In the weeks that I was in the UK recovering from my op I could see that Chris was getting itchy feet, becoming increasingly restless and being, well quite frankly a pain in the butt!! I understood why he was in this state of flux, that twitchy, agitated, expectant, pacing pa bear kind of way. And although I in my recovery condition could do nothing to help him abate his frustration of being land bound, and also felt strange being stuck in one place, I appreciated the root of his edginess.
We had just spent an incredible 3 months on a trip of a lifetime, in pursuit of spreading the word about organ donor awareness, we had flown into places in our little plane that not many people risked going near to in a one engine Cessna. Not only that, but we had seen such breathtaking scenery, met incredible, wonderful people, and had the most amazing flying experiences that we could never replicate. The pure thrill and high of the adventure, although not over had stalled, and here we were playing the waiting game. As soon as my doctors give me the green light, off we are again flying on our adventure!!!
Once arriving in Naples we decamped and headed off to check out “old Blue Jay”. This could be found in the hanger getting a full service and annual by the lovely Frank Oliver, a worldly man who had a great sense of humour and huge knowledge about airplanes. Our plane was buffed, oiled, and smoothed. All the dust, dents and scratches of our trip were now all polished away. On our test flight the engine purred, and the plane performed wonderfully. It flew smooth” like a baby’s bottom” as we swooped over the everglades, I noticed familiar land marks of our old neighbourhood such as the famous pier at Naples beach, and the Coastland shopping Mall. It was good to be back, and we both felt on form again.
As we were preparing for our flight back north to Nantucket, I heard that friends were preparing a “welcome home” hangar party with newspapers reporters awaiting our return. I was extremely touched that so many people had been following our journey, and also excited to be going home to see old friends, eager to be celebrating with them on completing our mission.
Chris and I began to plan our route home, he was excited in revisiting the Outer Banks and we talked about maybe spending some time in Charleston, and popping into Savannah where we knew there were some Signature personnel we wanted to meet. We packed “old blue Jay” to the gills again before heading off to the beach for a swim. The next few days we caught up with our Naples friends; having nice lunches, dinners, and attending a blessing at a new Art gallery of our dear friends Eileen and Paul Arsenault. We were winding down our Naples operation when we got a call from both the UK and Nantucket, both bad news. My sister’s cancer had spread to her brain, and she was having seizures and poor Chris’s mum had finally passed away. Both bits of news were totally shocking to us and although Chris’s mum had been sick for a while, we were still not ready to hear this terrible news. Within minutes we were hastily packing our stuff, cancelling any prearranged events, and calling off anything we had hope to attend. We prepared for a rapid return to Nantucket, Cape Cod without and delay.
Our morning of departing was slow, due to many time consuming petty chores in which neither of us had the patience or the focus to deal with. When we arrived at our plane we were both hot and sweaty and rather jangled. We left without much of a goodbye to anyone; in my mind I had a different picture of how we would be leaving Naples. Our departure, it would be more personal; taking time to drop in and chat and thank those who have supported our cause. Also acknowledging those who have just been kind, giving and helpful to us. Instead we raced around shaking hands and thanked everyone we could before fly the coop.
We headed off towards Orlando and Jacksonville, looking for the best groundspeed so we could get home ASAP. The weather was not very impressive, not great for taking pictures and not especially ideal or good for VFR flying although perfectly legal. Out of our window was grey scattered cloud cover, and in the distance a handful of thunderstorms brewing up around us, typical good old Florida weather! The best groundspeed we could find was 115 knots way up high at 7500 feet, again not an idyllic for us to look out of the window and drink up the views, but good in taking us on our way home, and quicker than lower altitude levels. We knew that we were not following our normal pattern of swooping down low to catch a good picture or circling interesting landscapes or pretty shapes in the sea, our main focus was getting home!
We both kept our attention on flying the plane, but felt deflated by the way our adventure was ending. We unfortunately did not get to speak to our Signature friends in Savannah as planned but decided the best way to get to Nantucket quickly and effectively was to continue without stopping until we really needed fuel which was in Charleston, South Carolina.
We plodded on towards the Nantucket, listening to the weather reports along the way on Flight watch. The North east weather was not good, we were hearing heavy rain, scattered thunderstorms and fog in some places, it seemed to me as though the “weather gods” were not on our side today and we were going into some challenging flying conditions. Basically the weather conditions the nearer we got to home were becoming worst. New York has always been a safe haven, a place we scoot into when the weather conditions e especially in ACK (Nantucket) are bad. But even tonight JFK was looking pretty dismal regarding VFR; the raining was intermittently pounding the plane, and we were seeing fog building up around the route we usually take when spending the night in New York. The weather conditions seemed eerie, ghostly and spooky to me. The lower levels below us appeared like one of those horror movies when the fog rolls in and out and you have the “now you see me, now you don’t” images. I had a Cathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights Bodmin moors impression in my mind as I watched the low cloud mixing with the damp air forming spreading fog. We were both quiet for a while, taking in the situation and mulling over our options. Chris and I eventually began to talking, and the subject we rested on was the JFK Jr. air plane accident. It would have happened not far from where we were flying, in almost exactly the same weather conditions in which he had flown with his wife and sister-in-law before he crashed in his plane. As I looked out of the window seeing the darkness starting to fall, as I said before, it was eerie. After discussing our options, did we forge on to our next point of call which was Bradley near Hartford as it was not looking too bad? Or thinking about the unsettled weather, visibility and our physical state we both decided that although we could probably make Bradley, we were conscious that we had started to have the “got to get home devil in our heads, and it was a good idea and sensible to land ASAP.
Atlantic City we heard from weather reports, was in the clear so we heading into there. It is not a place we have stopped before but it would do us for a night. After we landed and taxied in, much to Chris’s excitement, there on the ramp was an F-18 Super Hornet one used at air shows. We both wondered what it doing here and after we disembarked and walked to the FBO we found out from the ramp guys, that just like us the pilots had landed and decided to night stop due to bad weather.
I did not realize how physically, mentally and emotionally tired we both were until we got to our hotel room. It was a brand new hotel with a kitchenette area with a microwave, real size fridge and a cupboard full of chinaware and cooking utensils. The bed was king size with many pillows and cushions, one of those deep, snug comfy beds that you do not want to be disturbed from, and once you are in it, you need to stay in it without moving a limb from the fluffy sanctuary for a few restful days!!!.
The next day refreshed from our lovely deep sleep, Chris checked the weather and although fog was still around the Atlantic City area, it was due to clear around noon. So a leisurely breakfast was on my agenda today rather than a gulped down off we go one, that usually occurs when bad weather is around us, normally nipping at our tail. After we had breakfast we headed to the airport, much to our delight the F-18 guys were also at the FBO checking the weather so we were able to tell them about our mission, get pictures and plan our route home.
We were still in IFR weather conditions so we knew it was going to be an “entertaining day of flying”. After we took off out of Atlantic City we were given vectors (headings) from the air traffic controller in the wrong direction to where we were heading. Chris and I have experienced this before in bad weather where the New York controllers under pressure to make way for the big jets, the airline traffic and move us out into the “never never land” before turning us around in the right bearing. This meant we were heading north to New York and then east to Nantucket at 7000 feet .At this altitude of course, the view on the ground is obscured by the clouds but we were also aware that we were being surrounded by bad weather conditions again. We observed the building up of and developing towering cumulus all around us. I was not very happy about this and was getting a little nervous as the thunderstorms were getting closer. Chris with the experience of a jumbo jet captain, voiced his concerns about our vectoring direction and asked for direct to JFK and was told "it ain't gonna happen" by the ATC. We were now being sent the wrong way, I was now getting anxious and Chris was now getting irritated as we were told to turn west to a radio beacon about 50 miles the wrong way. This also was directing us into thunderstorms and turbulence which was unrelenting and getting worst. The controller I am guessing was obviously overawed with the workload of the planes he was handling or was just having a bad day, but nevertheless he did not seem to have a clue and was missing calls from planes in the area and not responding promptly. After a request from Chris to be given a vector to our planned route, much to my horror he asked "where are you going?" Chris in a curt voice of authority explained our destination and we were immediately turned back to a north heading and after a few minutes, were given direct JFK. The view out of the window today was not worth taking an pictures, as it was grey, cloudy and miserable, we had hoped to snap a few pictures flying over the Hudson river which we always do on this route as vista on a good weather day is stunning as we fly over Manhattan but this was not going to happen on this flight.
