April 7th. We meet for breakfast in the bar/restaurant of our hotel and discuss the trip to Punta Cana. Thunderstorms had pounded Exuma all night and were still scattered around the area. Getting accurate radar images in the Bahamas’ is crude at best so we resort to Intellicast images of the Caribbean on our iPhones which usually prove to be fairly accurate. This is Chris’ turn to fly so he is in charge of all decisions. He expresses concern about the line of thunderstorms that we could see to the south, but he decides that we can skirt the weather east or west if needed so we head to the airport. As usual the airplane had not been fuel as requested the day before so we were delayed about 45 minutes. I spend this time going over every radar and satellite map I could find on the internet and finally decided we could penetrate the weather if needed with minimal deviations. By the time we depart Exuma we have a small band of weather to our south that runs about 100 miles east and west with Exuma right in the middle. We fly up to the weather and are surprised to see it is only light rain. We push through with no turbulence and little rain and point the nose southeast towards Punta Cana.
The further south we fly the harder it is to understand the air traffic controllers even if they are speaking “spanglish”. Royer means roger and tirty could mean thirty, thirteen or fourteen or who knows what else. So you learn to listen very hard and to say a lot of “repeat transmission please” or “say again?” Either of these responses will get you a couple minutes of silence followed by a harsh, dramatic over-pronounced version of his transmission; “DECEND NOW TO TREE TOUSAND FEET AND TURN RIGHT TO TREE TIRTY DEGREES” We respond; “Roger that Punta Cana, coming right to three three zero and descending to 3,000 feet”…… “ Royer”
Within about 30 minutes after takeoff the controller clears us direct to Punta Plata cutting about 40 miles off our planned course. Sweet.
The arrival into Punta Cana is very beautiful. We fly direct to Punta Plata and turn left along the north shore of the Dominican Republic. The mountains south of Punta Plata are filled with jungle foliage and it looks like something right out of a Treasure Island novel. We fly along the north coast until we pick up the inbound approach procedure into Punta Cana. The island flattens out dramatically as we descend leaving the lush mountains of Punta Plata behind. Chris makes a good landing so I can’t needle him – this time. We pull into the ramp and we are met by Javier our ground handling agent. He has all paperwork ready to sign but there is a problem with the fuel. The island is at critical levels for jet fuel and will probably run out before we depart the next day. My answer? Top it off now. Javier seems perplexed by my response. Not sure what he was wanting but he just shrugs his shoulders and says “Ok Cap”. I think he thinks the old guy with the gray hair must be the Captain on the flight. I order a full top off to make our next stop; otherwise we are here until the next fuel barge arrives whenever that is. Our van arrives and we load up and head to the hotel. Once again I think that all island taxi drivers are closet kamikaze pilots. They drive like maniacs and we just hang on to anything handy. Arriving at the hotel we grab our bags from the half dozen guys trying to “help” us. We check into the all-inclusive hotel and the staff can’t do enough for us. We get “upgraded” to a suite although I think we got the same rooms and just paid another $30 per night. Welcome to the tropics – again. Chris and I head straight to the golf course and Mike heads to the biggest pool I have ever seen. I think that swimming pool could whitecap in a light breeze. After playing 9 holes in 100% humidity on an 83 degree day, I think Mike made the wiser choice – especially since Chris and I missed the last bus back to the hotel from the golf course and had to walk the half mile back.
Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and we leave for the island of Trinidad located north of Venezuela. Over 3.5 hour’s away and not one island within 50 miles between us and Trinidad. If we have to ditch it may be hours before rescue comes but I trust the Pratt & Whitney engine completely so we press on out across the ocean.