February 9, 2006

A Perfectly Good Airplane: Part II

He was right. I was screwed. I couldn't help myself, and despite the cost and an excruciatingly painful ear infection, I did another tandem the next day. Tonio gave me a fat discount, which made it a bit easier to justify. The second tandem was also with Fernando, and this time, he let me pull the parachute! It was even more exhilerating than the first jump.
Thinking it couldn't getting any worse was a premature assumption. Right before the last load, the sunset jump, Tonio offered me a price I couldn't refuse, and I did a third tandem with Fernando! The bad news was, they just kept getting better, impossible to resist. This time we exited the plane doing a forward flip, and he let me steer the parachute. Tonio jumped with us and I experienced flying in the air with another person for the first time. Amazing!
Well, Tonio knew he had me at that point. I mean, 3 tandems?? He actually cut me off, and said, no more. If you want to keep jumping, you have to learn to do it by yourself. Now that seemed crazy to me, but even so I was secretly glad the divers were returning to Cuautla (the principal drop zone south of Mexico City) for the weekend, as I feared I would not be able to stop myself and end up taking the course.
The following Wednesday, the guys arrived, falling from the sky once again. I was shocked to see Rifle (Gustavo) wearing a cast (a soccer injury), but still able to skydive with a broken foot. I happened to be on the beach and one of them landed right in front of me. It was Pana (Daniel), and the first words out of his mouth were "When are you starting the course?".
To my surprise, as if possessed by another being, I answered "Right now."
It really was the beginning of the end for me. I finished the Accelerated Freefall (AFF) course in 2 days, starting in Puerto and finishing in Cuautla. It consists of 7 jumps with an instructor after some classroom instruction and lots of dirt dives. You have to pass each level before moving onto the next. To assist with landing, you wear a radio and your instructor guides you in from the ground. As you progress, you become more responsible for yourself, and by the last jump, you leave the door diving out with no instructor hanging onto you, and you land by yourself.
Jumping solo can't even compare to doing a tandem. It is incredible. The first time you open the chute by yourself, and then realize you are all alone up there is both exciting and terrifying. My first jump went well, but I hadn't turned my radio on in the plane, and as I lost altitude, I could see Pana on the ground, wondering why he wasn't telling me what to do. I started to panic, thinking I was going to have to land this thing by myself, but then realized the radio was off, turned it on and could hear him a bit frantic trying to talk to me. I landed on my feet, much to my great surprise, and stood there, shocked by what I had achieved. It was sunset, and there really aren't words to describe how I felt, there on the beach, in Mexico, parachute in hand.
The zone in Cuautla was busy, so I ended up finishing the course with Tonio. As is the Mexican skydiving tradition, new graduates of the AFF program are honored by a graduation ceremony. I was told I had to buy 2 cases of WARM chelas (beers) before we could start, and I instantly smelled a rat. All of the skydivers, no fewer than 40, gathered around me in a circle, and I was told they would give me a piece of advice; what I wasn't told is that they would kick me as hard as I could in the butt so I wouldn't forget their words! It was the most amusing thing I have ever endured, something I will never forget. Of all the 40 some odd kicks in the butt I received, the ones from the other girls hurt the most! As if that wasn't enough, they told me to sit down on the ground, and then proceeded to pour the warm chelas all over my head. It was hilarious, and so very mexican!

By this point, I was supposed to be leaving on Tuesday to go back to the states. On Monday morning, I loaded myself into the Twin Otter and flew back to Puerto with the guys, and my friend Tristan (another traveler who got sucked into the vortex). I promptly changed my ticket to stay an extra week and skydive. Over the course of the week, I did about 10 or so solo jumps, my first 2-way with Tonio, and had the time of my life. I wound up going back to Cuautla for the weekend, at which point Tonio asked me if I wanted to come back to Puerto to work for the week, doing the flight manifest in exchange for jumps. Completely unable to say no (it was becoming a bit like Groundhog Day), I loaded myself once again into the Otter and went back to Puerto, changing my plane ticket yet again. I stayed and worked the week, and it was awesome. I got to jump whenever I wanted, and on Friday I jumped with Pana and Rifle (photos above). It was amazing to fly with friends, and then see it on film later.
I wasn't able to afford staying another week; this time I had to drag myself away from Skydive Cuautla and my newfound family. But it wouldn't be forever. Tonio kept asking me to stay and work manifest in Puerto on the weekdays. I was tempted, but knew it would be a tough one to pull off. I had a life in the states, responsibilities. A yoga class to teach, painting jobs to be done. I was going to turn 30 soon, and felt a pressure to pursue the 'American Dream' and get a career or something going. Despite the voice coming from the angel (or maybe it was a parrot ?) on my shoulder, I barely said my goodbyes, because I would be back, sooner rather than later.
Photos, Top to bottom: Rifle and me, Puerto airport (Photo Daniel "Pana" Angulo); Tonio and Rifle, sit-flying (Photo Pana); Hilary's Mexican skydiving graduation; Rifle and me in freefall (Photo Pana).

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