Bird Watching with Bubba

Excerpt No. 2
Ambergris Island

After landing at Belize International, Elbert released me from my cage in cargo hold. Customs was still ahead of us, and on the other side another flight to the island. Both Elbert and I expected trouble. The agent looked at me, my documents and then announced to Elbert he would have to quarantine me for 30 days My heart sank.

Elbert shook his hand, smiled and said, "No problem, I'll bring him tomorrow No problem? I thought, "What does he mean 'no problem'?" I was puzzled for a moment and then noticed the lingering handshake. As we walked outside to tarmac, Elbert disconnected my leash and discretely tossed it in a passing luggage cart. He winked and said, "Welcome to Central America Bubba. You owe me $100.00 U.S."

Waiting for us on the field was a classic Piper super cub. Its yellow paint faded with oxidation and from the teddy bear emblem on its tail I suspect it's the original paint. Beside the PA 18 stood our pilot. His big white teeth and smile lit his deeply tanned face. He wore mirrored aviator sunglasses and a white epauletted short sleeve shirt. His forearms were decorated with the tattoos of a Catholic fisherman. He shook hands with Elbert and introduced himself as Chino. Elbert introduced me and did the sit, shake routine. I shook Chino's hand, decided I'd had enough of this style of humility, jumped into the plane's front seat and put a paw on the stick. Chino laughed and made a joke about my flying his plane. Elbert crawled into the back and Chino started the engine. He ran through a sloppy mag check, laughing and speaking Spanish on the radio about his new co-pilot. Chino struck me as someone who was Willing to bend the rules. As the tail dragger rose from the short runway it provided me with my first view of the reef. Unlike the jet, this aircraft really flew. We soared at 1000 feet.

Chino put the headphones on me and said, "bark for the dispatcher in San Pedro." Everything was so funny for them until I throttled up and pulled back on the stick, jamming Elbert deeper into the luggage cubby and banging Chino's head against the window.

I leveled off at 3000 feet and dipped the wing to get a good look at my promised land. Chino's face was going though a lot of changes but ended in an approving smile. Elbert looked concerned but from his position couldn't effectively react to anything I decided to do. He yelled, "Don't let him try to land us!"

All I wanted was to get to the island and end this chapter of my old life. I pushed the stick forward until the altimeter read 100 and leveled off at 50 feet above the water surprising a flock of cormorants that were flapping wildly and literally running atop the surface of the water in an effort to take off. They appeared to be double-crested cormorant the Phalacrocorax auritus from the order of Pelecaniformes, large aquatic birds highly adapted for swimming. A very ancient order dating back 20 million years.

I glanced at Chino, his face read concern, 90 mph at 50 feet above water with a bird dog at the stick is probably stretching his limits of a good time. If it wasn't for the heelbrake configuration I would have landed it on the island.

At the San Pedro airfield while Elbert was recovering form the flight and collecting our baggage, I got my first chance to meet the people of Ambergris.

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Birds of Ambergris Caye

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