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Best and Worst:

Best Attraction: (tie) Machu Picchu and Iguacu Falls

Best Hotel: Fazano in Rio

Best Meal: (tie) Park Hyatt Buenos Aires and Los Notros in El Calafate, Argentina

Best View from our hotel room: Los Notros in El Calafate, Argentina

Worst Tour: Penguin boat tour in Punta Arenas, Chile

Worst Airport Experience: (tie) Buenos Aires and Rio

Best Stop: Sao Jose dos Campos at the Embraer Factory

Best Airplane: Phenom!

Thanks for reading.




Tues, March 13 -  Salvador to Belem to French Guinea to Grenada to Dominican Republic

 

Salvador de Bahia airport was busy! Much busier than any of us anticipated. This is a BIG city with a lot of traffic. The handler met us with the fuel truck. So far so good. We all decided that it had already been a long day, and the drive to the hotel was reported to be 50 minutes, so what were a few more taken at the airport to see if we could make departure easier. After shaking down the handler, we decided that we'd just pay them to pay all the airport fees, etc (duh, WHY did we not do this before?!?!?!).

 

The drive to the hotel was only 30 minutes in afternoon traffic. One of the most interesting parts of the journey was leaving the airport, we drove through a bamboo arbor. It was incredibly beautiful and intersting. I have never seen anything like it.

 

We arrived at the hotel, a former convent, and the streets are all cobblestone with lots of character. The “old” city, as we were told by the Salvadorians. And, we were also told, don't walk at night, take a taxi, don't wear jewelry, don't carry a camera, don't don't don't. The area did look sketchy, but, well, it's now 4 o'clock in the afternoon. We left for the Rio airport a little after 7, it's been a long day, with a not so long flight. Kristina did not want to eat until 7:30, so Jim and I headed to the restaurant at the hotel. Best thing about Salvador de Bahia is the restaurants open for lunch and don't close! We ate at 4, were asleep by 8 and woke up the next morning ready to tackle crime in the old city.

 

Fortunately for us, our tour guide was really nice and informative and we found no crime in the old city. We did find: lots of churches, as 5 on one square!, lots of colorful African garb, as this is the African part of Brazil and lots of interesting stores. It was a charming and very tropical spot! The storm clouds gathered in the afternoon, and the showers started off and on , and then, the deluge hit around 6 pm. It was like someone opened a fire hose over the city. Jim pulled up the aviation weather for the airport and it was 1.5 miles visibility with heavy rain. Needlessto say, another night eating at the hotel.

 

Our bill leaving the airport was not insubstantial, but it was fairly quick, slightly under an hour from the time we arrived, until we were wheels up. Next stop: Belem: French Guiana and finally Grenada. Whew! Long day flying.

 

It's cloudly most of the way to Belem, but we break out and see the Amazon. Oh! WOW! It's monstrous! The Amazon must be, at least, 5 miles across in some places. Time to land, and see what customs will throw at us. But, as I put in the first notch of flaps, we got a flap flaps and the yellow flap screen of death. Oh boy, the plane was good and wet in Salvador and Marco Tulio said the flaps don't like to be wet. Bummer.

 

However, nice long runway, we land, no flaps and while taxiing to Lider, we reset the flap breaker. Several times. Lider was nice, efficient, and we were in and out in an hour. It was interesting flying in Brazil – first, there's extra RNP-1 information you have to put in the notes on your flight plan. Second, I was truly surprised by how expensive it was to fly in Brazil. The fuel was expensive, with all the taxes: SBFI $5.99, SBRJ $7.27, SBSV $7.68 and SBBE $4.10 (since it was an intermational flight). Also, the handling was around $500 each stop, though, let me tell you, the guy in Rio deserved a penny under the water glass he was so bad, and the airport fees were always around the same, between $640 and $690, and it did not make any difference how long a flight, that was what you paid. Not to mention taxes, etc. In Salvador and Belem, the bills were about the same, $1800USD, not including fuel. I did ask, but have not confirmed, whether or not I will be receiving a bill from Brazil for navigation fees. We did have an ANAC overflight permit number we had to put on every flight plan so I am expecting to pay more.

 

Next stop: French Guiana. We leave Belem and avoid some weather, but for the most part, a nice short flight to French Guiana. We expected to be hassled by customs, but the airport was quiet. Our handler met us, the fuel truck fueled us and we were off in an hour. Whoa, the day is going well. Next stop – Grenada. And, once again, we were met at the plane by 5 or 6 guys, and our handler, a girl. They also had the airline baggage conveyor belt, we landed first and said we did not need, but that Keith's plane would. HAHA!!

 

Grenada was a lovely island, and Jim and I were just spending one night there. The hotel was interesting and there was mosquito netting around the bed as well as bug candles to light and one of the off smokey coil thingies to light and put under the bed. We did all that and all night long all I smelled was mosquito repellant. Yuck. But a lovely area. Wish I had had more time to spend there.

 

We left Grenada early in the morning, and flew to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, with the goal being to arrive before Susan did on an American puddle jumper flight from Puerto Rico at 11:40. The airport has two nice long runways and a VIP FBO. The FBO was like the rest of Punta Cana, paradise. A real FBO, where you don't have to go to the main terminal to clear customs. Nice, very nice.

 

Poor Susan, she had a rough time getting to the Dominican Republic, midterm exams, flying to Houston in thunderstorms for a summer job interview, catching the midnight flight to Puerto Rico, having the middle seat between two more than large men, getting SICK on the flight!, arriving in Puerto Rico to be pulled aside by Border Patrol because she had a one way ticket (I have learned something new – you CANNOT leave the US with a one way ticket. You must have a round trip or convince Border Patrol you have a way back. Susan looked pitiful enough and she gave our N number as well as our phone number to Border Patrol and they let her on the flight. She looked totally whipped by the time she cleared customs and we found her. But some food and sleep and she perked back up. Thank goodness!

