Online Community of Zenith Builders and Flyers
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Since I started flying my 601 back in 2007 I have found it to be a fantastic machine for exploring and adventure. I have enjoyed expanding my view of the world by flying over the country side, looking out at the great sights below and taking pictures from time to time; actually thousands of them.
In the past few years I have had in mind to fly all the way to the tip of South America. I may never take that trip. However, as a member of the Baja Bush Pilots, an opportunity came along to move in that direction by signing up for a trip to Central America. The Bush Pilots have a "rule" that only IFR pilots in IFR equipped airplanes can fly with them to Central America. There are good reason for this; schedules must be kept and the weather in Central America can be challenging. When I inquired about joining as a VFR pilot I was told I could join the trip as long as I understood there was a possibility that I would be left behind because of weather. Another challenge would be that I would be traveling with much faster aircraft. I spent about a month studying the winter weather in Central America and concluded that it was a trip I wanted to try but I could see there would be challenges.
The bush Pilots trip started in Laredo Texas and ended in Guatemala City. I had to plan my own route from my home base in Santa Rosa California to Laredo and also the trip home from Guatemala City. One of my flying buddies wanted to fly along in his plane as far as El Paso Texas, then he would return home and I would continue on to Laredo. I like following rivers and coastlines. My plan was to follow the Rio Grande from its headwaters in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. On the way home my plan was to follow the Pacific shoreline of Mexico all the way up the western side, back to the states.
The weather on this trip was an issue from the start. Originally we had planed to start the trip on the second of January. Looking forward at the weather, we saw that we would not be able to get over the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the second, so we left a day early. The plan was to leave early in the morning. Our departure was delayed almost two hours because of fog, a common problem in Santa Rosa because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. We were not sure how far we would get on the first day. The original plan was to fly low-level through the Nevada desert, something we have done often and enjoy. With our late departure we opted instead to take advantage of a big tailwind and stay up at 13,500 where we managed an average ground speed of 157 miles per hour. At one point I saw 69 MPH on the tail. As we whizzed east over Nevada, we noticed the clouds below were becoming more solid and we worried about getting down. I called flight service on the radio and ask about weather conditions in Page AZ, near our planned destination. We were told the field was clear of clouds so we motored on. When we arrived over Marble Canyon at 13,500 and found a hole to descend though and shortly we were at the front desk of the Marble Canyon Lodge. We like this stop because it is scenic, has an airport, a motel, and restaurant that serves dinner and breakfast.
Next morning we made the short hop to Page, AZ for fuel then headed north-east over Lake Powell until we reached the San Juan River. We followed the San Juan for a few hours. As we neared Farmington New Mexico we turned north with the goal of picking up the Rio Grande River at its headwaters high in the Rocky Mountains just a little east of Sliverton Colorado. The weather forecast was not promising and it wasn't wrong. We got within 15 miles of Silverton and hit a wall of whiteout. We turned around and headed for lower ground. In the end we had an enjoyable trip over to Los Alamos New Mexico (LAM) where we spent the night.
We picked up the Rio Grande in the morning and were immediately rewarded with a canyon to fly in for a few miles. We followed the river south. Eventually we started to see huge beautiful orchards along the river, then the river went completely dry. With later research I learned that the orchards were pecan nut trees. The region produces 3 to 4 million pounds of nuts per year. Not much of a river to follow though. Bummer, or so I thought.
The flight that day was short. We stopped for an overnight at Santa Teresa (5T6) where there is a very well done airplane museum. Not far away there is a motel and dinner. We spent about 2 hours in the museum. Very nice.
In the morning, having reached El Paso, my flying partner departed west for home and I continued on alone, following the Rio Grande river, such as it was, along the boarder.
While planning this section of the trip, I studied the sectional charts, especially along the boarder. There were a lot of scary markings and words such as "DEFENSE AREA" and "CONTIGUOUS U.S. ADIZ. I visited the AOPA website where I read what I could find on the topic. The information was dated and seemed overly legalistic so I decided to call flight service and talk to a briefer in Texas. The briefer confirmed that most of what I read on the AOPA website was useless. For example "defense VFR" flight plans no longer exist. He assured me that if I was travailing under a flight plan with a squawk code, and the flight plan stated in the notes what I was doing, I would not be bothered by homeland security, folks I would rather not deal with - some are not all the nice. By the way, the briefer had no idea what the words "DEFENSE AREA" on the chart were meant to convey in terms of "do this" or "don't do that". Just some scary words to confuse pilots I guess.