After leaving JFK, we flew over Connecticut not seeing a single thing due to the nasty weather conditions, and then headed off over the water towards Block Island. This was once a fairly long water crossing for us but we both joked that now we have done the Falklands this was a walk in the park!! The groundspeed was not too bad today and we had been getting around 120-130 along our route which is not bad for our “little blue Jay”.
We found out that Nantucket was “fogged in” which is usual for this time of year but it seemed to have an negative impact on my spirits as I was hoping we could at least see our home tuft from the air as we had waited so long to return, because be it night or day seeing the old “grey Lady” from the air is always a thrill for me.
We were being vectored for an ILS approach to runway 24, but then we were given a NDB holding pattern. I have not been trained to fly IFR or do a NDB approach but Chris with all his hours of experience is, and finds these approaches great fun. It basically looks from the uninitiated that you are heading into a dark hole between the clouds and it feels like it your heading directly into an uncontrolled slow dive. In reality, flying by instruments is said to be more controlled than VFR, and once a pilot masters the skillful demand of certificate it makes one a more competent pilot, this I hope to one day achieve. I watch in awe as Chris flies the approach and gets us somehow heading back to the ILS. I have seen him fly many times into foggy old Nantucket but this time I watch with a little lump in my throat as we dive into the grey fog and pop out to see the runway at about 400-300 feet. We are finally back!!!!!!
As we taxi to our to our hangar we are both pretty quiet, I can’t believe we have finally achieved I a feat that I really at the start did not think could happen. I would have never of thought that Chris as sick as he was could have walked without assistance before this trip. But here we were after a trip of a lifetime, 3 months later completing our mission.
No one knows what is around the corner, or can see what life will bring you good or bad. Chris was unlucky to have experienced a life changing health issue that put him in a coma for 2 months, in need of a new liver. We had no warning of his collapse, it was a total shock, but we were lucky, or blessed that someone believed in becoming an organ donor which gave Chris a second chance in life. While I watched my husband lay in a coma on death’s door awaiting a liver transplant, I thought why wouldn’t people become donors, they don’t need them once they are gone? When I asked friends and family members they said they just had not thought about it, or had not got around to ticking the box on their driving license.
Please think about becoming a donor, please talk to your loved ones about it, and please make your wishes to be a donor clear to those family members and partners in your life. There is a worldwide shortage of organ donors and in becoming a donor you WILL save 8 lives. You donation will be given to people just like you, me or Chris. Surely recycling your life is better than throwing it away.
Thank you for reading my blog, looking at our pictures and listening to our message.
Leaving Providenciales I felt a twinge of sadness as we both knew that this was our last exotic leg of our adventure together. Our mission was Cape Cod to Cape Horn which is still going to be achieved but we needed to attend to some other pressing matters. I knew as soon as I hit the ground running in Naples I would be winging my way back to the UK to see my sick sister and also attend to a medical issue of my own which entails being in hospital for an operation and a few weeks “out of action”. Chris on the other hand had to attend to his elderly sick mother in the US and also return to the liver clinic to be checked out. Poor Blue Jay was obviously now in need of some maintenance issues and would need to be in the hangar for a while. All these important concerns had been hanging at the back of my mind, but were starting to be pushed to the forefront as I finally packed our luggage into number two baggage compartment. In a month or so we would be able to complete our journey by taking Blue Jay back to Cape Cod but now my focus was getting us safely back to the USA.
We set off towards the Bahamas but as we both realized that was going to be our last chance to appreciate the freedom of flying low and looking at the world out of our little plane up close.So we decided to do a rather in direct route. We swooped low checking out the chain of isolated Bahamian islands and fantasized about owning and living on almost every pristine inlet and bay we saw. The colour of the water, like most long bodies of water we have seen on this trip will never stop to amaze me. The aquamarine, lagoons and blue green colours of the water skimming off perfect reefs were so alluring and inviting I could almost feel the physical urge to jump right into the wonderful enticing sea. I was in awe of how perfect these places were without human interference and how lucky we were to have had this chance to see it. We spend a couple of hours drinking in the spectacular views and then reluctantly headed toward Stella Maris where we needed to clear customs and refuel. This small airport was empty but for a handful of people milling about. Chris went to the customs and immigration office where I sought out the refueling person. With dollars in my pocket and after almost three months here we were back to our very first stop less naïve and inexperienced but now seasoned and shrewd, but everything here was above board and there was no need to haggle or question the total sum of the refueling, it was what it was . I found two airport ladies wandering around and asked them where I could find the refueling man as his office was closed. They directed me to where he was and asked “Are you a pilot?” and when I said yes they were ecstatic. “Good for you girl, you go get them” and other encouraging words they said as they shook my hand. I felt a huge wave of pride and connection, that these women supported me as a women pilot but also as one of their own. I found the nice refueling man and he recognized me from our first visit, we talked about our journey and exchanged small talk. Whilst walking to the customs and immigration office to find Chris I was approached by an American pilot who had landed just before us with his wife and children. “Hey you go find me a cart for our luggage right now, I am the pilot that has just landed over there in the plane on the ramp, and you need bring it quickly” a man barked at me as I walked towards him. At first I was just about to give him a few choice words, but no I took a deep breath and said” I have no idea where the carts are kept for the luggage as I am not from here , as I am actually a PILOT just like you and I have MY plane also on the ramp over there!!The man’s mouth was agape, flies could have flown in, and he was visibly shocked. I think my English accent took him aback and my quick retort blew him away. Before he could mutter another word I continued my walked to the office but as I glance over my shoulder I noticed the two airport women who I had spoken to earlier sitting behind me on a coffee break. I looked at their faces and they were beaming from ear to ear and nodding at me with glee. I found Chris in the customs and immigration office talking a group of immigration officers with Livingstone Griffiths, who we met in January. He had made such an impression on us that I greeted him as an old friend. He seemed bemused as we had obviously just been customers to him, but to us he was the first positive encouragement we had at the start of our journey. After all the formalities we made our way back to our plane, only to see the pilot who had spoken down to me struggling with a dodgy baggage cart with a broken wheel (you know the ones that you can’t steer) while the taxi driver gave me a huge smile and continued to talking to a women, who happened to be one of the two airport women I had spoken to. I gave the pilot a stony stare and jumped into the left hand pilots seat and fired up the plane, I could see by his face he was totally mortified. I have been taught one should never assume anything about people, and this is a theme that has followed me throughout my life .People look at me and judge me before at least trying to even find out anything about me, but I suppose it is the way of the world, human nature. I try to treat everyone as I would like to be treated and have been brought up to think we are all equal. I can see why some ignorant people in the USA were shocked about having a mixed race president because they could not get their heads around thinking that someone of colour could fit into this position. I have often been mistaken as my mother-in-law house keeper or cleaner, and often when Chris and I have checked into hotels we are automatically assumed to be friends, as the idea of being a married couple just does not register or occur to some. Many times Chris has said “it is OK we are married we can share the same room”. Anyway I digress, but was both disappointed pissed off that my first interaction with a USA citizen was a negative one after all this time away.
