Home from Belize
My trip home from Belize in my airplane, was early because of the greed of the Belizean government.
They insisted I pay an enormous tax to use my own airplane. That isnít going to happen anytime soon.
I had argued with the comptroller of customs that I had paid all of the evil taxes when I bought this machine and was not about to pay again.
One power hungry woman even tried to steal my airplane on behalf of her employer, the government of Belize. Fortunately I was able to deal with a higher up who was more conciliatory, due to a friends connections in government.
But, even that connection was insufficient to keep the tax hounds away.
So, on January 27, 2006 I observed a break in the poor weather going across Belize at the time and around 10:00 am departed San Pedro for the 15 minute flight to Belize International for fuel. This is the only airport in all of Belize with fuel. Hard to Belize isnít it?
Besides getting fuel, I was able to use up another 2 hours of frustration and a bunch of cash going through the escape ritual.
Itís just as hard to leave as to enter. What a terrible waste of time and energy. It was to get worse in the US. (Itís a good thing the US is a "free country", what a joke that would be if it wasnít so tragic). What was it Johann Von something or other said in 1744? "No man is so hopelessly enslaved as one who thinks he is free."
Finally Iím airborne about 1:00pm for Veracruz Mexico.
A lot of Belize, the north end of Guatemela, and Southern Mexico is totally uninhabited and is just plain jungle and swamp. I wondered what I would do to survive if I had to make a forced landing and could live through the landing in trees.
Nothing to worry about as the weather was gorgeous and the ride was relatively smooth with only a few bumps. The Bonanza was droning along perfectly, and as advertised.
The Baja bush pilots association had mentioned somewhere that Veracruz was often subject to poor flying weather and scud running for VFR pilots.
True to form the weather turned ugly about 150 miles to the south of MMVR and I was down to 3-400 feet just offshore, with the odd excursion further out and occasionally over some points of land to avoid some severe cells which reduced visibility to as little as Ĺ a mile.
It started to break up and turn positively beautiful about 20 miles south of Veracruz and the flight in allowed me to see how nice the city looked and itís surrounding beaches.
I was dreading the usual Mexican bureaucratic nightmare even though I had all my ducks in a row.
What a pleasant surprise. I was met just inside the terminal by a gorgeous and very pleasant Mexican customs agent who asked me to push the usual button to see which light I would get. I got the green and didnít need to be searched.
Thankfully she escorted me through the other bureaucrats and I didnít fill out any papers and I didnít pay any Pesos either. Wow, what a shock to the system.
Due to this great treatment, and the recommendations of the Baja Bush Pilots Association I decided to stay the night.
Things were going too well, and as I brought my stuff from the plane 2 federalliesí showed up and wanted to search my bags.
In Mexico, or Belize, any number of people can search you and sometimes on more than 1 occasion from the same departments. Itís a good example of a police state in action and is of course where weíre all heading if we donít stop it soon.
I got a cab to downtown Veracruz and a hotel on the square. This was Friday night and the bands never stopped all night and of course the incessant honking of horns never quit. Needless to say I never slept but at least I had a great time prior to trying.
Next morning in very tired condition I went to the airport and departed for McAllen Texas after paying everybody off and accumulating a ton of papers. Thankfully I had escaped a lot the night before or it would have been much worse.
Departure weather was great but it soon turned to high overcast, the broken layers underneath to a solid undercast which was climbing just south of McAllen. I was just about to turn towards Brownsville when the undercast ended and rain started. The visibility was good so I continued on to McAllen and landed.
Fortunately the rain ended before I reached McAllen or the ordeal I was about to experience would have been much worse.
I landed and asked ground to lead me to Customs which was about 2 miles to the other end of the airport.
The sign says to park the aircraft and enter the long hall which leads to a lobby where there are 2 customs officers with nothing to do. So I buy the $25 sticker and answer a bunch of questions obviously trying to trap me into something, what, I donít know.
When they donít get what theyíre hoping for we go to the airplane. Here Iím forced to remove everything. This is really a pain and worse to reassemble this mess.
They go through all my dirty clothes and everything else and it all ends up on the pavement.
Then, with glee, one says ďI canít wait to see whatís in the big black bagĒ. This was the bag containing my made in Korea folding bicycle.
Were they ever disappointed to see that bike. They didnít even bother to make me open up the tailcone which they had mentioned earlier.
