Punta Cana to Trinidad
April 8th, 2012. We are very reluctant to leave our amazing hotel in Punta Cana where we are paying far less per night than we will in Trinidad plus it’s all-inclusive and has a great beach. But duty calls and we have miles to go before we sleep. We don’t need to be in Trinidad very early so we decide to have our bags, pick them up at 11 am and try to be at the airport by 11:30 am at the latest. Our flight plan is set for us to depart at 12:30 pm local time so that gives us an hour to load up, sign all the paperwork, clear customs out bound and head south. The company that I contracted to handle all fuel uploads, custom paperwork, hotel reservations and transfers has been “lacking” to put it nicely. So far they are batting about 10 with having everything ready. We go to the front desk and inquire about our van that was ordered by the handling company for our transfer back to the airport.
“I call you a taxi, they be here in 10 minutes,” replies the front desk clerk.
No we are supposed to have a hotel van like the one that brought us yesterday I tell her.
“Taxi on its way, come soon, maybe 10 minutes.”
No, you are not hearing me, where is your van?
“Van busy, we call you a taxi.”
Ok so you are going to provide a taxi at your cost because I have already paid for transfers.
“No, you have to pay.”
At this point do you get mad and raise hell or just go? I said fine, I will take it up with the handler when I get back.
“Ok, taxi come soon, maybe 10 minutes.”
One hour later; Excuse me but we need to go to the airport NOW. Where is my taxi?
“We call again, they come, maybe 10 minutes.”
Finally get to the airport; Kamikaze driver number two misses the entrance to the general aviation terminal even though I tell him where to turn. He tries to convince me that he needs to take me to the airline terminal.
No, we are on a private plane.
Privato, Plano. (My Spanglish is worse than my Frenglish)
Aviacion de General!
“Oh si, si, terminal aeropuerto.”
We finally unload our bags at the FBO and our handler, Javier, is there to meet us.
“Cap you are late! The flight plan is for now.”
Don’t start on me Javier.
“It’s ok Cap, Customs not here anyway. They on the way, maybe ten minutes.”
One hour later.
“Ok Cap, customs says you can go.”
Did they even look at our paperwork?
“Sure Cap, no problem, how long before you ready?”
Maybe 10 minutes Javier.
It’s my turn to fly. Once I put on my Bose noise cancelling headset and start that beautiful Pratt & Whitney engine, all headaches and tensions just fade away. Air traffic control wants us on an airway instead of going direct so we will have to swing 60 miles out of our way to join the airway south of Puerto Rico. Chris revises the flight plans on the triple Garmin GPS’ and calls for taxi instructions.
“N961TP, royer, you are delayed maybe 10 minutes for departure traffic.”
You have got to be kidding!
20 minutes later we are climbing out of the Dominican heat turning on a southeasterly heading that will take us across over 635 miles of open ocean with not an island in sight for hundreds of miles. The movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks keeps popping up in my mind.
Flight over a large expanse of ocean does two things to you when you are the pilot, especially in a single engine aircraft:
1) The hum of the engine and the never changing scenery lulls you to sleep. You have to fight to stay awake or keep your mind busy. I recalculate fuel endurance at about 3 times a minute, read a book or do a crossword puzzle. Anything to keep my mind busy, because if you don’t, the 2nd phenomenon occurs.
2) You feel and hear things that sound “different” than it did when you were over land. Was the airplane vibrating like that before? Did that oil pressure needle just twitch? Was the engine making that noise before? Do I have any ice skates on board in case I have to knock my tooth out? (Cast Away)
Arriving in Trinidad is almost anti-climactic. We fly over a small mountain range in clouds and light rain on a vector to the runway. You are never really sure they have you on radar. Even though they say “radar contact” they still ask you for updates on your position and altitude. Seriously? Can’t you SEE us on your radar? We spot the runway and ask for a visual approach and they respond by cancelling our flight plan. Huh? Ok, can we still land? “Royer, cleared to land.”
Once again our handler is there to meet us and this time everything goes smooth. We do have to wait the obligatory “10 minutes” for the fuel tuck to fuel the plane which takes the usual hour to complete. But I want it done tonight so we don’t have to wait in the morning. We then have to load our bags and drive to the airline terminal so that they can run the bags through the scanner to check for guns, drugs, blow up dolls and whatever else they look for. Sitting at the hotel I am amazed that it is 9pm and we started this trip at 11 am and it was only a three and a half hour flight. The rest was all taxi’s and government red tape.
Oh well, tomorrow we head into the Amazon with a short stop in Boa Vista to clear customs. Our handling company says they have everything ready and it will be a breeze.