Next stop was Opa Locka airport which is just north of Miami International and is an airport of entry meaning we have to clear customs and immigration again as we are now coming from a foreign country. To enter the USA there is reams of paperwork and filing of eApis, an electronic pre notification to customs and immigration. Chris had to call a special number before we left Stella Maris to get a secret code so they know we were coming. He also had to file an instrument flight plan so that we were fully "in the system" and on radar .We flew over many wonderful islands, some with no names or others I cannot remember. They all began to merge into my delightful memories of breathtaking scenery which I am very much grateful for having had the chance to see them. We finally see Bimini, which is about fifty miles away from Miami. Soon we are back to US airspace; it is a real shock because all of a sudden I hear what seems like hundreds of voices all talking at once. It takes a while for my ears to get tuned into Miami airwaves, as Miami traffic control was extremely busy, vectoring in airplanes and giving and directions, clearances and descents in the area. I am exhausted and overwhelmed by the incessant chatter, and after a while I zoned out a bit and looked at Chris who is very comfortable back in his old familiar role talking to US air traffic control, responding with the same quick short fired answers as the questions were delivered. Clearing customs seemed like a long drawn out process, and we were asked several questions one being “did you really fly this little plane all that way to South America, and land at all of these 14 different countries?” Unloading and loading the plane fully was a nightmare, as we had our whole three months of travelling compartmentalized into separate containers and bags. For example I had rocks from Patagonia in bags, souvenirs from the Argentina in containers, Chris had sand from the Falklands, I had shells and flip flops from South America, we even had the broken part of our airplane as a memento after my incident take off!!! When the customs lady walked around our overstuffed little plane, as we unloaded it for her to inspect she was not impressed. To her horror there was more than she bargained for and all she could say was “so many itsy bitsy little bags, so much stuff!” When we were finally cleared we reboarded our little plane and continued our journey towards Naples. Flying our old familiar commute route from Miami to Naples seemed strange to me now. I was always a little daunted of going over Alligator Alley and the Everglades, the thirty minutes of over swamp land had freaked me out a little before this journey, but today it seemed like no big deal. The forty minute leg was bittersweet because I was glad that we had made it back to the USA in one piece, but the most exotic part of our mission was coming to an end. We now have to take our old Blue Jay to Cape Cod, and although it will be fun it will not be as glamourous and different, as in going to the most southern tip of the world.
On approaching Naples airport Chris asked the controller if he could do a low approach, which was approved of and just for old time’s sake he did a kind of “buzz job” keeping within local legal limits. On landing at Naples we were met by many people, the airport manager, the friendly operation staff, various ground crew, and news team from the Naples newspaper and a local TV station. Most importantly we were met by our dear friend Lyle, and old friend of Chris’s whose friendship goes way back, and just seeing his smiling face was treat and made it a wonderful warm welcome.
It was an incredible journey where I hope we have collected some money for the Kings College cause, but most importantly raised organ donor awareness and made people see that in becoming a donor you can give a second chance of life to someone. I hope by people seeing Chris living life to the full despite having a liver transplant the message was heard. I know from positive emails from many people it has prompted some to become donors after reading about two “idiots in little plane”. It was a journey that was not without danger, stress, problems and frustrations, but a brilliant trip of a life time. I hope after recovering from my operation and taking old Blue jay back to Nantucket people will continue to follow our journey. Many thanks and much love to all of the brilliant people who have supported us along this journey.
We were both looking forward to landing in” Provo” Turks and Caicos as it had been one of the first exotic stops along our way on the journey south. It has this weird mix of Caribbean, English, and America brew about it, and although it seems Caribbean in most aspects with palm trees, white beaches, turquoise sea, and people talking in a pretty sing along lilt uniquely from the “islands”. It is a British Overseas territory, where people drive on the left hand side, speak English and Queen Elizabeth II is the ruling monarch. As for the US element the food in the supermarket comes from the states, the wattage on plugs are the same and currency used is US dollars.
Our route from St Maarten took us towards Puerto Rico and Punta Cana where we refueled, and up the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic. We really took in all of the sights of both the US and British Virgin Islands which looked incredibly inviting and pristine. Chris clicked away as we swooped low “bushman style” as I called it taking advantage of being off the radar in some stretches and we were able to see pretty clearly lovely remote picturesque beaches. On this crossing of miles and miles of beautiful clear sea we strangely did not see one boat, or hear much air traffic on this leg. We noticed for the first time how an achievable and easy it would be to vacation in Dominican Republic and also how beautiful and lush it was.
Onwards we fly along our journey, both enjoying the temperature in the cabin (not 100 degree plus) and both having mixed emotions. I know Chris does not want this journey to end, and although I have enjoyed this experience and pleased to have had been able to be part of unique trip of a lifetime promoting a good and worthy cause. I was also really looking forward to getting back to see my sister and family. I have had also a small niggling concern at the back of my mind about getting back to the UK in time to have an important operation in which is schedule in a week or so. As we reach the chain of Turks and Caicos Islands we both agreed as we were in “spitting distance” it would be really cool to check them out and fly low investigating what they look like. To my surprise the little bays and inlet which were pretty shallow were chock full of sea life. There were obvious dark shapes in the aquamarine water that had to be sharks, rays, and turtles and there were the most stunning little sandy isolated beaches with outstanding reefs that looked fun to snorkel around. I was now starting to feel a little melancholy as it was really hitting me that it was the end of our adventure and despite other issues on my mind the quest to promote organ donor awareness was almost over. We meandered around the little islands at about 500 feet and eventually after getting clearance to land we slowly made our way towards the airport. In sighting the airport runway I felt good, it was nice to check out the remote parts of TC, and I knew I liked it here. The paperwork formalities are very slick and quick and hotel is very clean, quiet and peaceful. I know last time we stayed here we were very rested and comfortable. Tomorrow will be interesting, as we are going to hit USA soil, and be back to reality from our venture. Dealing with US customs and excise and immigration may be a drama as we will be returning back and also re-entering the USA after 14 landings in 14 different countries. Our escapade may raise some questions and red flags but I hope not too much of a nightmare for us.
It was just wonderful to be back in Grenada, the hotel was just as I remembered second time around. I really felt relaxed and happy the moment we dumped all our bags and headed to the bar for a celebratory rum punch, having made it all the way from Belem with no problems. Everything seemed easier now we were in Grenada; there were no paperwork dramas when we landed, or huge handling or landing fees. The hotel as mentioned on outward leg was perfectly situated as across the road from a small shopping mall, which had both a bank and a supermarket, and then up the road was a Laundromat. On the first day we just chilled out and did nothing but lay by the pool and read. On the second day both Chris and I went for our first scuba dive in two years. It was a two tank wreck dive in which we were both really thrilled about doing. The one thing I was worried about though was despite Chris having liver transplant two years ago and being pretty healthy, he has a hernia. His hernia is where his scar is and he is awaiting to have corrective surgery when we get back to the UK, and I hoped that is would not cause him pain when we descended at the dive sites. All was well, and although the boat journey out to both dive wrecks was REALLY choppy and nausea making, we eagerly both donned our diving gear and as soon as we touched the water it all came back to me!It was wonderful to be doing an activity that I found great fun and had a passion for again. I loved doing wreck dives as you can always let your mind run wild and imagine what the boats looked like in their prime. We must have dove down to 100-120 feet, and we saw sharks, rays, barracudas, and spiny lobsters. The highlight for me was when a turtle swam around the dive group and then came almost nose to nose with me about 10 inches away from my face!!
I had to get my hair fixed, so what an ideal place such as Grenada to have it done, as it was starting to look like untidy dreadlocks or ratty old plaits. The lovely Arleen, from hotel customer services organized for me to meet a girl called LaTonia. LaTonia sometimes works for the salon Che Pam in town, and can do single plaits(what I have )I was now starting be embarrassed by my hair state I felt like a tramp. It does not matter if I am wearing a trendy outfit or expensive jewelry, if my hair is not right, I don’t feel right. Luckily LaTonia did a fairly nice job and I now look a little more presentable. I wandered around St George the capital city of Grenada, grabbed a local shrimp pattie and I people watched. I loved that the school kids all wore formal school uniforms despite the heat, although as usual there we the handful of cool kids who had made it “street cred” by wearing their ties short and fat, or the girls hitching their waist band of their skirt up to make it look shorter. It made me laugh to myself because the same think happen at my school in England many years ago.
I strolled down to the dock and watched a gaggle of women barter for fresh fish with the local fishermen, to each one by the bucket loads. I felt very comfortable in Grenada, almost at home. No one stared at Chris and I in a strange way for being a mixed race couple and people were friendly and I felt safe walking around on my own.