I generally don't file flight plans. When I need file one, I use the website for Flight Service, www.1800wxbrief.com. While sitting in my airplane I can: 1) file a flight plan, 2) amend a flight plan, 3) get a briefing, 4) open a flight plan, 5) get a squawk code, and 6) close a flight plan; all without talking to anyone. Too bad it does not work that way in Mexico where flight plans are mandatory.
I found the flight along the Rio Grande more scenic then I expected. The country is very rugged in places and generally very empty. There were a few canyons to fly in. Yes, a 601 can do that, although not as well as a 701.
Having flown the entire Texas/Mexican boarder I can say, building a wall along the entire thing would be a massive waste of money. That is not to to say that no wall is needed anywhere. A nuanced response would be best.
I stopped for fuel at Presidio (PRS). I was expecting a ratted-out airport in the middle of nowhere. Instead, it turned out to be very recently reworked with brand new self-serve pumps. The airport manager greeted me and even knew what my airplane was including the engine (a CAMit). Wow, that does not happen often. He proceeded to pump the fuel for me while he talked about flights he and his friends make in the area. Turns out he is retired boarder patrol. He and his friends fly along the board all the time and never use a flight plan. OK so you don't even need a flight plan. I continued the journey with a flight plan anyway just to avoid having a problem I did not need.
Just northwest of the town of Presidio, the Rio Grande River is just a sad trickle of water in a ditch, then something amazing happens. The Rio Conchos River which flows out of Mexico joins the pathetic Rio Grande and suddenly the Rio Grande is a river again. (See picture to the right. Yup, the little ditch coming in from the right is the Rio Grande.) So Mexican water powers the "Rio Grande" river that runs though Big Bend National park; who knew.
I spent the night at Del Rio (DRT) where the service from the FBO was so good I started to feel foolish in my little airplane because it needed so little fuel. They even had a free courtesy car which they insisted I should not put gas in. True, it was a real clunker, but I was glad to have wheels instead of walking into town.
Next morning it was a short, uneventful flight to Laredo where I got a taxi to the hotel and met the other Bush pilots and their passengers. That evening we had a meeting to introduce ourselves and go over details of the trip.
Originally my plan was to follow the Rio Grande all the way to the Gulf Of Mexico, get fuel, then follow the Gulf south. Before the trip, as I studied the winter weather it became obvious that it is often "yucky" at the southern tip of Texas, low ceilings, fog, cold. I skipped that, mostly.
In the morning I got up before everyone else, got a taxi and headed to the airport. I opened my flight plan, called the tower and was in the sky at sun up. My goal was to reach Veracruz Mexico not too far behind the other airplanes, all of which were about 50% faster then my trusty 601.The weather information I had told me two things: 1) a tail wind was there to enable a non-stop to Veracruz and 2) the visibility from Laredo to the Gulf coast was miserable, to put it nicely. A few miles into the flight and I did not need a weather forecast to know the weather anymore. Very low ceilings kept me pined to the ground and high winds blowing provided the turbulence for Mr. Toad's wild ride. This went on for about an hour. Half way out to the coast my inReach satellite tracker started beeping to let me know I had a message. I read it. Even though I was in Mexico, it was from US flight service advising me of adverse weather on my route and suggesting that I call flight service on the radio. Yes, I know about the weather - it sucks. And thanks but no thanks on the radio call. Hay, at least there watching me, which is a good thing?
Once I reached the coast the visibility improved and once over the water I could stop worrying about towers. In Mexico they don't show on the GPS like they do when flying in the good old USA. About half way to Veracruz the weather changed abruptly. In the space of about two miles the temperature went up 15 degrees and the overcast was replaced by haze. Much nicer. Thanks, weather Gods. As I motored south the pack of faster airplanes started to catch me. In the end, two passed me, two came in behind me. And two more were stuck in Laredo. One had alternator problems; one turned back because of the weather. Poor fellow was another VFR pilot in a tricked-out 210. Little did he know, he had more problems ahead, both with weather and the law.
