Naples to Palm Beach
After a rousing send off by our friends in Naples, the video system tanked completely. They said that we had a power supply problem but we suggested that they did actually because their bloody recorder has yet to work as advertised. So we're in North Palm Beach waiting for FedEx to turn up, switch units, test fly it again and I suspect head to Punta Cana in the DR tomorrow morning.
Palm Beach to Provo
This was the day. After another few hours fooling with the cameras, changing the power supply, testing adjusting, calibrating.....
Anyway, we took off for Stella Maris on Long Island in the Bahamas, our first fuel stop and met the most awesome Customs guy, Livingstone Griffiths. After fueling up, we departed for Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos which was a perfect flight as the Bahamas slipped away and tall puffy cumulus gave us something to play with over the longish water crossing to Provo. It was very special to be allowed to dance up there. Then, Provo at sunset over a turquoise lagoon. Now, we're thinking 2 nights so we can dive into the ocean tomorrow. Our limitation is that Brazil is only open M-F so we can be leisurely on our way down to Macapa next Monday. Pics to follow.
Provo to Sint Maarten
The second day of flying was quite something. We left the Turks and Caicos under blue skies and over crystal blue waters which soon turned deep blue as we crossed the long stretch to the DR. As we got to about 40NM from the coast, we hit a wall of weather and had to descend from 7500' to 900' in order to poke our way between showers. It was generally smooth and mostly kind of VFR but the clouds looked scary. As we neared El Catey, things opened up a bit and gradually improved to sunny as we neared Punta Cana. Much of the countryside looked like one would imagine Thailand looks with rice paddies, little fishing boats and shanty town villages. After a gas stop in Punta Cana, we headed for Sint Maarten across another stretch of water, then Puerto Rico and we had a beautiful sunset and moonrise getting in just after dark. Alanna at Signature met us and it has been a nice stay. Off to St Vincent or maybe Grenada today.
Sint Maarten to Grenada
We are in Grenada now. Yesterday was probably the coolest bit of flying we've ever done. The sulphur smell and smoking devastation of the volcano on Montserrat was eerie and the Grenadines are breathtaking. Saba was an amazing sight that few people ever see and our only "surprise" was when we found ourselves in the middle of dozens of circling Frigate Birds over an isolated rocky island near Guadeloupe. After a little over 4 hours, we landed in Grenada and are at the same hotel that we used to stay at when the DC-10 did 9 day trips here many years ago. It is a beautiful island and we look forward to two days here on the beach which is 15 feet from our room. And the laundromat is still across the road!!
And please remember that the point of all of this is to get us all to think about becoming organ donors. One organ donor can save 8 lives and improve 75 others and we can stop the needless deaths of 1000 Britons, 500 Canadians per year and 18 Americans per day. Visit our web site:
and click on the flag hearts to register. Please also share this link and this Facebook page with all of your friends. being a donor is free, easy, you'll be dead so you won't know a thing about it, and there is no research or cure that needs finding. You will save life. We run around recycling plastic and glass. How about recycling life?
And while we're at it, we'd like to thank a very kind Stacey Jordan at Palm Beach Avionics who helped us with a potentially serious delay due to the video system power supply failing as we prepared to depart from F45 North County. Thanks to Stacey, we left that day.
Grenada to Guyana
Today was another amazing day. After running around the Grenada airport for ages dealing with paperwork, we launched into an approaching shower and turned south into skies which rapidly and thankfully lifted as we sped across towards Trinidad. We were supposed to land at Port of Spain for what would have only been an uplift of 7 gallons but had heard such alarming things about how long it took to get out of there that we decided to overfly it and press on directly for Georgetown, Guyana. This was a rather long leg but if we could keep our groundspeed at or around 100 Kts, then we would land with an hour left in the tanks. After running down the east coast of Trinidad, we coasted out for the long crossing to the Venezuela/Guyana border. After passing a few oil rigs, there was nothing for a rather long time. Not even boats nor radio contact with anyone as we had to stay offshore from a now less than friendly Venezuela, not that there was much there anyway other than the vast Orinoco delta which we knew we were abeam of when the water turned a chocolate brown. Finally, we made landfall over dense jungle and coastal mudflats as flocks of Scarlet Ibis flew beneath us. For the next 90 minutes, we descended to around 500 ft and snaked down rivers and beaches until gradually signs of life appeared. First, it was houses along rivers and the odd boat. Then, a road and signs of agriculture and finally small towns before the huge Demerara River appeared ahead of us with Georgetown on the far side. At the suggestion of friend Ian Brand, we asked if we could switch from the main airport to the downtown Ogle Airport instead which was approved and Corrine landed there before the now familiar paper chase began again. It felt like a whole different vibe than the Caribbean and everyone turned out to be very nice with the day finishing at the hotel after new pal Lennox took us for a fascinating drive around this small city still full of signs of its colonial roots.
Georgetown to Cayenne
After a fascinating walk around Georgetown this morning, we left for Ogle Airport and spent maybe 2 hours filling in forms, clearing customs again, immigration, up to the tower for fees, fueling, walking over here, walking over there...... Everyone was lovely and it was sort of fun but come on. Still, I guess it was part of the game and part of what makes this trip so interesting.
Anyway, eventually we left on the tiny runway 07R just for fun and headed east towards Suriname. It was again down the coast at mostly 1000' but we dipped lower every now and again to try and catch a picture of flocks of Scarlet Ibis and Flamingos and the landscape was again an amazing mix of jungle, unspoiled coast, wide river deltas, and a direct overflight of Paramaribo. Then, we snaked along rivers and beaches reaching French Guiana as the sky got thick with haze and the odd shower. The light began to fade and pockets of mist hung over the jungle. In order to avoid the ESA rocket launch facility at Kourou, we had to head inland for the last 80 miles over the densest jungle to date with no sign of humanity and nowhere to land in the event of an emergency. But it was breathtaking and we finally spotted the lights at Rochambeau Airport in Cayenne as a heavy shower was passing over it which cleaned the windscreen but instantly made it nearly night. We landed and taxied in, we passed an Air France A340 parked in front of a modern terminal where we were met by efficient French officials who had us cleared in no time and we are in downtown Cayenne for the night. The situation with our video system is now so awful that there will be no footage of sufficient quality for a video quite as we had imagined it. A very disappointing, expensive and dare I say fraudulent end to a year of planning but perhaps we can find an eleventh hour solution in Brazil. Which starts tomorrow as we cross the Equator.
Cayenne to Belem
Our day from Cayenne to Macapa and Belem was an ordeal in all respects. It began in a hotel in Cayenne full of French Army smoking in their rooms all night and setting the screeching fire alarm off with monotonous regularity. We finally got up and looked out the window at leaden skies. Great, the rainy season on the equator. For us pilots, it's called the ITCZ. Google it.
So we headed to the airport and things went smoothly until the excellent weather briefing in French. We handed our flight plan to the nice guy who took it away and then came back to return it. We started up and were told to shut down and file a flight plan. Upon asking the weather guy, he said "non, je suis meteo. Plans de vol sont la". Not me, that guy. So half an hour down the drain there. By the time we got out to the end of the runway, it had a good quarter of an inch of standing water on it and we launched into heavy but steady and smooth rain on an IFR flight plan. All was fine until it all started boiling up around us into baby thunderstorms. No radio or radar contact, hundreds of miles from anywhere, absolute jungle. The bumps started and got harder and harder and I decided with Corrine's full agreement that it was time to do a 180 so we turned around out of our sucker hole and found a big patch where the ground was still visible and proceeded to descend in order to maintain visual contact with the surface. Behind us was a good bright way out. To the right was black clouds and solid shafts of rain. We groped our way over to the coast and were able to stay visual and always with a way out. Eventually about 100 miles north of Macapa, our first stop in Brazil, things cleared and we returned to 5000 ft, got back on our cleared route and never had to tell anyone about what had happened. We were just 20 mins late at the "boundary" but nobody really cares here so long as you turn up. Note to self, make unsolicited and pointless position reports so somebody knows the deal....a bit.
So we landed in Macapa, about 1 mile north of the equator and on the north shore of the Amazon. All kinds of nice people turned up and said we would be stuck there for the night because we only had 722 bits of paper and needed 723. I was in shorts so couldn't go into town where the customs office was. Corrine went there, pounding along the rough red dirt roads and faced an absurd grilling while I did gas, airport fees, landing fees, fees fees, etc. After a good hour and a half, maybe two, we were finally cleared to go mostly thanks to the delightful Clara and Daniella.
But now it's really late. Getting dark in fact and we've booked a room in Belem. But we went anyway and crossed the Equator as we crossed the banks of the Amazon with a lovely sunset behind us. We said we wouldn't do night or instrument on this trip because they were bad for videoing it but the video system is a disaster, we booked a hotel in Belem, had to clear in Macapa on the 16th..... I've read about these before. As we flew over the Amazon delta with ever darkening skies which soon turned pitch black, we thought about how we wouldn't do night or instrument. Then, we were trying to spot lights in the jungle. Finally, the lights of Belem loomed in the distance and we landed, we're met by the friendly Elias at Lider, aka Signature Flight Support, and dragged off to bed and a very heavy sleep.
Belem to Sao Luis
Today, we awoke in Belem and were supposed to fly through to Fortaleza after a fuel stop in Sao Luis but after yesterday, it's time to slow down a bit. The coast to Sao Luis looked fascinating and to hurry this is insane. No more night flying either. So we went out to the airport, met the very helpful Vinicios from Lider Aviacao, Signature's Brazillian partner who led us through the not too bad string of things to do. We gassed up last night which is a good idea to get over with ASAP. Off I went to the terminal to pay the enormous landing fee and file our flight plan meeting various nice folks along the way. The Hugo Chavez lookalike in the airport office was a hoot and the Air Force guys who did the flight plan were equally nice. After washing down some very sweet coffee, off we went just to Sao Luis this time. The coast was indeed gorgeous and it was nice not to have to deal with weather as we swooped low over pristine beaches and thatched native fishing huts. We managed to turn a 2 and a half hour flight into a near 4 hour one just looking at stuff. Cyntia from Lider met us after a really crap landing on my part and tomorrow, we press on.
Sao Luis to Fortaleza
After confirming that the water in the sink of our hotel does indeed swirl down the drain the opposite way in the Southern Hemisphere, we readied ourselves to fly to Fortaleza. I've tried this in Sydney before but its interesting how the reversal of Coriolis Force, which causes weather patterns to also turn the other way down here, kicks in so close to the Equator. Pretty much since we left Florida, we have been flying into the Trade Winds, meaning headwinds, meaning slower. This is our last leg before turning south towards Recife and Rio where it will be more like crosswinds and maybe we'll see 115kts instead of 90-100kts. On the way back, we'll be doing 130kts or better. A big difference.
Cyntia and Vilson again met us at the airport and again, it was a $200 landing fee to pay, and a flight plan to file. Minor dramas with both incurred only slight delays and off we went towards the Sahara like Parque Nacional Lencois Maranhenses. The jungle ended, mud turned to sand and this amazing desertscape unfurled below us for the next 30 minutes. With dunes rising to almost 200 feet, it starts along a coast that looks like what one would imagine Namibia to look like and goes inland for almost 20 miles. Neither of us had seen anything like this before and we both noted that as soon as you've seen the coolest thing you're likely to see, along comes something equally good if not better. The Parque ended but it was now intermittent stretches of fabulous coastline between lessening amounts of tropical vegetation and increasing amounts of scrub like badlands. There were amazing little resort towns like Camocim, with its purple church, and the amazing Jericoacoara which we hope to visit on the way back. The direct flight should have taken 3 and a half hours but we went well over 4 circling and buzzing and taking pictures like mad.
After Jericoacoara, the last hour became grim as we had to fly inland direct to Fortaleza through really solid light and occasionally moderate turbulence. The wind also picked up as our groundspeed dwindled to 85kts. The GPS said 50 minutes to FLZ. 10 minutes later, it still said 49 minutes to FLZ as the GPS floated halfway up to the ceiling out of Corrine's hand and gently back down again. Eventually, the city loomed in the distance near some adjacent hills and soon, we landed and were met by Charlie and Marco of Lider Aviacao who helped us with transport and suggested a delightful beach hotel up the coast where we are now preparing for a day of laundry and rest.
Fortaleza to Recife
We have had a lovely two day rest at the very nice Hotel Golfinho in Praia do Cumbuco just up the road from Fortaleza. It was time to have a day of fun, do laundry, feed the computers, etc. Our room is about ten feet from the pool and 50 feet from the beach which has about as much surf as Nobadeer on a medium day. A 15 minute walk north takes us to the little town full of proper dune buggies and enough dilapidation to make us feel like we are somewhere worth visiting. We have discovered that Churrascarias probably exist because they are like buffets where you can go in and eat right away. If one orders a la carte, the wait is considerable which is great when you know about it but frustrating until you figure it out. Night one, we waited an hour for Baccalau and Manioc which was delicious beyond belief. Having just read the book Cod, I had been longing for it. The second night was a longish wait but we had figured things out by watching our Brazilian neighbours. Order, do your stuff, and come and eat when it's ready. No problem. The last night saw us venture into town for a Thai seafood thing on an open air rooftop with a super English couple, Sandra and Joe.
Then, time to go. Charlie and Marco thankfully met us again as we went thought the now familiar routine of fuel, flight plan, landing fee. Even when you think you only have 3 flying hours ahead of you, it always seem to take double that by the time the admin is done. It poured with rain as we loaded up and poor Charlie huddled under the wing with us. We eventually launched and right away were picking our way around fairly decent showers. We made for the coast but knew that today, we were actually going inland so could dispense with the marvelous and comfortable life jackets which in really hot weather, are a bit suffocating. After skimming along to Mossoro, we turned into what looked like the boring bit of California with continuous light chop sapping our strength. Then a hill. And another and all of a sudden, it started looking like the cool part of Arizona only different somehow. We had to climb as the hills rose to 2 and 3000 ft but managed to stay within about 1000 ft of the surface which has become the hallmark of this trip when other factors have not driven us higher. Which hasn't been very often. The cylinder head temp is running a little high but then it's 90 outside and as soon as the cowl flap is opened, it calms down. There were plenty of decent airports along the way with barely an airplane on them but they were there for us if we needed them. This is not like our time near the Equator where really, it was just us all alone. Back over the Guyana jungles, I felt like we could look St. Exupery or Cal Rodgers squarely in the eye.
The skies again darkened soon enough and we engaged in some weather avoidance of the very fun kind. Up and down, left and right, poking through holes here and there, it was most fun. Then, as we neared the coast again, things turned tropical with sugar cane fields, and valleys full of very bright green frilly trees of some sort. Obviously a crop, we wondered what they were and they were only in the valleys. Then we flew over the historic bit of Olinda and on into Recife where Corrine squeaked it in and we were met by our latest friends from Lider/Signature. Daniel, Fabio, Marcele and Vilton helped us out and off we went to the latest hotel and a swim in the warm shark infested waters of Recife's beach.