On the last night we went to Port Louis marina, and had a lovely local grilled fish meal overlooking pretty elegant boats from all over the USA. We used the local bus which was a small mini bus which the locals used and cost 2.50 local dollars each. I actually enjoyed riding the bus in and out of town, as you got to sit with the local people and hear them natter to each other whilst every bus HAD TO HAVE very loud music. The bus driver of the minibus had a conductor, a guy who just sat in the seat nearest the door. His job was varied; he collected the money, opened the door, told the driver where you wanted stop and assisted old people, women with shopping bags, small children on and off the bus.
In the morning we regrettably made tracks toward Maurice Bishop Airport, we grabbed a bite to eat (chicken patties) and made our way through security, flight planning the usual drill. Once ready to go we started our run up only to have the airplane rattle really violent that it scared me to death. The more we put our foot on the pedal the shaking got worst, it was also running rough in idle!!No, no not again I thought, I asked Chris “what do you think this is?” In which he said nothing but looked really concerned and continued to stare ahead reviving the engine! I am a talker as most people know, I need to have communication or I am worried and start thinking deeply into many more serious reasons why the engine is about to blow up! Now the airplane was doing this vibrating thing, and Chris was going into his own world, I was slowly working myself into a froth!!. Why is he not answering, maybe he is too scare to tell me that we are truly buggered? After a while the vibrating stops and the plane starts to run smooth. Chris tells it is OK so I blindly believe him and we take off towards our next stop St Maarten. I am pretty nervous and ask him why he thinks we had the vibrating on run up and he say “No idea” not what I want my 747 captain(comfort blanket) to say, I need him to have an answer to calm me, as he usually know everything about all airplanes, so not having a clue slightly un-nerves me! We both start talking about our flight coming to Grenada and we both remember that the last time we had flown it was hazy due to a sand storm from the Saharan dessert. As we proceed along the Caribbean chain I am now nervously listening to every sound the plane makes and watching every dial in front of me like a hawk, waiting to see if all is really OK as Chris had stated. After a while it does prove to be the case, I relax and start paying attention to the sights down below us. Chris has decided he needs to land in another country in order to make the number of countries we have landed total 14. So as we fly over St Kitts and Nevis and which look spectacular and ask to do a touch and go in Nevis. We carry on along our route still impressed by the stunning views we are seeing below when Chris suddenly shouts out “Did you see that big splash? I think I have just seen some whales, turn the plane around right now!” I do a 180 degrees turn and then circle around where he had spotted the big splash, and sure enough the big splashes are five Humpback whales. We can see even from our plane at 1000 their white pectoral fins clear as day in the blue water. After Chris gets some shots of them we make tracks toward the amazing airport in St Maarten which you land over the beach. I decide I want to do this landing as it is a thrill on finals to have avid plane spotters who wave and cheer just as you touch down. Once we get to our parking spot we are met by the Signature Flight Support manager Roy and ground handling agent Kelly. We have not booked hotel because due to many previous plane issues we cannot always guarantee we will make it to our destination. Unfortunately we will later regret this as after calling around we find EVERY hotel is full. So we wound up in a seedy hotel in which in our room there is a hole in the bathroom ceiling repaired with duct tape, a filthy shower full of dirty hair clogging up the plug under the shower mat and sheets on the bed smelt unclean. To top it all off, the hotel was situated next to a nightclub which pounded loud music until the early hours of the morning, and to add extra insult to our sleepless night most of the revelers were staying in our hotel, so we got to hear their drunken arguments, amorous farewells, and loud exchanges as they left the club and went to bed. In the morning we were met by the Signature crew and some familiar faces from outward bound leg. We got refueled as usual and headed towards our next stop Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos.
In the morning we are greeted by the same taxi driver who dropped us of the day before, he is shocked to see us still in Brazil. We then arrive at the Lider office to find that the paperwork that we completed yesterday is still good for today and we are exempt somehow from going through the usual paperwork drama with immigration and customs or having to pay more fees. The plan today is to fly for about 4 hours to French Cayenne, re-fuel, do paperwork and “make haste” as we are way behind our schedule and need to make up time along our route and fly and another 3 hours to George Town Guyana where we will stay the night.
We say our goodbyes to the lovely Lider ground crew and the kind Elias, who has been a godsend and invaluable to us. I think everyone is rooting for us today as we load up the plane again, one ground guy who speaks no English came up to me and said” Have a safe journey”. I am impressed and say “you speak English? And he replied “last night I learned to say to you!” I am very touched by this sweet gesture and can only lamely say “mucho gracias”.
When I take off and I watch the low voltage light like a hawk, I am not emotionally prepared for this plane to break again today, it has to work otherwise it is going to be like groundhog day only with added stress and very expensive. After fixing my stare for almost an hour on the battery discharge voltage gauge nothing happens, the red light does not come on and the flight is uneventful and goes without a hitch!
In Cayenne we are ready for delays and paperwork fun and games, but surprisingly when we land and ask about being refueled the ground guy said” no problem he should be with you in 10 minutes”. Having heard this one before, we wait 10 minutes and when no one arrives, I suggest to Chris that we do the rest of the formalities such as immigration and flight planning to speed up the long process. We complete immigration and customs, paperwork within five minutes. We then decide to divide tasks (we often do this), I will deal with the refueling guy and Chris will file the flight plan and check the weather, and both go together to pay the landing fees. It was amazing because as we both return to the plane and put our life jackets on Chris points out that the whole process has taken just over thirty minutes. “The norm” for completing the paper work is usually 2-3 hours.
We take off heading toward George town, Guyana; this is where we have planned to refuel at Ogle Airport and night stop. Last time we were at this Airport we met up with Mr. Beard, Trevor, Donald and lovely driver who gave us a little tour around the town. We decide to head for the same hotel as before and have the tasty eggplant curry and mushroom dip that we sampled on the way out. The sky seems very hazing and almost smoky, and when I commented on this to Chris he said that the weather man had said that there had been sand storms in the Sahara which had blown across the Atlantic. This part of the journey seemed to jog along, no problems, no dramas,uneventful. But today uneventful was good, as it meant no red light, no weird sounds, just a smooth un-stressful, pleasant flight. Unfortunately because of the poor visibility, Chris was unable to take many pictures, so we decided we would be better off being high up at 6500 feet with a tailwind rather than low seeing nothing a 1000 feet our normal flying height with a crosswind.
I had been dreading landing at Ogle Airport because despite liking Mr. Beard and the rest of the team who were friendly and nice, it took many hours more than other places to get the paperwork completed. People sat looking at you and shuffled around, and last time we waited for almost an hour before someone told us that we had to go to another part of the airport for fuel. Plus everyone looks to “Mr. Beard” approval or nod before doing anything. If he walks on the ramp to do something we cannot get the paperwork finished until he returns to glance over it! So when we land at Ogle and walk to Customs and Immigration and we somehow complete the paperwork without waiting for Mr. B who we saw as we landed. He soon appears and when we are filling in our landing cards and we talk briefly about our trip. He asks how long we are staying and we explain our family issues and say if we can be fueled quickly we may just carrying on to Grenada. He seemed to understand our situation and to our amazement we were whisked through all of the formalities within an hour. Even the accounts guy let me pay for our fuel with a credit card despite having a broken machine and allowing me to run to the sales office and use their credit card machine.