 

After a trip of two days two days two days, four days in the Dominican Republic felt like Paradise. And, Punta Cana IS paradise. I highly recommend this destination.

 

Of course, still have the little flap issue. Jim called Jim Doyle and did a CMC download and sent to the Contact Center. Bless their hearts, they are SO WONDERFUL!!!!!! They work SO HARD and have made out trip and life SO EASY. THANK YOU!!!! And, along with the uber awesome Mike Valek, the crack team of Tommy and Chris were sent from Ft. Lauderdale to fix the smal flap issue. For some reason, this place has no address for FedEX, which makes no sense. Somehow, a nice guy named Sergio showed up with the parts Sunday night and Tommy and Chris arrived Monday, and the plane back in service that afternoon and flew back to Ft. Lauderdale on Tuesday morning. Terribly efficient. I tell you, the support for the Phenom is Phenomenal!!!!

 

Tomorrow, it's back to the grind, but it's been a great trip. Lots of miles, lots of intersting places, lots of laughter, and when we get home, we'll have the best of list. Until then, Blue Skies and Tail Winds!

Monday, March 5 - Iguazu to San Jose Dos Compos to Rio

 

Oh WOW, the trip from BA to Iguazu was thrilling because we got to overfly the falls! What a lush beautiful view. Arriving at Iguazu airport, we arrived after Keith and crew and, guess what? For the FIRST time this trip, the fuel truck was there!! And, not only there, but pumping Jet A! It was an omen of good things to come. Our handler spoke English and, though we spent several hours at the airport working on flight plans, etc, all was good.

 

The falls, whoo whee, like NOTHING I have ever seen! As Kristina put it, Niagra on Viagra. At our hotel, the view from across the street was of, what I thought, was Iguazu Falls. Spectacular! I took photos at sunset and then, the next morning, we take a river cruise, and, guess what? We see MORE falls! And, that afternoon, Jim and I walk the path and we see the motherlode. Amazing, every corner you turn, you see a bigger and better waterfall than Niagra. Iguazu is made up of a series of 270 waterfalls. I can believe it. The pictures tell the story.

 

Walking around is like being in a tropical forest, and with tropical trees and critters. There was a warning posted of a caterpillar that camouflaged itself on the trees and it you touch it, it secretes a toxin that can kill you. I kept looking for the caterpillars, but, they were camouflaged very well.

 

Leaving Iguazu also took hours at the airport. This time paying the airport fees, the handler fees, etc. But, we leave in time to get to the Embraer factory only a few minutes late. OH WOW, what a reception! N82DU knew the way home, and we taxied to Apron 5, hanger F77 to a reception from Colarino, Malloco and Carlos. Greeting old friendsand meeting new ones. It was a wonderful day. We saw the Legacy 500 Experimental, as well as the production line for the 600 and 650's. The contact center is a marvel, and there we saw the big board with who is down where in the fleet. The board was more or less empty, everyone was busy handling questions and dealing with CMC downloads. What a nice group of people!! I know they have helped us immensely on this trip. We can't fly without them. Thank you!

 

So, a wonderful day spent at the factory, where our flap fault was looked at, cleared, our air conditioning was also looked at, and Keith's air conditioning was fixed. Now, his plane is throwing ice cubes at them in the back! They also washed our planes, loaded us up with goodies and even touched up the paint! It was red carpet, full service, absolutely THE BEST day on the trip yet!!!

 

Flying into Rio, we flew into the domestic airport, DuMont, and overflew the airport to a downwind, turn before the bridge, drop dead gorgeous approach. The airport runway is 4300', which is plenty long, but if you are too short, you go in the drink, and if you are too long, you go in the drink. Colarino emphasized strongly not to be long! I kept it really short, draggin in the tail, and could have made the first turn, but decided to save my brakes. :-)

 

We parked on a taxiway, as the airport does not have enough parking. Our handler met us, but his English was sadly lacking. We did get fuel, and we were off after, once again. Rio is a lovely city with big wide light brown sandy beaches.

 

While we didn't spend time on the beach, Kristina did manage to buy a few bikinis, and we all saw Sugar Loaf mountain, the Cristo on top of the mountain and drove around Rio checking out the sites and sounds, as well as all the soccer shops. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a 2016 Olympic store in Rio yet. We were disappointed with this, but, according to our guide, Rio is gearing up in a major way for the 2014 World Cup Soccer matches, the Olympics are on the back burner until they are over.

 

So, Rio was successful – nice hotel, nice meals, one with Malloco and Carlos in Rio, at a seafood restaurant with the most unusual bathroom...ever. Corn on the floor on the ladies, with doll heads on the ceiling. In the men's, there were ice and lime wedges in the toilets and black gravel for the floor. What a riot!

 

Of course, once again, we arrive at the airport at 7:45 for a 10 am departure. A domestic flight, so we don't have to clear customs. Once again – painful, but this time it is incompetence on the part of our handler. N32KC paperwork was partially filled out, N82DU had no paperwork. We finally left at 10:30, and all the way to Salvador de Bahia, I think air traffic control thought we were just one plane.

 

Enough said. Before we left Rio though, while I was battling with the authorities with a nonexistent flight plan and a handler with no English, Jim emailed Thierry and told him to get Lider as the handler for Salvador and Belem. No questions.

 

Arrival in Salvador was MUCH better.

Saturday, March 3  Buenos Aires to Iguazu
(Also known as Good bye Argentina)

Flying into BA, the ATIS reported using rwy 11, but, the notams had indicated that 11 was closed during the time we would be landing, for maintenance.  Sure enough, we were cleared to a waypoint on the ILS for 35 chart.  Like I have said in the past, Jim's high school Spanish is serving him well on the radios, so he was bueno with the changes. 