Recife to Salvador
We woke to a great breakfast in Recife from which we watched a heavy soaking tropical rain. Not CB's, aka Tstorms, but just heavy drenching annoying Nimbostratus heavy bloody rain. It let up when we drove to the airport and then started again as it was time to load the plane. Poor Fabio huddled with us under a golf umbrella as we ran around, hid in the hangar, drove to the terminal to pay the usual fee and file the flight plan with the always pleasant BAF sergeant. Then we watched. And waited and after half an hour, it lifted just a bit so we ran to the plane, fired up, waited for ATC to manufacture a little delay about SID compliance.... "Can you do Zumbi A departure?" This meant climb on runway heading to 10 miles and turn right direct whatever. So we said "yes, we can climb straight out to 10 miles and turn right." Wrong. "Can you go to RF 002?" Well, yes...... 10 minutes later after a huge chit chat, we established that yes, we could comply..... Note to self. Agree right away. Two seconds after liftoff, it was "radar contact, turn right direct whatever" so all that was for nothing but the rain started as we climbed to 6000 ft and came and went and came again and went but it was totally smooth air, and all that rain did nothing but soak the carpet in the baggage area where we seem to have a small leak. As predicted, it stopped after an hour or so and we resumed our rightful place between 500 ft and 1000ft over the beach. As always, gorgeous and interesting and upon landing, we snaked through the air carrier ramp and were met by our latest Lider pals, Mateus and Daniel. The refueling was its usual hoot as the price for the gas went from $645 down to $175 upon Corrine howling at the poor guy repeatedly. They are not used to Commandante Corrina down here and the fueling seems to be its own little empire. It is entirely independent of Lider/Signature who must watch the drama unfold too. They try to chase me with the paperwork and questions but having seen Corrine taxi the plane in from the left seat while I make sure to be looking elsewhere, when I point at her, they look nervous and resign themselves to having to deal with her. The first offer of $645 was met by Corrine laughing her head off. The fuel guy crawled away tail between legs, made phone calls, tried to hide the third and fourth copies of the fuel sheet, and then again tried me while I was polishing the plane. Nope, was the answer as I pointed back to Commandante and he finally came up with the right price. Yippee! Free to go at last.... But he'd used the wrong form so we had to parallel park and do the whole thing again. All OK because Daniel wants to be a pilot so I bored him with my keen insights while Corrine chatted with Mateus about Salvador which is a truly fascinating and beautiful place.
Salvador to Rio de Janeiro
The day off in Salvador was really vivid and interesting. It was the hub of the slave import industry into Brazil and as such, has a heavily Black and African vibe to it. Plus it is chock full of c.1700 architecture, churches laden with gold, cobblestone streets, and a feeling of decay that at times is sad but is always atmospheric in the extreme. Give it a few years and all of the old buildings will be restored. The Pelourinho is the main historical district which has its fabulously restored core and as we wandered further out of it, well, the pictures will speak for themselves. But it was a place we look forward to seeing again on the northbound return.So we got to the airport and the very cool and happy Mateus and Daniel were again there. After the landing fee printer failure, credit card swiper failure, flight plan rewrite.... Everything came good and off we went for a pretty long two sector day of Vitoria for fuel, then Rio. There was no real weather for a change as we are now out of the ITCZ. Yippee. But now, we experienced visual corridors for the first time. We were cleared via the "Axeh corridor, turn right, follow coast. Do you know Axeh corridor?" "Sure we do" we answered as we fumbled around for charts in Jeppview, Air Nav Pro, Foreflight, the Garmin, the big white book from Air Journey. But no Axeh. Hmmm, do we fess up and incur another delay? No, wing it. So we launched and turned right and followed the coast past our hotel and past the city and then having been cleared "via the coast", we just did that and called "proceeding direct Vitoria". "Negative direct!" OK, so what do you want us to do? It then turned into a language thing where he thought we were going IFR, cleared us to follow an airway, on came the supervisor and Axeh turned out to be just what we were doing anyway, in other words direct, but he didn't want to hear anything but Axeh. Upon landing in Vitoria, things became clearer.The flight itself to Vitoria had to be direct. Like direct direct as we were not wanting to divert for fuel into unknown territory. On a 4 hr leg, there was no room to circle the neat beach or add 15 miles for sightseeing. So it started down the coast but soon cut inland over initially bland countryside which never seems to last more than a few minutes before something really interesting turns up. The terrain rose to meet us and we could see little waterfalls here and there. Then, a chunk of oddly shaped mountains appeared right in our path and immediately after them came areas of very tall timber forests in curious shapes dotted among bits of jungle and cattle ranches covered with mostly white cows. Our groundspeed was critical on this leg and after a potentially ruinous 95 kts to begin with, we were now pushing 120 having seen 115 for much of the flight. Again, there were several airports along the way which looked beautifully paved but, as seems to be the case here, had no planes on them. Maybe if you don't tax the hell out of something, then it grows exponentially....... And we found one or two showers and even a small thunderstorm which were all tastefully off to the side of our track in just the right place for a nice picture.So our terrain flattened again and the cows continued and chocolate milk rivers returned. The coast reappeared and soon, Vitoria loomed. It has a huge steel works owned by Mittal and in its brutal rustiness, was quite fascinating to fly over. We were cleared to Tubarao. Oh oh, what's that? We see the smoke stacks? "It's the smoke stacks". So we zoomed in and were met by Lider Aviacao friends Carlos and Lara. Totally nice and welcoming, they had even put up a sign reserving the VIP lounge for us which was as funny as when we had a red carpet rolled out in Pittsburgh a few years ago, but very kind. We barely stepped foot in it though as it was more fun hanging out with them and talking. And when I say funny, we're in a 172. It's just really cute when stuff like that happens as so often in the US, we're sneered at and parked out in the boondocks. It turned out that Carlos also had a story about a family member who had an organ issue. We have heard our Lider friends talk about kidneys and dialysis and matches that could not be made for living donors. It seems our little mission has struck a personal note in most of the Lider stations that we have been so graciously received at and Charlie in Fortaleza has even hooked us up with the local liver transplant unit which is the biggest in Brazil when we pass back through.Keen to get to Rio before dark, we tried to keep things moving. So after fuel, we walked to the airport office and paid the fee, then filed the flight plan. The tower guy came down to find out who we were. He then pulled out a Visual Corridor map of Vitoria, clearly showing Tubarao. Then one for Rio as he walked through Campos to Macae to Buzios to Saquarema and into Santos Dumont airport. Now we know what the Axeh thing was all about and have since found these charts on the web and downloaded them into the iPad. All Brazillian charts are free on the web which is very forward thinking. And in Vitoria, the landing fee was only $120. That was the lowest yet.Armed to the teeth with our new knowledge, and after fond goodbyes with a promise to return, we launched for Rio under clear skies. We are now 20 or more degrees south of the equator and the days are getting longer so as we snaked through our visual corridor, Rio appeared in still full sun. From 1500ft, we asked for 1000 and could we "do" Corcovado with the famous statue of Christ on top? "Yes, descend 500ft". So we shot down, blasted along Copacabana beach at our legally low altitude, climbed to 2000ft for our fly past of the statue, and then flew to Santos Dumont, kind of like Rio's LaGuardia, at 1000ft for an overhead to downwind join. To say that this was spectacular would be a huge understatement. And we've made it to Rio. Whatever happens now, we got here.
Rio to Porto Alegre
The plan was to get up early, fly to Curitiba for fuel, and continue on to our last stop in Brazil, Porto Alegre. A long but straightforward day. As our taxi neared the Santos Dumont Airport, we saw a helicopter hovering over the scene of the tragic building collapse which we had stumbled upon the day before, while below it circled a large squadron of vultures. This was not a pleasant thing to see and with hindsight, set the tone for the whole day. It started with the one hour FedEx phone call trying to track down the latest bits for our video system. They were pretending that they had tried to deliver it the day before. Liar liar pants on fire. Then the airport fee took ages. Then the flight plan took ages but was great fun as we met some very nice folks in the AIS office. More on that later. By now we had fiddled around for so long that FedEx had actually turned up and it was just fuel. After standing out on the ramp for an hour, the truck finally turned up. So having arrived at the airport at 8am, it's now noon! A stationary front had stalled over Rio and was sucking down lots of moisture from the Amazon. It would sit there for days. The mountaintops were obscured but everywhere else, it looked pretty OK so off we went figuring we get on top or between layers and things would clear up towards Sao Paulo. We started at 8000ft. Then, as we neared Sao Paulo, ATC insisted that we climb to 12000ft. We eventually got there but our groundspeed had dropped to 70kts. There was no way we would safely make Curitiba which was IFR, and meant crossing high mountains in solid cloud that was getting more and more solid and bumpy. To top it all, I could feel my heart starting to beat faster. Hypoxia was likely setting in and does not get better until one descends again. Back in the AIS office, I had noticed a nice big airport in a town called Joinville, pronounced Joinveely, which had an instrument approach, was on the coast so no mountains and our Citation pilot,friends Mario and Raquel had helped us figure out that there was gas there. So we told ATC unable Curitiba, we needed immediate descent, and we were going to Joinville. Back down at 8000ft, I felt fine, Corrine was now doing the flying as it smoothed out but we had been in solid cloud now for 2 hours. Nearing Joinville, it got very rough with heavy showers which led to a minimums VOR/DME approach off a DME arc no less. In other words, a huge pain in the butt, and as we got to about 5 miles out, a heavy shower of course moved over the airport. But we got in just fine and found an air carrier airport with immaculate landscaping, a modern terminal, spotless bathrooms, and nice people. Our escort was Francisco who could do a bit of French so, without Lider, we winged it and managed to be airborne again in about 90 mins after an exhausting 4 hour flight down from Rio.The weather was now actually VfR, visual in other words, so we buzzed along at 1000ft past the beaches of Santa Catarina state, past Florianopolis, and eventually, after another 3 hours, arrived at Porto Alegre just as the sun was setting. John and Fernando from Lider met us under a now dark sky and drove us to the airport Ibis hotel where we will be asleep 5 minutes after I shut this thing off. The cloud gradually broke up and we should have clear skies for the next few days. We're now about 30 degrees south of the equator.
Porto Alegre to Montevideo
The name Montevideo even sounds cool conjuring up images of the Graf Spee with Achilles and Ajax in hot pursuit. And we flew here today. We got up after a solid sleep, ate the usual amazing mango, papaya, pao de queijo, hot dog stew and diabetes cakes for breakfast before Fernando picked us up and we met John at the airport. The formalities went like clockwork and after only a short hold at the runway while we refused a totally incorrect route clearance, off we went into almost cloudless skies with a nice little tailwind. This was our last Lider station until we return to Brazil on the way back and it was a very slick one. Fernando was born in Porto Alegre and has been with Lider for 25 years and John has an outstanding command of English from a year spent in NZ. As has been the case so often with our friends at Lider, there was a connection to our purpose for this trip. John's mother had been a transplant coordinator for years so he and his whole family were donors and completely understood the issue and need for more organ donors. We flew at 1000ft for the first hour over a flattening landscape punctuated by a series of large lagoons and lakes surrounded by bright green flatland and flocks of shorebirds below. A large candy cane lighthouse marked the border between Brazil and Uruguay and the landscape remained as before for some time. We had now drifted up to 2000ft and were getting groundspeeds in the order of 125-130 kts. When VFR at low level, ATC give you an emergency only radio frequency meaning, you're on your own but can get them right away if you have a problem. I tried this out yesterday asking for a simple radio check. In other words, can they hear us. It triggered an avalanche of calls trying to find out who we were, why we were foreign at 1000ft buzzing stuff, why weren't we a jet up in the flight levels...... Today, they had not given us the frequency for Montevideo upon crossing into Uruguayan airspace so I called to ask for it. Again, 20 questions, and when we call ourselves "November 758 Delta Whiskey", which is the number on the side of the plane, they come back with "November 7558 Delta Whiskey". Three calls later, we are "November 75528 Delta Sierra Whiskey" and on it goes. It's just the language thing but it is quite amusing. Maybe you had to be there. The groundspeeds stayed good, the terrain changed into gently rolling hills lush with a variety of crops to finally bald rocky hills of a few hundred feet before Montevideo loomed in the distance. As we flew along the shore to Carrasco Intl Airport, the Rio Plata stretched to the horizon with its almost terra cotta coloured water and beyond lay Argentina. But for now, it will be fun to explore this very pleasant looking city. The drive in from the city reminded us of Orange County more than Lisbon which makes an interesting change of pace. It's 9:30pm and still light and trying to remember to say Gracias instead of Obrigado is proving to be a challenge.
Montevideo to Buenos Aires
Montevideo has been a layover that was characterized by personal experiences. After getting to a very nice After Hotel where Juan Diego smoothed us through the whole welcome to Uruguay thing, we headed out for amazing meat experience #1. The next day, it was city tour by foot beginning at the Palacio Salvo which is an amazing looking building that dominates the skyline. As we walked through the old part of the city, everything had a slightly worn and lived in appearance which the camera loves of course. Bits of the battleship Graf Spee were on display by the huge Customs building near the Mercado del Puerto where we sat down to meat experience #2. Inside a rickety old warehouse are a warren of Parilla's serving barbecued you name it. The food was wonderful and as we walked back towards the hotel, we heard a loud drumming sound. Crossing the Rambla, we went to investigate and found Llamadas de Convencion led by Mary and Ignatius rehearsing and parading down the streets. The thunderous noise and dancing and flags were intoxicating and vibrant and when they paused, we were immediately welcomed by them and watched round 2 as they paraded back. Now we have friends in Montevideo.
The next day, we thought we would stick to our little area and find a drug store and post office, see if the zoo looked interesting, and continue on to Positos Beach for a swim in the near 90 degree heat. Snaking through the streets, we found the zoo gates closed but unlocked. Having seen someone push them open and go in ahead of us, we did the same. A man came over to say they were closed but when we looked disappointed, he said to walk around anyway. Cool. Private zoo. We befriended the turtle guy who showed us his sea turtles that were being nursed back to health after a variety of problems. All are found to have plastic in their stomachs. We continued walking around what was now evidently an old zoo that needs some money and effort put into it. Less species that look happier would be the way to go like Central Park zoo. Then, we got to the Agouti cage. That's a small kind of meerkat looking thing from Brazil. Cute as hell. But a baby Agouti, as spotted by Corrine, had somehow found itself outside the cage and was whimpering nose to nose with the mother still inside the cage. All around were stray cats and this poor little thing was not going to last long. So over the fence I went while Corrine went off to look for help. I herded it to where it couldn't fall off a ledge and sat down near it. Corrine went to the zoo office and found a woman who said "don't worry, it'll be OK" She only sat up and reacted when Corrine said that it was a monkey that had escaped and her and a guy with a net and a stick returned and caught the poor little Agouti before returning it to its mother. We both felt that we caused that to be resolved so the visit to the zoo was worth it. Then to Positos and a lovely beach surrounded by Uruguayans all drinking Mate with their little cups and thermos flasks, swimming in the Rio de la Plata, and the best lamb probably ever.
