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Many years ago my family and I took a trip to Guatemala. One of the highlights of my trip was going to see the Maya ruins at Tikal, which is in the jungle in the central Peten area far east of Guatemala City. There aren’t any roads to get there, so you had to fly.
We got on our plane (a DC-3) at the Guatemala City airport. All seats were occupied with passengers going to the jungle area. The flight was one of those hedgehoppers, only a couple of thousand feet above the ground, right above the trees. We made several stops.
Finally we arrived at the town of Flores, on the shores of Lake Peten Itza. The stewardess (that is what they were, then!) informed us that the stop would be for a while, and we were allowed out on the tarmac in the steaming heat to wait while they refueled the plane.
As we watched, a group of men went into the plane. We wondered what they were doing. In a few minutes they started emerging, each one carrying a plane seat. This went on for a half hour, as many seats in the plane were removed and stacked on the tarmac.
Eric Kulisch Monday, August 10, 2020Link to Article
Then the men moved to a waiting truck and started unloading burlap-covered bundles appearing to weight about 75lb. Each man put one on his back and carried it to the plane, up the gangway, and inside. Everyone spoke Spanish, which we did not, so it took us a while to discover that these were bags of chicle, one of the main agricultural products of the area, and useful for chewing gum among other things. Again this went on for half an hour or more as we sweltered in the sun.
Finally we were told we could board. Up the gangway we went, and turned into the cabin. There were exactly 6 seats left, just how many passengers we were. The remainder of the plane’s seating area was filled with chicle bundles. I can’t remember if they were strapped down or tied in any way. Of course the passengers weren’t either; seat belts were not part of the discipline here.
After a few minutes the plane took off, just barely making it off the runway at the end, and flying an unsettling distance above the jungle. It was only a half hour or so to Tikal; we didn’t have much time to worry about ground clearance. Fortunately, we landed and made it to our cabanas without incident. The plane soon took off headed for the East Coast town of Puerto Barrios, which had a port where chicle could be exported.