Once on the ground in Veracruz we got a taxi to the hotel which was downtown near the waterfront. That night the wind came up and hung around the next day. We went to the airport where we found winds down the runway at 30 knots gusting 40. We held a vote on whether to stay or go. Two pilots voted to go, me and the pilot of a twin Beach Barron. The remaining pilots voted to stay, so we got back into taxis and went back to the hotel. We spent some time down by the waterfront but it was unpleasant in the wind and we ended up back at the hotel.
Next morning the winds had died down to 20 knots gusting 25. We got to the airport to discover that the leading edges of the airplanes and propellers were covered with mud from the blowing rain and dirt. Not to worry, later in the day, flying in the rain would remove that mud.
I filed VFR, the other pilots filed IFR. The commandant spoke directly to me and said, "The weather is better on top. The ceilings along your route are below 500 feet and there is extreme turbulence; we have lost airplanes in that turbulence. You should reconsider." I already knew the weather including ceilings and turbulence. I had a plan for it. After about an hour of paperwork we were allowed to go to our airplanes.
Off I went into the haze. The tower passed me off to departure. Departure suggested I climb to 6,000 into hard IFR. I told departure I was on a VFR flight and was unable, to which they replied "remain VFR" and I did, mostly.
About 50 miles down the coast, departure said goodbye to me and shortly thereafter the weather that I knew would be there, materialized: rain, low ceilings and strong winds off the Gulf. My plan was to stay over the water, knowing the turbulence would be less there because the wind was unobstructed. The rain was there because there is terrain along that section of the coast (dormant volcanoes). As the wet air is lifted up over the terrain, it dumps its moisture in a localized often-present rain. Here is a short video that show what it was like.
In about 20 minutes the terrain and rain were behind me; the heavy cross wind was not. I stayed down on the water and buzzed along the beach, keeping an eye on the flocks of big sea birds which I sometimes went over, sometime under. Here is another short video clip. Note the brown oil-polluted water from oil wells in the area.
Here is a short video showing gas being flared off at an oil refinery. Notice how horizontal the flame is from the wind.
About 50 miles east of the dreary looking city of Coatzacoalcos I turned inland, toward Flores Guatemala. This took me over swampland and low farmland. Visibility varied between good and not so good as I flew through light rain from time to time. The landscape below was green and lush with occasional small towns. As I approached Guatemala the land became more jungle like. I was the last of the aircraft to arrive in Flores, except for the two that had been delayed back in Texas. They arrived just a bit after I did. Finally the entire group was together. That did not last.
We had entered a new country, Guatemala. There was paperwork to do. And a curious, if likely ineffective, "ritual". You must pay $20 U.S. to the designated pesticide sprayer who will spray poison into the cockpit of your airplane, presumably to kill the bad bugs you brought into the country. Too bad the young woman did not know how to climb onto an airplane properly and could not read the English words "NO STEP". I had my back to her when I heard a unhappy crinkling sound coming from the aluminum skin of my 601. I hustled over to where she was, to help her off the wing. Luckily the plane was not damaged. Moral of the story. Don't let folks climb on your airplane when your not watching! There was much more fun the next day - NOT.
We enjoyed the town of Flores. We stayed in a hotel on an island. Folks in the area were celebrating the new year with fireworks and dancing in the street. It was fun to watch and be around. Good thing I travel with earplugs because the party continued past my bedtime.
In the morning we checked out of the hotel and boarded a small bus for a group trip to the Mayan ruins at Tikal. The idea was to drop off our luggage in our airplanes where it would be guarded. (Most towered airports are fenced and have military personnel watching.) Apparently on a prior trip, bandits had stolen the luggage while folks were away from the bus at Tikal. After Tikal we were planning to go back to the airport, then fly on to our next destination. We were being clever, leaving our luggage at the airport, except....
