My Trip to Belize
I was planning to leave Sunday Oct 16 on my trip to Belize and was totally packed Saturday night. The airplane was stuffed and everything else except my bedding and a phone was stored away in the hangar.
I got up early Sunday morning and the weather was terrible, but was expected to improve, so I packed away the bedding and kept the phone for calls to the weather office and US customs.
After calling the weather office several times and watching outside I determined it was futile by about 2 pm. So I went back to the hangar and got my bedding for another night.
Monday Oct 17 arrived and it was worse. The ceiling was 0 and visibility the same. The weather office said it was going to improve so I stripped the bed and packed everything away once more. Again I gave up around 2pm and got the bedding back and made the bed.
Tuesday Oct 18. The fog is bad and it doesnít look promising. However, about 9 am it started to clear and by 10 it was looking pretty good. I called for Bellingham weather and they were 00 in fog and not pretty.
I called again at 11am and Bellingham had opened up.
I called customs and asked for a noon arrival and they said great. I departed my home runway and 6 minutes later I was touching down on runway 34 and taxing for the customs office.
After a brief interview and the purchase of the sticker I was good to go. I met 2 guys from Pitt Meadows flying a Grumman Goose down to Chino California. They said they were spending the night at Redding and we would get together for dinner and beers. I never saw them after that even though I heard them on the radio a couple of times.
Got fuel, some charts and a snack and jumped in the plane to go to Redding California.
Immediately after takeoff I was over a solid undercast, which stretched for over 300 miles.
I called Navy Whidbey for flight following because the Seattle area is incredibly busy and there are several active MOAís and busy McChord air force base.
Fortunately flight following was available, and they were able to steer me through the busy Sea Tac traffic and around McChord air base to the south.
Finally Seattle approach tells me I can resume my own navigation, which means I can turn back on course. However, Iíve flown miles out of my way and this will prove to be an issue 3 hours later approaching Redding.
The weather is still poor below but Iím sitting pretty at 7,500 feet. Now Iím approaching the very busy Portland area and Portland approach is steering me around fighters, a Lufthansa A340, and AA 767 climbing out from below and pointed up and right toward me.
These controllers are experts and everyone gets where theyíre going without incident and everything fits like a glove.
The pucker factor does increase in these extremely busy areas. During this leg I am passed to 13 different controllers on 13 different frequencies, and I donít know how many different agencies.
Now Iím between layers but the undercast is starting to break up and everything is progressing smoothly.
Medford is coming up on the map soon and the overcast and undercast are breaking up. Just before Medford everything is in the clear and the incredible sight of Mt. Shasta is looming right before me.
But, the extra miles around Seattle and McChord air base are taking their toll. I debate whether to land at Medford for fuel, but I calculate the fuel and determine it will be tight. But I figure I have sufficient fuel to make Redding safely. I just donít want to lose my 7,500 feet and then have to climb back out again. This exercise would consume a lot of fuel and an extra hour.
100 miles out over high mountains but within gliding distance of I-5, I switch to the aux tank to use the last of it's fuel. It only lasts 6-7 minutes when I expected it to last 15. The silence was deafening. In a flash the tank was switched to the right main, but it was stubborn this time. I grabbed the wobble pump and it started, thank God. Only lost 100 feet.
Now Iím on the right main and expecting it to go 25-30 minutes to dry tanks and guess what? It quit at 17 minutes while Iím talking to Redding tower. I screw up my conversation with them due to the panic induced by the engine quitting since I had to drop everything to switch the tanks and start pumping. They must have thought, oh well, just another crazy Canuck.
Now Iím worried. Iím still 20 miles back and on the last of my fuel. There are no more tanks to switch to, and the gauge is near the peg.
I land safely but Iím still distraught and I taxi up to the parking area. I felt like kissing the ground.
There is no sign of the Goose or my new friends.
The great lady at the FBO calls a hotel for me and they send their van. One hour after landing Iím in the La Quinta Inn. This would prove to be a bad choice.