The next day was to be a one hour flight to Buenos Aires. Easy, right? Well, we got to the airport, found Operaciones, filed the plan, paid the fee, met Jorge and bumped into friend Thatcher from Nantucket, then found that it would be a 3 hr wait for gas. Jorge said to go to Adami, the GA airport and get gas there. OK. So Corrine filed a new flight plan..... We eventually fired up for the 10 minute flight to Adami. There, we paid another landing fee, got gas, met Swiss/French/Uruguayan Nelson who was quite a character and helped us out with Roberto the customs guy. Roberto wanted everything out of the plane. That's 200+ lbs of crap, half of which we didn't need. I got mad, Corrine looked sad, I held my side and looked in pain which I am in constantly, while Nelson translated.... In the end, it transpired that Roberto had received a kidney and the bag check was reduced in scale ending in hugs and pictures all around. Once again, a good three hours had gone by since first turning up at the first airport but as a new customs guy turned up wanting to know all about us, we fired up and headed for Argentina. At 1000ft, we followed the Rio de la Plata over Colonia del Sacramento, which looks very quaint, and up to the little island of Diego Martin where we got clearance to head in for San Fernando airport in Buenos Aires.
We have become very friendly with Martin Rappallini. Our pal in the Falklands, Andrew Newman said that Martin was the guy to know if we wanted to get permission to fly out there, what to do, who to call, and Martin has a beautiful Piper Aerostar fitted with long range tanks, HF radio, you name it, that he has flown everywhere from Antarctica to Point Barrow, Alaska. And what a help he has been. Now, there was Martin waiting for us in the flesh. It was again immigracion, customs, agriculture, all bags out, look at the plane, bags back in, and down to the Cielo hangar where the plane is getting an oil change and general look over. Martin kindly drove us into town and made suggestions and offered advice that will carry us through the rest of Argentina. A Patagonian from Comodoro Rivadavia, we will meet him there for a dinner that is the least we can do after his immense kindness, but before we left the airport, we hung around with the guys, drank mate, played with the Mig 17, and engaged in a good amount of hangar flying with kindred spirits at a bustling GA airport.
Buenos Aires to Trelew
Our layover in Buenos Aires was both interesting and frustrating. We thought it would be where we got a lot of admin stuff done as well as seeing the city for, in my case, the first time. The usual laundry, a couple of medical things, find a bank, etc. Of the three days there, more than one were spent chasing windmills to no effect and while being Parisian in many respects, it had a little indifference mixed in at times. What was great was wandering around in very unseasonable 100 degree heat looking at the cool architecture and Recoleta Cemetery was absolutely fascinating as was the Tango show that Corrine was so keen to see. Having dragged a bloody suit around since the US, it was nice to actually justify it. The fun began at the airport, San Fernando, continued there, and ended there. It was fun to fly in, meet everyone and on the last full day in BA, we went back to try for one final time to fix the hideous video system that has plagued us since this journey began. Which of course turned into window cleaning and chatting at tremendous length with Leo and Gustavo, avionics repair brothers who work within the Cielo operation and our Mate drinking buddy was there too. It was a pleasant day and having gassed up, we hoped for a quick getaway the next morning on the way to see friend Martin in Comodoro Rivadavia for dinner. Back to BA and the hotel in a cab, we slept, then returned to the airport braced for our first Argentine internal flight.We got to the airport at 8:30am and felt ahead of things. Then we met the PSA for the first time. Think TSA in black fatigues with Glock 9's who are they to make sure that all the paperwork is filled in properly. The evildoers hate us for our forms it would seem. Nope, can't go to the plane. Nope, can't you name it. The customs girl from the day of our arrival turned up, spoke pretty good English and thankfully Corrine had found a piece on an Argentine website featuring our flight so we chatted, showed the screen shot of the website in Spanish, and soon were getting the forms, putting the bags through security, and I was allowed to go to Plan de Vuelo to file the flight plan. The day started at about 10000 ft cloud. It was now maybe 5000ft. I filed the plan to Viedma so we could have enough gas to get to Comodoro Rivadavia. So outside again, walk to the plane via another PSA guy who had to make a 5 minute radio call before letting me continue, and back to our reserved spot to load Corrine who was babysitting the bags. You have to taxi to a spot, by the way, as you can't just taxi for takeoff. Why? Good question. But as always, everyone was most pleasant and everything was oddly complicated. Now, it's raining and about 1000ft overcast. The Plan de Vuelo guy runs out and tells us we must now file IFR, ie. Instrument. Back in we go. We were told that we would have to wait 2 hours to go to Viedma because it was Sunday and it was closed. Good weather was about 50 miles south and the last several hundred miles would be in severe clear. "So what if it's closed"? 2hours. "OK, how about Bahia Blanca"?.....where they don't speak English! "You can go there in 45 minutes", so less safe but procedurally more acceptable like when we cannot park into wind because the yellow stripes aren't painted that way. So off we go again, plans thwarted by time wasters with no understanding of the issues surrounding flight safety and aeronautical decision making but that is the way it is and aviation survives despite these slings and arrows to its eternal credit.We bounced around like a cork in the ocean heading first north and then east when we wanted to go south, in and out of dark clouds but the skies cleared as we overflow the Argentine Pampas and we were able to cancel our Instrument plan, dump down to 2000ft, and start having fun. It was all cow country and grain fields, looking at times like Iowa before we approached Bahia Blanca and the coast again. Landing there would be a problem as we needed to make Viedma in order to reduce our fuel stops, hence time wasting stops, to just one. So we played dumb and said we were diverting to Viedma while the naval controller barked at us. "Repeat, estimate Viedma at time blah blah blah". Eventually, he gave up, noted the estimate, wished us a good flight and bade us farewell. It was now time to reflect. Nobody had actually charged us money at San Fernando. In Brazil, it was $200 everywhere we went except the $120 we found in Vitoria. The security guys weren't bad, just different and we were foreign. We were again alone rumbling along toward Viedma in great weather and once there, it was another PSA encounter but just like at San Fernando, it was forms and no money. And Viedma being closed meant no flight plan, uncontrolled airport procedures, freedom and off we blasted into the now Patagonian skies. This region is famous for its punishing winds that howl down from the Andes to the west. We had been hammered by turbulence for the last hour into Viedma and it now continued until we crossed the large Golfo San Matias at 1000ft and, as always seems to happen, over water can be found calmer air. Landfall was made over Peninsula Valdes which is one of the world's most concentrated spots for marine wildlife. There, we found wind sculpted cliffs with fur seals, elephant seals and sea lions along the beaches and herds of Guanacos inland. It was another of the signature days of this flight as we swooped along at around 500ft down the shoreline. Pure fun. We headed south and then turned west towards Comodoro and the turbulence returned along with a terrible reduction in groudspeed. We went from 110kts to 75kts and stuff flew around our heads in the cockpit. We climbed to 2000ft. No good. 3000ft. No good. All this while, we had been pinging off text messages to Martin as the winds there were gusting 50kts. It was still that windy and our groundspeed meant that we would get in on fumes if at all with no diversion at night..... Off to our right not 30 miles away was the city of Trelew and it's Welsh community so by mutual and total agreement, we diverted for real into Trelew and after 7 hrs of flying, our gas man Francisco and us stood around in bone dry Patagonian desert air waiting for the fuel pump to decide to work for more than an hour but again, it was part of the fun. After the third PSA party of the day, we found poor Francisco holding down the plane after a gust had weathervaned it. So we got sandbags and tied it down for the first time since Florida. Afterwards, we ate an excellent dinner and collapsed in a heap in our bed that is 41 degrees south of the equator. The same amount south as Nantucket is north. Welcome to the Roaring Forties.
Trelew to Comodoro Rivadavia
We awoke to a gorgeous sunny day and Martin advised us that "even the little birds were flying" in Comodoro so off we went to the Trelew airport hoping for a speedy getaway. After the same PSA guys smiled and waved us through and the flight plan was filed, we fired up and took off. It was as simple as that. We just went. No three hours, with thunderstorms now over the field, no fees either except for a navigation charge of one Argentine peso. That's 25 cents or 15 pence. It was worth it just to get the receipt that said, in fact, 1.11 pesos. This stands in sharp contrast to Brazil who are the world's fifth largest economy yet feel the need to soak Cessna pilots to the tune of $200 every time they go near an airplane which seems to take a minimum of 2 hours. As fabulous as the country is, it is time to learn the difference between a Cessna and a jet.
So off we launched into the Patagonian sky and the ride was pretty good with largely smooth air. The winds were much lighter now and our groundspeed was well above 100kts. Just south of Trelew was the Punta Tombo penguin rookery where over a million Magellanic penguins make their home as well as the usual seals and Guanaco herds mixed in with sheep. Large groups dotted the beaches and rocks for mile after mile as the coastline varied in hue. Every now and then, black necked swans and pink flamingoes could be seen. We spent most of this flight below 500ft pulling up only when the occasional village or estancia came into view and it was breathtaking with clear skies and dazzling colours below. We managed to turn a two hour flight into a three hour one circling and darting back and forth and when we eventually popped up to 1000ft to call Comodoro approach, it seemed like we were at 5000ft. Low flying might pose statistical risks and does cause many accidents but it is fun and there are no power lines down here.
We called Comodoro, he had some English, so we switched from the big airport to which we had filed to the aeroclub where Martin and friends were waiting and, after a requested buzz of the runway, landed. After a hearty welcome, Martin gave us a tour of his home town including the local sea lion colony and we now wait a day or two for the next hop south to Rio Gallegos and then the Falklands. We arrived to find 85 degree sunshine. Yesterday, it was gusting to 50 or 60 kts. Today, 75 and sunny. You have to be careful here.
Comodoro Rivadavia to Rio Gallegos
Rada Tilly, the lovely beach area just to the south of Comodoro where we stayed, was calm and sunny this morning to our delight. It didn't look too bad further south either. So we went to the aeroclub and having left a few bags in the hangar there, we're now a bit lighter. There was no PSA security nonsense nor flight plan filing to be done so it was just a question of starting the engine and taking off. We flew down the beach where the hotel was and soon were heading inland over low mesas and desert like terrain. Pockets of oil wells sprang up occasionally and once south of Caleta Olivia, it turned into a low rise monument valley with differing hues of minerals striating the cliffs and salt pans appearing with increasing frequency. We were bumping around a bit but it was sunny and apart from the odd estancia, there was little sign of human existence other than a network of reassuringly straight tracks and dirt roads that looked like they would do the trick in an emergency. The dry lake beds also can be very smooth as can the salt flats where land speed records are inevitably set.
Then the high cloud began and we climbed to 2000ft where we found smoother air and our groundspeeds stayed between 120 and 140 kts for most of this bit. If we veered west, it plummeted. If we headed east at all, it increased. We flew over San Julian and found the coast again where water often means smooth air, but not if you are downwind of hills or mountains or Andes necessarily. In order to stay along the coast where it curved westward, we turned and found that our groundspeed dropped to 60 kts. We were beginning to see sand and dust storms all around us. Our time to Rio Gallegos was going up and there were no alternates at all. San Julian tower were not answering and there had been no radio contact with anyone since Comodoro so with a phone signal, I texted Martin in BA for the latest weather. He replied that the wind was 320/22 gusting 38 and that was for runway 25. In other words, 70 degrees off the runway and bloody strong. So, no options, a crosswind right on limits, maybe crap weather, and the sky was taking on an increasingly menacing look. UFO like clouds known as lens clouds lay ahead of us with the dust storms below. The landscape became almost lunar but yellow rather than grey. I took the executive decision to just head direct to Rio Gallegos over the water so our speed would rise back to 110 kts and at least we would not waste fuel. Even though we were only a few miles offshore, we were still more than power off gliding distance from it and the sea was angrier than I have ever seen. The enormity of what we have decided to do really dawned on us for the first time. Tomorrow, we fly for 300 miles over this. The white caps and spray roared along below us and having seen the seas around Nantucket and across the North Atlantic my whole life, nothing has ever looked this bad. Corrine went silent and I started buggering around with trivial things to keep from getting fixated and after what seemed like an eternity, we again made landfall and the ride had stayed smooth even under the lens clouds. Rio Gallegos answered our call, the winds were now right down the pipe at a mere 20 kts so the whole thing was a non event. After landing, it was the usual pantomime with the usual players, charming as always in the case of the very nice PSA guy, and then a 5 minute hop to the Rio Chico aeroclub. Jose and Juan met us and showed us the hangar where thankfully, Blue Jay will spend the night out of these winds. It was a hangar built in 1929 and used by Antoine de St. Exupery, author of The Little Prince and pioneering air mail pilot. I hoped that some of his presence might rub off on us for tomorrow. We are now further south than London is north and only a short hop from Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn. But the 800 miles across the South Atlantic in between will prove to be the real challenge of this journey.
Rio Gallegos to Port Stanley
The day broke with high grey overcast and light winds. Harmless enough for Patagonia. We hadn't slept much and after a tiny breakfast, we were picked up Juan, a LAN Argentina Airbus mechanic and member of the Rip Chico aeroclub who had so kindly hangared the plane for us and driven us around the city the previous day showing us the sights. At the airport, Jose, again our friend from the previous day and Leny, King Air pilot and fluent English speaker joined us as we prepared to hop over to the main airport for whatever the authorities wanted to do. Leny kindly offered to follow us there so someone could translate and after a vigorous departure, we soon landed at Rio Gallegos again. PSA security was easy and by then, Leny had arrived. Despite dire warnings the day before about customs and immigration, the Argentines treat a flight to Stanley as a domestic one. This was how it would be for us too so it was just a matter of some photocopies and a flight plan. Simple, right? Then they asked for the number of our Satphone and whether we had HF. "Sure we do and, um, we'll phone you later" as we ran to the plane and started the engine. Before they would let us taxi, we had to do an HF radio check on 5499. HF is a long range radio that oceanic airplanes have but even 737's don't. Let alone a 172. So we sat for several minutes while I played with a variety of unrelated knobs in case the tower had binoculars and came back with "unable, maybe it'll work when airborne". "OK, cleared to taxi". So we had gone from nervous about going to nervous about not going to relief that we were nervous again about going. We took off into silky smooth air, turned east watching the coastline gradually disappear behind us with now calm waters below, and as we climbed, the tailwind that we had expected began to appear. The forecast had been for a 60kt tailwind at 9000ft. We had about 40 kts but this was fine. 3 hours to Stanley and 2 to landfall. Then the Satphone and HF thing began again. I had shot a quick text off to Martin in BA with our airborne time to send to the RAF at Mt. Pleasant but had left the enroute estimates text a bit late. The phone does not work much above 3000ft. Now approach passed us to Comodoro Center who wanted us to call them on Satphone. I gave them our iPhone number and truthfully told them that we were receiving a call failed message every time we rang them. It killed lots of time going back and forth like this and in the end, we relayed the only position report through another airplane. Then we had our icing incident. It had been clear to thin overcast at 9000ft with the ocean in view virtually the whole time and the temperature right at 0C. At one point, about 10 raindrops hit the plane and three of them hit the wing strut and stayed put like looking like clear smarties. Ice!! We stuck the nose over and about three hundred feet lower, they started swirling around and quickly disappeared. We had survived our icing encounter. It was so minor that it was fun to have had it happen.