I began the tortuous process of repacking and restacking the airplane. Over 2 hours had passed, the time was getting late and I was feeling the effects of the previous nights lack of sleep.
I had hoped to get another leg in before the day was over but decided to spend the night there.
The next day, Sunday, January 29, I was refreshed with a good nights sleep and went to the airport. The weather was nice but the winds in west texas were said to be strong. I didnít expect them to be as strong as they were.
I decided Pecos would be the next stop and departed KMFE at 10:15am. The course basically follows the Rio Grande (Mexican Border) for a while then meanders north for a while and then moves to the south before resuming itís course.
I called Houston Center to see if it was acceptable to cut off that bit of the border and was told that I could have too many problems so I turned north to stay on the US side of the river.
They put up a tracking aircraft along side me and slightly to the rear. Houston said they had nothing on the radar which confirmed it was following me. However, boredom overtook them and they left.
The winds are starting to pick up more and more. This part of Texas is absolutely empty of human habitation. Itís almost like a moonscape from 2 miles up.
Iím thinking I should descend in search of lower winds but decide to stay high to avoid the mechanical turbulence I would get down lower.
The winds are getting ferocious now and Iíve been down to as slow as 81 knots. Now Iím wondering if Iíll make Pecos even though I thought earlier it would be easy even in the high winds. The sun is gone and weíve got a high overcast but good visibility.
Slowly Pecos is moving towards me on the gps and finally Iím lined up for a long straight in. There is another aircraft working the vor, but I donít know where that it cause I canít read the chart due to the severe turbulence.
I let him know Iím on a 7 mile straight in so as to avoid any potential conflict. The Unicom tells me the winds have momentarily subsided to 41Knots gusting to something unintelligible, but almost straight down the runway.
The landing was actually great and I looked around for an FBO to buy gas and something to eat. I spotted a fuel truck and 2 airplanes and headed over there.
The owner met me and asked if I wanted fuel and told me to go inside and get a free burrito.
The 2 aircraft parked there were Navy T-34Cís which are 2 seat Bonanzas with turbine engines used as trainers in the US Navy.
Inside I met 4 pilots from the Navy base at Corpus Christie Texas. They said they were grounded due to a crash 3 days ago of a similar aircraft. Apparently all T-34ís were grounded until the cause could be determined. Boy were they bored.
Some of their buddies had been grounded in Las Vegas and were rubbing it in.
I discussed my next leg and where to go with the flight leader and together we got on the big map and the computer for distances, weather, radar, etc. He was happy to have something to do.
We decided an easy short leg would get me to Deming, New Mexico for the night and off I went.
Up till now the terrain had been flat and was gently rising, until around El Paso a high ridge was formed.
The wind coming over this ridge was called a mountain wave and was becoming extremely uncomfortable and to be sure I could maintain control of the aircraft without incurring any structural damage I slowed it to maneuvering speed and turned south to cross at a 45į angle.
Due to the slow speed and high headwinds it seemed to take forever to cross this ridge. The turbulence was not to get much better because there were plenty of hills and low mountains around, but Deming was getting closer.
Exactly 2 hours later I touched down in Deming in a strong cross wind to find a barren airport.
It took me a while to find anybody. There were 0 airplanes parked on the ramp.
I tied down and the line guy called the Grand Hotel to pick me up. At $36 this was the best deal I had along the route.
A couple of beers and a salad later I was ready for bed. This was a relatively tough day with 6 hours of moderate to severe turbulence and the constant worry about fuel and where to go if I couldnít make it
Monday morning arrives and the wind on the surface had died down but as I was to find out later it was still very strong at altitude.
The decision is made to go to Barstow, CA from Deming because the forecasted winds were down to 10 knots on the nose.
However, this didnít happen. I was experiencing 20-40 on the nose and Phoenix ATC had me even going in a reverse direction at one time. so I had to switch to Needles, CA.
When finally I could resume course after passing Phoenix there was a Gulfstream IV departing PHX and heading right at me in the climb. The controller asked him to pass 500 feet below me and he did. It was a spectacular sight as he passed right below at over 300knots. A beautiful airplane to watch fly that close.
About 10 minutes further down the road the controller told me I was heading into a MOA that was hot. I asked him if I was ok to go through and he said no problem, just keep your eyes wide open.