We taxied for at least 6 miles to get to the South Forty at the Buenos Aires aiport.  Leo, a former Braniff  pilot, was our initial contact.  We taxiied under the wing of a 767 to our parking spot.  The 767 was without many things, but was providing shade for the workman asleep under its body.  Or, perhaps he was security.  Actually, parking on the fringe of the airport, you do wonder how safe it is....

Once again, we are on the tarmac for hours getting fuel.  That is the welcome to the airport, stay a few hours and wait for fuel.

The Park Hyatt was as promised – nice.  However, getting up the next morning, it's raining and I realy need to see what the OAT is.  It would be logical to open the window, would it not? I agree, logical, so I open the window, but it feels odd.  I look up and the window is opening on the left and the upper hinge on the right has come undone, so the window is falling toward me, but also toward Jim who has his back to the window sitting at the desk working on the computer, and only one hinge is holding the damned thing.  I call for help (as in the damned window is broken, get up and help me – NOW!)  Oh boy,  what a mess.  We do manage to salvage the window, get it closed, and then tell the front desk about it.  I don't know if they fixed, but I decided it would be better to check the OAT another way. 

Roberto, our out spoken and very nice, tour guide, guided us around the city with one of the more interesting sites being the cemetery where Eva Peron is buried.  It was like a very nice boulevard with crypts on either side.  They were crypt mansions, on not so small of scale.  Really cool and not morbid at all. Traffic was a miserable mess though, with a transit strike, the President giving a speech to the people and the people being bussed in and all the busses just stopping on the street blocking lanes.  But BA was a run down slum, that was obvious;y beautiful in it's heyday.

BA, was a great stop and we as a group were thinking fond thoughrs of our BA adventure.  Nice, guide, great tango performance, good food, though late nights.  And then.... the BA stood not for Buenos Aires, but for Bad Attitude.

I told you we were parked in the South 40, several miles from the terminal, so we arrive at the airport two hours before our scheduled departure, exactly when our handlers said to be there.  Leo whisked us through all the paperwork in the airport and we had our bags scanned and headed to the plane, where we were met by Customs Official from now on known as Senor  A.S.S.

The Christensen's and the Landis's pack like they are driving the family station wagon to Grandma's.  I mean, small camera bags, tote bags, suitcases, hanging bags, you name it.  We filled two cars with people and luggage, in the trunk, on the floor, in laps, to the hotel and back to the airport.  But, when we met with Senor A.S.S., apparently there was a Challenger a few years ago that loaded up with drugs from BA and headed to Barcelona before getting busted.  And, now, they want all luggage off the plane to be scanned.  Since the Christensen's and Landis's did take all their luggage off, the exam of their plane was cursory. 

However, we take a rolling suitcase, a flight bag, a cooler and, this time, a bag with dirty (now clean) clothes and leave one other suitcase on the plane with clothes.

OMG, Senor A.S.S. had a fit about the suitcases left on the plane.  Okay, whatever, take and scan them.  He looked through all the extra toiletries, the water bottles, the coke zero, and then he wanted to look in the baggage compartment.  By now he had called for reinforcements, as we were a dangerous lot, packing toothpaste and holding a handheld radio to pick clearance.  We had to open the back baggage compartment, and he went ballistic.  Out had to come the golf bags (Jim and Susan's since she is meeting us later), and off they go to be scanned, several miles away.

Okay, I was irritated but there is nothing I can do.  It's hot, I was sweating on the tarmac, there's no bathroom for miles, other than the portacan that even Jim and Keith said was not fit for man nor beast, so it was rather miserable.  And then..... Senor A.S.S. sees all the spare parts Embraer has loaned us for the trip.  We have 21 boxes plus three tires in the bagage compartment.  How do I know this?  Wait.

Senor A.S.S. wanted us to open all the boxes.  I put my foot down.  I said, NO, absolutely NOT.  We are NOT opening the boxes for you.  For, once you open the box, the parts has to be recertified to be used.  This did not sit well with Senor A.S.S.. The handlers were like, just do what he says, he is difficult...Leo is long gone, as he was avoiding the carnage and left that to others in the company.  Someone else, with the airport was trying to reason with Senor A.S.S., but to no avail. Not when we showed the parts manifest, nothing.  We were to take all the parts out and have them scanned was the compromise.

Do you have any idea how long it took to get the parts in the plane?  This was a disaster.  We were never going to leave BA.  (Perhaps the moral to this story is: first, don't go to the main intermational airport, even though Thierry with Air Journey said it would be easier, and the fuel was cheaper, Second, don't fly out on Saturday, as Senor A.S.S. and his side kicks have nothing better to do than to scan parts boxes that are still sealed).  I had the idea to number the boxes and photograph the baggage compartment so we at least know where the boxes were currently.  Customs was like, no you cannot use your camera!  I was like, out of my way, you have created this problem, I have to take everything out and, quite frankly, go piss on a spark plug.  I was defiant.  The handler was like, no no, patience is a virtue. Well, anyone who knows me, knows I have few virtues,and most assuredly, patience is not one of them.  I told the handler, what's the worst they can do?  Throw me in jail? They were like, no, but they can make you take everything out.  I said, well the worst has happened, bring it on, and with them all scowling, I got my camera.

Meanwhile, they called the cops with the kevlar jackets.  What a hoot!!  They walked on the plane, looked around, and walked off.  I mean, the biggest contraband I had on the plane was an apple I picked up in Patagonia.  Send in the leg irons.  Jim and I numbered the boxes, photographed the boxes, and  took all the boxes out, which is why I now know how many boxes we have in the back.

I told them the equipment was very expensive and one of us had to go with it, another reason to number the boxes.  Customs was now looking at an empty baggage compartment, and they were at the limit of their aurthority.  The worst they could do had been done.  Senor A.S.S. proved himself.  I sent Jim off with the parts and I took the photos and made a crude diagram of what went where, since it was hard to see the photo on my computer blown up.  The handler came back with Jim and he wanted to chat, we were like,sit in your van and shut up while we do this (remember, patience is not my virtue :-))  and they were not pleased.

