Getting There Is Half the Fun
It seems that the job was in Peru, on the east side of the Andes, in the Amazon basin. The rig was accessible only by river barge (four months, depending on the season) or helicopter.
Since I was "next up" on the board, it was my job. While we got the tools up and shipped, I updated my shot record for whatever kind of butt-rot fever they could think up to give me a shot for.
The commercial flight from Houston to Lima wasn't too bad. I was able to pass the time in a pleasant fog thanks to the help of my friend Jack (Daniels).
I started paying more attention when Peruvian customs officials singled me out for a closer look. I was escorted by several semi-toothless, machine gun-toting, non-English-speaking teenagers to a private area, where a pencil-mustached bureaucrat (who, by the look of his hair, must have had substantial stock holdings in Vitalis) dumped the contents from my bag and started a close inspection of my coveralls, hard-hat and work boots. He felt up and down the seams of my coveralls, turned my socks inside out and kept asking me if I had anything to declare. I successfully resisted the urge to "declare" that some deodorant and education would do wonders for his demeanor.
Eventually, he got around to my briefcase. Jackpot! I've always carried quite a few reference books, and when he got to my Halliburton book, I think he read every word on every page. After about an hour of enjoying the unpainted cement ambiance of his "office," I asked if I could help him. "What kind of code is this?" he asked. Realizing that this could go on until I was on Social Security, I replied, "It needs a key."
"Do you have it?" he inquired.
"Sure," I told him. And I handed him a $20 bill.
"Evytheeeeng seems to be in order; you can go."
The next phase of the journey involved a float plane over the Andes. The pilot inspired my confidence with a Texas twang and something about having flown with Air America during the late unpleasantness in Vietnam. The plane wasn't pressurized, but we did have oxygen. "Don't use it 'til you're about to pass out; we ain't got much," were my only instructions. Eventually, after flying over most of the mountains and jungle that had ever been in National Geographic, he circled a river about a mile wide. I didn't see anything but Tarzan habitat, but he put it down, and nosed into the bank. "Just follow that trail a ways, somebody will meet you," the pilot drawled. With that, he fired up and was gone. Now, I like the jungle as well as anybody who spent a hitch-and-a half wandering around southeast Asia, but I didn't see no stinkin' trail. Eventually I realized that what he called a trail was the only part of the jungle that you could walk through without using a machete, and off I went.
After interminable slogging (about 100 yards), I came to a small clearing. In the center was an open-sided thatch hut - with a bar. On a stool behind the bar, sat a toothless lady of possibly Spanish/Indian/primate descent who looked so old that carbon dating would be the only fair judge of her age. "Beer?" she asked.
By this time, the cottonmouth had kicked in big time from my flight over the "hill." "Sure," I said.
"Five dollar - U.S.," she announced. She had a basket of long-necks - with no labels - and a block of ice, under burlap. She rolled a longneck on the block of ice at about 400 mph until the beer was somewhat less than ambient temperature, and handed it over.
Sitting at the only other tree stump that served as a bar stool, was one of the more interesting lumps of humanity that I had seen in quite a while. Five feet 5 inches tall, 300 pounds, greasy t-shirt, khaki pants hitched so low that it might make you think of the government's anti-drug slogan - "Don't do crack" - blown-out tennis shoes, and acne scars so deep, I wondered if he had survived small pox (who knows). It was obvious that he had been there for more than a little while. It turned out that he spoke English pretty well, so as I washed the dust from my throat, we talked. After a few more rounds I wondered, out loud, if the rig was going to send anyone to meet me. "You wanna go to the rig?" he asked.
"I reckon; that's what I came for."
"Great, I'll take you," he said. "I'm the pilot."
I must admit that conflicting emotions filled my mind. On one hand, I could crash and die flying with some drunkin-punkin in the jungle, or I could stay here with Jane's great-great grandmother and take my chances. He resolved that issue when he pulled back the burlap, exposing the remaining eight or 10 hot beers and asked her, "How much for all of them?"
"Twenty dollar - U.S.," she proclaimed. The pilot looked at me, and I gave her the money.
We stumbled down the trail for another 100 yards to a little clearing with, of all things, a UH-1D Huey helicopter. The 1D was one of the early models, with only one engine, and this one obviously had seen its best days. The paint was gone and the doors were gone. The only thing that kept it from rusting were the copious oil leaks. We climbed in, fired up and were off on a two-hour flight. One distinct advantage over I-95: you can throw an empty out over the Amazon basin without worrying about state troopers. My guess is the F.A.A. doesn't get down there much.
Oh, by the way, we did make it to the rig. And the job went very well. But that's another story.