It seemed strange that despite both of us having been up most of night worrying about the plane, we were still full of energy and ready to go another three hours on to Grenada. I am not sure what was driving Chris, but I know most of my push was thinking of the beautiful Grand Resort Hotel, with its delightful pool area, comfortable beds and waking up to the view of the beach and the sound of the sea! My mind was also saying we would be are nearer to the states and if another thing goes wrong,and we could fly on a commercial plane home. This next leg was a bit mad in some sense as we should have really stopped after 8 hours of flying and had a good night sleep, but neither of us felt tired and I think I was running on adrenalin, thrilled to have made it so far with no glitches. We had a tailwind which was also a bonus and although we both knew this next water crossing was a “big one” neither of us had that fear that we had on the way out. It seems that our bush flying, flying without the” Big brother” radar in most of the countries we had flown, had made us much less freaked out about the open water and more daring in our low flying and buzzing. We both knew that we had to stop being too fearless, as that can lead to overly confident pilots and that is when accidents happen. The waves lapping below us looked inviting as the sea was that lovely iridescent blue that you only see in travel brochures. I am feel pensive as the hours go by, thinking about the journey that Chris and I have nearly completed together and the amazing experience it has been. I believe someone was looking over us on this journey as so many things could have turned out negative"but somehow help appeared at the right moment".I also believe it has made me a better pilot and less nervous of extreme weather, but also helped to enhance my faith in human nature as we have met many people along our journey who have generous and selfless. They have helped us out, and assisted us when we had issues and problems, without wanting anything in return. We have also received many emails telling us that after hearing about two mad pilots doing this trip, and seeing Chris fit and healthy, they have signed up to be donors. Another great thing about this journey is it has restored Chris’s lust for life. I drift off thinking about many things that have happened and Chris and I recall highlights and low parts of the trip. I notice a glow outside the window and Chris tells me that it is a flare stack from an oil rig so we realize that we are just South of Trinidad. The route is smooth and the weather clear, but as we get near to Grenada the air traffic controller tells us that we cannot do a visual landing into Grenada and asks if we have instruments in our plane to do a NDB approach. I wonder why as it is a perfectly clear sky, this seems strange to me on this lovely evening. Spookily as we get closer to the airport we hear a BA flight in front of us with the Speed bird call sign also landing into Grenada. I know Chris feels a twinge of something when hears the BA pilot, I am sure many emotions go on within in him, sadness is probably one of them if he thinks to deeply about the loss of his career with BA as a 747 Captain, but then he did also get a second chance at life and he is now doing this. We listen intensely as the pilot in front lands and then we get a little closer to the airport., I see why she is making airplanes do NDB approaches as the weather directly around the airport is curtains of rain with a slivers of daylight. When Chris makes the approach in I am impressed, I am aware this a skill that only “old school” experienced pilots have, and as we get closer for the last part of the approach I see the weather is not that bad but the light is fading quickly. We hobble into the FBO having completed almost 11 hours and 1200 NM of flying in a single day,all in our little Cessna. Good old "Blue Jay "she got us there in the end!
Flying to Belem reignited my excitement about being in our little plane again, and despite the dramas of the plane breaking twice, I re-focused on enjoying looking out of the window and taking in all the amazing scenic views I could of the amazon/jungle vista. This terrain still blew me away second time around, and although we had seen this vast brown river on the way down (apparently called the Rio Tocantins) I am still astonished by the variations of rich chocolate tones and hue it has. The lush green trees go on forever and although Chris has taken hundreds of pictures of this area he cannot help but open the window and click away. We pass by the odd bright colourful tree amongst the green, and the effect is breathtaking. We both agree that we are still staggered by the beauty of this part of the world.
We landed in Belem which was our first stop on the way into Brazil (if we ignore the hideous experience in Macapa) and we are greeted by the lovely, sweet Elias who did everything in his power to help us last we met. He is very welcoming again and helps us with formalities as well as ordering us a cab to our hotel.
In reaching our hotel we were pleased to see it was new, and had all the “away from home comforts” which we have so underestimated when staying in a five star hotels with work before this trip. Clean shining floors and sheets, clean bathrooms, air-conditioning, and a fridge. In some hotels breakfast was included which can be totally delightful or hideously revolting. The extra bonus is always Wi-Fi internet connections, for the room without a surcharge, which this hotel had.We made the most of being in Belem as this was the last Brazilian stop and near to the end of the trip. We went sightseeing in the old part of town which had many once beautiful buildings with tiled entrances looking desperately rundown and crumbling. Some were even drug dens and flop houses with odd looking characters standing in the doorways of once grand house. Chris even took advantage of his height and took a picture of inside one of the windows of such houses which showed a hideous sight of a poor soul living in squalor looking drugged and confused.
We went down to the port where I saw several boats, and fisherman off loading their daily catch, or huge boats with bigger hauls. The market next to the dock had many weird types of fruit and vegetables many I did not know what they were or had ever seen before. Some parts of this market had sidelines in rather seedy stuff, where there seemed to be questionable types selling different “unmarketable” wares. Local ladies who seemed jovial and happy chatting in gaggles were actually also market traders selling “love tonics and potions”. In deciding for the experience I should smell these “magic mixtures” I was surprised to find that most of the aromas was strong and repugnant and could only be liken to “old cats eau de toilette”!!
The core part of the city was vibrant and as this was a weekend, it had a market selling everything from cotton bales to crave wooden penis’s (really).The local arts and crafts market which had some really unique, interesting items, some in which I brought. On the second day in Belem we spent a mad rush to get our new Havaianas flip flops. We also went out to and had a tasty Mocqueca fish stew, which had every type of fish, seafood, vegetable and shrimp imagined as well as a couple of hard boiled eggs(?). We went to the trendy ice cream bar and tried out flavours recommended by the locals which were both strange but good. We used up most of our Brazilian money on our last night, and awoke very early to a lovely breakfast and a cab ride to the airport. We see the nice ground guys who I remember from before and they joke about me being the captain as I order fuelling from the gas guy. Chris goes off with Elias and does customs and and immigration, files a flight plan and pays the landing fee. I meanwhile (as usual) load the baggage, preflight the plane, clean the windows and wait for nearly two hours in the 100 degree heat until Chris returns. We say goodbye to the lovely Elias and the ground crew, but no, I realize we are not going anywhere. As we do our run up to take off, the low voltage warning red light flashes on, we have a discharge on the ammeter AGAIN!!! We cannot chance flying with this issue, plus we both have in the back of our minds an email received a day or so previously from a dear friend John, a wise sage (he also used to service our plane).He warned us not to fly after the previous problems as it sounds like the problem had not been fully fixed but “band aided” he said we need to replace with new not clean up old or we would encounter more problems. How right John was!!!
I cannot bear it anymore, I can’t trust my safety in this plane, this is no longer funny, I need to shout, cry, punch something but all I feel is numb. I go into the VIP lounge to check my emails and a good friend has sent me a friendly email and a joke. I have a good laugh and think "On the poitive side, shit well least the bloody red light didn’t go on over the bloody jungle!!" We are both totally irritated and pissed off with the plane dramas now, but as we are both fuming as we stand glaring out “old Blue Jay” when we hear noise above us. It is a Huey that was hovering over the airport and also 4 C-130 Hercules, 2 CASA 235's dropping parachute guys while maybe 6 Bandeirantes swirling around and an F-5E Tiger II fighter. Both Chris and I stood in awe as we watched an amazing display with the Lider guys, although still pissed off we both felt less angry now we had a distraction.
I knew we are going nowhere today, Elias tries to locate a mechanic to fix our problem, Chris starts looking at hotels on-line for us to stay in for the night, and I start unloading the airplane of things we need for a night stop.
Chris finds an Ibis it is cheap and only 5-10 minutes, Elias locates a mechanic, and I have all our bags ready to go to the hotel. A man turns up and speaks no English (of course) and through Elias he tells us he needs take the some part out of the plane and test it. I am keeping away from all the coming and going of the “fixing the plane problem” and stay in the lounge reading. I try to stay positive (my big brother Jamie’s saying) and not allow myself to get emotionally down thinking about missing my family, especially my sick sister. A long day drags to an end; we have two Brazilian men mending our plane who indicate that they have fixed the problem. We could attempt to leave right now, but it is late afternoon when there are many rainstorms, thunder, lightning, and bad weather fronts rolling in. We both decide we are too tired and emotional to cope with all that today, so we limp over to the hotel and collapse into bed. I cannot think about where we are going for the next leg, or if we will be are going at all despite being given the “all clear” that the plane is mended, I now have lost a lot of faith in people telling me it is “fine don’t worry”!! My bed is calling me, I will think about flying after a good sleep when I am fresh in the morning.