Meanwhile, Keith , Kristina, Greg and Denise, stayed for moral support, even though they could have departed.  And, it was hot, really hot, on the tarmac.  We'd been there hours by now.  We'd delayed departure and it was miserable.  Keith and Greg picked up our clearance as well as theirs, while we are repacking the parts, in record time I might add.  The plane is packed, I paid and talked to the handlers (they had nothing of any importance to add) and we were ready to leave.

But....we can't because we missed our slot and we had to wait....another hour!!!!!!!!!  So, a good visit in BA has turned into a BAD visit, because of Senor A.S.S.and crew, and the big criminals we are, by having spare parts and golf clubs as well as trying to be efficient packers, has bitten us in the ass, so arriving at the airport at 9 means we got to leave at 12:20.

My suggestion is:  Do not, I repeat, do not go to BA.  It's not worth the hassle and for the Parisian architecture – just go to Paris, you'll know to expect a hassle there.

However, on a more pleasant note, the flight to Iguazu was pleasant, and we were able to over fly the falls,  Whoo Hoo!!  It was hot at the airport, but the handler had the fuel truck there (a first for this trip!!!) and he took our passports and had the paperwork done while we fueled and unpacked the plane (another first!).

Brazil is looking like the place to be in South America, everyone is friendly  and on the tarmac what did we spy.. but another Phenom!!




Wed, February 29 - Rio Gallegos to Buenos Aires

 

After a four hour drive from Rio Gallegos, since we could not land at El Calefate, Si, No Espanol, we arrived at Los Notres, a hotel that is dead set in front of the most famous glacier in South America, Perito Moreno. The glacier is awe inspiring. And, it's geography is different from most.

 

Periodically the glacier advances over the L-shaped "Lago Argentino" ("Argentine Lake") forming a natural dam which separates the two halves of the lake when it reaches the opposite shore. With no escape route, the water-level on the Brazo Rico side of the lake can rise by up to 30 meters above the level of the main lake. The enormous pressure produced by the height of the dammed water finally breaks the ice barrier holding it back, in a spectacular rupture event. This dam/rupture cycle is not regular and it recurs naturally at any frequency between once a year to less than once a decade.

It was really cool to see up close and personal. Also, the lake in front of the hotel was up 6 meters, so we speculated on when the rupture would occur. The last one was in 2008, and some have been once a year, some once a decade. (turns out the glacier ruptured the day we left!!!! A small rupture with the lakes beginning to equalize! Also cool were the other glaciers we saw on a very nice catamaran tour. Patagonia has rugged and varied terrain. It reminds me of Wyoming and Montana.

 

Interesting enough, this stop was isolated, remote and extremely picturesque and pleasant. We walked on the glacier in crampons and toured all of the three biggy glaciers in the area, Upsala, Speazzini and the north face of Perito Moreno. For this tour, we took a nice Catamaran that was very smooth cruising at 33 knots, as well as they sold wine, beer, and decent food. A much different experience from the boat ride in Punta Areanas!

 

We were up early to get back to Rio Gallegos and then to see if the weather had cleared in Buenos Aires. Terrible thunderstorms hit Buenos Aries the day before we were to leave and upon check out the night before out departure, there were delays in and out of Buenos Aires, so much so that some guests who were to arrive at the hotel the day before were arriving at 3 am!

 

And, the winds, it's Rio Gallegos to Buenos Aires, it's 1120 nm, with a slight tailwind on departure, but because of the front causing the weather in Buenos Aires, it was a 120 knot crosswind that would give us anywhere from 20 to 60 knots of headwind. The big question was would we have to make fuel stop in Trelew, which would be painful as every fuel stop, with the exception of Puerto Montt, has been extremely painful, or do wes soldier forth and try to make it to Buenos Aires with enough fuel to make an alternate, avoid weather, etc? Well, it was clear no one WANTED to make a fuel stop, and it was also clear that there might be big weather and wind issues getting to Buenos Aires,

 

But, first things first, we had to get to Rio Gallegos. Oh Lord, Mario Andretti showed up at the hotel promptly at 7:30 we load all the Landis and Christensen's ten thousand bags in the car and off we go. And, I mean go, 87.5 mph on average, arriving at the airport 3.5 hours later (what is ususally a 4.5 to 5 hour drive). Leny was waiting for us, and he had good news!!!! They calculated our fees incorrectly so instead of $703 it was $33 for parking, landing, etc. Whoo hooo!!! Go Leny!!! We blew out of Rio Gallegos like our pants were on fire, which was kinda true since we only had 15 minutes to get out based on our flight plan times!!!

 

The radar was down in BA, so no weather information there, so.... we had Keith's son in Salt Lake call his sat phone with weather updates and we all decided to head to BA, no fuel stop. AS predicted, a tailwind that turned to a headwind, and we were on top of some big boomers, but, the ride to BA was very nice and the weather in BA good. We landed with flaps, 680 pounds of fuel, and in the middle of the afternoon. Things were looking up! Of course, we had to park in the South 40, and wait an hour for fuel, but it was far better than making a technical stop to boot!!!

 

BA here we come!




Monday, February 27 - Punta Arenas to El Calafate 

As per usual, it took quite a while to get out of the Punta Arena airport. Punta Arenas is on the water, as a matter of fact it is on the Straits of Magellan! That's sounds quite romantic, and the brochures for the hotel, Cabo de Hornas (which we nicknamed Horney Hotel, haha) and the scenic penguin boat ride sounded fantastic.