At about the halfway point, we began to hear Island Radar call us although with our little radios, they could not yet hear us. After a while longer, they could and Weddell Island followed by West Falkland loomed into view. Radar contact was established and we were asked if we would like to be "embellished". Yes please we said. Soon thereafter, Eagle One and Eagle Two called us to confirm our altitude. We looked out the left window and saw an RAF Typhoon, nose pointing skyward to match our slow speed, glide slowly by us a few hundred yards away. "Welcome to the Falklands" he cheerily said as he lit the burners and disappeared with Eagle Two blasting by seconds later, all with the Falkland Islands beneath us no less. My whole flying life could be boiled down and the essence of it would be these few moments. From there, we headed into San Carlos Water and down the narrow Isthmus where Goose Green lies turning east again past Bluff Cove and into Stanley itself. Donna cleared us to land, the firemen all came out to say hi, Alan did the customs thing. He is also "the bird man" we have found out, and Ian and the guys warmly greeted us and parked us in the FIGAS hangar. That's the F I Govt. Air Service who fly between the remote settlements around the islands. After a lamb dinner and solid sleep, we got a car courtesy of friend Andrew, who is Director of Civil Aviation here, and waded straight into penguins, shipwrecks, and hikes into the hills overlooking Stanley. From the sausage sandwich for breakfast onwards, it is eerie how "Britain" it is here. Places like Bermuda have British influence but this IS Britain. After so many weeks trying to communicate with so many wonderful people, it is fun to just run off at the mouth about totally familiar things while eating fish and chips and watching the rugby surrounded by the Yorkshire Dales mixed with the Brecon Beacons. When we meet someone, we then see them three more times that day and probably meet a relative of theirs too. Even on a remote hilltop, Stu from the airport called out "you still have your shorts on then?" The island similarities to Nantucket are plain to see as well although there is no ferry and Hyannis is not a 10 minute flight away. Nor is there Boston Medflight. Critical illness means a multi hour flight to Santiago while chronic things like cancer treatment require the day long flight back to the UK. The big charity here is the Stephen Jaffray Memorial Fund which raises money so loved ones can travel with those receiving treatment. A very noble cause much like the Listen Group at King's College Hospital who helped save Corrine's sanity during our ordeal.
Port Stanley to Ushuaia
Our time in the Falklands was truly magical. The employees, room and food at the Malvina House Hotel made it a very comfortable stay. Everyone we met was incredible, friendly, and welcoming and we spent our first day climbing one of the mountains near Stanley with knowledgeable tour guide Tony Smith and lovely daughter Aline only to descend into a full storm with wind gusts to 70 and amazing surf. If this had hit while we were on the mountain, it would have been interesting. The next day was spent bumping through "camp" with Nobby Clarke in his Toyota Land Cruiser with monster tyres and suspension towards Volunteer Point. Here, a large colony of King Penguins live alongside colonies of Gentoo and Magellanic's with the total number being around 1-2000 I would say. As we walked among them, they were oblivious to our presence. Stupid or sudden movement will, of course, make any animal head away but as long as we were slow and stayed 20 ft or so away, they carried on as though we weren't there. All without fences, rangers, etc. There were a few rings of white rocks that marked the actual hatching and nursery areas and these were no go but everywhere else was up to you. If we sat down near the young Gentoo's, their curiosity would get the better of them and they would come right up and nibble our shoes, gather around and stare, and when a few came over, more would follow. Three hours passed in a flash and as we wandered the beach for one final time, a lone Albatross shot back and forth in the almost 40kt winds without so much as a flap of the wings. Gull, it ain't. These amazing birds have a wingspan to body length ratio that makes them unmissable and they can only be in the southern oceans as they need a mean wind speed of more than 35kts to thrive. They fly for incredibly long periods without landing and too much flapping of wings would soon drain their tanks. It shot around, back and forth like a sailplane with a jet engine and soon disappeared out to sea. It was so cool to see one and Corrine, who normally hates my birdy crap, even knew exactly what it was before I could tell her. This was probably the single best event of the trip if not the whole ride post 1964. Really quite something.
The next day was admin day in Stanley. James at FIC helped us out with a car and we hit the newspaper to talk about the flight and apologize for the press nonsense surrounding our requested practice intercept by the RAF which had grown between the UK and Argentine press from having to be met because of the "situation" to our "jet" being "forced" to land at Stanley. All utter nonsense but nobody seemed too annoyed with us to our relief. Even little stops seemed to take ages as conversations blossomed. Our friend Robin from the airport came over twice to let us have pictures that he had taken of the plane. It was therefore a great honour to almost slice his head off as we sadly launched into relatively windless skies on our final day there. He wanted to get a few final pictures of our departure from the end of the runway and we did a very nice low takeoff followed by a triumphant "go around" as we flew past Stanley for the last time and turned toward Martin Beaton and Weddell Island.
First, we had to establish radio contact with the base at Mt. Pleasant. Once that was done, we found out that the RAF Typhoons were up doing touch and go's and at only a few hundred feet above their traffic pattern, we were again rewarded with a magnificent display of their awesomeness. The flight from Stanley to Rio Grande in Patagonia is about 380 NM. Over 400 NM, we begin to run out of options. But these 380 NM are over water with nothing in between. A wind picking up, deteriorating weather, anything at all and we are swimming with the life raft maybe buying us an hour before we flip over in raging seas. There was Rio Grande, then an alternate of Rio Gallegos if we turned right a bit, then maybe Puerto Deseado if we turned right a bit more, or a return to the FI. Not a great situation. If, on the other hand, after 120 NM of flying from Stanley, we could land somewhere in West Falkland and refuel from jerry cans, we would begin the oceanic bit with full tanks but only face a 260 NM crossing. So it could turn really awful and we would still have tons of fuel. This place turned out to be Weddell Island. We overflew Goose Green and Fox Bay before seeing Weddell in the distance. Phoenix one called us up. They were a civilian Sikorsky S-61 Sea King helicopter landing at Weddell about 10 minutes before us and said they would stick around for our arrival. We overflew the grass strip, there was the helicopter, and after pounding it down onto the slightly uneven crosswind ravaged runway, we taxied over and were met by the crew and the extremely engaging Martin who lives on Weddell for half the year with his wife. We watched the large copter fly away and Martin took us over to his Land Rover for a cup of tea and fruit cake baked by his wife. Wind blowing, not a building in sight apart from the little hut at the airfield, there we stood at the western extremity of the Falklands sipping tea and chatting furiously.
After a time, we emptied the jerry cans into the plane and set off for the mainland with the last two pieces of cake to enjoy later. It was a surreal, civilized, English and wonderful moment in a wonderful if slightly terrifying day. But we leveled of at 3000ft, found that our groundspeed stayed right around 90kts which was our "uh oh" benchmark. The ride was smooth, no weather, all was good. 260 miles became 200. We ate sausage rolls, then it was 150 and we tried to call Comodoro Center on the Argentine side. No luck. We had our cake, then it was 80NM, then we could see the coast and our speed was now well over 100kts with gobs of gas left so rather than waste an hour on the ground at Rio Grande, we "diverted" to the Ushuaia airport which is where we wanted to wind up that day anyway. Rio Grande said goodbye and handed us over to Ushuaia as we flew over our first Andean peaks. Deep blue mountain lakes and glaciers lay only a few hundred feet below us as we crossed Lake Fagnano and saw the Beagle Channel emerge beyond the last ridge of mountains with Chile in the distance. It's Tierra del Fuego now. Fin del Mundo or the end of the world. Ushuaia is the world's southernmost city and a warm summer day sees temps of around 50 or 55F. But we land in our shorts, face the now familiar language impeded Aduana, Imigracion and PSA stuff which begins with odd looks and ends up with handshakes, hugs, smiles, Nicolas from the aeroclub and waves.
It is wonderful to be here. But it was beyond my wildest dreams to have done what we have just done. We thought that the enormity of what we faced a few days ago was important and now we see that the enormity of the friends that we have made along the way and will be lucky enough to see again on the way north are what makes this so special. The 747-400 was great but the 172XP is so much better. It took us to Volunteer Point.
Ushuaia to Rio Chico
We awoke up in Ushuaia utterly drained from the previous day's excitement. The wifi in the otherwise lovely hotel was not good enough to do much thankfully so we strolled around the city looking at various museums and sights. We also began what I thought would be the simple process of applying for Chilean overflight permission so we could nip down and get a picture of Cape Horn itself which lay a few miles to the south. It is just a rock with nothing on it but it sits in a disputed area so off went a batch of emails. The old jail is now a museum and is kind of an Argentine Alcatraz. Harsh conditions, grinding work for the inmates building both it and the local rail network, etc. But it also housed the Antarctic museum and a bunch of assorted bits which were very interesting including mention of the Old Gaol in Nantucket would you believe. After that we learned about the Yamana indians who once lived here until the usual thing happened. We civilized them until they were mostly all gone. Very interesting though. Tall peaks surround Ushuaia with the Beagle Channel separating it from Chile and the port is used by small cruise ships for Antarctic voyages. It has kind of an alpine feel architecturally.
The following day brought a rental car so we returned to the airport and played with the plane for a while which was housed at the aerc club next to the big airport in a hangar run by the Armada or Navy. $20 a day, out of the wind, great. Then it was off to the national park and the little steam train which runs through it that was built by the residents of the jail. This was great fun and we were served a nice little snack on board. But the cookie, an alfajor, had peanuts in it which I am seriously allergic to. As my face went bright red and became very swollen, the train ride ended and we headed back to the city and our Epipen to be used in case of full blown anaphylactic shock. This was not a minor reaction though and it was the first one since before you know what. So I took us straight to the hospital. Corrine was now not happy at all and trying to explain the situation to the people there was not going well until the lovely Eloisa Dougherty, a Red Cross volunteer who was there to see about a sore shoulder, came over to help translate. In seconds, we three were in a room with a needle going in my arm and a mask full of foaming something over my face. The hideous symptoms started to get better and we chatted for ages. At one point, a woman with a receipt book came in. In the US, this would have cost $700 at least. I waited as she filled out the form and Corrine was asked to pay 70 pesos. That's about $15 or £10. Argentina has medical care for everyone as does virtually all of the civilized world except for the US. It has its problems with waiting lists and the latest technology and is as imperfect as any health care system can be but they might have just saved my life for $15.
The Chilean situation was not looking good. It seems that in order to photograph the rock that is Cape Horn, you have to land in Chile and have one of their Navy people fly with you while you take a picture of the rock. Is this to protect the other rocks? I don't know but with time running short and rain moving in, we decided to say thanks but no thanks and head north. The emails that were going back and forth mostly in Spanish did not indicate a speedy solution to this problem. The anticipation and excitement of the return flight from the Falklands with the fuel stop on Weddell Island was without doubt the "thrill" pinnacle of the trip and our sense of "mission accomplished" was complete. So we returned to the airplane for the 2 and a bit hour flight back north now to our friends in Rio Gallegos at the aero club in Rio Chico with the red and white hangar that was used by St. Exupery.
As we loaded our stuff, a nice man walked over and tried to speak with us. We were used to people being amused at a small US registered airplane being so far from home. We chatted as best we could and then discovered that this was Peter, the commander of the Navy base that we were on. He then wanted to see all sorts of paperwork. OK, everyone loves paperwork down here so out came the file, he wanted a copy of the flight plan from Stanley, we smiled shook hands, and departed for the two mile flight to the big airport where the rest of officialdom were waiting. Upon landing, it was PSA, and entry to the flight plan office. There was Peter again, still smiling and still holding our flight plan. I gathered that our fuel diversion direct to Ushuaia was baffling him and flights to and from the islands are a little unusual to say the least. I was getting the gist of the chat that was occurring in Spanish between Peter and the flight plan guy. "Why did we go to his base? What was wrong with the big airport? Why did we overfly Rio Grande? They have jet fuel here but you came to my base?" was kind of how it was going but he seemed a genuinely nice guy. But I would think a boat guy, not a plane guy. So in my best charade Spanglish, we walked through the whole thing. Not jet fuel, gasolina. It's just a little Cessna. Mucho vento in Patagonia so need a hangar. That's wind. And I went through the whole fuel issue in this sparsely airported part of the world which included overflying Rio Grande so we could get here safely, and not flip over in his nice safe hangar where there was also the gas we needed that the big airport did not have. He got it, smiled, shook hands, joked with Corrine and left happy. So did we for nice sightseeing excursion up and down the Beagle Channel before climbing over the mountains to the north towards Rio Grande and the east coast of Tierra del Fuego. Then, we crossed the Magellan Strait and found ourselves soon descending for Rio Chico and our friends. They kindly barbecued some cordero, or lamb which was absolutely incredible as we spent a wonderful evening with these great guys. They have been so kind to us and have a great aero club. Something tells me that we'll see them again.
Rada Tilly to Cholila
As we slowly wake up here in Cholila, former home of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The rain still pours and has been for over 12 hours now. We're on a grass strip so it will be interesting to see what condition it is in given that every few minutes, the noise of the rain hitting the roof seems to get louder and louder. It has been that kind of few days. After the terrific barbecue at the aero club in Comodoro, we settled into the usual routine of spending a day off trying to get laundry done, having to update a week's worth of website stuff, pictures, blogs, emails and what not. Now in Rada Tilly, it was turning to autumn with cool temps, grey skies and gusty winds whereas two weeks ago, it had been mid summer. The laundry could not be done before the following afternoon which was too late. There are no laundromats where you do it yourself south of Grenada. You have to go to a lavadero where a lady usually has one or two machines and bags of washing piled up to the ceiling. Getting gas can be a bit like this too. 10 pumps but only two employees so you wait in line for half an hour. Oh well, so we begin the computer stuff but the wifi speed was terrible so after spending 10 hours doing about two hours worth of stuff, I flung the iPad across to the other bed in disgust where it hit Corrine's virtually new laptop which immediately shut down and would not restart. She rightly went bananas and things went very gloomy until the next morning when poor Sebastian who has had to field dozens of stupid requests from us told us of an HP store in town. Corrine, still fuming, and I went there and after what felt like forever, our man German, as in Herman, found the data which appeared intact. Thank god for that and I was partially forgiven. We were to come back the following day at noon and collect it when the new hard drive was in. So off we ventured on the next lavadero search. We now had a 24 hour delay but that was OK, if costly, if it meant we could get the computer back. Again no lavadero could be found that could do same day and of course if we knew about the delay the day before, we would be collecting clean clothes already. But we, or more to the point, I had resolved that we could worry about the trivial stuff later and for now, the important thing was to enjoy being here. So we walked the gorgeous beach and collected more shells and stones to help weigh the plane down even more. Then we went off in search of the local flock of pink flamingoes who we found in a local pond and got close to after sliding through slick mud. The next morning saw very cool and windy conditions and we were glad to be heading somewhere warmer as we were down to the last pair of shorts and shirts. Then German left a message that the computer was taking ages, please come in after 6pm. Another 24 hour delay!! The "Groundhog Day" feeling immediately hit us both as we sent a begging message back to him and I screamed around the lavadero circuit again to no avail. We sat in silence until at 1130, the next message came that the computer was ready after all so we called Martin's nephew Tinti and said we'd be at the airport in an hour for gas. The computer was fine, good as new, and $300 later, we were headed to the airport after thanking German profusely. To ensure that the anxiety level remained high under now raining and dark skies, Tinti texted that he was leaving the airport and would be back in 5 hours. What? Corrine frantically texted him saying we would be there in 10 minutes and he thankfully stuck around. Again, Tinti has been a huge help and after fueling, over a coffee, he phoned ahead to Cholila Lodge and Daniel & Sylvia, our next stop.