When we arrived at the airport unexpected, there was a bit of stalling to keep us away from our airplanes. We were told that one of the pilot's insurance was "improper" and did not cover Guatemala. (Yes, you must travel with a full copy of your airplane's insurance policy and it must state coverage for the counties you visit). The trip organizer looked at the policy. There was nothing wrong with it. Still, the officials insisted we must wait. An hour later and we were told to leave passengers and luggage in the terminal. Pilots were to go to their airplane and wait in front of it. Then we learned what was going on. The night before a drug dog had "alerted" when passing the 210 so there was to be a very complete search for drugs. The local two-star general and the district attorney were there to take away the "criminal", once he was found. Did you know a German Shepard can fit in the back of a 601? I wish I had a picture. We were told NO PICTURES; while they took lots of pictures. The dog was sent through each airplane two times. Then the poor VFR 210 pilot who had already had a tough trip was told to remove everything from the airplane so the dog could sniff his headset and flight bag. Then the floorboards of the 210 were removed. Sill no drugs. Then they cut patches of fabric from the pilot's flight bag and ran tests on them. NOTHING. They were not done. We all returned to the terminal where the luggage was lined up on the floor and the dog sniffed again and again. NOTHING. In total this process went on for two and one half hours, then they gave up. We were told via an interpreter that they were "just doing there job and it was for our own good". No one was happy. In retrospect it seems obvious that the night before when the dog "alerted" it was just saying, "hey master, look, its a 210, you know, the favorite airplane of the drug trade. Isn't it a beauty"? Master heard "this airplane is full of drugs". Just goes to show; sometimes a dog is smarter then its master.
Finally we are able to board the bus and depart to the ruins, while the trip organizer remained behind to get our rooms back at the hotel since it was now too late to fly on to our next stop. During the one hour ride to the ruins we all processed what had happened and slowly calmed down. In the end we had a nice time at the ruins. It is a scenic place. I recommend it.
The next morning we woke up to overcast skies. It was marginal VFR both at the departure airport and at our destination, which was good, But along the route, there was a bit of high ground that seemed likely to cause trouble. I got to the airport early with the thought of departing ahead of the pack so I could arrive with them. That did not happen. Because of paperwork issues I was not able to depart. In the end, I was second to last to leave and had the engine warming up when I looked over and realized the 210 pilot was standing beside his plane, not happy. I shut down to talk to him. I showed him my weather data and my terrain data. We discussed possible flight paths. He and his passenger seemed satisfied they could try it. I took off; they were about 15 minutes behind me. We shared position reports by radio, and I, out in front, reported what I saw. Shortly, the 210 turned back and landed. I continued. The 210 never did make it to our next stop. Sometimes a smaller, slower, more nimble airplane is an advantage. As expected, about mid-way to my destination, for a short time things looked really ugly, then it got better. By the time I landed at Rio Dulce, the weather was very nice. The airport there is a private airport that belongs to the Guatemala flying club. The club helped us out several times while we were in Guatemala. After landing, we took our luggage down to a boat dock where a boat picked us up and took us to our resort. What a lovely place Rio Dulce was. Lots of comfortable looking homes on the water. A large number of very expensive boats docked and plying the waters. Sadly we had been schedule to stay two night but could only stay one because of the extra night in Veracruz. That is how travel goes in small airplanes; you expect the unexpected and you make it work. Somehow, it always did.
After checking in to our rooms, we chartered a boat to take us upriver to an old historic fort where we hired a tour guide to show us around and explain the history of the place. We enjoyed the boat trip and the fort. On the way, the boat stopped for fuel at a marina. That inspired us to solve a looming problem.
This is no fuel available at the Rio Dulce airport. In fact there was no fuel at the prior stop either. My 601 with 30 gallon tanks has very long legs for a light-sport aircraft. Still about 650 statute miles is all I expect to get out of it in calm air at sea level. It does much better at high altitudes but I had been down on the deck the entire time. My 601 and two other airplanes did not have enough fuel to safely make the next trip leg to Guatemala City. This was not a surprise, we discussed this back in Laredo. The hope was the military would sell us fuel at Flores. They did not. The fallback plan was to bring in auto gas with 5 gallon cans via a taxi. Too bad the airport at Rio Dulce does not have any roads to it. It is accessed by boat. Now what. Well you do what you can with what you have. Turns out the boat had a 4-stroke motor that required "supreme". Well now, that's what we needed for our airplanes. The boat had 4, five-gallon cans of fuel. Three were full. Just what we needed. We negotiated with the boat operator who took us to the airport, we dumped in the 15 gallons of fuel; problem solved.