 

Reality was a far different story. Horney was like a Holiday Inn Express, except without the desk, high speed interent (there was internet, but the top speed was 200k, in the middle of the night when no one else was using) and I didn't wake up being able to do brain surgery or even speak Spanish!!!! However, for a last minute substitution, it was perfectly adequate. We arrived on Friday and Saturday morning dawned hearing music from the sqaure across the street. No rest for the weary, let me tell you! Pedro was blasting on a megaphone and the party started early. Cool and pleasant was the weather, so walking around town was nice.

 

A penguin tour and boat ride had been scheduled as our afternoon event. Arriving at the boat, we all were like, ummmm, what the hell? It was an old car ferry, circa 1962, apparently used in the Vietnam conflict that someone in Chile got on the cheap. A dump does not begin to describe it. It was an agonizing 5 hours, 2 hours to the penguins and 2 hours back, with one on shore. Traveling at a swift 8 knots, crossing the Straits of Magellan was an experience not to be repeated. HAHA, and the lights in the toilets were not working, and there was no beer, and well, it was an unhappy crowd, let me tell you. The island was bare rock and sand and the poor penquins looked cold and tired. If you go to Punta Arenas, don't do it!!!!

 

Of course, what would a Saturday night in Punta Arenas be without a wedding? And, the wedding partied until 5 am! Sunday morning at breakfast we saw the bride and groom, with the bride still in her wedding dress! Oh...WOW... and she did not look happy with the groom, who was like,whhaaatt???? I was partying with my friends. What do you want? HAHA!!

 

When the tour guide picked us up to take us to the airport I told him about the wedding. He said “In Chile it is said that the girls walk around with a wedding dress in their purse and when the man is at a weak moment, they pull it out and drag him off to get married.” I was like, Whoa, hold it there buddy, are you telling me that Chilean men are so hot that women will drag them off? Gives new meaning to Hot Chiles....

 

We were leaving Punta Arenas, and heading to Rio Gallegos, a long 30 minute hop at the most. On leaving, I hear the controller say, Line up and wait, garble, garble, and I repeat line up and wait, but when I look up there is a small plane on base. Jim is yelling and, of course, we have not moved a centimeter, so I call back and say after the plane lands, line up and wait. What a mess!!!!! So, the flight to Rio Gallegos was tense with looking for Keith ahead of us (whom we did see on TCAS, thank goodness, doing some weirdly modified DME Arc approach) and us looking for other traffic. Fortunately, there was none.

 

Rio Gallegos had a long runway and lots of people there to process us. Of course, it still took 2.5 hours to: clear customs, get fuel, file a flight plan, and pay everyone and their brother along the way. $140 for the plane to clear customs, $703 to park and other fees, $14.25 to file a flight plan, and of course, $200 to Leny, a really nice cute young man Thierry found that spoke perfect English, is a pilot and whos father is in the Argentinian Air Force. He was delightful!! The best part of the trip.

 

One other interesting thing at the airport, when we arrived, there was a Argentian 757 that looked moth balled. Turns out it was the Argentenian Air Force One. Apparently Madam Presidente has a place in El Calefante and is there every weekend. So, we got to park next to the President on the ramp. What a hoot!



Sunday, February 26th  Santiago to....Punta Arenas

 

Arriving in Santiago was like a breath of fresh air. A real FBO. Everyone was so nice there. We arrive so late, we were in a hurry to get to the hotel, take a shower and head back out for dinner with one of bff's daughters who lives in Santiago, we just tossed the key to the gas caps to the FBO as well as our UV air card. The Uvair card is getting to be more important that my American Express card. If I lose my AMEX card, I can get it replaced. If I lose my UV air card, no bueno with fuel. EEKKK!

 

Our guide, Jose was fantastic. He took us to the Ritz Carlton and everyone was excited to get there. Finally, a 4 start hotel, supposedly the best in Santiago. A soft bed, the drapes to work, room service, quiet.... of, course, it didn't work out like that. We arrived at the hotel, and check in is a disaster. Our rooms had been canceled, rebooked, and canceled. In a hurry, as it's 8:15 pm, and dinner is at 9 pm, time to just say, we can straighten this out manana and let's get the show on the road. This was not to be, the check in person had attitude, we did get the room, but now I'm not happy with the Ritz.

 

Dinner, however, was a lovely affair, and my friend's daughter brought a friend who has planes, boats, helicopters and received the 2nd pilot's license issued in Chile. He was really charming and knowledgable. We talked about the problems with Icky and he was like, why would you stop there to clear customs? He named another airport he said was far superior. Did I also mention his brother owns FBOs in Chile?? We mentioned our issues at the Ritz and our next stop was Bariloche to stay at the Llao Llao, which everyone was looking forward to. He said, “You can't get there – the volcano is spewing.” Oh lord. And, the next stop, in Argentina at El Calafate, the controllers are on strike so there is no Eglish speaking controller in the tower. We cannot land. I now realize you can fly around the world, and even in Myanmar, English is spoken. You cannot fly around South America without speaking Spanish. Where can I go for six months to a year and immerse myself in the language without driving everyone crazy? Oh wait – HOUSTON!!!!

 

Next day, Jose showed up and we travel around town, seeing the Santiago sites. It was a nice clean town with lots of dogs. Several tried to adopt us in the government area. They were cute doggies. The weather in Santiago was extremely pleasant! But, hanging over our heads was what to do the next two stops? Then, early afternoon, an email saying Volcan Cordon Caulle was spewing and the ash cloud was drifting right over Bariloche, due to the prevailing winds. No way we could get to Bariloche with volcanic ash blowing over, so, after much debate, we scrap Bariloche (sniff sniff) and decide to head south, staying in Chile, to Punta Arenas.