Cholila to Trelew
Everyone for days had been saying that we had to fly here. Cholila really is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had lived peacefully until forced to flee after a bank robbery in another part of Argentina was pinned on them. The lodge is on an Andean mountain lake with a grass runway right next to it where Daniel keeps his 1955 Cessna 180. The flight up was over barren Patagonian brush land dotted with estancias and mountains rising to 5000ft. After passing Esquel, we descended into a valley past now 7000ft mountains and into the main Cholila strip where Daniel was waiting for us. We the flew in loose formation back to the Lodge a few miles away while furiously taking pictures of each other over the brilliant blue lake. After landing, we were surrounded by geese, ducks, dogs and the very kind and gentle Daniel and Sylvia in balmy 60 degree sunshine. After a giant dinner and breakfast, we kayaked on the lake surrounded by snow capped peaks and then rode horses along trails through woods with trees full of Tero's and green parrots while a trio of dogs and two small colts ran along freely. Upon our return, Daniel built a fire and we sat watching the rain start. After another huge feast, we crawled into bed with the pitter patter now a drum roll. But in keeping with the now familiar pattern of highs and lows, what looked like a write off day soon turned into a sunny one and we launched with Daniel in the 180 for a low level flight around the lake with cameras rolling. Daniel had mounted a Go Pro camera on top of his 180 which was ironic given the disastrously awful camera that we had put on our airplane and which cost many times more than the little Go Pro that worked flawlessly. Oh the irony. But the flight was an absolute ecstasy as we swooped low over the lake and down the adjacent river and back again changing positions so each could film the other. After landing back at the lodge, Daniel took us for a boat ride on the lake followed by a short hike up to a gorgeous waterfall in the hills. Our time at Cholila and with Daniel and Sylvia was truly magical and relaxing and we were very sorry to leave. As we taxied out for takeoff, Corrine took the controls and a Cessna character trait showed itself. The rails on which the seats are mounted are notorious for allowing the seats to slide back unannounced, usually after takeoff while climbing, and often with unfortunate results as the pilot shooting back often brings the controls with him or her putting the airplane into a stall at low altitude. As we were taking off on a roughish grass field, the correct technique is a Soft Field Takeoff where, with full aft stick, you pop the nose off the ground ASAP and roll down the runway on the mains letting the plane lift off at a slower speed than normal. So Corrine held full aft stick and as the nose popped up as advertised, her seat shot back and before I jumped onto my set of controls, we heard the tail thud into a muddy hole. But off we went up through the mountains to San Carlos de Bariloche for a fuel stop on the way back to Trelew. After landing, I took a look at the mud spattered tail and found that the plastic fairing on the bottom of the rudder had cracked. After patching it with speed tape, I insisted that Corrine do the next takeoff. She felt badly about what had happened but for ten years, we have been telling our mechanics to fix the damn seat which must be inspected every year per an Airworthiness Directive. This year, we will simply put new rails in on her left seat. Enough is enough. We shot through the Patagonian wilderness at suitably low level for the next two hours over groups of wild horses and herds of sheep and soon neared Trelew. A solitary rain shower gave us an opportunity to wash the rest of the mud off the plane and play with the rainbow that we found inside the shower. As we turned over the Welsh, yes Welsh town of Gaiman a few miles out, the tower said "you know we don't have gas, right?" or words to that effect. No, we didn't. It turns out that the fuel pump ate itself the day before. The nearest gas was now in Viedma which was tight but reachable. We got to the hotel in this not hugely beautiful city and checked the Notices to Airmen or NOTAMS and what did it say for Viedma? No gas. Shit! We're stuck. As I shoot out a string of emails to everyone asking for advice, we hear a rolling of drums nearby. Still wondering what we're going to do, we head off to see what the racket is only to find hundreds of brightly clad groups of drummers and dancers lining up for Carnival in Trelew. For the next two hours, we watched them parade up and down a circuit through town with the drums thundering and the dancers bouncing around. Quite an unexpected sight followed by a nice dinner. The next morning, we set off for the dinosaur museum and tea in a Welsh tea house in Gaiman before returning to find an email from Guillaume and Thierry at Air Journey in Florida saying that there was gas in Viedma after all. So all that for nothing. And Tinti in Comodoro was ready to head up in their Arrow and let us siphon off 20 gallons into our plane. Problem solved, we watched a second night of Carnival before turning in. And again, our friends here were willing to help us out.
Trelew to Tigre
The day broke with warm and sunny skies. Cool is now over until the US and the jackets will stay in the plane for now on. After the usual hour of paperwork and handshakes, we were ready to go for our initial leg up to Viedma for the fabled gas. This would take us over the Peninsula Valdes where we saw the elephant seals on the way down and ordinarily, we would be down on the deck zooming around but today, we didn't have lots of gas to spare so we went up to 5000ft and flew direct along an airway making position reports and actually being in radio contact with someone the whole way. It felt funny doing it by the book again. After Valdes, we crossed the Golfo San Matias which is around a hundred miles wide and at around the midpoint, it occurred to us that this wasn't much less than half a Falklands. But we are over much different water with dolphins and turquoise bays. Not the raging South Atlantic. Still, no boats. Ever. Soon enough, there was Viedma sitting on the Rio Negro which forms the border of Patagonia. What now ensued was interesting as nobody spoke any English at all at an airport for the first time on the trip. We called the tower, were cleared to land, taxied, filed the flight plan, and received a very comprehensive weather briefing entirely in Spanish. As long as you can count to ten and know a few bits like "landing", you can muddle through just fine. Anything really critical, I just asked two or three times and they were happy to repeat the instruction. It was actually really fun. After gassing up, we headed north for Buenos Aires and upon crossing the river, we were out of Patagonia and into the Pampas. The landscape turned completely flat and became green again with farm fields full of crops and cows. Think of Iowa or southern Ontario. We found a tailwind at 3000ft so resisting the temptation to descend, we opted to go for groundspeed on the now only 3.5 hour flight to San Fernando airport. Soon after, we saw our first palm tree in weeks. Passing Bahia Blanca where the approach guy couldn't speak English either, I didn't even try but just did the whole thing in bad Spanish. Approach is easy; just estimated times at places but it surprises them to hear an N reg airplane putting along down low when they are used to biz jets with N numbers being up high and fast. "Tipo de aeronave charlie uno sette dos" had to be repeated on more than one occasion. The thunderstorms forecasted for the Buenos Aires area never materialized so we buzzed along through mostly smooth air arriving in the early evening at San Fernando where the delightful brothers Leo and Gustavo greeted us. Now the plane will get another once over and oil change while the plastics guy will take a look at the tail fairing and hopefully patch it. We opt this time to stay in Tigre right next to the airport on the Parana river delta rather then battle our way into the city. Tigre is full of canal like small rivers and is pretty and clean with nice boat rides and good restaurants all around. Soon, we will head towards Brazil again but as we sit in a really sweet little hotel in a converted old mansion alongside a river, the wifi is again poor. But who cares, the pictures can wait, all of the dramas have worked out and whenever something has appeared a bit bleak or serious, we have always found a solution. No gas? Go to the dinosaur museum. Broken tail? Find a bit of tape. Even the dead computer only took a day to fix. Hopefully, the last 5000NM will go like this.
Tigre to Foz do Iguacu
That thing I wrote last time about how neato everything was and how we hoped the next 5000 miles would as wrinkle free has bitten us in the proverbial. We got to Tigre, aka Buenos Aires, and our friends at Cielo at San Fernando took care of the plane for us. The damaged fairing was totally replaced and painted white and Gustavo fixed the errant CHT gauge after we had a nice lunch of Asado, or BBQ everything with Martin, Gustavo and brother Leo and we enjoyed the Tigre river delta experience until the tummy bug hit. And boy, did it hit. I was a quivering wreck for close to 72 hours. Without going into specifics, it made our last couple of days there a bit of a challenge. On our intended day of departure, I was tempted to cancel the day altogether but our dear friend Martin had invited us to lunch on Isla Martin Garcia in the Rio de La Plata on his precious MEG, otherwise known as LV-MEG, his Piper Aerostar. This is one seriously kitted out airplane with An HF radio, EFIS everything, very nice. Plus we were due to go to Montevideo after lunch. Corrine kicked me around the room and eventually I was able to just about cope with standing up while not throwing up at the same time. Martin picked us up and we had the usual nonsense at the airport before spending a really special few hours with our friend in a place that he cherishes. Then we returned to San Fernando and had a relatively smooth processing for our flight out of Argentina and into Montevideo.
I need to back up to the little black dog in Trelew. I wasn't going to mention this but it now seems relevant. As we were driving to the airport there, we were going to get some stamps for our postcards at the Correo and while going there, a really cute little black stray dog, of which there are many in Argentina, shot out from between two parked cars. I saw it peripherally and applied immediate brakes in my best pilot response kind of way but there was a bump and I looked out the side front in horror to see this little dog somersault like a Running Back and get up and keep going without missing a beat. Not a big thud, with no limp, no stagger or sign of injury of any kind, I think it was OK. Still, I felt more horrible than I have for a very long time and drove around for 20 minutes looking everywhere for the little dog. But I felt awful and had this foreboding sense that something had changed. If I could have found this little dog, it would be with us now.
So after three days in the bog in Tigre followed by the fabulous lunch with dear Martin, off we went to Montevideo. We love Monte. It's very fun, great people, Pocitos beach is terrific..... And it was the most peaceful night flight for the last 30 mins after a fabulous sunset flight for the first 30 mins. We said no night flight on this trip but this was pure magic. So we land at Carrasco Intl Airport, figuring correctly that we would be largely ignored by the authorities there, and over came Pablo the Caravan and Metro pilot to give us a lift to the terminal in the now total darkness. As we were getting our bags out of the airplane, I managed for the 86th time this trip to slice my leg open on the aircraft step. This time, it was really deep and now it's really infected. One of the joys of the medications that I'm on is that I have no immune system any more. As Corrine was psychologically returned to King' two years ago in an instant, I did my usual idiot thing of showing Pablo the IPad apps and GPS stuff while describing the trip while bleeding profusely everywhere with Corrine in total shock at the sight of the very deep gash. Not good but off we went to the hotel. The next day was bandages and Ozonol and swimming in probably marginal water might not have been the wisest thing to do but that night as we readied ourselves for dinner, there was a tremendous thud against the window. I told Corrine that it was probably some poor bird. When we opened the curtains, it was snowing and was still nearly 90F. That's 35C for in French. Then it was hail. Then it gusted 50kts. And the trees were whipping around with torrential showers like spring in Houston. We freaked, well I freaked out because we were not tied down and only had a crappy chock on the nose wheel. Repeated calls to the airport eventually got us through to the tower guy as he was the only one who could speak English but he made people go over and check poor Blue Jay while we desperately tried to get cabs to the airport which seemed always to get stolen by nightclubbing trendies who had no obvious concept of what a flipped over airplane was really like. The third call to the tower brought the news that it was now just 20kts and the fourth that is was down to 7kts. So we traipsed back up to the room after a truly exhausting and traumatic couple of hours where Corrine almost immediately began her tummy flu experience. Much like mine, it was very unpleasant and went on forever.
It was now my turn to kick her around the room the next morning as she struggled to function on any level. But she wanted to continue north so off we went but not before finding out that my mother had been admitted to hospital again. She's 86 and has been in poor health for a long time. After a series of phone calls, we were assured that she was stable and would be home again in 2-3 days. So off we went to Brazil and we passed through the cold front that passed us the night before. Skirting thunderstorms which were dispensing the alarming kind of turbulence that does not let you rest even for a second, we eventually shot through it and enjoyed a few more knots of groundspeed and increasingly sunny skies. Lovely little Uruguay turned again into huge Brazil as we danced through rich and fertile hills having found this landscape almost dull on the way south. Now, after weeks of desert and sub-arctic, it was deep green and amazing.
We landed at Porto Alegre and out friends at Lider were there to meet us. First, Sergio who has a medical story that is just about as good as mine and then Fernando and Heider turned up. In seconds, we were whisked through the paperwork customs bits and after chatting for a good while, Fernando gets off the phone and tells us that he has lined up a TV interview at our hotel that evening. The lovely Candice and her camera crew showed up at 7pm as promised and we spoke our bit about organ donation and a bit about the flight. The following morning saw us bidding a fond farewell to our friends there as we made for Foz do Iguacu or Iguacu Falls on the border with Argentina and Paraguay. This departure came just after we had learned that Corrine's sister, who has been bravely battling cancer for a dozen years, had just been admitted to hospital in England with a disturbing new set of symptoms. However we continued as Foz was due north and closer to both the US and also to Sao Paulo where a flight to London could be jumped on if it became necessary.
So since the little black dog, things have been anything but smooth. This trip has evolved for me from initial amazed discovery to a sense that I could do this forever and just keep on flying to now a realization that I guess we're going to have to wind this up at some point soon. Now if I can just scare up some antibiotics for my leg. We also discovered that Corrine will be having a pretty major surgery in early April while I am due another one too. Welcome back to the real world which we have managed to successfully deny the existence of for the last two months.
Foz do Iguacu to the Pantanal
As we arrived at Foz and circled the falls for maybe 15-20 minutes with all cameras clicking and taping away, except of course the installed system that we no longer even try and turn on, we marveled at the sight of one of the truly great waterfalls of the world. We have been to Niagara, Victoria and Angel Falls but this is my favourite. As well as the falls themselves, there are the wooden walkways, the inflatable boats, and Toucans, parrots, Coati Mundi's plus a variety of large odd looking rodents galore. After landing, we went to our hotel and spent the next day doing the aforementioned activities and looking for whatever critters and birds could be found. There was a full moon so we were able to see the lunar rainbow over the falls at night which is only visible 4 nights per month. But Corrine was and is deeply worried about her sister and this tinged the whole experience until the second and last night when we awoke at 2am with Corrine insisting that she return that day to the UK. A phone call to her brother brought the latest news that things had improved a bit and she was alert and complaining about the hospital food. That meant hungry and sick of bad food. Both good signs so we are now taking this kind of on a daily basis. I was hugely relieved as if she had left, the trip would be effectively over so now again drained from another sleepless night, we went down to breakfast only to be greeted by maybe two dozen toucans flying around for several minutes. Truly an amazing sight. As we got breakfast from the buffet, I turned for our table with my plate of stuff and felt a knife stroke to the head. The hotel had very pretty but very dangerous chandeliers hanging way too low with steak knife like palm leaves surrounding them. One of these had sliced a several inch incision into the top of my head. Blood was pouring out everywhere and the staff of the hotel rushed around until the manager came to explain that they clean the lighting fixture every day and how this had never happened before. I guess they've never had anyone over 6'2" stay there before.