After my harrowing experience I decided a big salad and a bigger beer was in order and I walked down the street to the recommended restaurant. It was great and had the biggest mugs of the best tasting natural beer I ever had anywhere.
Back to the hotel for what I expect to be a good nights sleep and next stop Puerto Penasco, Mexico. It was not to be, because some inconsiderate b******s kept their door open and talked loudly all night.
Finally at 1am I called the desk and they couldnít stop them. After another guest called they told these nincompoops that the next call would be the police and they closed their door.
However, it was too late for me. I had less than 2 hours sleep and was certainly not in any condition to fly all the way to Puerto Penasco, especially through LA and itís surrounding MOAís, which is one of the busiest areas in the nation.
I complained when checking out and they cut the bill in half. Not much consolation really cause it didnít improve my condition.
I decided Bakersfield was all I could handle in my condition. I certainly didnít want to fly through LA and several hot MOA's without my wits about me.
There were some pretty active areas around Sacramento and couple of air bases just south of Redding and I had a couple of panic attacks when I couldnít reach Oakland center for flight following.
I called Redding tower back as I turned right 40 degrees to avoid these military zones. They called Oakland for me and were told they had heard me but were very busy and I should call them back. I did and was handled right away. Great way to start this leg considering my physical and mental condition due to lack of rest.
The rest of this leg until 30 miles from Bakersfield was uneventful other than being real busy with controllers. In fact this short leg was the busiest with 9 frequency changes, and as many agencies in less than 2 hours.
Thirty miles out there is a solid undercast ahead but itís still broken where I am. I listen to Bakersfield ATIS and it says they are solid overcast so I spiral down through a couple of holes to find the overcast is about 2,500 just like the ATIS said. When I get there the place is wide open. The ATIS obviously hadnít been updated.
The landing area was displaced over 3,000 feet so I landed over a jet waiting to go, exited and taxied back 2 miles to parking. The FBO here is called Mercury and is fantastic even including wireless internet and wonderful service. Their pilotís room was well equipped and very comfortable.
The next day I met some really great people there including a women examiner from the FAA who was meeting a student there for an interview. We talked for a long time because her student was late and I couldnít leave because the weather was fogged in.
Finally around noon it cleared and I filed a flight plan to Puerto Penasco and taxied a couple of miles for gas to save over $1 per gallon from the truck price.
I call for taxi instructions, do my run up at the button and now Iíve got a rough mag, and it wonít clear up. So I taxi back to the big hangar, which is close by.
We call around the field and finally an outfit all the way back near Mercury agrees to look at it. They make 2 trips with 2 guys before I suggest taxing back to their hangar would be much easier. I tell them I will do it on the bad mag and that way theyíll know which plug isnít firing. They looked surprised when I suggested that.
They pull #6 bottom and itís soaked. They clean and test it ok and we decide to do all of the bottom plugs. $150 later Iím ready again.
I call up ground and they say I have to refile because they only hold plans open 1 hour. I say ok and the controller says he has found the old one and will use that.
But now itís 2:35 and Iíve got to be there before dark. Shouldnít be a problem so itís up, up and away we go.
As forecast, the weather to the south was terrible but only to the mountains. After that it was severe clear, and thank God because now I was in the LA basin at rush hour and you wouldnít believe the traffic. There were jumbos everywhere, up, down on each side going every which way to one or another of the 54 airports and air bases in the LA area.
Because LA approach and center were so busy my flight following was dropped 3 times. But I begged and got I back just before the MOA directly south. I was really concerned cause this MOA was ďhotĒ and I hate it when I get shot down.
This controller was really helpful and told me to turn left 30 degrees, intercept Victor 107 and then turn inbound on that airway to Imperial and then direct Puerto Penasco. He said he would deliver me to the border but he would lose me there and I would be on my own. That was great because once past the border there was 0 traffic, nada, zilch. It was like someone flipped a switch.
Time now to calm down and collect my thoughts before landing and clearing customs in Mexico.