As usual we have to refuel en-route and it has been suggested that Araguaina is the place to go as it on the way and a small airport but we find out just before we are going to head there that they had run out. So the next place to try is Anapolis, we have been told by Edimar that it has AV gas which our plane needs, so our first stop is Anapolis. This is a small airfield with a hangar full of small jets and expensive planes. We both agree that we do not want to shut down the engine fully as we are still unsure if in this heat it is going to be OK and start after it has been shut down. So I hold the breaks while the plane is still running, as Chris quickly jumps out and checks with the ground staff who are messing around with a citation if they have fuel available. They are not very helpful but direct Chris over the fuel pump which has a small house in the corner of the field. I am all the while holding the brakes and watching him run around trying to find out where the person is who lives in the house so we can be refueled. My legs are straining, as they are pressing down hard on the brake pedals, I am hot in this 90 degrees heat, and I see Chris sweating, cursing, and frantically running around trying to get someone to fuel us. I can’t stand it any longer, as it is getting frustrating to watch Chris get frustrated, and I am melting!!!! I turn the plane off, jump out of the plane, run to the hangar and say “Where is the refueler please?” Within five seconds men run towards me, they all offer to call the refueler, drive me to find the refueler, or help me find someone who can find him!!Sometimes in a macho driven country it helps to be a female pilot, as novelty creates interest, very quickly we were refueled!
Onwards we go after our tanks were topped off. In the extreme heat the journey is not very comfortable for both of us in our little tin can; we are both soaked in sweat and open the window at regular intervals to let fresh air in. We agreed in order to be with our ailing family members, and for me to be in the UK at the end of the month( I have a appointment to have an operation),we must for the next few legs of the trip take a couple of big chunks of flying each day. After our first leg to Anapolis the next after flying for three hours is Gurupi, a tiny little local airport manned by three young smiling refueling men. When we land I jump out of the right hand side of the plane (captain’s seat) and watch all three of them jump out of their skins and giggle. The boldest one approaches me and says” you lady pilot?” I say yes and he giggles and whispers it back to his two buddies, who each giggle and mumble comments to each other. Desperate for the bathroom, I ask one of the young men where they are, and he escorts me to a little extremely neat, well-kept FBO (Fixed Based Operator). In side is an old lady sitting at the desk, she rushes to kiss me and says “you a lady pilot, god bless”. I go to shake her hand but she gives me a hug, and says “boas viagens” or something to this effect which our Brazilian friends have said to us when we have left which I have been taken to mean good/safe flying. I am very comforted and touched by this gesture. I feel it is good karma, and that there will be no more problems with the plane on the rest of the journey although I am still saying a prayer to myself on every take off for “nil technical problems!!”
The weather en-route is not good, storms and bumps along the way seem to be the order of the day and of course a head wind. We both keep our eyes peeled for thunderstorms, and skirt around bad weather most of the day. We did manage have one part of the flight in which the rain stopped and we were able to see an amazing canyon which had surrounding waterfalls cascading down the sides, which in turn joined up to form into small rivers at the base of the canyon. This was the highlight of the flight.
Last stop is Imperatriz; we are stopping at an aero club and meeting a friend of Edimar’s called Alberto who is a doctor and also a pilot. We have been flying for seven hours with two pit stops for fuel; we are both over heated, exhausted, and cranky with each other. Chris has been talking to approach for a while and although it is an uncontrolled airport we both were waiting for a clearance for landing and then realized at the last moment this was not required. I came in to land faster than usual, and bounced and floated, but I got us in safely but it was not a pretty landing. When we land Alberto is waiting for us, with a gaggle of pilots. He and his friends make jokes and laugh at the lady pilot doing a “very bad landing, just as we expected!!” Usually I would be laughing at myself with them, but I felt a little hurt that complete strangers felt it was OK to make fun of me, I am a good pilot, and my landings are usually good the one time I screw up I have a group of “old school men” belittle me. I felt a little better when young pilot called Savio who spoke English noticed I was slighted and said” these guys are hard on all the pilots if they make a bad landing, don’t worry. Both exhausted Chris and I went through the paperwork drama, as usual but were told we could pay for our landing fees tomorrow with cash or credit no problem.
That night Alberto continued with the Brazilian hospitality and took his children, Savio and Chris and I out to dinner. He also kindly picked us up in the morning with his son and took us to the airport. We tried to get local money out of the machine but it is broken, so when we try to pay our landing fees with credit card and that is also broken. The airport tariff man insists we pay with USA dollars only, but we have kept this aside for paying our refueling as they won’t take credit cards. It all gets frustrating, and after a long heated debate we have to give up our precious dollars to pay for the rip off landing fee. We say goodbye and wave to Alberto and his son, as we taxi to the end of the runway, we look at the console and realize the suction gauge for the vacuum pump is acting strangely, it is vibrating and jumping. Oh no not again, another problem with this b....y plane, I think!!We do another long run up (a double check of instruments) with the plane and the vibrating stops. We agree that any issues after take-off and we are coming right back. I will let Chris do this one, I think to myself, I don’t want to have to deal with an emergency, let the expert be PIC!!
So off we go, after an hour no lights come on, no weird sounds, no vibrating, no problems, we are on our way to Belem the last port in Brazil for us to stop.
“It a good day for flying” I thought to myself as we took off from Pousada Cabure. The sky was clear and blue, and although it had been an interesting experience enjoying a peaceful calm environment without phones and internet, I was pleased to be going to a city with technology to check -in on our families, and get Chris’s leg some medical attention as it now looked really infected and swollen. Before heading for Brasilia our next stop, as usual we needed to refuel, and Paulenir had suggested a Coxim small local airport about an hour away that sold gas. We headed to Coxim looking at the outstanding views of the Pantanal from our window, in fact because it had gotten to about 100 degree or more we were now leaving our windows open in flight so we could get a small breeze inside our little tin can. We landed on a really rough runway in Coxim but all was good as nothing broken, and a guy almost immediately came out with a ladder to refuel us. We used the facilities (bathrooms) which were very basic but clean, but on leaving after paying the refueling guy, I noticed in the entrance of the building on a table lined up a curious assortment of jars. In a closer inspected of these jars I discovered that they were jams, chutney, dips and pickled stuff. Some of the jars really intrigued me as I had no idea what the fruit or vegetable was in the jar but the contents were bright orange, dark mauve,green and red, The only one that I recognized was a jar of pickled guava which I was tempted to buy (hey it different!) But to due limited space in our “little blue Jay” and the likelihood of it leaking, being dropped, or going rotten I resisted. After our pit stop for refueling I was very nervous of the plane overheating again, and although we parked into the small breeze while being refueled my mind leapt back to Aquidauana, a place in the middle of nowhere like this. I urged Chris to fire up the engine as ASAP, and Chris in his nonchalant way starts to discuss places we could visit when we arrive in Brasilia but I all I could think of as I look at the barren dusty fields around the deserted airport, with and stray dogs wandering around is “Please god, I don’t let us get stuck here!” My prayers were heard as we lifted off from Coxim with no problems. I start to relax and enjoy our flight and talk about things we want to do, in places on this return route north. Chris starts to take pictures and notices Rhea or Emas as they all them around this neck of the woods .I am really enjoying flying when I notice the low voltage light flash on red again!! We both cannot believe that we have this problem again and to be honest I am really pissed off as this was JUST repaired!! Chris trips the alternator switch on and off and for the rest of the flight the light goes on and off!! It's like pulling a circuit breaker more than once, not good!!