So while still chugging along on the "good luck express", we headed for the airport and the usual $200 soaking from Infraero, the Brazilian airport authority. Once ready to go, we headed off for Aquidauana and a fuel stop. Our new friend through Martin is a man named Edimar Filho who is trying to help us avoid the big expensive airports and Aquidauana is the first part of this plan. After a little over three hours, there it is, with its gravel runway basking in 95 degree heat. In maybe 10 minutes, we are gassed up and ready to go for the final 45 minute leg to Pousada Cabure deep in the Pantanal. Think Everglades but eight times larger. So we crank the engine. And crank it again and again until we are in danger of using up the battery but she won't start. Our engine is fuel injected and while much better than the more typical carburetor equipped engine, the one drawback is that they are very hard to start when they are hot. And it was a very hot engine in a very hot place. It's called vapour lock and little bubbles of gaseous fuel block the injector lines preventing liquid fuel from flowing through them so it wont start until it cools and the bubbles turn back into liquid. Dammit! This could have been so slick.
We pushed her into the shade under a tree, took off the cowling to let what little air there was get at her and waved maps and the checklist like fans over the obstinate engine. Then a motorcycle turned up with a nice guy on it who gave us a drink of cold water. Then two more people turned up. These were members of the Aquidauana Aero Club and news of some yanks turning up in a 172 had clearly raced around like wildfire. We did pantomime demonstrations of our predicament and one of these guys, a Cessna 182 owner, insisted that the alternator was why the battery was weak. "No! Vapour lock, we tried to start the engine for too long....." After maybe 45 minutes, we put the cowling back on and sure enough, she fired right up and we were off again. We buzzed the field, waggled the wings and turned north. "That light isn't usually on" Corrine announces as she points to the low voltage light glowing red. This in conjunction with the discharge on the ammeter and the decreasing voltage of the battery confirmed that the alternator had just failed. This had absolutely nothing to do with our problem on the ground. What are the chances of the alternator failing at that precise moment? Did that guy put the whammy on us? Or was it still the mojo from the little black dog? Of course neither but come on. The very large city of Campo Grande lay 60NM to the east so the only option was to divert there. This problem is not a big one. You just turn all the stuff off that you don't need in terms of radios and lights and leave on one radio. If the battery dies completely, then you can't extend flaps which you don't need anyway. But we tell the guy at Campo Grande that we have a problem and that we are flying to his Infraero $200 airport. It was the only place where there would be a mechanic but of course it was 4pm on a Friday afternoon.
"You have a Brazilian Air Force escort" announces our approach guy. Already annoyed with the situation, my first reaction is "we don't bloody need..." but then wait a minute, photo opportunity!! We look back and see a CASA 235 transport/patrol aircraft behind and to the left painted camo green and grey. Cool. I took the plane from Corrine and dropped the flaps and sure enough, our rapid deceleration caused him to come level with us so the pictures were taken, we landed and taxied in. Mr. $200 met us and took us over to the mechanic. Marcelo and his friend Cleber spoke little English but again, we pointed, pantomimed, used the sketch pad thing on the IPad to draw pictures, and used a word or two that we had learned in Aquidauana. Alternator is alternador. Battery is batteria. Keep saying things like injectivo or injecione and eventually the idea gets through about fuel injected. It turned out that Cleber was owner or part of an air taxi company with some 8-10 planes and we think Marcelo is their full time mechanic. We had initially thought that maybe this was Marcelo's repair station but who knows? We again popped the cowling and within minutes, Marcelo had the alternator off and apart and he pulled a little wire stupid thing out with a smile announcing that this was our nemesis. By calling his son Viktor in Sao Paulo who spoke some English, we gathered that he would get the part, put it in the next morning, and we would be away again.
So after a night in Campo Grande, capital city of Mato Grosso do Sul, indeed we were off the next day and an hour later, we were touching down at Pousada Cabure in the Pantanal. Run by Paulenir and his wife Renata, this charming inn and camp is located on a cattle farm and has an 1800 ft grass runway that is smoother than a lot of paved ones that I've seen complete with lights, taxiway signs, hard stand parking, a rotating beacon, a little hangar, and soon it will have PAPI's. Around the runway are their house and the guest cottages, a little chapel, medical building, a small control tower with Capybaras swimming in the adjacent lake, giant blue parrots, red macaws, and Jabiru Storks all around. The safari drives begin the second we get out of the gates surrounding the compound. It's quite dry this time of year which can be good as all the wildlife is forced to drink from the water areas that are left. As in Africa, when there is a lot of choice, they can disperse widely. And we did see almost everything that we expected to see during that drive. Caimans, like Alligators, were everywhere as were Capybaras, the largest rodent in the world, Peccaries, Coatis, wild boars, all kinds of birds, you name it. We spent two nights here and enjoyed everything very much including their company. It was 95F, 36C both days and so far holds top spot for most blazingly hot place that we've been to and today, we're on our way again. There is no phone or Internet service here at all so we will head for Brasilia, the capital city and get the latest news about Corrine's sister, find a doctor and some antibiotics, and meet Edimar.
Pousada Cabure to Brasilia
We launched into a cloudless sky across the Pantanal at low level seeing groups of blue Macaws and huge Jabiru storks flying below us. Fuel availability at our first stop of Mineiros could not be confirmed so we headed for Coxim 45 minutes to the east for a top off. Once this was done, with no fees or flight plan filing or nonsense, off we went again. As we now found ploughed fields dotted with Rheas, similar to Emus, Corrine announced that the low voltage light was on again. The alternator had tripped off and this was the same bloody thing that we had just had fixed in Campo Grande. The first thing to try is to turn the alternator half of the master switch off and then on again. In other words, cycle it. Maybe a transient over voltage or some other temporary condition that it was not happy about had caused it to drop off. This we did, the light went out, and it worked. For about ten minutes until it did it again. And again. And again and again. The ignition for the engine runs on a totally separate system so the engine was fine and we only risked losing lights and radios and flaps that we didn't need but it kept resetting so we kept going. But this thing has to be fixed. There will come a time when it won't reset and the battery will drain down which will prevent the starter motor from getting the engine going on the next flight. If this were to happen in Guyana, it would be a disaster. So we are going to the capital city of Brazil with friend Edimar there and we will simply have to get it attended to again. Plus my left leg with the deep gash in it is now about twice the size of the right leg and is hot and painful. The cut has become totally infected with the antibiotics that we brought with us seeming not to do the job. After about four hours, we get close to Brasilia and start seeing a line of thunderstorms spitting out lightning running in a line just to the north of our track. Sitting right over the city in fact. We are due to land at Luziania just to the south of the city and as we watch lightning bolts and solid curtains of rain off to our left, the line is in fact converging with our track. About ten miles from the airport, we realize that it sits in a gap between storm cells and that next one will be marching over the airport right about when we get there. The iPad then announces that it is down to 5% battery meaning a diversion to another airport will be a nuisance at best as the iPad contains a huge amount of our flight information so the race is on. Either we get there first or the storm does. The rain began five miles out and by three miles out, we could barely see the runway any more but the lightning stayed off to either side. I suspect a lightning strike in a 172 would not be too good. I've had them in the DC-10 and Jumbo before but those planes were made to withstand them. By two miles, the rain lessened a bit and the wind stayed benign as we came in high and fast just in case we got a downdraft but power back, flaps down and we landed. It was a relief to be on the ground.
We taxied over to the Aero Club building as there were signs of life there and a group of pilots came out to see who we were. We chatted for a few minutes before two more aircraft arrived. This was Edimar in his very nice RV-9 and friend Lindbergh, yes Lindbergh, in his Paradise One. Both classed as light sport airplanes, or LSA's, they had arrived to fly us to the downtown tiny STOL port that is an LSA only facility. We stuck poor stricken Blue Jay into a hangar and Corrine got into the speedy RV-9 with Edimar while I flew with Lindbergh in the Paradise. We were soon over downtown in this purpose built modern conceptual capital city and after a short tour, we landed on the tiny runway. I felt badly to have brought both a broken plane and leg injury along with us. He had so kindly offered his help with flight planning and the idea was that we would grab dinner rather than deal with problems but Edimar seemed unfazed by all of this and called a doctor friend to line up a private hospital visit that evening.
So we were collected from our hotel by Edimar later that evening along with wife Angela and daughter Danielle and whisked off to a private hospital where a kind doctor met us within minutes of our arrival. By now, my left leg was swollen, red, painful, itchy and the wound was looking worse and worse. I had begun antibiotics right away and Corrine had daily changed the dressing but this is one of the joys of being on the pills that I have to take. You have no immune system and things simply do not heal. We peeled off the dressing and the doctor didn't look happy. He got a colleague who also didn't look happy. They conversed in Portuguese while thankfully, Danielle had stayed to translate. After a year in Maine, her English was outstanding. It turned out they would need to give me much stronger antibiotics and cut away the dead and rotting skin. So after a local anaesthetic, it was scalpel time. Once bandaged up, we all left for what turned out to be a rather late dinner but it still amazes me that this sweet family thought nothing at all about coming along to the hospital. And when I tried to pay for dinner, the uproar about "we are guests in their city" was impossible to counter. And he had found a mechanic.
So the next day, Edimar picked us up for the long drive south to Luziania airport where Cido would meet us. Upon our arrival, he was already working on the by now familiar alternator. For non engine types, the battery provides power to crank the engine. Then the engine drives the alternator. The alternator then tops the battery back up and provides power for other electrical stuff except spark plugs which are powered separately in a plane so if the alternator fails, you don't lose the engine too. In a car, if the alternator fails, the engine quits and you pull over and call for a tow. When the alternator had been put back on in Campo Grande, evidently the screws had not been tightened sufficiently so engine oil had leaked into the thing causing a bad contact of some sort. Once cleaned, it should be fine. So we ran the engine and guess what? The red light is still on. The final thing in the electrical system is the voltage regulator which, well, the name says it all. It delivers even power to the sensitive radios so they run properly and don't get incinerated by a transient surge. The oil had fried the voltage regulator and this will now take two days to be sent from Sao Paulo and will of course cost twice what it would cost in the US.... But there is nothing we can do about it and probably the leg would benefit from a bit of a rest anyway so off we went to Edimar's house where we again spent a lovely evening with son Rodrigo joining us this time. He manned the outdoor pizza oven and churned out a series of really good pies before we retired for the night. We will see what the new day brings.
Brasilia to Belem
While the electrical system drama was taking place, it was interesting to get to know Brasilia. In the 1950's, Brazil had a very charismatic president named Juscelino Kubitschek who was a bit like Kennedy. Well dressed, attractive wife, liked to hang around with the good and the great, but also important in the democratic development of the country. He had a vision to create a new capital away from the coast and in doing so, help open up the interior. Architect Oscar Niemeyer was his partner in this task and the city was begun in the late 50's with it being declared open for business, as it were, in 1960. It is very much a conceptual project in every way encompassing how and where people would live and work and what types of businesses would be grouped where with the whole thing taking on a futuristic shape when seen from above. And from ground level for that matter. On the one hand, think Audrey Hepburn and on the other, the Jetsons. Some of the ideas have stood the test of time better than others but it was a fascinating opportunity to get to know JK as he is known and his city.On the airplane front, the voltage regulator turned up and was put in by Cido with the alternator getting a near but not quite overhaul and all looked good as we celebrated our last evening there with Edimar and Angela at the aeroclube at their little downtown LSA airport. This is the sort of club, or pilot's association in US parlance, that we have come to see so much of here in South America. They fly, they hang out together, they have regular barbecues, and help and support each other when necessary. Gustavo (of Brasilia, not San Fernando) who lent us space in his hangar at Luziania was there as was the doctor who arranged for my hospital visit on the first night. And about 20 of them are heading for Lakeland, FL next week for Sun 'n Fun. We were going to miss the Saturday fly out to one of the guy's ranch for another cookout but they were all going.In the mean time, news from the home front continued to be less than good. Corrine's sister has continued to "trend" the wrong way. Poor Belinda is getting a constant stream of bad news in her 12 year fight against breast cancer which has now become everything cancer while my mother has decided for the 300th time to stop taking her pills for her basket full of health problems. This put her straight into the hospital as it always does. Plus we each have upcoming operations and Corrine's is taking place in only two weeks and will wipe her out for a month or two.So the last morning in Brasilia began with Edimar picking us up at our hotel and taking us to Luziania for a gas and go to Gurupi, chosen for the fact that it was not run by the Infraero airport authority hence no extortionate landing fee. We got to the airport and found that Luziania had no fuel after all. Something to do with an unpaid bill. But between the 12 odd gallons that we had in tanks and the 15 or so liters that Edimar found for us using a plastic can, we set off for Anapolis some 65NM to the west. We got gas there and then headed for Gurupi where again, there was gas and it was fast with no fees. We had substantially altered our route straight up the middle of Brazil in order to shave 900 miles (and tons of very interesting stuff) off our return home and while much less safe than the original plan, so far it was working out OK and would get us home to all the gloomy stuff much sooner.This next leg was nearly 4 hours. It would take us to Imperatriz as our planned stop in Araguaina was now without fuel and we later found out was closed altogether. There were few options in this sparsely populated and jungle covered part of northern Brazil. Right on cue, a long line of big thunderstorms appeared initially off to our sides but eventually right in the way. Just once, we would love to actually find a tailwind so that this nonsense can be gone by in half the time but we are forever locked in a time warp of 10-15KTS headwind with groundspeeds of 100-105KTS almost always. But we passed the first line and the second and the third before actually finding a treat. A river and canyon opened up before us with rain induced waterfalls all around which led to a fifteen minute session of buzzing and turning at bank angles of up to 80 degrees if not ninety. It was nice just to feel exuberant again after grinding along on our now almost eight hour day. Soon after, Imperatriz was upon us. We were met by a friend of Edimar's named Alberto who put us in the hangar while making fun of Corrine's landing. He took us to a lovely restaurant for dinner before we collapsed in a heap in our hotel room. Early the next morning, we dragged ourselves downstairs to be met by Alberto for the ride to the airport which, unfortunately, was an Infraero airport. On arrival the day before, the gas guy had come quickly. Then, we even prefiled the flight plan to Belem. When we tried to pay the rip off fee, we were told that we had to come back 10 hours later because the exchange rate might change. ????? OK. So now it's the next day and the hapless guy from Infraero turns up with that all too familiar look on his face that says he is astonished to find himself actually doing his job that day. Then it's the old cash only thing because he does not know how to use the credit card swiper. Then for the fourth time this trip, the credit card swiper does not work because it has been so long since anybody showed up to get jacked for, in this case, $150, that spiders and dust mites have probably made nests in the damn thing. The ATM does not work either so BOOM. Off I went to my eternal regret and Alberto's eternal embarrassment. With all that is going on, I had hit redline. I barked loudly at this guy that if he was going to charge us $150, at least his crappy machine could work while pointing my Visa card at him like a knife. Alberto looked horrified, wrote a cheque, I wadded together some dollars that the airport idiot wouldn't take and pressed them into Alberto's hand as he tried to object and we scuttled away with our tails between our legs feeling that the fun is over and we are now just going through the motions. Unfortunately these time wasters are actually endangering our lives potentially as we launched into relatively benign cumulus laden skies but which soon deepened into turbulence filled hazy skies with sprouting towering cumulus all around. The hour that was wasted with Infraero Man was maybe the hour that we might have not been at risk from growing thunderstorms.We buzzed along at between three and five hundred feet above the ground so that we could stay an equal distance below the menace that surrounded us. There was nothing but pure jungle below us and if we had to land in an emergency, it would have been months if ever before we would have been found. But it was very cool spotting the by now familiar favorites. There is one tree that has the hugest canopy that I have ever seen. Then there is the yellow one. And Corrine spotted a pink one which was the only one of the whole trip. The white cows of the Pantanal are still around here and there and indeed are really Indian cows with the humps on their backs. The heat was now brutal again and we flew with the window open for the parts of the flight that did not involve the sort of rain that has stripped loads of paint off the plane and pitted the propellor like I never knew was possible before. After three hours, we started seeing geometry and agriculture again with little plots of bananas and the Rio Tocantins opened up before us with Belem, Bethlehem in Portuguese, again before us. We landed and found Elias from Lider who was our very first contact back in early January. Much has happened since then and we are now more seasoned veterans down here. At one point in Argentina, I was sad about the PSA taking the fun out of flying with their stupid paperwork but now we almost miss them as we are pained by the outrageous money charged by Infraero which is a sad state of affairs in an otherwise laid back country. Although the maintenance situation could stand being a bit less laid back perhaps, Brazil has the second largest general aviation fleet in the world and this couldn't be the case if Brazilian pilots were constantly hit with such exorbitant fees. It seems to be treat reserved for visitors to Brazil and if they want to encourage GA to come here, they're going to have to recognize how unfair the current fee structure is.Belem will be our last port of call in Brazil and while kind of pity in some ways, the need to get back without further drama is clear to both of us.