 

And, so, we said good bye to the awesome Jose and a wonderful FBO, and headed south, with a fuel stop in Puerto Montt, all the while hoping the flaps will work this leg. It's a short hop to Puerto Montt, and we were cleared to land 17, but the wind was 350 at 4. It was raining, the runway was 8000' or so, and there was NO WAY I was landing on 17. NO WAY. I told the controller unable, request ILS 35. Good grief. I landed on 35, flaps work, but not pushing my luck, landed flaps 3. Keith and crew came in after me, and he gave me a hard time on the fuel I cost him, since he was willing to land on 17 straight in instead of circling to 35. All good natured fun, as he didn't want to land on 17 either: he just wanted me to buy the drinks nextstop!!!!

 

Puerto Montt was a great fuel stop. We had a lady handler, and she was great. Got fuel, had to fill out a Manifest, and then, I asked what the fees were. She was like, fees, what fees? This is Chile, we don't charge fees (though not quite like that, as once again, I need to learn Spanish, but that was the gist). I told her Icky did, and she and her coworker had a discussion later that Kristina picked up threads of, but they were talking about Icky and the fees. Perhaps there should not have been fees in Icky and it was really a bribe. No paperwork, no trace.

 

We continued on to Punta Arenas, our southernmost point, 53 degrees South. It was mostly cloudy flying down, but there were a few breaks in the clouds and the mountains and glaciers were spectacular!!!! Arriving in Punta Arenas, not much wind, 10 knots, as this is a really windy place, most of the time. We were greeted at the airport by Rodolfo, and he was absolutely delightful. He was happy to practice his English on us. The airport is under construction, so we had to park to be fueled and then taxi to parking. Fueling has been slightly painful on this trip, and Arenas was no exception. Two hours to get fuel, even though we were parked next to all the fuel trucks. But, everyone was so nice, it wasn't an awful experience. And, Rodolfo was saying that Embraer brought all their prototypes there to test the crosswind components. Fortunately for us, there was not much to test at the moment!




February 25 - Machu Picchu and Icky Icky

 

The Monasterio hotel was, as you would suspect, a monastery at one time. Charming, nice with oxygenated rooms, but it was still no match for an altitude of 11,200'. It's hard to get a good night's sleep. After a restless night, we get up and take the one and one half hour van ride to catch the Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu. Special thanks to a landslide that closed a section of train track between Cusco and the next stop the train makes, gave us a view of spectacular scenery and an apprecation of just how big Peru's mountains are.

 

The Hiram Bingham was a nice ride to Macchu Picchu, which means Old Mountain. Trians are not my thing, necessarily, but Denise loved being on the train. Since there has been so much rain in Peru this year, the river we followed as we went down the mountain was running rapidly – very rapidly with rapids being the operative word. We asked our guide Alvin if the river was navigatible, but he said “Only for Mother-in-law” HAHA!!

 

Once the train reached the station, we took a harrowing bus ride up to the base of Machu Picchu. Awe inspiring. I'll let the photos speak for themselves, as I was gasping for breath climbing up and down the stone steps, for three hours, while Alvin pounded the history of Machu Picchu as well as speculation about why Machu Picchu was built (he said trade between the cities and the Amazon jungle denizens, I say horse hockey. I know the people of Peru are like mountain goats, able to do the Inca trail in 4.5 hours, that would take us mere mortals 4 long days, but really.... ) Lots of astronomy references in and around Machu Picchu. A really special and unique place and Alvin was a patient and terrific guide.

 

We reversed course late afternoon and arrived back at the hotel, in the rain, around 10 pm. Kristina and I expected to see George Washington, one of the young people hawking their paintings to the tourists, waiting for us outside the hotel. He was there in the morning, with his paintings, us with no time to look or buy. His were so much better than the young Picasso near the town square, we saw the day before. We told George we'd be back to buy his work. Unfortunately, he did not wait until 10 pm in the rain for us. Hello George Washington!!! Sorry we missed you, though, to be honest, I never knew George could paint.

 

It was a 4:15 am wake up call for us to get a ride back to the airport and catch the flight to Lima. Oh, the flying, travel and lack of sleep has caught up with all of us. Arriving at the airport, our bags are searched and we go through security to the boarding area. Did I tell you were tired? Really really tired and the day has just begun???

 

We all are just exisitng, kinda in the ether, and then there was a scream. Kristina, is OMG, OMG, OMG, and I was like whoa.......wake up. Kristena has lost her Fendi bag, last seen on the bus to the airport, it is thought. Jim called the tour operator, and let me tell you, not easy to talk to or reach at 6 in the morning. Of course, the flight has not arrived yet, so, no need to panic, unless the bag has been stolen. But, the tour operator tracked down the bus and voila!!! It was still there!. WHOO HOO, how to get the bag though security to Kristina? The pilot's uniforms came to the rescue and Captain Jim and Captain Keith retrieved the bag, reuniting it with Kristina and all was well, for one moment in time, again.

 

Lima was warm, so all the coats came off again. The handler was great, expensive and a cash only operation, but great. Of course, you have to go around your ass to get to your elbow in airports, so we went through security (twice), customs, bags, getting Subway for lunch (yum) and then having to take a ride around the airport to the planes, even though the planes were spitting distance from baggage claim, where we went first.

 

Late (as per usual) as N32KC and N82DU sat on the approach end of the runway, together, for 30 minutes!!!!!! while a clearance was obtained. Something about flow control into Santiago. Oh boy, what a mess. And, it was hot to boot! No bueno for Keith and crew on an unair conditioned plane. It was hot on the air conditioned one!

 

Now, after 2.1 on the hobbs, we arrived at Iquiqui, which forever after will be known as Icky Icky. The landscape looked like something from Dubai. Very arrid, LOTS of sand, and dry. We land, taxi and the place is deserted. People arrive to spray insecticide into the plane and then....we wait. Not much English spoken here. Enrique was our handler and it looked like an easy in, easy out spot, other than we had to offload all of our luggage and take them to be scanned. Inside. Okay, I can see that Chile doesn't want foreign pests to invade, and I didn't mind offloading the bags, putting them on a cart, offloading inside, putting through the scanner, reloading the bags, etc, ai pain, but...that turned out to be the simpliest part of the stop.