That evening I studied the weather for the morning's flight into Guatemala City. This leg had me worried from the beginning. Rio Dulce is in low-wet country. Guatemala City is in the mountains. Clouds could get in the way of the climb to higher altitude. I had picked out a long valley that lead most of the way to Guatemala City. A low ridge crossed the entrance to the valley. I needed to be able to get over it in the morning. That did not happen.
In the morning we headed by boat back to the airport and the 6 airplanes took off from Rio Dulce, which was marginal VFR. Guatemala City was VFR. Shortly it became apparent that plan "A" was not going to work for me. The low ridge was covered with clouds. However there was a giant hole to the heavens. Today I would be on top with the big boys. Up we went to 11,000 to get above the cloud deck where there was bright sunshine, and a few rocks poking up out of the clouds - lovely. I headed for the rocks to take some pictures. By the time we reached the class Charley airport at Guatemala City, the clouds were no longer a problem. We landed and taxied to the GA fuel island which is operated by the Guatemala flying club. As we were eating lunch in the clubhouse, the 210 arrived. Hurray, we were all together again.
We boarded a small private bus for about a three hour ride to the town of Chichicastenango (no, I can't pronounce that). This is a town with very few tourists. It was our chance to see how the descendants of the Maya are living today - eye opening. The main attractions in the town were the cemetery, where they practice witchcraft, and a huge market where the local people buy and sell the things they make and need. Hay, do you need to buy a chicken, a duck or a rabbit for dinner? This is the place. The town is up in the mountains at about 6,700 feet. Our pleasant hotel, Mayan Inn, was built in 1932. The rooms have no heat except for a fireplace. A lovely fire is built for you each night, but by morning it is chilly in the room.
We stayed two nights then it was back on the bus to Guatemala City where we spent the night in an upscale hotel.
Next morning the official Bush-pilot trip was over but assistance was given with the paperwork clearing out of Guatemala and the next stop, clearing back into Mexico. Good thing too. In total it was a frustrating five hour process. I will relate one part of the tail.
With our trip packet, we had been given one copy of a blank form to fill out, It was a simple manifest showing information about the pilot and passengers. My form had my name and my pilot's lenience written on it. Simple. What could go wrong with that? We arrived at the paperwork counter to learn we were expected to show up with five copies of the simple form; we each had one. No problem, hand us 4 more blank forms we will fill them out. They don't have any blank forms. They don't have any! REALLY? OK, how about you photocopy them for us. They don't have a copy machine in the building. REALLY? OK, we are told there is a copy machine in the next building. We are led to the next building, and find the copy machine. We get one copy made and a man comes running out of the nearby office shaking his finger, no no no, you cant use this copy machine. REALLY? We call the manager of the flying club. He sends an employee over, collects our forms and returns an hour later with copies. We must wait; cant go to the airplanes until the paperwork is done. Really.
Eventually we departed on the 130 mile trip to Tapachula Mexico. Along the way I was only a few miles from an active volcano. I decided to motor over for a closer look. As I approached, there was a light haze over the volcano. Then a mini eruption took place, which turned into a tall column of dust and gas. What a treat! I got a nice series of photos.
When flying into Mexico from the south, there are only two airports you are allowed to land at to clear back into Mexico. They are not staffed to handle a group of airplanes. I was the last of our group to arrive and the last to leave. It took me 2.5 hours. Finally I got back into the airplane for another 300 mile leg. As I motored west toward Salina Cruz the expected wind out of the north showed up. Why was it expected? This is a narrow spot between the Gulf and the Pacific with relatively low terrain. The wind loves to channel through this area. I stayed down on the deck as long as I could. Eventually the turbulence was too much and I went up to about 800 feet to get out of the worst of it. At that altitude the strongest cross wind I saw was 62 MPH. That makes for quite a crab angle in a 100 MPH airplane. Oh well, all in a days work. At least it wasn't raining.
I landed at Huatulco and got a taxi to a nice resort. This was the first of three overnight stops I would be making along the pacific. I picked this place because it was recommended by a fellow bush pilot. He and his wife planned to stay here a number of nights before heading home to St. Louis. Heck, after 5 hours of bureaucracy and about 3.5 hours of flying I was glad to be in a nice place for the night. My room was a bit too fancy for my needs. I really didn't need a room with a private swimming pool. But lets not complain too much. It could be worse, much worse.
