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  • Early on the morning of November 3rd - just after the 2 Days Of The Dead here in Mexico - I met my friend Luis Urbina.

    " Kiki, " he gasped," Today 35 years ago my friend Pancho Santiago died in the plane crash here in San Cristobal!"

    I had forgotten for decades, now I remembered.

    I had just been living for 2 months in town, when in the morning of the 3rd of November in 1977 Jaime Coello, my soon - to - be - husband´s best friend, a pilot, had come to our house. Jaime looks like a man out of a Mexican Revolution - picture book: black hair, black moustache, macho - attitude, handsome. That morning he was ashen and his face decomposed, he could hardly say a word, but finally stuttered that the finest Cessna plane of the fleet he was also working for - flying coffee out of the jungle - had just crashed minutes ago. His boss, the owner of the company had been the pilot and had perished now as well as Pancho Santiago, a Swiss tourist group and a few others. Jaime went back to the air strip in between meadows on the other side of the Pan-American Highway, to help put body parts in bags and clean up the site.

    I had met Pancho Santiago for the first and only time a couple of days earlier in the Café Central. He was a man in his thirties, I guess, slim, handsome with a nice hat. He was introduced to me as "the man, who knows more than anyone else about the jungle". What I most remember is a talisman he wore around his neck, a figure made out of hardwood or black coral from the Caribbean or bone, I cannot remember. That talisman seemed to have power; it is what I most remember about the man.

    Pancho was excited that day, he had not worked formally for a very long time, just roamed around the jungle and the Mayan ruin sites, tomorrow he would start formal work being a jungle guide to a Swiss tourist group and see where this would lead him.

    The owner of the plane fleet was a man married to one of the richest ladies in town. They also owned the best local hotel, where during the night from The Day Of The Dead to the 3rd he drank in the bar with several buddies until 4 o’clock in the morning. He then slept a bit, I guess, and got ready to fly his star plane, where 12 passengers fit in, at 7 ´clock in the morning to Palenque and so he did. He un - and reloaded the plane in Palenque and decided to take one extra passenger on board, thirteen altogether. An uneventful flight back to San Cristobal followed. These planes flew without radar, just a radio connection. Weather changes in seconds in the jungle and a plane is in no time suddenly trapped in between mountain peaks hidden by rain or fog. I have been in these tiny planes several times and always uneasy.

    But that morning the weather was just fine and then it is ecstasy to look down on the jungle and glide over the tree tops just as if you were a noisy bird.

    Reaching San Cristobal the pilot noticed fog on the landing strip, but he was confident to land just fine, he knew his landing strip!. When he was about to touch down he must have realized - we suppose - that he was beside the landing strip and tried to pull the plane up again. But the plane was overloaded and crashed.

    The plane company lost their star plane that morning and one of the wealthiest ladies in town her husband. His three young sons lost their father (the oldest son, hitting forty, just became our mayor). The glory of flying tourists from here to Palenque and back faded away. My neighbor, a young woman named Krupskaya, died in the crash, a bunch of Swiss tourists perished and yes: Pancho Santiago, who for sure had created unforgettable memories for these Swiss men and women during their past couple of days.

    Standing there with Luis I remembered all this, when Luis interrupted my memories and explained," Kiki, that day, I was meant to die. I was the guide of the Swiss group, but Pancho asked me for work. I wanted to stay over the Day Of The Dead with my young wife and daughter. I liked Pancho a lot and wanted to do him a favor. So I passed this group on to him...."

    We both stood there silent. For a moment I thought, 35 years after the dreadful accident, Luis would start to cry. He did not cry, at least I did not see a tear emerging from his eyes, but, of course, I am nearly blind.

    " Kiki," he repeated," I am long divorced from my wife, my daughter has been married and divorced herself, I have survived cancer, here I am standing talking to you, because that 3rd of November 35 years ago Pancho Santiago died for me!"
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________Art by Kiki ( Angels Take Care Of A Plane, So That It Does Not Crash - well in this case the angels did not do a good job or they were absent or they had other intentions. One angel seems to have taken care of Luis, though)
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