My St Christopher medallion is working

26 Feb

“Thousands of feet above sea level, Toncontín International Airport boasts a short (6,132-foot) runway. Due to the surrounding mountains, the approach resembles a zigzag.”

~ Rachael Prescott ‘World’s most thrilling airports

Arriving in Honduras can be an adventure in and of itself. The first part of my journey was pretty relaxed though. I said goodbye to my much beloved Puebla on Thursday morning and took the bus to Mexico City’s international airport.

The two-hours-and-a-bit bus trip went quickly, although I had allowed plenty of extra time in case the highway traffic was bad. I ended up having six hours to kill at the airport, but there were plenty of restaurants and I had a book so I was happy enough.

I only had a one-hour stopover in San Salvador, which was mostly taken up with getting from one gate to the other which, of course, was on the other side of the airport.

I had 10 minutes to sit down before it was time to board the bus that would take us out onto the tarmac to the plane. As we headed out I could see two planes: a big one with engines, and a small one with propellers.

I had heard a few interesting things about Tegucigalpa’s airport (called Toncontín) so I started crossing my fingers and hoping we’d be taken to the bigger plane. No such luck. Onto the propeller plane we went.

I’ve since found out that since Toncontín’s runway is so short, you’re actually better off being on a smaller plane. One of my host mum’s friends told me that on the bigger planes you often smack down hard onto the runaway and the stop can be quite intense.

The runway has actually been lengthened and had improvements made to it several times over the last decade. It used to be that short that there was a set of traffic lights on the road that ran along the back of the airport that would stop the cars on the road. The planes had to pass so close and so low to the road that the cars were in danger of being hit!

Here’s a video that shows these traffic lights:

A friend (hi Megs!) sent me a link to a YouTube video about the world’s most dangerous airports, including Tegucigalpa’s which was rated at #2, but I refused to watch it until after I got here. Now that I’m safely on the ground I’ve now had a little look-see online and there are some other pretty terrifying videos that I’m glad I didn’t watch.

As we started our decent I could see the lights of the city below us. Tegucigalpa is actually made up of two cities: Tegucigalpa and Comayagüela. Much to my surprise, instead of heading away from all the lights, we kept turning and turning and heading straight towards what seemed to be the middle.

The runway, besides being one of the smallest international runways in the world, is also completed surrounded by the city. We kept getting lower and lower and I kept looking for a runway out the window (somewhere? anywhere?) when with one last turn we were suddenly coming in to land. Fast! I think it’s the first time I’ve truly felt nervous or unsure on a plane.

But before I knew it we were safely on the ground and taxi-ing towards the airport.

This video, which would have been filmed before the latest extensions, gives you a nice view from the cockpit, and you can also get a sense for how much tight turning there is before a landing. It was definitely an interesting experience.

I didn’t notice any “I survived the Toncontín International Airport runway” t-shirts being sold at the airport, but on my way out of the country I’ll double check. 🙂

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