a Beech Baron to Brazil
December 13, 2009
from Part Two
this morning was Caribbean perfect and the trip from St Lucia to
Trinidad was accomplished without incident. The airplane was
performing perfectly and the only issue that worried me now was
had had trouble finding charts for the Caribbean and South
America, and a friend had found and ordered them on line for me.
Since I'd been on US charts to Puerto Rico, except for a
perfunctory glance at them to make sure they covered the area
needed, I hadn't really looked at them until leaving San Juan.
Once I gave them a serious look I found that although they
seemed to be aeronautical charts, they gave no navigation
information, such as VOR frequencies, airways and intersections.
Hmm, I thought, but with dual GPS, I couldn't get lost. Could I?
Also there were vast areas of the charts that had no elevation
marking or colors, just plain white and noted with "No
Elevation Information Available". I knew now how the early
sea explorers felt and I nervously hoped I wouldn't find a
notation saying "They Be Monsters Here" as some of
their charts did.
Fortunately the Garman data base
included the needed communication frequencies and when the
island of Trinidad came into view and I called the tower the
controller cleared to land with the musical tones of the
Caribbean, directed me to Customs and this time I found the
office quickly. Presenting my documents, I was puzzled when the
official inquired as to who my agent was. Thinking I had
misunderstood I asked what she meant, and was met with a
withering look. She explained that I would need an agent to
handle the paperwork involved in buying fuel and getting help
with the myriad of forms from the several offices that I would
need to be cleared through.
won't bore you with the details; I'll just say that she told the
truth. After getting the picture of what was in store if I tried
to navigate this Sargasso Sea of Bureaucracy on my own, I caved
and hired the agent.
As I write this I am still amazed
that a people would create a system so unwieldy and complex that
to simply stop and buy gas, a traveler would have to hire a
professional to navigate the bureaucracy. It was a good lesson
for me to appreciate more the freedom and the simplicity of
travel in our own country and I won't soon forget it.
with the agent's help about three hours passed before I lifted
off the island and headed out for Macapa, my first stop in
Brazil. By now it was afternoon and the thousand mile distance
meant I would be arriving at close to dark with close to minimal
fuel. Also I needed VFR weather there, since I had no approach
charts to supplement my close to worthless VFR charts.
I had filed IFR, hoping that I would be cleared direct as one
mostly is these days in the states. However, I was quickly
learning that there is very little radar coverage where I was
going and without radar coverage the system is more as it was in
the US in the fifties. I was given an intersection to fly
directly to, before turning toward my destination and I had no
way of knowing where that was. My uncertainty led to a barrage
of requests from the controller to give my distance and radial
from a certain VOR. Again, my chart did not list the frequency
for this nav aid and it was impossible for me to know exactly
where I was, except 'on my way to Macapa'. After a few
frustrating minutes of trying to hammer myself into the system I
gave up and canceled IFR. I climbed high enough to clear all the
mountains, hit Direct on the Garmin and settled down for a long,
track would take me into South America on the northeastern edge
of Venezuela, then across the top of Guyana, Suriname and French
Guiana before entering Brazil and crossing the mighty Amazon
River, close to its mouth. I had one thousand miles of very
lonesome, very uncertain flying, with no way to get updates on
the weather ahead of me. Also I'd be flying across countries
that have used some harsh methods to interdict suspected drug
smugglers and I recalled a missionary Cessna being shot down
over the Amazon River with a loss of life. These were wonderful,
uplifting thoughts and I suspected the next six hours would be
some of the longest of my life.
The weather had
thickened and I was on instruments now. Without the ground
contact I needed even more altitude to insure clearance over the
mountains and I climbed to 14,000 feet. Now I was focused on
ground speed, because without at least 160 knots across the
ground Macapa would be beyond my range and I would have to plan
a closer destination. I gazed lovingly at the GPS ground speed,
like a mother watching the face of a sick child, willing it to
give the speed I needed. Thank God, I seemed to be holding at
just over 160 and if I could maintain this I would make it with
passed as the little airplane crawled across the face of the
GPS. The moving map showed the features along the coast and I
could plot my position relative to that. Guyana was finally
behind me, and we progressed agonizingly on the GPS, eighth inch
by eighth inch, across the top of Suriname. I felt much more
than mere hours older than when I had left Trinidad and very,
very tired. Now French Guiana was past and I had entered Brazil.
The clouds had broken and I could once more see the ground.
Trees, dark green and stretching from horizon to horizon were
below me. More forest than I had ever seen in my life, an
endless, mind boggling expanse of verdant green, without road,
without clearing, without any sign that man had ever touched it
unrolled below me, endless and without feature.
to Part Four