Trinidad to Manaus
The Hyatt Regency in Trinidad turned out to be an ultra-modern 4 star hotel that was about half an hour from the airport. Although it was a very nice hotel, I would have rather stayed at the Holiday Inn Express next to the airport for half the price and a lot closer for our departure but our transfers were good and pre-paid as they should have been, and the hotel staff was excellent.
Upon arriving at the airport in the morning, our handler was there to meet us. He ushered us through the old terminal, through security; they require you to go through metal detectors even when you are flying your own plane in case you decide to hi-jack yourself I guess. The last time I hijacked myself I refused to cooperate as I don’t negotiate with terrorists. (Ok now that WAS funny!)
Our flight plan filed, clearance received – and radically changed from what we filed as usual, we are ready to start up.
“Hold on Chris, the new waypoints they gave us on our clearance isn’t in either of the Garmin databases.” I said. I try several and they’re just not there. I get out the paper chart and figure out the mystery. The missing waypoints are all intersections in Venezuela. Evidently our database doesn’t cover Venezuela but I do have my Garmin 696 tablet/GPS and I check if the waypoints are there. Yep, there they are. I also have an iPad 2 that has a GPS built in with Jeppesen flight planning software loaded. I tap in the flight plan on the iPad as well and again, all waypoints are there.
“Ok, we will just navigate using the tablet and the iPad if needed, and of course we still can do it the old fashion way and use the paper chart or manually program in the lat/long of each waypoint into the Garmin panel units.”
So long my Venezuelan voice from heaven, hello Señor I have no idea what you are saying, Amazonica controller.
“November96$%* (screech, whistle, static) turn %$#& and report &^%#@.”
“This is 61Tango Papa please say again?”
Static, screeching, whistle, more static.
Getting into heavier clouds now with light-to-moderate rain pelting us.
“Amazonica control, this is 961TP please say again, you are unreadable.”
Screech, whistle, static then faintly: “961TP continue on course to Boa Veesta, report over .” (screech, static, whistle)
I look at Chris “any idea where he wants us to report?”
“Nope, try the next intersection.”
“1Tango Papa we copy maintain course to Boa Vista will report at . . . Aktum?”
N961Tango Papa, royer.
Chris just shakes his head.
We break out of the weather 40 miles from Boa Vista to 100 miles of visibility. The heat at Boa is stifling when we open the door; we are sweat drenched within minutes.
The ground marshaller speaks zero English so he gives us a ride to the terminal where Pedro, our handler, is meeting us.
Pedro is very experienced and speaks very good English. He soon has all our paperwork ready and, just when we think we will do a record turn time getting through customs and immigration, we are told that the one and only customs agent is at lunch and will be back in maybe 10 minutes. Why does that not surprise me?
Two hours later, we climb back into N961TP and taxi out. We will now be crossing into the Amazon Jungle. The rain forest is doing what it does best-
With no help from any controllers on weather or even traffic – as if there were any – we are on our own weaving and dodging the storms that litter the Amazon region. The jungle looks like nothing but solid trees from 11,000’. No roads, no open areas, no towns, no villages, nothing. If we go down now, provided we actually survived a crash landing through the canopy, we are way down the food chain in this part of the world. I muse to myself, do they still have cannibal Indians in the Amazon?
One of the Amazon River tributaries comes into view finally and it is positively an amazing sight. Water, and I mean A LOT of water, and little islets scatter as far as the eye can see. I see small villages now and then and an occasional building. Still, no roads. We fly on, dwarfed by the massive jungle and the huge river winding its way south to the Amazon itself. It makes the Mississippi River look like a muddy stream. Thunderstorms continue to light up our radar but we easily maneuver around them and finally are making our final approach into the amazing Amazon city of Manaus right on the Amazon RIver.
Our clearance actually takes us west into Venezuela, then makes a hard left turn back south towards Boa Vista, Brazil. The last time we flew this route in 2007, talking to Chavez’ boys was like talking to someone down in a deep well yelling through a tin can with the thickest Hispanic accent imaginable. This time it’s very different – Piarco departure (Trinidad) hands us off to the Venezuela airspace controller, Maiquetia (Mack-a-tia). Chris is flying so I am tasked with trying to understand what the controllers are saying.
“Maiquetia control, N961Tango Papa is with you at 12,000 feet direct to MUN VOR, expect (to be at) MUN at 13:30…”
I repeat. Wait 20 seconds.
Then, this woman comes on the radio and in the most sultry lightly-accented velvety voice says “N961TP, welcome to Venezuela, report over Maturin VOR (MUN).”
Uhhhh, roger will report uhh Maturin.
I looked at Chris and said, “I think we just called a 900 number.”
He cracked up but I am relieved to know that we will at least be able to understand my new favorite female controller.
En-route Chris figures out that when we land, if he can get access to a Wifi, he can download the missing databases because now we are finding more missing data in the Garmin GPS’ even in Brazil so we definitely need to rectify it if possible. Nearing the border between Venezuela and Brazil we start getting into some IFR (instrument) conditions. The clouds are building up and rain showers are popping up everywhere. We also see some high mountains below us that seem awfully close but the chart says we are good. About this time we are handed off to a new male Amazonica controller who’s English is nearly impossible to understand.