Patty Leon: Once-in-a-lifetime trip to Anguilla

Years ago, when I worked for the American Red Cross in Miami, one of my duties was to teach first aid and CPR classes. I don’t remember what year it was, but I was asked to travel to Anguilla, in the British Isles, for an entire weekend to teach the staff at the Cuisinart Resort (now called the Aurora Anguilla Resort and Golf Club).

Passport in hand, and packed up with clothes, books, CPR mannequins and whatnot, off I went. If I’ve never shared with you my terror for flying, welp, here it is.

My first plane trip, in my early 20s, was from Miami to Philadelphia. I was going with a friend and we were going to check out Atlantic City, visit her mom in Cape May, New Jersey, and drive back down to Miami in an antique Cadillac limousine.

As we circled the airport in Philly, there was a bad storm. Several planes had to circle until the storm slowed, and it felt like we were circling the airport for a lifetime.

The turbulence had us all bounce around our seats. I was white-knuckling my seat and trying to stay distracted by watching the on-board movie — “Good Morning Vietnam.” The storm kept getting worse. Suddenly, there was a bright flash of white throughout the plane (I think it was an Eastern Airline DC-10). We had been hit by lightning and were quickly cleared to land. I prayed and held on to my seat as if my life depended on it.

The plane landed on the flooded runway and soon came to a full stop. Honestly, getting off the plane is still a blur to me. All I can remember is running into the restroom, puking my guts out, and calling my mom collect at the first payphone — remember those? — I could find.

Since that flight, I’ve been petrified of flying and have only done so for business.

Fast-forward to the trip to Anguilla. I boarded the plane in Miami, rosary beads in hands, praying all the way. The flight was to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I was to board another plane.

Have you ever landed at San Juan Airport? NO? The landing strip is a single-wide roadway, and if you don’t stop the plane in time, it drops you abruptly into the ocean. THE OCEAN! It’s dead-ends at the ocean.

I thought that was the worst of it.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! I was guided to the other side of the airport to catch my connecting flight to Saint-Martin. The guide told me to walk out the door and I could board my plane.

OMG! It was a tiny propeller-powered puddle jumper, big enough for the pilot and six of us foolish travelers.

As we approached Saint-Martin, I kept looking for the airport runway. There it was, smaller than the one in San Juan and surrounded on all sides by the ocean. Not sure what it looks like today, but we literally flew over a herd of cattle on open land and landed in what looked to be the middle of nowhere.

I MADE IT! Or so I thought. To get from Saint-Martin to Anguilla, I had to go by boat. Here I was, suitcase, mannequins and first aid books in a 20-foot wooden boat, filled to the brim with other tourists, locals, bicycles, goats and chickens!

I thought we were going to capsize!

Finally at the resort, I was met by the manager, only to be told the courses would have to be done at a later date. They had accidently booked the first aid course on the same weekend as one of their biggest events — their annual Boat Race and Carnival weekend.

I was told there would be no flights out until after the weekend events ended. But, due to their error, everything was on the house, including meals and drinks.

I had a beach-front villa, steps to the ocean, with as much lobster, scallops and fresh seafood as I could eat in a weekend, and was given a full tour of the island and tickets to the races.

It was amazing; then I did the whole order to get back home.

It was about a month or two later that they called for the CPR course. By then I had been promoted to program services director for the Florida Keys, so they sent the other CPR instructor. I later learned she ended up working her butt off all weekend to get everyone trained.

I think back on what a bad time I had getting there but how lucky I was to be able to truly enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

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