 

Customs was a mess. Six copies of the General Declaration were given to us in Peru. These 6 copies were given to the handler, per his request as soon as we arrived. Customs needed a copy of the Gen Dec and no handler around. He would take us somewhere and then wander off. Customs was not told we were coming, and they were grumpy (I think since the airport was deserted, they were missing their afternoon siesta). Then, Keith and I had to go fill out other paperwork, that took 30 minutes, with the handler, who spoke no English, relaying to another person, and when Keith and I got the paperwok to sign, it only had our names, the airplane, date of manufacture and the serial number. Oh Lord, I could have filled that out in 2 minutes or less. And, quite frankly, they should have had that filled out for us before we arrived, as they were just reading off paperwork that had been sent to them.

 

Then, fueling the plane. Since everyone had to go to the terminal to clear customs, there was no one to supervise the fueling. So, the fueling did not get done until, well, until we finished with the paperwork...inside. So, finally, Jim and Greg head to the plane and the fuel truck arrived and the plane is fueled. But, guess what? The bags aren't back!! Still in the terminal awaiting someone to start the truck to bring back to the South Forty where we were parked. And, did I mention, we were the only planes there?!!?!

 

Finally, the bags arrived, but no handler, no flight plan no...OMG, we have been in Icky 2 hours. The non English speaking handler arrived, but no flight plan. He only wants to be paid – in USD. And, no accounting for what we are paying for, I am about to have a coronary. On the tarmac. In Icky, of all places. And, I'm tired, and sweaty, and feeling mean. Icky is making the handlers in India look terrifc and speedy!

 

After another 30 minutes, I give up, pay the cash, make him sign a receipt I make on the back of the flight plan I hope he filed, call ground for a full route clearance (which also lost something in translation), slightly different route was filed, and off we go. Santiago, here we come!

 

We flew over the Andes, headed to Santiago, being really glad we had the Garmin and the terrain warnings. Really high terrain there. Rugged and rough country. The closer we were to Santiago, the better the English of the controllers. It was being to feel like home. Airport in sight, time to slow down, put in flaps and flaps failed. After we tried to reset, it was no bueno, and a no flap landing was the landing of choice. Hard to do with a 15 knot headwind on a 12,000' runway, but somehow we managed to land. :-)

 

And, our first experience in South America with a real FBO!!! Fantastic!! Best news, after landing, reset the flap breaker and all appeared to work correctly. Next flight will tell.




February 20, 2012 in Cuzco, Peru 

We left the Four Seasons early. But, we were fifteen minutes late leaving Costa Rica. Go figure.

 

Overflying Panama, we looked for the Panama Canal, but no bueno. Too overcast to see anything on the ground.

 

We heard Keith, Kristina, Denise and Greg on the radio on the way to Cartegena. They were ahead of us, so we were able to hear what the controller said to them as we sped along. Approach control into Cartegena was....not good. Listening to Keith on the raido, I was like, whoa, glad I didn't get that clearance, but guess what?!?! I did! But, it was not part of my flight plan.

 

From the beginning, we read the notams for Cartegena. The notams said the VOR approach was not authorized. Not authorized would be, I would think, no bueno. However, we were cleared to the VOR and my flight plan was from the VOR to the airport. I could SEE the airport; however, approach thought I should do a procedure turn in the hold without asking me to. My first hint that I HAD to do was when I saw Keith in his Phenom, 2000 feet below me, heading the opposite direction from the airport straight toward me while being in the hold. ?!?!?!?! Then, of course, I had to, while overshooting and barely missing restricted airspace. Not cool. Keith, was cleared to land while we were in the hold. He landed and was cleared to land while taxiing by the tower. I think the tower was also confused.

 

We landed, saw Keith and Kristena's plane and then had to taxi to the front, well past them. We landed around 11:20 am,20 minutes late. But, somebody messed up and told the handler we would not be arriving until 1 pm!!! We had:

 

One handler frustrated an email was sent saying we would arrive at 1 pm – and we showed up at 11 am

Two planes in need of fuel that we just couldn't get the truck over to fuel

Three degrees celcius too hot for man or beast on the tarmac, where I was sweating like a farm animal

 

 

We got fuel by 1 pm, in both planes, after two United States of America King Airs, with no N numbers, landed after us, were fueled before us, and didn't look like they were in any hurry to go anywhere.

 

However, meeting up with the rest of our crew, meant we had really started our adventure!!! Keith and crew had had an uneventful flight from Cayman, except for the fact that their air conditioning failed. Bummer. Cartegena is HOT, as is most of South America. Keith did a CMC download and Jim was able to send to Embraer from his phone. The answer came back quickly – a hard fail of the AC compressor. It would need to be replaced. But, where? Turned out the nearest service center was in Venezuela. Now, isn't that a kick. Can't go there. So....more later.

 

Everyone was excited to be in Cartegena, but we were all hungry. We cleared immigration, and were fingerprinted, just two fingers, though. Thierry and Dora the Explora, our tour guide, were waiting for us on the other side with the first order of business: food!

 

The old town was lovely and charming, and, best of all, it had restaurants. Really reminded me of New Orleans, with the narrow streets, the balconies and the inner courtyards that cannot be viewed from the street. The people were very friendly, but getting out of the airport left a bad taste in our mouths.

We arrived at the airport the next morning, for a long day of flying. Lima with a stop in Guayaquil for fuel.

 

Emails were flying back and forth regarding Keith's AC and what to do. Get it fixed in San Jose dos Compos? Fly to Venzuela (haha), a service center somewhere else? No resolution.

