We were glad to be leaving Peru and making our way back to Ecuador as we headed for home. The Peruvian people are wonderful, everyone we met were friendly and helpful. Parts of the country are amazingly beautiful and diverse and our pictures captured a fair account of that. But, as far as aviation goes, Peru was the hardest country to fly in.
After 2 weeks in Lima under extreme stress, I was ready to be done with Peru. We stopped in Trujillo on our way north and stayed at the same hostel that we visited months earlier. Even though retracing our steps could be seen as a bit boring, the familiar aspect of returning to the same airports and towns was rather welcoming. I knew what to expect, knew my way around and even recognized some of the faces I met on the way south.
A few things about flying north were quite different. It was rainy season in Ecuador and large parts of the coastal region were either green or flooded. Also, the winds were less predictable.
After we landed in Guayaquil we found out that the avgas truck was broken and that we couldn’t get fuel for a day or 2. We took the opportunity to check the timing of the magnetos and they were still spot on. The same handler guy helped us through the airport bureaucracy and we launched for Cali Colombia a few days later.
By now Bill and I were getting into a routine. Bill is an experienced traveler and pretty easy going. He has a real sense of adventure. He crossed the Atlantic in a sail boat more than once, and he goes with the flow, a necessity when undertaking a trip of this nature.
We looked at the next few days ahead and figured out that we stood a good chance of making it through Colombia in one day and then staying overnight in Panama city. This would only work if everything lined up perfectly on the day. We had to check out of Ecuador in Guayaquil, stop in Cali Colombia for fuel and transit through there, then make it to Panama City and enter the country before the end of the day. 3 countries and about 7.5 hours of flying in one long day.
We got an early start, dodged some bad weather north of Guayaquil and crossed the equator for the second time in a small plane. The rain and low clouds continued into Colombia and the arrival into the valley near Cali was challenging. We had to bob and weave to get over the mountains and find the valleys.
The true test was yet to come, would the airport officials be quick and efficient and allow us to transit in a timely manner? This was the same airport that took 5 hours to exit when we flew south about 6 months earlier. We landed and the mad dash began. Fuel, flight plan, pay fees, go back to the same office 3 times, get an escort across the ramp, get a police clearance to depart. Another dog through the plane. It was a scramble but we pulled it off. With full tanks we blasted off for Panama, racing against the sun so that we could be out of Colombian airspace before dark.
This was it, the end of our time in South America and back to Central America. We followed the northwestern Colombian coastline, a beautiful jungle covered region, and started calling the controllers in Panama on the radio. The last hour of flying was going to be in the dark, over water, in a single engine airplane, after 6 hours of flying! Soon though we could see the pearl islands stretched out in front of us, then we saw the lights of Panama City. A welcoming sight after a long day.
The Panamanian police gave us an extra thorough search after they saw that our flight plan originated in Colombia. We are the most unlikely looking and behaving drug smugglers out there yet they still treated us like we were suspects. Another dog went through the plane, that makes 3 dogs in one day.
Finding nothing, they let us in. We tied down the plane, grabbed our stuff and went to the hotel and flopped into bed.
We decided to take a couple days off, since we had been flying hard the last few days, and act like tourists for a bit. We visited the canal museum, went to old town, saw Teddy the Maule pilot again at the airport. An oil change was due so we took the time to get that done and planned the next few days’ flying.
We checked out of Panama, stopped in Costa Rica to wait out bad weather and fuel up and made it to San Salvador in one day. Nicaragua made us skirt around their airspace once again. Eduardo, another Maule owner, met us at the airport and took us out to dinner. His hospitality was amazing.
Mexico was next. This meant that home was not far away now.
We stopped and visited friends in Zihuatanejo for a few days. Another welcome break from some long days in the air. Flying in Mexico is so easy compared to other countries further south. There is fuel almost everywhere, the controllers are more professional and the folks that work at the airports have more experience with small aircraft.
It amuses me to hear US pilots complain about flying in Mexico, if only they knew how hard it is in other countries.
The final push for home was here. We put in 2 long days, checked out of Mexico and flew over the border into Nogales Arizona. Easy flying from here. Familiar voices on the radio, familiar landmarks on the way home.
There was a small welcoming party waiting for us at Animas airpark. It was an emotional experience to be touching down at the very airport we had left 7 months earlier and 8 counties later. We had made it. Through all the tough times and stress we had flown a small airplane from Colorado to Patagonia and back.
Almost 15,000 nautical miles and 155 hours of flying. 8 countries, 2 continents. Lots of amazing scenery and people. It took a while to sink in. The scale of this trip was hard to wrap our heads around at times.
We had accomplished something amazing. Something difficult. We came home with a fair sense of the culture, the people and the landscape of central and south America.
It’s a big world to explore out there.
Where do we go next?
Miles to date: 15,000 NM.