Belem to Belem
The stay in Belem was an interesting one. We found an inexpensive hotel that was brand new and delightful near the heart of things and gave ourselves a day of rest after the very tiring trip up from Brasilia. The next bit of flying will be long and hard too requiring early starts with convective weather and uninterrupted jungle so we want to be ready. The day off was spent getting last minute Havaiana sandals and trying bizarre Amazonian fruit ice cream and Mocqueca fish stew. The old part of town has that restored yet still decaying feel to it that is so intriguing. In the morning, we awoke very early and went to the airport so we could get gas, file the flight plan, do customs and immigration, pay the stupid fee and head for Cayenne in French Guiana. After about 2 hours of running around with Elias getting this done, we finally bid farewell to our friends at Lider in Belem where our Lider experience began two months earlier and started the engine. Guess what? You got it!! Low voltage light on, discharge on the ammeter, aural low battery voltage warning all of which heralded the now third time we had a problem with the electrical system. So we added power, reduced power, avionics on and off, kicked and hit various things, lights on and off. Nothing. We shut the engine down. Then started it again and went through the same performance. No good. So as we got out of the airplane having officially "left" Brazil in terms of paperwork, Corrine was stomping back into the Lider hangar to either cry or explode with frustration while I was quietly deciding what to break when all of a sudden, the Huey that was hovering over the airport caught my attention and behind it came 4 C-130 Hercules, 2 CASA 235's dropping parachute stuff while maybe 6 Bandeirantes swirled around like hornets and an F-5E Tiger II fighter shot back and forth. We stood with the Lider guys and watched this splendid display which totally took the wind out of the anger sails and filled the solution sails instead. Elias found a mechanic to help with now our third electrical system fault. In the mean time, I shot out texts to the key players in the drama up to now. The mechanic turned up and took off the alternator for the third time since this all began and disappeared with it to "put in machine". This would tell us what was going on with the Alternador. Vitor, son of Marcelo in Campo Grande is now on the phone from Sao Paulo and talking to his dad. Edimar from Brasilia is also in on it as I cannot raise Cido, the nice mechanic from Luziania and really, we just want to find out what the hell is going on and not apportion blame. Edimar has a friend in Belem called Gilberto who is now involved. The Belem alternator dude has a buddy who is the electronics guy but he is at lunch and will come over when he is done. Tick tock tick tock, we sit in the VIP lounge with its icy air conditioning and are thrilled that Signature/Lider have been so helpful. I nap. Then there is new coffee.Then the electrics guy turns up with a steely look of resolve on his face and an armful of boxes just as the heavens unleash the midday torrent of rain. It sounds like Foz do Iguacu inside the hangar as our latest heroes tackle the engine and its recalcitrant electric system yet again. The brand new voltage regulator is replaced with a really crappy looking old "new" one which passes the "it's working right now" test. All the while, the phone pings and beeps with John Steidinger from Noreast in New Bedford and Vitor in Sao Paulo firing off ideas that seem to vanish into the void of the white noise that is the rainfall hitting the tin roof. And of course these new guys speak no English. After yet another ground run, things are deemed fixed again and everyone packs up and heads off leaving us with a plane that we do not trust. It won't kill us but it will strand us again maybe near Devil's Island where Papillon was set which is our first fuel stop tomorrow but the way.It is clearly easier to leave for Cayenne today as the paperwork says that we should leave today. Tomorrow will be a Groundhog Day repeat of today. But we have fuel so that is one less thing at least. We look at the computer weather and out of the window. Then we thought about how terrifying the way down to Macapa was back in January. Jan 16th in fact. We had to get to Brazil that day because the paperwork said so. Sunset was at 1805 and it was now 1500. Four hours flight time to Cayenne with no alternate to speak of really... Nope!! I was delighted to pull the plug and we booked ourselves into the airport Ibis hotel where we spent our first night in Brazil two months ago. Corrine was a bit sad that we are no closer to her sister but then we are, as the saying goes, down here wishing we were up there rather than up there wishing we were down here. In other words, he who fights and runs away.....Tomorrow, we take the hopefully not too rotten electric system into the air again in the otherwise excellent little plane. If we had a John Steidinger or a Dave Wyeth or a Mark Naumer with us, this would have been solved half a moon ago. Now, it's Papillon with a crap system. Or did these guys get it right this time?
Belem to Grenada
I think I woke up at about 3am and Corrine didn't sleep that well either. We just didn't trust this damn electrical system. We got further "did you try..." emails from our mechanic friends that night and I didn't think we had tried any of those things nor could we have asked them to try them either. So we got up at 6am and skipped breakfast before heading back to Lider. Elias greeted us with a big smile and told us that customs and immigration were OK with us just flying off that morning. No more forms! Even Infraero was happy to just let us go. There is a really good guy here in Belem in the office who looks like, and is jokingly called Hugo Chavez. He knows our story and I wonder if he decided to be kind to us. He was an early friend here. So we really could simply get in, start the engine and go. We again said goodbye to Elias, hoping to see him again but not today, and fired up. No red light! We called for taxi clearance and made our way to runway 06. Still no red light. The winds were a bit better today so off we went to Cayenne 3hrs and 50mins away. Still no red light. We crossed the equator which is right on the Amazon delta and bounced around in the cotton ball cumulus at 6500 ft with a nice little tailwind giving us a helping push. And no red light.After a really rather straightforward flight, we contacted the French Cayenne approach controller and whistled in behind an Air France Airbus. The gas guy was there right away, the flight plan guy grabbed the form and said goodbye, the weather guy printed some stuff and said goodbye, and the landing fee was $20. In thirty minutes, we were out of there. Man, was that nice. We had so come to be used to the 2-3 hour routine south of here and the horrifying expense that often came with it. This was just like in the US except very very rarely do you pay a landing fee in the US. So there we were heading off on our next 3hr and 15min flight to Georgetown, Guyana at noon. Further south, it was usually noon before we got airborne for the first time of the day! The weather guy had explained that it was so hazy because Saharan sand was blowing across the Atlantic so with nothing much to see or to take pictures of, and with a known tailwind, we again climbed to 6500ft, otherwise known as Flight Level 065, and again were humming along nicely. And again, no red light. Everything was working just fine, thankfully, as we were over nothing but jungle. We crossed into Suriname and called the Dutch sounding lady at Paramaribo who saw us along to the border with Guyana as we prepared to do battle with our friends at Ogle airport in Georgetown. Getting in or out of Ogle had seemed like an 80 step process on the way down but it was almost funny and we looked forward to seeing Donald, Trevor, and Mr Beard. Plus the curry at the Pegasus Hotel was really awesome. But luck seemed to be on our side so we decided that if we could get everything done in under an hour, we would continue to Grenada however anything more than that would have us spend the night at the Pegasus. We didn't want to fly on this next leg at night as there is nothing but water between here and Grenada with Venezuela being a no go country thanks, ironically, to the real Hugo Chavez. This was one of the really iffy legs of the journey.We landed on the tiny 07R and Mr Beard was there to meet us. It was nice to see him. Then as we faced immigration, customs, tower, flight plan, fees here and there, and fuel, we asked what he thought about a "gas and go". To our utter astonishment, the whole thing came together like a well oiled machine and everyone pulled together to help. We explained our situation that we had three mechanical problems and an injury over the last two weeks and a pair of sick relatives at home and the whole thing worked out beautifully. I was in fact slightly disappointed not to be spending the night there again as it is one of those cool little countries that you just don't hear much about and nobody ever goes there. Plus there was Kaieteur Falls which we had really hoped to see. But luck seemed to be with us this day and we had a tailwind.After about 45 minutes, off we went. We would land just after dark but had Port of Spain on Trinidad as a really good alternate at sunset if our little red light came on again with Tobago just beyond. We were back up to FL 065 and the tailwind was a bit less but came back eventually. There was cloud but it was pretty benign and cast a pleasant silvery light on things when combined with the Saharan sand that was still reducing our visibility quite a bit. The air was smooth and the red light was dormant and we should have been exhausted but were feeding off the energy from our great little plane working perfectly and the fact that we would make almost 1200 NM in a single day over 11 hours of block time. The Guyana coast faded into the distance and while over the water between there and Trinidad, off the Orinoco delta, we were simply history if the engine quit so why think about it. We chatted, ate crackers filled with cebola e creme, queijo, cherry sprinkle cookies, fiddled with maps and stuff, etc. And I thought of how absolutely amazing it had been to dart along only a few hundred feet above the waves, mudflats and forest swamps here two months earlier with passing flocks of Scarlet Ibis seemingly everywhere. Today, with the recent history of the airplane, we were treating this like an air transport flight. Flight Level, talking to Georgetown, then Piarco, and doing it right in other words. The time shot by as the daylight faded and Corrine then noticed a glowing flarestack on an oil rig just south of Trinidad. "Hey! We're somewhere" I thought to myself as Piarco then engaged us in a lengthy series of "say radial and distance from Papa Oscar Sierra" position reports as a bunch of air carrier stuff turned up all at once. One was a Speedbird. That's a BA flight. I felt a bit nostalgic. Then, as we passed over the very northeastern tip of Trinidad, another BA flight came on going into Grenada no less. We hit a nice little wall of rain with the last gasp of daylight still faintly visible as we were handed over to Grenada and were advised to expect the NDB runway 10 approach to Maurice Bishop airport. Our new Speedbird was told the same thing and you could hear the fear in his voice as he mumbled about trying to concoct a visual approach. For non pilot types, an NDB approach is flown using an ADF in the plane and is like using a sundial to time a 100 meter race. It's proper 1930's technology and the race is on to kill it off once and for all. All the fashionistas with their expensive planes are ripping out their ADF's so they can put in DVD players or other such stuff. I pour scorn on this trend because if we did not have our crappy old ADF, not only would we be unable to listen to baseball games on AM radio but we would be diverting tonight cos the VOR was not working and there ain't no ILS in Grenada. Just this Jimmy Cagney little retro approach. "Sure, we can accept the NDB 10 approach" says I as Speedbird audibly gasps a sigh of relief having made visual contact with the runway and once we saw it and him, we too were cleared for the visual. Having wondered why we practiced NDB approaches every 6 months in the simulator all through my airline career, I was delighted that we had and was oddly disappointed that we wound up doing a visual. This was quite a private moment as Corrine didn't grasp the insidious terror of the reality of "NDB only". Before NDB, there was Charles Lindbergh. But Speedbird landed and so did we and off we went to the hotel of my youth on the DC-10 back in the Caribbean again and out of South America. The plane had done a fabulous job and we were in a place that felt like home. When we were here in early January, the whole thing seemed, as dear and precious friend Jerry had put it, so abstract. Now, we had done what we had set out to do. Arleen at the Grenada Grand was here to help Corrine get her hair done and we have a dive set up for tomorrow. The laundry is being done for us by Steve at our laundromat up the hill who kindly hacked open a couple of gorgeous coconuts for us while we watched a mass goat escape from his field across the road. The water was lovely and for a day, we will thrill at being here and at our achievement yesterday of getting here. To the two dudes in Belem who made yesterday possible, and whose names turned out to be Coca and Alcides, Muito Obrigado! Only three stops to Miami and reality now.
Grenada to Sint Maarten
Grenada was, is, and always will be great. It was so nice to be back and it felt like a pair of old slippers. Comfortable and familiar. We hit the supermarket, took our stuff to the laundromat, Corrine got her hair done and we managed to do some scuba diving for the first time since my hospital thing. The doctors had been somewhat concerned about diving but said OK some time ago however this was the first chance we had to give it a try. Imaging a gentle shallow first dive just to see if my internal organs would explode or my stomach with the hernia would cause discomfort, we headed straight out into a technically advanced dive in heavy open seas rolling off the boat and going straight down to 120 feet. Sharks, rays, barracudas lobsters galore, it was great fun and just fine. No problems at all. We poked around the wreck of a USN Minesweeper before heading off to another dive at 100 feet. The next day while Corrine was at the hairdressers, I again went out with Adrian and the guys at the dive shop and we did the Bianca C. This 600 foot long ocean liner sank after an explosion in 1961 and is just like diving the Titanic. At 130 feet, the bottom time is somewhat limited but it is an awesome sight. So diving again is OK. That was really the last thing from before getting sick that mattered and had been untried. Now it's back with a vengeance. But we needed to get back regrettably. One thing is clear however and that is that the Caribbean is a piece of cake. There are few fees and the gas is a bit pricey but so is getting gas at Teterboro or anywhere in Europe. We will be back. So we fired up at Maurice Bishop Airport after a good breakfast of patties and all hell broke loose. It was vibrating like someone had hung a weight on one of the two propellor blades. Think car with a flat. We shut it down. Then started it up again and ran the power up to 1800 RPM. We checked the mags and cycled the prop which means fiddling with all the stuff that there is to fiddle with. Sounding a little better, we ran it up to almost full power and left it for maybe a minute but probably less. It felt OK there. Then back to 1800 RPM checked stuff again, then back to idle. It was now running normally, smooth as silk, no problem. Corrine is completely freaked out at this point. I'm reasonably happy but have no explanation for it. Perhaps the Saharan sand that we flew through for half a day on our previous leg had something to do with it. We had 400 NM of mostly water ahead of us that day and there was no technical support to speak of in Grenada so after thinking back to the first day of scuba diving when we were bobbing around like corks in the large ocean swells, off we went. The islands are fairly densely packed in around Grenada and the Grenadines and the water is thick with sailboats plus the old airfield was along our route with its wrecked Cuban planes still rusting away from the 1983 US invasion. So we were vigilant during the first part of this flight but little Bluejay was purring along happily so we felt secure to continue. It was much hazier with much more cloud than on the way down which made us realize how lucky we had been to have had that weather. The Grenadines were still gorgeous however as are all of the islands and we marched our way up the chain into increasingly clearer skies with better visibility. A nice shower washed the dust off the plane over Dominica. The volcano on Montserrat was again riveting. We decided to tack on an extra country to our count of now 14 so we did a touch and go on Nevis and before arriving in Sint Maarten again, we decided to turn a bit and check out St Barthelemy which does indeed look lovely. A few miles south of there, some dark shapes caught our eye so we cranked around the airplane for a better look and found ourselves circling a pod of 5 Humpback whales with their white pectoral fins shining brightly in the inky blue water. After a few minutes, they headed down deep so we headed off after yet another flight which ran long because of the stuff we found to look at.After landing over the beach, we were back in the safe hands of Signature Flight Support, aka Arrindell Aviation by Signature, who had looked after is so well back in January. The island it seemed was full so we wound up in a very ratty hotel where a room with a window cost $30 more. A room without a window is what we would call a cell. The disco next door pounded all night long before disgorging its noisy drunks into the streets at 0430 so we had been up most of the night when it was time to leave and after a fond farewell, off we went into again great weather.