I did and as I was entering 2 fighters came shooting right past my nose about ľ mile ahead going real fast. I saw them in a tight descending turn to the right after they passed me as they started their run down low and fast. Looked like at least 500 knots.
Another quick calculation and Barstow is doable if everything is perfect, but Murphyís Law prevails so Needles it is.
Lake Havasu looks real nice as I slide over the mountains to the north and into Needles.
I met some nice people at Needles while refueling and having another burrito. Is that all they eat in this part of the world? Worst part is that it was microwaved in plastic, but I ate it anyway. I've escaped cancer so far.
Another nice day that was soon to change. Off to Modesto via Bakersfield. The restricted area around Edwards Airforce Base in the Mohave desert was off limits today so they sent me south about 20 miles out of my way over the Palmdale VOR to avoid Edwards before turning towards Bakersfield.
Shouldnít be any more problems, so Modesto here I come. Around 50 miles out of Modesto the ceiling starts to come down until at 20 miles out itís 0/0 and I ask Norcal Approach for vectors to Merced and land in the rain.
Really nice people here at the FBO. They lend me their crew car which is a big yellow 70ís suburban that doesnít like to stay running until itís warm. Once warm it ran great.
They recommend the Holiday Inn Express. This was the most spendy place of the trip and they didnít have any services compared to the other places I stayed at.
The closest bar is Ĺ mile up the road so off I go. I met 2 guys from the area at the bar and we talked about everything imaginable. They were really great guys. One was a construction owner and the other was huge farmer. That is, he was a small guy but his farm was enormous.
Back to the Inn to see if my internet would work.
Morning arrives and it looks good although this is the coldest Iíve been in 4 months.
I figure if it stays ok Iíll be home today. Iíll stop at Salem OR, call customs and have an easy flight into Boundary Bay, BC.
Twas not to be. Things got poorer until the pass between Yreka, CA and Asland, OR was closed. I turned back and landed at Siskyou airport to see if it would get better. It got much worse and stayed that way for 2 days.
Finally after 2 boring nights in Yreka the fog in the valley started to move and I climbed out of the valley through a hole until I reached 8,500 feet and could turn towards Roseburg, OR. The valleys were full of fog in most cases and there was a higher overcast.
As I got into Oregon the fog became a solid undercast and as I got further north toward Eugene the undercast started to climb and at 13,300 I could see it wasnít going to level off. I called Seattle approach and asked them if they had any pilot reports of holes or any airports that were vfr.
There was extreme icing conditions in the clouds and mountainous terrain with high meaís to the east so I wasnít going to attempt a descent through the undercast if I could possibly avoid it.
An aircraft called after hearing my call to Seattle and said heíd just departed Salem and there was a hole to the NE. I looked in that direction about 50 miles and it sure looked like a big hole so away I went.
I fueled in Salem, called for weather, customs and away I went. Wow, less than 2 hours from home.
The weather turned out to be much worse than the briefer told me so I only got to McMinnville. I had to ask Portland to steer me around some IFRís and then vector me to McMinnville before I could find it.
The people there were fantastic and I got to see the Spruce Goose after about 25 years since I saw her last. There is a great museum there.
I called the Red Lion Inn which is only a Ĺ mile up the road and they wouldnít pick me up. Very unusual. Also had a poor attitude.
I was given a really nice little pickup truck to use for only $20 and I was off to the Red Lion which didnít have a restaurant or bar. They recommended the golden arches next door. I said pass and went to the Golden Valley Brew Pub which had wonderful food. It was a good 1.5 mile walk but thatís ok.
I had a great sleep and was ready to go the next morning, but I looked out the window and thought, maybe Iím going to be stuck here another night. I made 3 attempts and even made it as far as a little south of Kelso before heading back to McMinnville.
I could have stayed in Vancouver, WA but I thought about how well the fbo had treated me and decided to go back there. Also the weather office was right there.
Sure enough I was stuck another night. But this night was different. They had 60 kids above me and I slept only 2 hours. I was not ready for an easy flight, never mind a tough one like I was about to experience.
Saturday morning arrives and it is terrible. The weather briefers say to wait until Monday and this storm will pass. This storm turned out to be the worst storm of the season and was in full swing during my flight and arrival after dark at Boundary Bay and then Langley.
The radar was showing some weakening over the Portland area and finally a break appeared about 3:00. The rest of the route didnít look any better but was worth a first hand look.