The sea of Cortez or Gulf of California is now sliding by on the right and does it ever look inviting. The terrain below looks like a moonscape for a while and then suddenly there are signs of life. Not much but some.
30 miles ahead I can see the outline of Punta Penasco just like the gps indicates. A few minutes later I cross mid field east to west to join a left downwind for a northbound landing. The approach and landing was flawless which was surprising considering the number of people watching. What was coming next I never contemplated.
I had been told by everyone I asked that one must land before dark unless on an IFR flight plan. Nowhere is it published that the airport closes at 5:00pm. The commandant is fuming. Iím being severely chastised for landing 20 minutes after the airport is closed. In fact he will not listen to reason.
Finally he says to come back the next day and he calls me a cab. He doesnít look at my passport or anything. There are 3 well-dressed gentlemen standing in the aircraft parking area not 50 feet from airplane. Iím kind of rattled because this is a foreign country and I donít know what they might do to me if I get uppity.
I walked over to the 3 and said, wow this guy is coming unglued because I didnít know the airport was closed and itís not published anywhere.
One was the airport administrator who was doing his best to promote the airport and the other 2 were an owner and general manager of the Mayan Palace. I found out later the Mayan Palace either owns or operates the airport.
They invited me to go there for the night and gave me a great rate. I went over to pay the taxi that had come to pick me up and he was talking to the Commandant who was complaining to the driver about me.
I made a hasty exit and after a long drive we rolled up to the most beautiful resort I can ever remember seeing. I was simply astounded that a place as gorgeous and elaborate as this could be sitting in the middle of nowhere.
I check in, put my stuff in the room and head for the bar after another tough day.
Tomorrow is my birthday and I decide this is a great place to spend it, so I plan for another night. Besides Katrina still was in the Belize area so there was no rush, and who knows what she might do next.
The commandant had ordered me to return the next morning, so I did at a cost of $70 USD round trip to find out he couldnít do anything due to equipment malfunction. His fax wouldnít work.
Now itís 2 days later, October 22 and I head back to the airport to find the fax still isnít working so he cannot process my papers and I have to go to Guaymus or Hermisio. So I get the airport guy to take me to the gas station to get 10 gals of car gas, which takes 2 trips, because the airport has no fuel. I decide on Hermisio because itís 75 miles closer and my friend Peter says the people there are terrific.
The Commandant calls ahead and I meet some of the nicest people of the trip. Iíve been in Mexico 3 days and Iím finally, officially entering. They take care of me like Iím royalty and Iím on my way to Mazatlan, about 600 miles down the coast.
Katrina is still in the neighborhood where Iím going so I decide to take 2 days in Mazatlan because I got a terrific 5 star hotel on the beach for $59. Itís a great time.
Mazatlan was fun but now itís time to move on to Zihuatineo. I catch a cab to the airport where I go through the usual ritual and the agonizing gasoline paperwork.
The flight is super except for some weather over the high mountains north of Acapulco. So I have to swing way over back to the coast to get around it. This adds about 15 minutes to the leg but itís a short leg and Iím not too concerned.
Heading down the coast towards Acapulco the weather starts to get better and I enter the enormous control area. But thereís still not much traffic.
Acapulco Bay is just beautiful from the air. I clear Acapulco and the rest of the flight into Zihuatineo is uneventful.
The taxi driver sucks me in for 300 pesos to find a hotel, which should have cost $15 US for $50 US. At least it was clean. I found a good restaurant on the beach and chowed down and had a few beers. The taxi the next day was 145 pesos. Zihuateneo was very disappointing.
On to Puerto Escondido. The hotel there is unusual but beautiful and comfortable. I walk along the beach and the surf is enormous, much higher than Mazatlan. I meet a guy with a kitchen on the beach that shows me a fish he is going to cook for me that night if I come back. Iím tired so I go to bed early.
Since the Internet isnít working in my room I call the front desk and they tell me I can hook up in the bar.
