By Nora Vasconcelos
It was six months since Tom, Sam and Charlie had designed a plan that would take them to fly over the main archaeological zones that were well preserved in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The idea had started as a school project when their literature teacher asked them to write an essay describing the most fantastic journey they could ever imagine.
Working in small groups, some of the boys and girls wrote stories about traveling to India, others described detailed trips to South America, and there were some groups that even imagined time travels to the past or the future as well as space journeys to faraway galaxies.
For the three friends their ideal trip was one that would take them to see part of their own country from above. Spending time flying in a balloon seemed to them a much exciting idea than just taking a plane.
Their essay was cheered up by their teachers and classmates, and it was then when a what if? came to their minds, after all How difficult could it be? …Apart from learning how to fly a balloon, borrowing one, getting all the provisions and designing a viable route…
With some help from their schoolmates and the support of their parents, Tom, Sam and Charlie found the way to transform their wish into a plan. Friends and family helped them make some ‘noise’ on Social Media and not so long after the project had started a balloon company that offered touristic services throughout Mexico said that they would sponsor them. The trip was scheduled for the school break, that would give them some time to prepare everything.
Learning how to control the balloon was the most difficult part. None of them had ever been in one before and as thrilled as they were, they had to admit that the very first time when the guide handed them the control, they felt butterflies in their stomachs. But they trained hard, weekend after weekend until every one of them got the gist of it.
Today, this plan was about to become a reality. The official launching day, set for July 15, started at 5:00am when they all gathered at a private runway that was small for commercial planes but big enough for small jets and of course, aerostats.
The travellers, who had arrived to the hangars at 4am, spent the minutes before their departure placing all the supplies inside the huge basket. Packages containing food and water were side by side with all sort of gear, clothes and several small fuel tanks. A map and a sophisticated GPS equipment would accompany them in their hot air balloon trip as well.
The brilliant tones of the balloon shinned as the sunrays went through its fabric. Shadows coloured in red and yellow framed the figures of the three explorers who were concentrated in finalizing all the preparations before getting into the basket.
Teachers, classmates, reporters and even some local politicians gathered around little by little.
At 5:55am, they hugged goodbye their parents, siblings and friends, and smiled, one more time, for the press. Five minutes later, the big balloon, all filled with hot air, started to separate from the pavement, meter by meter until the distance between them and the world below made everything look very small.
A blue sky and a soft breeze coming from the sea delivered the promise of a gentle flight all the way from Campeche city to the archeological zone of Uxmal.
The three friends had decided to fly alone, and not because they wanted to prove anything, they sure would have appreciated having the company of a balloon expert, but taking into consideration the length of their trip, it was wiser to take advantage of the extra storage space to get more supplies and some additional safety equipment.
The winds favoured them once they reached the desirable altitude, then they headed for Uxmal, enjoying a view they had only imagined before. The intense green of the forest was only interrupted by some small villages built in the middle of nowhere. Everything looked so tiny from where they were!
Their cell phone had not signal at that point but they kept on taking photos that they would upload on their Social media accounts as soon as they were able to get some bars.
About and hour and a half later, their hearts skipped a beat when they saw not so far away the top of the Uxmal pyramid. All their dreams were finally coming true and even when they were seeing it with their own eyes, it was hard for them to believe it was true.
As the balloon moved along the area, they couldn’t decide if this ancient site was more impressive from the land or from the skies. What they were certain of was that the view was truly beautiful.
Taking as many pictures as they could, they barely spoke for some time after they had passed the historical zone. Their smiles were doing all the talking then.
Their first stop would be close to the town of Kabah, where they could rest for a while and after that they would try to start sharing their experiences with the rest of the world. A few hours later, they would fly all the way up to Chichen Itza, a little east from where they were now.
Descending into the meadow was easy, and there their sleeping bags allowed them to get some sleep as the excitement and tiredness of the day had started to catch up on them. Smiles again, where all over their faces.
At different times, Tom, Sam and Charlie worked on their digital updates taking advantage of the good signal that their phones were getting from the town close by. Although, they didn’t spend much time doing that as they wanted to be well rested for the next leg of their trip.
The following morning, the same as the previous day, the balloon went up to the air at 6am. The clouds blocking the sunshine gave them some sort of relief as the heat started to increase once they had reached the forest again.
Throughout the jungle some small pyramids could be seen, the same as small towns and villages. The wind, a bit stronger than the day before was helping them get a faster rhythm, which allowed them to arrive to Chichen Itza a little earlier than expected.
Once again, the view from the top was magnificent, the Mayan pyramid and the observatory offered a spectacular view. And it remained spectacular until they landed nearby for the second time. Their hearts seemed to grow out of the excitement. After that, if everything continued according to plan, the next day they would reach Tulum, in the Quitana Roo coast.
Would a bit of rain be a bad sign? Should they wait to continue their journey? They considered that this kind of situations were normal because the weather was supposed to change unexpectedly since it was hurricane season, so, once again, at 6am their colourful balloon headed up to the sky for which it’d be the longest flight of their trip.
As they were traveling south-east, almost an hour after they had departed, they got the bad feeling that the weather would get worst. Now they were sure that they should land, but everything below was a dense forest that would damage the structure of the balloon, so they had no choice but to continue. Lucky for them, the winds, quite strong now, were in their favor.
A little later, they felt relieved when they started to catch glances of the unique sky-blue sea that characterised the beaches that went all the way from Cancun to Tulum. They were getting really close now to their destination and they were very happy about it.
But the storm made the balloon take an unwanted turn! Now they weren’t heading for Tulum anymore, they were going to the opposite direction, away from the shore. Soon they saw from above a big island which should be Cozumel, not only because of its size but because some cruise ships were docked near its pristine beaches.
The balloon continue flying away from the shores and the clear waters became darker, then a sudden storm caused the balloon to deflate and in a matter of seconds, they faced a free fall all the way down to where uneasy waves seemed eager to take them into the deep ocean.
As the basket pulled them inside the high tide, their life jackets lifted them towards the sea surface. With their eyes filled with salt water, they still were able to see that they were far far away from the shore. What could they do?
“Look!” Tom managed to yell.
Then his two friends saw what he was pointing at…
Was it real or just a hallucination?
A cargo ship with a big green and white flag painted on one side and a Nigeria logo written with big lettering on the other side appeared on the horizon.
Would they be rescued before they drowned? They wondered.
(To be continued next Wednesday on Obinna Udenwe’s Blog: )
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project