We arrive into Brasilia just as the wind picks up, heavy rain begins; and we see thunderstorms and lightening above and around the area in which the Luzianania airport is situated and where we want to land. I am actually a little scared as behind us is thunderstorms and also in front. We bounce around dodging black thunder clouds and storms. Thankfully just as we get within landing distance of the airport the rain lets off a bit and the sky look less fierce, Chris gets us down on the ground quickly and as we land and disembark from our plane, the heavy down pour begins again. We see a group of people in the main Aero club building and ask them if they are Edimar, they say no but there is a message that he is on his way. We find out some fairly good news, my sister has been allowed home from hospital but is awaiting more tests, and Chris’s is mum is doing better. We wait about 10 minutes talking in our non-Portuguese to a pilot who speaks good English. He tells us that every day in the afternoon, at time of the year in Brasilia the weather is like this. He said people make appointments and say “we will meet after the rain” meaning later afternoon. He jokingly told us that he never wastes time and plans everything around his schedule so he does not have to get wet!! But I pointed out that he was here waiting to fly, and he said “I know, but the rain will stop in a few minutes”. And blow me down within five minutes the rain suddenly stopped, and it somehow turned into a glorious warm afternoon, and this man went outside, jumped into his plane, and went flying!! As he left in came two planes, one with Edimar in his wonderful RV-10 and Lindbergh (yes,this is really his name) in his Paradise One. They both greet us like long lost friends and help us stow our plane away in a hangar, they scoop us and our bags and Chris and I each in the two planes. I love everything about Edimar's plane, it can do aerobatics, it is fast, and has a glass canopy so you have a wonderful panoramic outlook without a strut, window or door obstructing the view. It also has a super-duper panel with a very modern GPS and auto-pilot, a mini EFIS and many gizmos that I know nothing about but which make flying this plane a dream!!It was a fast smooth ride in which Edimar kindly did a short tour of the city pointing out various landmarks. When land, we are at his aero club, he explained that the runway at this place is for light aircraft and too small for our plane which is why we landed at his other Aero club, plus we avoided all the traffic and it was fun!!
Chris and I although excited to be in Brasilia and wanting to socialize and go out with Edimar, had to reluctantly explain to our new friend our problems; our airplane and that Chris infected leg. I felt bad because this was the first time we had met Edimar and only knew him through a friend of a friend and now we were bringing all this drama and problems to his door. But bless Edimar, he took it all in his stride and set Chris up to go to a private hospital to see his friend a doctor and organized finding a mechanic to repair our plane. He helped find us a hotel, dropped us off and picked us up later that night. The plan was to go the hospital get some strong antibiotics for Chris and then Edimar, his wife Angela and their daughter Danielle and us would have dinner. Poor Danielle ended up being our translator for the doctor in the hospital because she had lived in the USA a few years ago, and spoke excellent English. The doctor explained to us that Chris should have gone to hospital at the beginning to have stitches and he may need them now. He said the gash was badly infected and they have to do a procedure!! I was really crossed with Chris, hadn’t I told him from day one to see someone as the cut looked serious? He knows that he has a low immune system!!Bloody typical man I fumed!! The procedure was quick but not pain free as they had to slice a layer of skin from Chris infected wound. They said because half of the wound had healed it was too late to put in stitches. Chris had to now apply cream every day as well as a set of strong antibiotics for 10 days. When we finally went for dinner Edimar took us all to a charming place on the lake where we had a tasty Brazilian style sort of tapas with several different dishes to try out and of course Brazilian cocktails! Edimar insists on paying for dinner, we can’t believe it, WE asked him out with us to repay his kindness and it is the least we can do. But we do not want to offend him as he insists in his country he pays!!
The next day Edimar took us to meet Cidu the mechanic, he has already been working on our plane when we arrive and says he thinks he knows what is wrong with it but needs to run the engine and do some tests. We hang out in the hangar(!) meeting other pilots from the aero club who come over to chat while Cidu, troubleshoots the plane. I hear a loud bang, and have come to know that nothing is good after you hear a loud bang in anything, and I am right! A serious looking Cidu tells us that the problem is bigger than he thought and it is going to take a couple of days to fix, get a part etc….. I am lost for words, nice as it is in Brasilia I need to get home for many reasons now one especially to see my sister, Chris needs to be with his mum. I think Edimar senses our despair and kindly invites us to his home for pizza. I am very grateful for having this new friend Edimar, he is just how everyone told us he was, kind and generous and his hospitality is over flowing!!
We arrive at Edimar and Angela house greeted by and their sweet grandson Rafael (Danielle’s son) and meet their son Rodrigo who the chef for the night and cooks the best oven pizzas .He cooks great typical traditional toppings which are delicious but one topping he introduces us to which is mouthwateringly good, is cheese, banana, and cinnamon pizza!!! The Brazilian people don’t just have savoury pizzas they also have sweet ones and this one although sounds strange is probably one of the best pizza’s I have ever had! I enjoyed our evening with Edimar and his family as they came across as such warm and genuine people and talking to them, and spending time with them gave me an insight into some Brazilian cultural traditions and family life and .
So we are going to be in limbo for the next couple of days waiting for the part Cidu has ordered from Sao Paulo. Generous Edimar gives us one of the family cars to drive around and sight see with which is godsend as Chris needs to rest his leg which is starting to be less painful and the swelling is decreasing.We enjoyed our day driving around the city and getting to find out about how it was developed 50 years ago mainly by President Juscelino Kubitschek.He was classed as a Brazilian hero by many,something like John F Kennedy, as he was forward thinking for his time and visionary.
Cidu calls and says the part has come and the plane will be ready tomorrow morning. So on our last night we spend it with Edimar, Angela and their friends from the aero club. They are all so warm and welcoming, they treat us like old friends, and it seems a friend of Edimar makes us in! The guys all group together and start bragging about their planes and their flying experiences. I have a great chat girly chat with Angela and her best friend Nadia. Although this was not a planned extended stop in our plans we have had some fun and I feel like we made real friends with Edimar and Angela. It is a bittersweet end to an unexpected stop on our journey home.
After dealing with the problem with the airplane I was so ready to be in a nice quiet place that had just animals and birds. The lodge is part of a cattle ranch that has horses and sheep. The family also has horses they ride and dog as pets. We are amazed when we swoop over the top of the grass field runway to check out its condition, it was even and level, but we also saw to our amazement a beacon, a tower, runway lights and taxi way lightening and sign, and best of all two open sided hard surfaced floored hangars which keep the planes out of the heat but one can load and unload with getting the baggage muddy. We realized that the people who live here must really like flying or are very welcoming to people with planes. We are warmly greeted by Paulenir, Renata and their sweet child Camilla. The lodge is simple but charming, with the main eating area joining on to the reading lounge. There are individual rooms dotted around the main dining area with many hand painted pictures from Paulenir’s talented mother who is also a writer. There is a delightful chapel and two medical stations. Around the lodge, there are lush green trees, one being a huge mango tree. There are also pretty orange flowers scattered around the property. Renata says that many of the flowers have to be very hardy in this area as the heat is so intensive in the summer that many plants cannot survive and shrivel and dry up. We are led to our room which is thankfully air-conditioned as it about 90- 100 degrees and very humid. We unpack get comfortable, and take a cup of iced Mate and cake with Renata and Paulenir which is surprisingly refreshing. We are told that in an hour or so we will be taken for a “Safari drive” around the compound and surrounding areas. Soon we are driving out of the gates and looking at two brand new lambs which have just been born days ago. One is still have trouble trying to stand up and the other is walking around with wobbling ting twig legs. Within minutes of being out of the gate Paulenir’s manager (nicknamed Soldier) Alijuda spots two giant blue parrot which he and Paulenir call “blueys” we ride for a few more minutes and see Capybaras swimming in the lake across from the lodge. It seems as though someone has told the animals and birds that we are coming, so they need to put on a show, because we saw the most amazing birds within the first hour of our visit such as parrots, macaws, Jabiru Storks, and beautiful birds in which the names I could not remember again or pronounce!!The reason Paulenir explains that we have been able to see much wildlife close to the lodge is it is the dry season and the animals and birds are forced into small areas to drink and feed such as the nearby lakes. It reminded Chris and I of African Safaris we have gone on in the past, with the landscape looking very similar but with different wild animals and birds. On the second day we also go out on “Safari” in which is combined with driving and then walking around the area. Paulenir points out different trees and names them for us. We are lucky to see Caimans which are like Alligator, as well as more Capybaras. We saw and heard some wild boar like animals speeding across a field, gnashing their teeth loudly which were called Peccaries. These are said to be more dangerous than a puma as they can run really fast and eat EVERYTHING including the bones. I remember this wild boar featuring in one of that the Godfather films. A person crosses one of the mob and they are thrown into the sty with peccaries where there is nothing left for the police to trace!!!!
