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.