 

We take off from Cartegena, without incident. Sandra the handler was very nice and apologetic. Our planes had been moved to be together, so things are looking up. Keith departed first, and we left approximately 10 minutes later. The 2.6 hour flight to Guayaquil was uneventful except Keith reported a AHRS2 fail, with the autopilot kicking off climbing through the low 30's. We were cleared to FL 390, but were then requested to climb to 410, putting us 20 minutes or so behind Keith landing in Guayaquil.

 

Flying over the Andes, the mountain tops are HIGH! Our descent into Ecuador, was uneventful, except, we noticed water everywhere. Lots and lots of water. Ecuador around Guayaquil was having major flooding. Most of the land was under water. The rivers were so swollen and over their banks, carrying mud and debris down stream at a rapid clip. It was heartbreaking to see such devestation up close.

 

Guayaquil was a good fuel stop, though – efficient with a bathroom readily available, but it was not a cheap stop by any stretch of the imagination. I guess they need the money to rebuild the city and countryside after the flooding. Once again, we take off after Keith, 20 minutes later this time, for three Cessnas to land while we burn fuel at the end of the runway and I chomp at the bit to be gone. A shorter flight to Lima we had, only 1.5 hours, with really dry and arrid countryside. Our tour guide said it never rains in Lima, and looking at the terrain, I can believe it.

 

Once again, everyone was starving, and, in the middle of the afternoon, since our rooms were not ready, we head to the bar. Some want beer, everyone wants food. Kristina, rattled off our dinner options, as she has read about and studied the culture, cuisine and hotels of every stop we are making. Whoo hoo!! So nice to have our own personal concierge to deal with all the little problems, like, where to eat. She found an authenic Peruvian restaurant two blocks from the hotel. It was fantastic!!!

 

A great night's sleep and then with bags packed, we head off to the airport to Cuzco. Since our plane cannot land at the 10,800' height of the airport, we have to take a commercial flight. Boo hoo. We all lament the fact that we can't use the plane like the family station wagon and we are weight and bag limited.

 

During this time, Keith gets the good news that Embraer will fly to Santiago and replace his AC compressor, for $13,000. Ouch, that got Keith's blood pressure up. The Enhanced EEC does not work outside the US. And, we pay for the EEC in the US while outside the US. Hmmmmmm........ Seems to me the Phenom is a fairly versatile plane that can go all around the world. It's a pity there isn't some way one could purchase coverage for whatever region traveling to, so coverage would be the same as in their home country. I think that would be a great insurance policy and somethingthat should be looked into.

 

Well, we made it to Cuzco. Charming spot. It's nice and cool here, and rainy. I think we'll get good use out of our raincoats here. Off to Machu Picchu on the Hiram Bingham Express. Toot toot!!



February 17, 2012 - Costa Rica 

It had been raining in Houston and cool, not cold, but cool for Houston. Leaving on Valentine's day could have been disaster, but Jim and I were both ready to hit the road. Tuesday dawned foggy, very foggy, but as we loaded our fourth, and last load into the plane, put the car on a charger and started to taxi, the fog was lifting with the visibility 4, mist and 600 OC. Ground told us to taxi to 35, and I was like, why not? A rough runway for a rough begining to our trip. But, at the last second, the controller changed his mind, told us to expect an intersection departure for 4.

 

Getting to this point had been an ordeal. Our trip around the world we bought a raft, but had borrowed a survival kit. This trip we decided to purchase the kit. It arrived on Saturday, after a tense Friday with the wrong zip code and just a real mess trying ascertain exactly where was the package? Next, Thierry, with Air Journey, his office sent all flight plans, etc to the wrong address. It's a problem when you move 8 months earlier. And, well, the list went on and on, last minute gotchas that had to be worked through at last minute.

 

We lifted off, and climbed through the fog quickly, since it was very thin, and then... it was a beautiful flight with a hint of a tailwind, all the way to Belize. I apprcciated the 4 knots more than you can imagine, especially when the crosswind speed got up to 130 knots. Belize was a relevation. Never having been to Belize, we shot the approach, though we saw the airport 50 miles away, and refamilarized ourselves with an ILS, DME approach that you have to use half standard rate turns to make work. A direct crosswind that was shifty, and trying to keep the landing short, so as not to have to taxi to the end of the runway and turn around there, I came in 10 knots over Vref, and tried to slow her down, tbut he stall warning horn started sqawking. I hit the disconnect, said, “not today”, slowed her down and made the first turn, which was exactly where our parking spot was.

 

Of course, after we land, we hear a Delta plane ask for, and be granted a visual approach. Something to remember for next time. Our handler was just a sweetheart, and very courtly. It was a quick and efficient, but rather steamy hot spot.

 

We had a difficult time leaving Belize, trying to pick up our clearance before we power up, but it was impossible, We finally picked up our clearance after we had been clearance to line up and wait on the only runway. The flight to Costa Rica was shorter and over surprisingly mountainour terrain. We saw our hotel complex as we turned onto long final into Costa Rica. Another great flight and a nice handling experience.

 

Four Seasons, even on Valentine's Day, has been a good experience. First day out I had Jim swinging on a cable above the trees. The Zip Line guides, when they picked us up, kept asking, how do you feel? Well, how do you think I feel, I want to get the show on the road and see what this zip line business is all about. They take us to the zip line office, and outfit us, and more, how do you feel? How do you feel? I guess from the guides perspective they have two middle aged people who might get up on the platform and say, Absolutely NOT!!! Get me down from here!! Of course, that didn't happen. We troupe off, the first zip was short, Jim went first and we were off. After two or three, they didn't ask how we felt anymore. We zipped through the tour and what they said would take 2.5 hours, took 1. I was rather disappointed it wasn't longer, but next time, I'd like more of a canopy tour, as opposed to just a zip line. But, it was fun.

 

Tomorrow we are off to Columbia and to meet up with Keith, Kristina and their friends. And then, the trip will begin!