We knew we were lured into a tourist trap, but it is not every day you get to eat, drink and dance in a real airplane – that is permanently on the ground. Curiosity and general corniness got to us and we just went with it.
El Avion (the airplane), was part of one of the biggest American scandals in the 80’s called the Iran-Contra Affair. Today, it is a restaurant and bar.
From the restaurant’s point of view, the story goes:
Our Fairchild C-123 was a part of one of the biggest scandals in the 1980’s. The Reagan Administration set up a bizarre network of arms sales to Iran designed to win release of US hostages held in Lebanon and raise money to fund the Nicaraguan, counter-revolutionary guerilla fighters, commonly referred to as the “Contras.” By artificially inflating the prices of arms, NSA official Oliver North, was able to reap profits that could be diverted to fund the counter-revolutionaries of the Cuban allied Sandinista government. Of the $16 million raised, only $3.8 million actually funded the Contras. With the CIA’s help, they purchased several items, including two C-123 cargo planes, two C-7 planes, a Maule aircraft, spare parts, and munitions. They also built a secret airstrip on an American-owned, 30,000 acre ranch in northwest Costa Rica.
On October 5,1986, a US cargo plane, the twin sister, of El Avion’s own Fairchild C-123, was shot down over Nicaragua. A crewmember, C.I.A operative Eugene Hasenfus, parachuted to safety and was captured by the Sandinista army. Led out of the jungle at gun point, Hasenfus’s existence set in motion an incredible chain of cover-ups and lies that would mushroom into one of the biggest scandals in American political history known as the Iran-Contra Affair. As a result of this successful Sandinista strike on our Fairchild’s sister plane, the cargo operation was suspended and one of the C-123s was abandoned at the International Airport in San Jose.
In August 2000, we purchased the abandoned Fairchild and shipped the pieces of the Iran-Contra relic to Quepos. The fuselage was shipped via ocean ferry because it was 10 inches too wide for the antiquated Chiquita Banana railroad bridges! After hauling seven sections up the Manuel Antonio hill, the C-123 finally found its current cliff-side resting-place.
After a thorough photo shoot in and around the airplane, we had a decent meal, followed by a few drinks in the Contra-Bar. I thought that was a pretty clever name.
Weirdly, Forrest Gump – the movie, was being screened in the bar while the music was pumping. It caught a lot of people’s attention. Even when we attempted to turn the cargo bay area into a dance party, nobody seemed to notice. Perhaps for the better?