In the morning I resumed my trip up the pacific coast. The day was mostly uneventful.The airplane had been performing very well. Then I started to notice an odd vibration. Suddenly the airplane pitched up sharply. That was strange. I re-leveled the plane and got it trimmed out again and the vibration came back. I started looking out the window to see what was vibrating. It was the horizontal stabilizer. It was shuddering. When I saw that, I know what was wrong. The trim tab was fluttering. I re-trimmed to pitch-up and then pushed the stick forward to offset. The shuddering stopped. OK, I can live with that. I will just turn on the autopilot and let it do the work of holding level against the trim-up. No luck. The crappy Trio Avionics autopilot altitude-hold was messed up again. (The Trio Avionics autopilot has been the least reliable equipment in the airplane. I have sent it back to the factory 7 times in 10 years. I hate the thing.)
So why was the trim tab fluttering? Because two years ago I extended it so that it would be effective enough to keep the airplane level with full flaps. The extension increased its weight and changed its airflow dynamics so that it became prone to flutter. At first the flutter was minor but as it wore out the trim linkage, the play increased, which allowed more aggressive flutter. As it got worse the flutter started to make the elevator itself to flutter. That has more mass and is something you can feel in the air-frame. In a faster airplane this would have been a much more serious issue. In my 601 it was just unwelcome. I was 2,000 miles from home and would be pushing the stick forward for quite a few hours.
When I was about 60 miles from Acapulco, smoke from nearby forest fires reduce visibility so I descended for a better view. When I had gone down about 500 feet, Acapulco approach called me to ask about my deviation from flight plan. I explained the smoke and they were OK with that. They said "remain VFR". When I was about 40 miles out, they called again. At the lower altitude I could not really hear them. I told them that and suggested we try again when I was closer in. When I was about 20 miles out they called again and gave instructions to head five miles off-shore and remain below 1,500 feet to avoid Class Charley airspace. I am not too thrilled to be 5 miles off-shore at 1,500 feet but comply. I suspect that had I remained at my flight-plan altitude I would have been directed through the airspace instead of around it. It worked out OK. The plane continue to operate off-shore just like it always does on-shore. Good thing, because I am quite sure I can't swim five miles. Eventually I was directed back to shore where I got a look at the Acapulco Bay through the haze.
I stopped at Zihuatanejo for fuel. Fuel stops are a pain in Mexico because of the delays and paperwork. You can expect a fuel stop to cost you about 1 hour. It is useful to note that at some airports fuel must be purchased with cash. At others it must be purchased with a credit card, except when the credit card machine is broken. Landing fees and multiple-entry permits must be purchased with cash, preferably pesos. You need to have correct change because you can't count on getting change back. You may be told, "sorry, I don't have any change", in which case you have just given the person a nice tip.
A little south of Manzanillo I spotted something in the water and headed over to investigate. On previous trips I had seen pods of dolphin and a school of manta ray. This time it was whales; at least three of them. I started descending in a steep banking circle taking pictures. As I got down to about a hundred feet they either saw me or heard me. They dived and were gone. Very cool.
I stopped that night in Manzanillo. Upon landing, the military showed up to ask questions, like they usually do. The standard setup is two young men with machine guns stand a ways off watching while a third approaches and collects the information. They are polite but often don't speak any English, and I speak no Spanish. This time there was only one fellow and he was new to the job. I showed him my "papers": pilots license, airworthiness and registration. Generally they also want to know where you came from and what your next stop is. They want the aircraft model and serial number. They want to know if you own the airplane. The best thing would be to have all this information on a sheet of paper in Spanish. I was not quite that organized. So this poor kid is trying to fill out a form in Spanish using documents in English. He could not find the serial number for the airplane and I did not know what he wanted. After 15 minutes of getting nowhere, I collected the documents from him and headed inside to my next stop, the commandants office. He followed me in. The commandant was a nice woman who also spoke no English. Luckily she had her teenage son with her who is a student pilot. He spoke English. The serial number was collected and my military shadow disappeared. I had a nice chat with the son about his flying aspirations. We wants to fly 787s. Hay, we can all dream of flying a dreamliner. After a bit, I suggested that he "steal" mom's car and give me a ride into town. He and his mother got a kick out of that idea but no go. They did call a Taxi for me which saved me some money and simplified things a bit. How was that?