The next day when I check out they add $150 to the posted price over what they quoted when I checked in. They also charged me to call the front desk. I told them what they could do with their hotel and left.
Today Iím heading cross country to Tuxtla Gutteria because I was told it was an airport of entry so I could clear Mexican customs, overfly Guatemela and on to Belize City.
Guess what! Itís not and I have to fly to Villahermosa. Tuxtla is surrounded by high mountains and the clouds rise to over 12,000 feet between Tuxtla and Villahermosa so I climb and come right down after I pass the mountains and the whole flight only lasted 25 minutes.
Now the fun begins. I want to get to San Pedro today and thatís why I got up at 5:00 am. Besides all the usual paperwork I had to deal with Mexican customs and immigration, one of which dropped my laptop and damaged it. They put it back in the case while I was on the other side of the plane keeping the gas kid from gouging the s**t out of my wing. The stupid b*****d writing up the gas took almost an hour to write up the bill so I was forced to spend the night there.
The Hilton was just down the road so I asked the cab driver to take me there and he just ignored me in order to get the bill up to $150. Some Mexicans are just a******s and I met more than my share of them.
Now that the bill was up I asked him to stop at the Best Western, which didnít look too bad from the outside. Not only was it expensive, it was dirty, the internet didnít work, its bars were closed. Worst of all it was incredibly noisy and I didnít sleep at all. Another bad experience.
Time to leave so I file my plan and since I had done all the other BS yesterday Iím off. Itís pretty good weather today Iím away before the big buildups start, but by the time I get past Guatemela theyíre getting bigger. Around 30-40 miles out of MZBZ I descend through a hole and visibility underneath is unlimited. MZBZ is in the distance and the coast and city are just a few miles further.
I call approach and next thing I know Iím parked on the ramp and 4 customs people are headed out to greet me. They all introduce themselves and we shake everyoneís hands. Actually a great introduction to Belize. Turns out 1 is customs, 2 are porters, and 1 is the quarantine/spraying officer for the agriculture department.
They make me nearly empty the airplane but to my surprise they tell me not to bother removing the bag containing my bike. They allow me to leave some bags containing oxygen tank, underwear, socks, cdís, and misc other stuff. Beats me.
We go inside with my stuff which has already had a cursory inspection on the ramp and no one seems to bother with it now. Iím taken into the agriculture office where Iím charged $15 for spraying my airplane although I didnít see any evidence it was sprayed.
Next to immigration to get my passport stamped and they put my airplane in the passport, I guess to make sure I take it home with me.
They send me up to the aviation dept to make sure my documents and the scam insurance are in place. Here I make a terrible mistake. Instead of just showing the proof of insurance, itís attached to another page that I used in Mexico, which doesnít specifically name Belize.
Itís after 10 pm in London but after 5 hours and dozens of expensive phone calls, the underwriter is contacted on his cell phone. He is unbelievably cooperative and goes somewhere to fax through an authorization. This is now 10:30 pm his time. Even if insurance is a scam this is the best service I've ever had, and no charge.
Iím finally cleared to go to San Pedro and I away I go after giving the 2 porters $50 for all their help and support. They truly were great.
I canít find San Pedro on the GPS so I ask the tower for the heading I need and I know I should be there in 15 minutes or less on the heading of 37į. Sure enough 10 minutes later, over open water, itís in the windshield and I do a straight in to 06.
After landing Iím wondering where to park so I taxi onto Tropic Airs ramp. When I get out Iím greeted by the head mechanic who coincidentally I had met in June. He turned out to be a fantastic guy who guided my into a very tough to get to space in the parking area.
He said if anyone asks you tellíem Bob said you could park here. Turns out he is Bob McQuarrie, a Canadian who came to do a 1 month job at Tropic 18 years ago. He never left.
He said he is willing to do the required maintenance on my airplane. What a stroke of luck.
Iíve had enough for one day so Iím outta here to the Yacht Club to check in and then to the Crazy Canucks bar.
Click here to read Home From Belize, part II of my trip to Belize