The tuk-tuk driver has been there since before I showed up 5 minutes earlier. Florian had made a special deal with the driver, 20,000 kip to the airport. Florian decides to order a coffee at the restaurant in front of his hotel. The driver leaves. Someone was walking by and I guess he was tired of waiting when he had a paying fair ready to go. Florian says, that was inconsiderate! Hmmm! No comment.
A few minutes later another tuk-tuk driver shows up. He wants 50,000 kip. Florian argues. I agree with 40,000. Off we go, the 3km to the airport. Get to the airport. Driver is waiting for 50,000. We give him 40,000. That was the agreement!
We check in. Florian goes first. He booked online but never received his e-ticket. The system crashes as they check his booking. Then my turn. Quick as can be.
We go to the airport restaurant for breakfast. Boarding doesn't start for another hour. We use up the last of our Laos money. Then we go wait in the boarding lounge. The flight to Ho Chi Minh started off in Vientiane an hour and a half earlier. It arrives and the passengers all disembark as they refuel and get our baggage loaded. Florian recognizes someone he met in Northern Laos a couple weeks back, Beatrix, from Chile.
They chat and then it's time to board. Goodbye Laos!
Florian is sitting next to me in the window seat. We're about 4 rows from the back. Behind the wing. The flight is following the Mekong on our left. We're about to arrive at the 4000 islands in south Laos and Florian wants to take a picture. He was just there. We then notice the plane changing course. Slight bank to the left. Hey, Florian says, I can't see the islands anymore. Then I sense something is wrong. We're not straightening out. Now the Mekong is on the right side of the plane.
I look out the side window and notice something else. The left engine propeller is "just" barely turning. Now I know why we've turned around. No announcement from the pilot. I look around and hardly anyone has noticed our change in direction. The flight attendants are still serving breakfast.
Finally the pilot makes an announcement that we're heading back to Pakse. First in Laos, then in English. At the end of his English announcement his voice cracks. Definitely wasn't a voice of confidence. We're about 20 minutes out from the airport. A minute later another English announcement comes out over the PA speaker. This must have been the pilot and not the co-pilot. This voice was a little more confident.
There's no panic in the cabin. The flight attendants are finally picking up the unfinished lunches and the seat belt sign has been finally lit.
Florian starts video taping out the window as we're nearing flying over the Mekong and nearing Pakse. Prior to this I had checked my iPhone and had cell coverage. I send a text message to my kids. Hi! I love you!. No explanation.
Then we're doing a sharp bank over the Mekong and dropping fast. Phew! We can see the runway. But we're not out of the woods yet. Stopping a twin prop plane with only one engine running isn't that easy. The plane will sway in the direction of the running engine when the pilot puts it in reverse to slow us down. Timing is everything.
Then we're down and slowing. YEAH! I'M STILL ALIVE.
The smokers all congregate outside the departure lounge. Everybody's nerves are a little frazzled. Yes, the airplane is designed to fly with only one engine but nobody knew the reason the first engine quit. There's only one back-up engine on a two engine plane. You just can't pull over like a broken down bus.
I sit outside chatting with Beatrix and Florian. Beatrix asks what I do. The Universe was working full time setting up this meeting. She creates her life with her thoughts very much like I do. She says the plane incident was her fault due to some thoughts she had earlier and an email that she had written to her father but not sent. She did say that she changed the word dieing to something else in the email. Just using that word can open up a whole can of worms when the Universe mis-interprets what you want. I tell her about my Air America blog entry. I think we doubled up on making this incident happen. Yes! What I write and think does happen.
We're told that a back-up plane will be here by 2 PM. FYI. As soon as we landed I did send another text to the kids indicating why they received the I Love You text. That I didn't want to worry them but that those would be the final words that they would hear from me, if they were indeed my last words.
At noon they pull out an airplane serving cart and feed us a cold (that should have been hot) meal. Two o'clock roles around and no back-up plan(e). Then we hear that it will now be 6 PM. Air Laos only has 4 airplanes and they all fly certain routes everyday. They're waiting for one of the planes to finish it's route.
The passengers are frustrated. Numerous people have missed connecting flights. By mid afternoon the airline personnel finally seem to have their act together. It seems like they don't have a back-up plan in case this happens. They are very disorganized.
Out on the tarmac we watch the local personnel pull off the engine covers and "look under the hood". The impression we get is that they haven't a clue what to look for. They try jump starting the engine and the fastest the propeller turn is like a giant electric wind generating turbine. Very, very slow.
Beatrix, Florian and I head to the restaurant. We have no more kips but they take US$. We spend the afternoon playing word games and drinking beer. The airport personnel and other passengers think we are nuts. We're having way too much fun.
At 5h30 we are called to the departure lounge. We anxiously await the replacement airplane. We are told that this one is only 3 months old. Barely broken in. Is that a good thing or bad? Have they ironed out all the kinks?
With the back-up plane landing I send a text to Nick stating we are finally taking off. He's just waking up in Eastern Canada. The text doesn't send. We're on the plane as the sun sets. I turn off my phone during take-off. Once we are in the air I turn it back on. We are at approximately the same location that I sent the first text to the kids this morning. I now have no cell coverage. Was this mornings cell coverage a freak of technology or the Universe sending me a message that anything is possible.
Throughout the afternoon we had chatted with many of the other passengers. What had started as a day knowing very few people, ended up being a very enjoyable day.
We land in Ho Chi Minh and easily clear customs and immigration. Then we start having issues with the taxi. I'm the only one with a hotel reservation. Beatrix and Floran decide to join me at my hotel. Outside the airport we meet up with 2 Russian guys we had chatted with in Pakse. We try and get a van for 5. The taxi driver I had originally talked with wanted 7 US$. My hotel booking confirmation states that should be the maximum. But this guy wants that much per person. We say no. The Russian guys find a van driver who will do it for $15 or $3 each.
We get to my hotel.They were expecting me at 11am. The others are finding the room rate a little steep ($25). Florian gets a room. The other three go in search of cheaper accommodations.
I get my room. The 4th floor of their 3rd building. My room is on the top floor all by itself. Yes, I have the penthouse suite. Well, at least the penthouse room.
It's surprising how tiring a day of waiting can be. Add in the stresses and we were all exhausted. The welcome at my hotel was very nice. The two young receptionists were all smiles and beautiful. What more could I ask for?
Think It! Feel It! Live It! Love It!
But be very, very, careful what you think and feel. The Universe will most definitely make it happen.