Normally when you need a cab at a controlled airport in Mexico, you must go to the commercial terminal, walk up to the official taxi stand, tell them where you want to go, pay for it, get a "ticket", then go to the designated taxi which they pick for you. It is a system designed to keep you safe and make sure the taxi you get into is licensed and in good operating condition. But what if you don't know where you want to go and cant explain it well enough? How do you pay the proper fair in advance?
I was able to explain to this cab Driver what type of hotel I wanted: "something above average in price but not too fancy". I ended up in a nice place with dinner and breakfast included in the price of the room. The next night, things did not work out nearly as well.
In the morning after doing the normal paperwork and getting fuel, I was on my way. On my 6 hour non-stop flight to Los Mochis that day, the normal things when past: fishing villages, small towns, resorts, rivers, and miles of empty beaches. The weather was agreeable. All and all a nice day but I was starting to wish I was home. It has been a fantastic trip and I had learned a lot from it, but the intensity of it was starting to take its toll. Just one more overnight. Should be easy. And it was but there is always something more to learn.
I landed at Los Mochis, visited the commandants office then headed for the taxi desk in the main terminal. Again my lack of Spanish was a problem because the people behind the counter spoke no English. I tried to explain that I wanted to go to a motel that cost 3,000 pesos which is about $100. That would get me a very nice room with meals included. They called over one of the taxi drivers and together they seem to understand and picked a destination so I could pay for the taxi. The nice ride into town ended in front of a hotel that did not seem like a 3,000-peso kind of place. As I got out of the taxi the driver pointed and said "senior, look, for you." He was pointing at a hooker. I said "very nice but I don't have any use for the nice girl." I thanked him, gave him his tip and off he went. I headed inside. Odd, the front desk was upstairs. When I got upstairs I saw that the desk was behind bullet-proof glass without even a little window to slide stuff under. I explained I wanted a room for one person. They spoke no English but pointed to a sign with a list of room types and prices in pesos. Then I understood the problem. At the airport my request for a 3,000 peso room was interpreted as a request for a 300 peso room. Sure enough, this joint had rooms for $10 US. Alrighty then! This was going to be interesting. I splurged and asked for the suite for $40 and offered a credit card. No no no, cash only. OK, 400 pesos then. Lucky I had em. I stuffed the pesos into the rotating metal canister built into the wall. Back out came the remote controls for the TV (I don't watch TV) and the remote for the A/C. No key was given. Instead someone showed up and opened the room for me. I triple locked the door and stayed in the room, skipping dinner and breakfast rather than roam the streets in that part of town looking for food. It was actually a decent room. Better then motel-6 or Super-8. And hey, if I got lonely, the hooker was just across the street outside my window. So next time I will write "3,000 pesos" on a piece of paper instead of saying three-thousand pesos to folks that don't know what I am saying.
Next morning, the front desk wanted 10 pesos ($0.50 US) to call a taxi and was surly about it. Whatever! I am thinking "just get me out of here". At the airport everything went well and I took off on my 2 hour flight to Guaymas. That was my exit airport so I surrendered my visa, paid fees, and got fuel. It took a little longer then normal because folks were on lunch break. If the desk you need is not staffed, you wait. Eventually I took off on the 5 hour flight to Calexico California. US customs have always been quick and painless for me at Calexico; 5 minutes total. Almost a frighteningly fast pace after all the multi hour bureaucratic nightmares I had encountered on the trip. Gee, in no time I was in the air for the third leg of the trip, 1.5 hours into Redlands. Eight and a half hours flying, plus multiple stops with paperwork was quite enough fun for one day.
I had intended to continue the trip home to Santa Rosa in the morning. That was not to be. Looking at the weather, the entire state of California look to be IFR. I stayed with my brother. He lives in the mountains of southern California at 6,000 feet. It snowed both nights. Hey, at least I was not flying it it. I just enjoyed it.
The 4.75 hour flight home to Santa Rosa was routine. Just a few cloud and a mountain or two to go around.
The entire collection of pictures taken on the trip can be found here: Central America Trip Pictures.