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.