Sint Maarten to Providenciales
The plan was the reverse of the way down and therefore, not too challenging as it was familiar. We had thought about looping over Jamaica but there isn't time now so we launched from Sint Maarten over the water towards Puerto Rico and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic beyond. The USVI and BVI lay off to each side of this again longish stretch of water but a suggested right turn by ATC to avoid weather down the line south of San Juan took us over St Thomas and a wonderful looking little island off Puerto Rico called Culebra. It looked so nice. This new heading took us along the north shore of Puerto Rico where we saw almost continuous beaches with nice looking sand. Not all Caribbean islands have nice beaches. Some have none. Then it was another 60 miles of water or so. There aren't a lot of ships and only occasional sailboats here but we said goodbye to San Juan and called Santa Domingo and soon enough, Punta Cana came into sight with what looked like a quarter of the US airline fleet lined up at the terminal feeding people into the huge resorts which lie along the coast. Gas took a while and there was a bit of paperwork to do but soon, we were off again towards Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos. The flight took us up the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic which so amazed us in January as it was our first real jungle terrain after our race against the thunderstorms along the north side of the island. Today was beautiful and clear and the palm tree lined beaches with barley a soul on them invited a low level examination with an occasional group of kids swimming waving up at us. Further inland lie lush green mountains with a variety of plantations and what must be rice paddies in between. One of the things I had wondered about was whether the stuff that at first had seemed so amazing would now seem merely average after all that we had flown over. And you know what? The DR is as jungly and green and beautiful a place as any. Yes there are sad little shanty towns here and there but there are everywhere and this looks like a beautiful country worth coming back to. It is also very friendly to little planes. Our fist baseball field since the beginning of the trip appeared beneath us having only seen cricket and futbol pitches for quite some time. This is a baseball mad country with dozens of the best players in recent years coming from here, and in particular, a little town called San Pedro de Macoris which was right there on the GPS map off to our left. Think Sammy Sosa, Roberto Alomar, etc. It was pure fun zooming along up to Puerto Plata before we climbed to a sensible altitude for the 120NM water crossing to the Turks and Caicos. Again, few ships but the odd one appeared every now and again and the extra altitude gave us a shot of gliding towards one should the engine go bang. Dear old friend and pilot/aircraft mechanic Mark had sent us word that our banging and vibrating engine starts were due to a sticking valve and so long as it soon stopped as it warmed up, all was fine until its next inspection. Good. Thank you Mark. So we nibbled cookies and chatted until the T's & C's came into view. Should we race in and try for a swim? When are we going to be here again though with an airplane? So off we went after making contact with Provo approach, in our now all too familiar style, dropping to 500 ft and heading for stuff to go and look at. We ran up the Caicos chain at between 200 and 500 ft passing over and endless succession of sharks, rays, turtles and large fish that were unmissable in the crystal turquoise waters. We found a blue hole and circled it taking pictures. The tone in the controller's voice after 15 or 20 minutes of this seemed to say "alright, what the hell are you clowns up to?" as we were no closer and in a completely different quadrant of the sky than when we called earlier to say that we were inbound. We have to stop this before we get back to the US. At least on the US east coast, you have to do what you said you were going to do and you can't just peel off and do something else without telling someone. Plus they have radar. They can see you. We seem to have gone a bit native over the last two months and are too used to doing whatever we feel like on a whim. But we were cleared to land about 20 miles out which meant that nobody else was around and after a dazzling little tour, we finally landed. This was it. Next stop, the US.
Providenciales to Naples
The day finally came when we returned to the US and Naples, Florida where we will leave the plane for a maintenance check while we attend to some personal matters for a month or so. With the usual easterly winds, we would have made the Miami area in one hop. Today, we had more unusual westerly winds which meant an intermediate fuel stop in Stella Maris on Long Island in the Bahamas. This again was going to be like day one only the other way around. So we chatted with the nice people at the FBO in Provo who remembered us from January and discovered that we had already been fueled up. This was the first time since, well, here that we didn't have to be present for the fueling process. A nice time saving little convenience. We got our clearance and taxied and took off with no fuss whatsoever and turned for the Bahamas chain. Again, we were immediately struck by the vivid water colors around us and as we headed out over the open water, we decided to turn right a bit so we could look at Mayaguana, the first and westernmost of the Bahamian islands which was very large and had absolutely nobody on it except for a few structures around the oddly huge airport. We altered course slightly here and there so we could hop from island to island and drink in the last of the exotic scenery with each one having turquoise lagoons surrounded by reefs and an amazing scarcity of people. There was the odd little town or settlement but there are also a lot of completely unspoiled islands out there. After two hours spent at or below 1000 ft, we touched down at Stella Maris and were quickly fueled up and cleared to go by customs. Our old friend Livingstone Griffiths from January was there again.Then, it was time to go to Opa Locka airport which is just north of Miami International and is an airport of entry meaning it has customs. While very free in every sense of the word to fly within, the US is tedious to fly into from another country. You have to file an eAPIS which is an electronic pre notification to customs and immigration. Then you have to call the customs facility and get the secret code so they can't pretend they didn't know that you were coming and fine you a huge amount of money. With so many government agencies buzzing around fighting the war on terror or the war on drugs, it seemed wise to mitigate the effects of the war on general aviation by filing an instrument flight plan so that we were fully "in the system" which meant going up high so everyone could see us coming on radar from many miles out. After hacking along at our usual low altitude for a while, we were given our clearance to climb to 8000 ft by Miami and did so while heading straight for Opa Locka. Even at this ethereal for us height, the islands looked jewel like once again making me realize that among the most visually stunning things that we have seen, some of the top sights are right on our doorstep and are certainly well within the capability of any reasonably proficient pilot to go and see. One by one, the islands fell away behind us with the largest, Andros finally appearing and then little Bimini only 50 miles from Miami. After Bimini, we were back in domestic US airspace with millions of other planes and directions and turns and descent clearances. We had not been told what to do very much at all in the last couple of months and it felt confining. And of course clearing customs was dreary and meant mostly unloading the plane one final time but the kindly agent took pity on our overstuffed little Cessna and looked through the worst of it on the ramp. But then we were cleared to go. Nobody asked for money and we didn't have to file a flight plan. So we just hopped in and completed the final 40 minutes to Naples where we were met by dear friend Lyle and a news team from the Naples newspaper and local TV station no less. After a frantic day of shuffling around all our stuff, I flew Corrine to Miami so she could return to the the UK and see her family while Lyle and I flew back at sunset to Naples straight across the wilderness of the Everglades. Having landed at the gigantic hub airport of Miami International, we were only charged a nuisance fee of $25 which is one of very few airports in the US that charge such fees and do so only to deter pests like us in little Cessna's. Bluejay will now be going into the hangar at Prime Planes in Naples with a list of little things to be looked at and a well earned oil change. It really performed wonderfully give what we asked of it and where we took it. The three electrical problems should really have only been one but something was always going to break just like I was bound to get injured or sick at some point and we were bound to hit weather and get scared. All these things happened but as I sit here shoehorned into a seat on a jetBlue airbus on my way up to Boston, it feels almost dreamlike to think of what we have done and seen and quite sad that it's kind of over but it is not over just yet. Once Corrine recovers from her operation that is slated for next week, we will return to Naples and complete the final leg up the east coast to Nantucket. So to all who have so kindly taken an interest in journey, thank you and we'll see you in about a month.
Naples to Nantucket
It has become apparent how incredible the journey really was on every level not the least of which was that for three precious months, we existed in a fabulous bubble insulated from the harsher realities of our lives. It was a time of amazing experiences meeting fabulous people and seeing beautiful things from a privileged vantage point that few of us will ever have the chance to see. We knew the arrival into Naples marked the beginning of a "difficult" time but we didn't know how difficult it would be. We returned to the UK for Corrine's quite major operation which thankfully went well as did her recovery. We also got bad news about her sister Belinda's battle with cancer which has continued to spread throughout her 12 year battle with this awful disease. It just seems to march on unabated.
Once cleared by her doctor to fly again, Corrine and I returned to Naples from Heathrow to prepare for the final leg of our journey back to Nantucket. Our little Blue Jay had been in the hangar for much of our month away getting her annual done and taking care of some of the wear that she experienced on the flight. The pitted prop is now smooth again, the Patagonian dust has been removed from the wheel bearings and the wretched video system which never worked has been removed. A wonderful low level test flight over the 10,000 Islands and Everglades City found the engine to be running smoother perhaps than ever thanks to Frank Oliver, our mechanic friend in Naples. As we were packing up for the flight north, we got a phone call informing us that my mother had passed away quietly in bed which was not entirely unexpected but of course came as a huge shock. So instead of taking our time finding neat things to see, flying over the Outer Banks and arriving to a hangar party full of our friends, the flight became a straight line race to get back as soon as we could to an empty house which we would have come back to in only a couple of days anyway.
We were going to try and make it in one day. The long haul pilot in me does not mind a 10 or 11 hour day so long as we don't do it too often and today, we had a good reason. But packing took longer than expected so we got off to a late start. As Naples receded into the distance, we concentrated on finding the best groundspeed which sadly meant climbing up to 7500 ft where we got 115 kts instead of 105 kts. We passed over Orlando and headed towards Jacksonville with big cumulus and CB clouds all around but scattered enough that we were able to stay in the clear. The plan had been to refuel in Savannah at Signature but the only way we were going to arrive in Nantucket with any fuel at all in dense fog at 1am was to go as far as we could on the first tank so we radioed them and apologized for not showing up and continued on to Charleston, South Carolina. After gassing up, we flew over the old part of this appealing city and the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier before heading in essentially a straight line towards Atlantic City, New Jersey. Apart from the fog all over the northeast from New York on up, the only weather around were some thunderstorms near Norfolk, Virginia which, by the time we got there, were mostly dissipating and were mostly not along our track. Night was now falling and we were getting lots of weather reports from the guy on Flightwatch 122.0 MHz which suggested that we had few options on our last leg to Nantucket. Everything was either down with fog or was deteriorating towards being down. Bradley near Hartford was still pretty much OK but the fog sometimes has a way of wandering up the Connecticut River and taking it out as well. So now in total darkness, we could see areas of low cloud creeping in from the chilly Atlantic off to our right. One sees a halo effect around street lights when fog is forming which, had JFK Jr. flown along the coast the night of his accident instead of out over pitch black water, he would have seen and would have told him that trouble was brewing.
Atlantic City was in the clear however so after landing, we pulled up near the east coast F-18 Super Hornet display aircraft which had to divert there from New York JFK again due to fog. After refueling, we looked at the weather on the computer in the FBO and both came to the simultaneous conclusion that it would be much wiser to spend the night. We were tired, the weather sucked, you can't see what you're going to hit if the engine quits at night and mentally, we were not up to scratch. So we slept like logs in a lovely new hotel which had a crew rate and lived to fight another day. And Bradley did go down so we would have been screwed had we continued into the murky darkness.
The morning brought fog to the Jersey shore which cleared soon enough and upon our return to Atlantic City airport, we chatted and took pictures with the F-18 guys before heading off on an IFR, or instrument clearance home. This meant north to New York and then east to Nantucket. New York is famous for the hideous routings given to little airplanes due to the huge amount of airline traffic at the three major airports and numerous secondary ones. And as we punched up through the overcast, we could see big developing towering cumulus all around us. Great, fog AND thunderstorms. So as we were being vectored around, we asked for direct to JFK and were told "it ain't gonna happen" by ATC. Then we were turned west to some radio beacon about 50 miles the wrong way by the controller who then asked us "where are you going?" as his vector put us right into the edge of a storm cloud with its turbulence buffeting us. After hissing down the radio, we were then turned back north and after a few minutes, were given direct JFK after all. When we weren't in the midst of big puffy clouds, we could only see odd glimpses of the ground as the fog was thinning but not very much. Again, we were up at 7000 ft and it was a pity to have missed buzzing up the Hudson low level past Manhattan but at least things were lifting in Nantucket which was now just about open with Providence and Hyannis workable as well. After crossing JFK, we flew over Connecticut seeing virtually none of it over the solid undercast until heading offshore towards Block island where occasional glimpses of ocean could be seen as the big puffy stuff died out over the cold water. Take away the warm ground below and big clouds soon lose their energy which is why we seldom get thunderstorms out here that aren't frontal. Our routing took us well offshore and this used to make us a little concerned but after the Falklands, it now seemed rather pedestrian. The miles ticked away nicely as we now had a pleasing 130 kts groundspeed and soon, we were being vectored for an ILS approach to runway 24. Then it came. "proceed direct Waivs when able and hold as published." Excellent! An NDB holding pattern. Remember the NDB approach into Grenada, folks? Well here was the other hated thing using the instrument from the 1930's that people are taking out of their planes. It can be very inaccurate, is tricky to visualize, and stupidly points at lightning. So off we went, flew a direct entry, turned outbound, timed one minute and turned inbound to find ourselves exactly on the inbound course of 241 degrees. Apologies to non pilots but this may not quite be a hole in one but it's better than an eagle to use a golfing analogy. The fun soon ended and we were back on the ILS again with the needles swinging at each other like swords in a fencing duel and we popped out of the murk at 300 feet.
As we taxied in, the fact that our journey had come to a muted end hit us along with the knowledge that we were in for a very sad few days ahead handling my mum's affairs. But what a journey this had been and the ironic thing is that we never would have done it without my having fallen sick, followed by 2 months in a coma, 5 months in intensive care, learning to walk again, broken bones, career in tatters, etc. It was the coolest thing that I have ever done and I would not have missed it for the world which means that all of the horrors were somehow worth it. What's next? Something will be. When the head clears a bit, we'll think of it but again, dear friends, the whole point of this thing was to try and get people to think about becoming organ donors. It's FREE, you WILL save life and all you are doing is recycling something that would otherwise get thrown away. One donor can save 8 lives and improve 75 others and people are dying every hour of every day around the world because there aren't enough people recycling themselves. Let's treat life with the same respect that we would treat an empty water bottle with.