We saw a Toucan up close in a tree on this waIk, but unfortunately Chris was kicking his self as his battery in his camera went dead at that very moment and he was forever looking to get that shot again.I went horse riding with Alijuda and although we had no common language I was able to make ourselves be understood by sign language and jabbering but we still managed to have a nice conversation. He told me that loved working the ranch and being a “cowboy” which we saw some of the men doing, still working the land and herding at the lodge. They wore the typical cowboy gear, big hats, riding chaps, checked shirts, stirrups! The men had that worn leathered skin, but looked friendly and waved at me on the last morning as I watched them all standing around a fire drinking strong black Brazilian coffee, dragging on a cigarettes. They had typical cowboy saddles ready to go and any one of the men would be perfectly suited to be in one of the old Marlboro ads!
We found out that Renata also loved flying but had never really tried to do it herself. So Chris still being a flight instructor and a great sport decided to give her an introduction lesson in flying. So we took a flight around the local area showing her the lodge from the air but after she did an assisted take- off I could see she was thrilled. By the first ten minutes into her “lesson” I could see by her face she had got the flying bug and she told us afterwards that this was going to be her next goal.
On the last morning we both seem to get a bit edgy, I think much was to do with the 90- 100 degree heat and I was awaiting news about my sister, but with no phone or internet I had this still lingering at the back of my mind. Also Chris’s gash on his leg was not healing; in fact it was now looking pretty bad and it was painful. He had started to take emergency antibiotics from our first aid kit in which he had been given before this trip just in case he got any infections(having a low immune system his body is not strong enough to fight infections alone). But cleaning his wound and dressing it every day, I believed he needed to seek medical attention. I suspected he needed stronger or different antibiotics because his cut was not healing but getting worst. I guessed it was infected as he was complaining of his leg being painful and itchy; his leg had also started to swell up. We needed to head a town or city, to rectify these issues in which case we chose Brasilia, the capital city; Chris had also been email and texting Edimar, a friend of a friend of our friend Martin. Edimar had been sending Chris vital information about where to get fuel in this area and along our route, he had also told Chris that he would organized that we were able to land at his Aero club and keep our plane safely in a hangar. We were looking forward to meeting this helpful,generous, kind, Edimar, not only because he sounded like he would be a fun person but everyone including Paulenir and Renata sang his praises, and we wanted to take him out for drinks and dinner, and repay his kindness.
In order to get to the Pantanal we need to refuel along the way, so we are heading towards a small local area called Aquidauna which in there is an Aero-club that has been recommended by Edimar a friend of our friend Martin. We plan to fly for three hours to this refueling stop and then a final 45 minutes to the nature lodge called Pousada Cabure deep in the middle nowhere accept for animals and birds. We fly for three hours and finally spot a very dusting red gravel runway. We land and carefully taxi to the fuel pump, and we see a young man, and old man and a small child waiting in the nearby hangar. As soon as we turn off our engine, the little child runs away and hides, the old man collects the ladder, and the young man brings out the calculator and the receipt. Talk about efficient!!!! These guys, the re-fuelling team may want to pass on some tips to our friends at Infraero in the big airports. As it can take over 2 hours to even have someone contact a refueling truck!!! So we refuel quickly and are ready to make the last 45 minute jump to the nature lodge. We are so pleased to finally get a break and not have to have any dramas today. So we crank the engine, to start and nothing, we crank it again, nothing, we do this about 3 times, and then we are scared to try it one more time as it may bleed the battery dead. WTF I think!! Chris suggests that it is over heated, as our engine is fuel injected and this type of engine despite being good are known to have problems starting when they very hot. And at 100 degree heat it is not surprising the poor engine can’t cope, shit I can’t cope and I AM quickly melting in this very hot humid place!!!Chris mulls over other reasons why the plane has not started such as vapour locks and bubbles but I am now not listening, my mind races to my sister again and getting home. I think that being in an air-conditioned bus on a 15 hour bus ride towards Sao Paulo sounds pretty sweet compared to being in the middle of nowhere with an broken plane with 3 people who cannot speak English,or can help us!
We do get the assistance of two of the “three amigos” (the re-fuelling team) to push the plane under a tree to get some shade and cool it down. We take the cowling off, and Chris waves maps and at the engine to help it get some cool air flow. I am in fact brooding, I can’t help it, its not like me, but I am frustrated and after several attempts to try stir up some help from the 3 amigos with no luck I am now stumped. We both sit under the tree with the plane, and I start to give the plane my “evil stare” and a good talking to in my mind. I start to think about if the plane does not start where can we stay, what do we do? We have no one around to help us. Chris complains that his cut is itching and notices that ants are now crawling under his band aid. I insist that we change it but he is too aggravated to sit still to let me clean it up and redress his wound. Suddenly a motorcycle turns up out of nowhere and a young guy who can speak a little English offers us cold water and assistance from his friends. I can’t believe it, I want to kiss him, and although he does not have a clue about how to fix our plan problem, he is a pilot, and is going to call some pilot friends and find a mechanic!!!It is although my prayers have been heard and answered, because with 10 minutes two more men who can speak English appear. They tell us they are also pilots, in fact members of the Aquidauana Aero Club. We explain our problem and one of pilots says he also owns a Cessna but it is a 182. There is a big discussion within the group about why it has cut out, the heat, the alternator, the battery etc. They inform us after several phones that the Aero Club mechanic is not around today so we have to go with what Chris has suggested. Just a hot engine being overheated in the hot sun, so we put the cowling back on knowing one more try may drain the battery. But to my surprise the plane starts up straight away, and off we go! We head toward Pousada Cabure, and I am starting to relax a little bit now, as we only have a 45 minute flight. I am looking out the window and trying to think positive when I notice that a red light which I have never seen on before is lit up. I point this out to Chris and he suggests there may be a problem with the alternator (a new problem) unrelated to the overheating issue we had on the ground. We now need to land somewhere ASAP to get this fixed, as the ammeter is not charging but decreasing meaning low voltage of our battery. I am totally freaked by this as I know that once the battery dies we may not be able to start again and what about the use of radios etc., don’t they use up power from our electric system too, will they be OK? Chris troubleshoots the airplane system and turns switches on and off, and in a calm and relaxed manner tells me we need to land. I concentrate on flying the plane, as he continues to trouble shoot and talks on the radio to inform we have a little problem, which is the correct procedure in a two person flight deck. Chris looks at our map and says that the large city of Campo Grande which is 60 miles east is our only option for a diversion. The problem Chris states it is not big but I am not convinced as I see the battery slowly trickle down. Chris tells the approach in order to conserve battery power we are going to turn off our radios, there is a pause and eventually we hear “OK you can turn off your radio and you now have a Brazilian Air Force escort". I am horrified as this just reaffirms to me that this is very serious, Chris is now totally pissed off and tells me they are over reacting. Anyway much to his delight he was able to get a photo of patrol aircraft, another one for his photo gallery!
When we land I am totally relieved, we taxi to a stand and ask the ground control for a mechanic. We are taken to meet Cleber who introduces us to Marcelo who kindly after a no English, no Portuguese exchange, using IPads and charades, kindly starts working on fixing our plane. He calls his son Viktor in Sao Paulo who spoke a little English, and translated to us his father’s intentions which was to take us to a local hotel, get the part and, put it in the next morning. Hopefully this small part will sort out our problem with our alternator and the plane should l will be good to safely on to Pousada Cabure.
Our night in Campo Grande, was uneventful, we had a good local fish meal in the hotel, and the next morning Marcelo picked us up to return to the airport to put the new part in the alternator. After an inspection of his work Marcelo did some checks on our plane, and we were good to go!!