We flew to Grand Cayman in our Trinidad as part of a pilot’s association event called the Cayman Caravan. It was a fun, and very long, plane ride; Anjelica was great through the whole thing. We carry a lot of things for her to do, so she is either busy or napping, and hardly ever complains. We first flew into to Key West, where all the pilots met up, had special training classes, and got the emergency gear (like a raft) that you need to fly long distance over open water. Then they team you up with a small group of planes with a certain take off time, and you keep an eye on each other while you fly. The part everyone gets nervous about is flying over Cuba, as if they expect to be shot down as a spy plane or something. But as long as the Cubans know you are coming and you have the clearance, you’re not going to have any problems. Seeing Cuba from the air brought back a lot of memories to me of being there with the Soviet Cruise Ship. We used to dock in Grand Cayman every cruise, also. So I reminisced a lot inside my head. So much has changed, but there’s something fundamental about places and people you knew well a long time ago that brings you right back, no matter how different things appear to be.
We celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary while there, also. We had booked our hotel at a place we had a great experience with in the past. But this year, a new addition was under construction, and it was noisy and dusty everywhere we turned. After a very heated debate with the hotel manager, who did not intend to let us out of our guaranteed reservation, we moved to another hotel, which was calm, peaceful, and absolutely beautiful. It was much more expensive, but the peace and serenity were well worth it. I agreed with Lou that it wasn’t right for guests to pay full price for a hotel expecting it to be just as advertised, only to arrive and find most of the property is a hardhat zone.
Once the hotel situation was worked out, we had a wonderful, albeit quiet vacation. We left the hotel once to go sightseeing; both Lou and Anjelica were whiny and irritable the whole time, and I gave up on the notion of walking around town. Turns out that Anjelica probably had a legit excuse for being cranky, because she was sick the next day. Lou and I had booked a scuba dive outing and she was signed up for hotel kid’s camp. At breakfast, she didn’t eat, and said she wasn’t feeling well; Lou volunteered to stay with her and let me dive on my own. The poor kid threw up multiple times and never once made it to the bathroom. Lou called housekeeping, and tipped them generously for each extra clean up. It would not have occurred to me to call anyone to clean for me. Then again, the housekeepers may have been less tolerant of a mother who called to ask for someone else to clean up her kid’s vomit.
I felt a little guilty about not being there for Anjelica, but I had a blissful, fantastic day of diving on my own. A few weeks prior to the trip, Lou and I wrangled a combination of private and group classes and pool work in Delaware crammed into a tight schedule so we could finish off our certification in Grand Cayman. Since our arrival, we had already done that final open water dive test, as well as a recreational dive. Learning to dive has been on my wish list since I was 16, so it has been a dream come true, and I’m thrilled that Lou wanted to do it with me. The pool training and bookwork were easy for both of us, but in the open water, we learned Lou has some issues, although everything was fine and easy for me. His dive mask never sealed well, he had trouble setting his buoyancy correctly, he struggled with claustrophobia at depths of more than 30 feet, and his feet hurt to the extent that he needed socks under the fins. He also was a bit unlucky with leaky rental equipment on the last dive; I had plenty of air, and was able to give him my extra regulator and resurface together safely. There’s good reason for diving with a buddy and following proper procedures. Based on his somewhat rocky start to diving earlier in the week, he was content to skip the dive and let me go on my own. Honestly, although it is fun to dive together, it was nice to go on my own and not have to deal with any of those issues.
Despite the minor issues, the overall vacation was wonderful. The flight back was nerve-wracking. We traveled from Grand Cayman, over Cuba and to Key West fine, and it was uncongested getting through customs, because Lou was able to finagle the group schedule to get us a very early takeoff time from Cayman. He took a catnap, while I flew a good part of the leg up from Florida. I can fly, navigate, and communicate with air traffic control just fine. It’s the takeoff and landing that require the most skills, and particularly maneuvering near airports where there are other many planes to keep track of. That intimidates me. Anyway I was doing the easy stuff while he napped, because he really wanted to be able to get home in one day. While he was sleeping, I flew over an active wild fire in Florida. Looking at it from the air, I got a new perspective on how much damage fire causes.
We landed in North Carolina to refuel and get something to eat. On the weather channel playing at the FBO terminal for private aircraft, we could see there were huge storms brewing between NC and home; I really wanted to stay put and wait for the weather to clear out; Lou really wanted to go home. So we went home. It’s really hard at night to visually discern how far away lightning is, because it all looks close. We have a storm scope in the plane, so we can identify the lightning strikes, and more importantly, where the big cells of storms are located based on the clusters of lightning strikes on the scope. We were in the Virginia / Maryland area, when the scope really lit up. Lou was working with air traffic control to try to find the best route around the storms, but the options were dwindling. The controller tried to get us to fly east, but Lou didn’t want us to get stranded over open water with no place to land, and in this type of dire situation, the pilot ultimately determines what to do. We ended up being essentially trapped, surrounded by a bunch of large cells in every direction. With no airport at which to land, we could only fly around in circles for a while, until finally, a small hole opened up that we could escape through. I kept quiet through it all, but I was really scared, and wished that we had stayed over in North Carolina and flown home the next day. Lou, on the other hand, felt he demonstrated that he was completely right, and that the air traffic controller’s advice would have no doubt caused us to crash into the sea. I didn’t bother sharing my view that the better decision would have been to stay put until the storm passed, and never have been in that situation at all.