I departed McMinnville at 3:35 and figured with 0 wind and some decent luck Iíd arrive at 5:00pm, just before dark.
At Kelso I ran into snow and was looking for the airport when I decided to end run the cell to the west and sure enough the vis got better enough to attempt it and after about 5 miles the snow was subsiding and was turning to rain due to my descent.
It was very dark under this low overcast but I could see I-5 and the traffic with their lights. I programmed Toledo into the gps and started toward it.
Past Toledo and itís not any worse so on we go. I head toward Olympia and itís under itís very own thunderstorm so I turn way east and follow a valley which I think will put me on the east side of Seattle.
I called Olympia Tower and asked them for Seattle flight following frequency and I was finally able to reach them. Iím glad because I was in the McChord Airforce Base control zone and not talking to anyone.
They asked what heading I was on and I told them I was direct CZBB. They said ok but make sure I passed SeaTac at least 7 to the west.
I was happy about that because it put me out over Puget sound to try for a less bumpy ride. But the ride got worse and the wind got stronger. I was going to be Ĺ hour late and land in the dark, with heavy rain and high winds. Not a fun time.
Finally Iím past Seattle and they have me call Navy Whidbey for flight following. Being Saturday night they have a very young fellow with little experience on duty. Iím sure they werenít expecting much traffic.
I havenít had time to even think of my lack of rest the night before. I guess the adrenalin takes over.
The young controller gets a call from an airliner landing somewhere nearby. His already high voice goes up an octave. I think, oh oh.
Sure enough he calls me and moves me 5 miles to the west way over the San Juans, in the dark, low clouds, hard rain and ferocious wind. I think, did I do something bad in another life.
Now itís black, Iím getting bruised by the seatbelt, I canít see anything except the odd light on some of the islands.
Just before Friday Harbor he calls and says resume own navigation. Thanks a lot buster.
I turn towards CZBB and can see the outline of what looks like Orcas Island and I head right over the airport. Next to the landing at CZBB this is the roughest ride of the night due to turbulence from the high winds over the high part of Orcas on the west side.
Past Orcas and the ride is better although still uncomfortable and the vis has improved a little so I can make out lights on Point Roberts, WA.
I call CZBB tower and the controller appears to be astounded there is anyone out there.
He gives me the weather at the airport. Winds 36knots, gusting 45 knots with peak gusts over 50. The worst part is the winds are at 190į which not even close to any runway, so he says your choice of runways possibly out of fear of liability from my estate if he assigns one.
Itís 6 of one or Ĺ doz of another so I choose 12 since the visibility in the dark with driving rain is almost zilch and Iím most familiar with 12.
The approach is poor since Iím blown off the centerline due to poorly assessing the crosswind effect. Likely cause Iím just beat, Iím so tired.
I recover the centerline and Iím tracking the centerline at about 70į nose right.
Iím trying to hold 100 down final with no flaps and as I glance at the gps I see my groundspeed is under 60 so I need a lot of power to make the runway. I left the power at 15Ē which seemed to work well.
The moment of truth is coming up fast. I push hard on the left rudder and give almost full right aileron. It straightens briefly and then swings right, I push the rudder harder and it straightens more and finally in ground effect its straight and touchdown is gentle on the right main. But I need steering control so off comes the power and she settles on the left main and on the nose. The wind is blowing me towards the taxiway even though Iím trying to keep it fairly straight.
Off the runway and over to customs. There is no one there. Do you blame them. I phoned. He says I guess thereís no use asking where you were the last Ĺ hour. I said I guess not. He asked if my declaration was the same and I said no I have another beer with me. He said duly noted and hereís your number.
Itís not over yet. I have to get to Langley which is east about 15 miles but I know this area like the back of my hand so I climb back in the trusty beast and flash it up. I called ground and asked them to call Langley tower for their weather.
It was basically the same as Boundary bay but runway 19 was closer to the wind and the approach was very bumpy and had poor visibility but was much easier.
I taxied off to the west side and parked in my friends spot. My friend Rolly wasnít there because he couldnít imagine me arriving that night.
My phone was programmed in Belize so I had to hike all the way around the entire airport in the rain to call him.
I took out one of those beers and started the walk. I was parched and the Mexican beer was awesome.
By the time I got to the payphone on the east side I was soaked inside and out.
Click here to leave home from Belize to go to my trip to Belize