Another year and the 9th trip to Mexico. We planned for 12 airplanes and ended up having that many, in spite of the very untimely AD affecting Continental engines, which caused one participant to drop out. I always encourage people to sign up for the wait list, because we invariably have one to three cancellations the week before, due to mechanical issues or medical conditions. This year was not different.
The theme of the trip was Silver Towns and we visited four of them. First Alamos, then Guanajuato, then San Miguel de Allende, to finish in Zacatecas. What an itinerary to accomplish in 8 days! This is truly Cirrus Life.
As is often the case, it didn’t start without troubles. Our initial meeting point was Tucson on Saturday, February 18, for a group flight to Ciudad Obregon and Alamos on Sunday. About 20 minutes from Tucson, I heard a bang and increased noise. After checking all engine parameters and aircraft control, I quickly determined this was a mushroom fairing that detached. I had the same thing happen 8 years ago, although with more noise. At that time it was under the main left gear, this time it was on the right side.
As soon as I arrived in Tucson, I learned that one participant who had arrived earlier on Saturday in Ciudad Obregon had a bad battery and couldn’t start the engine for a short flight to Alamos. Finding a battery on a Saturday evening is not an easy task, unless you know somebody who has it. I was already talking to Roger Whittier about my mushroom fairing, so I asked him if he happened to have a spare battery. He did have it in his hangar in Glendale. The next question was how to get that battery from the Phoenix area to Ciudad Obregon. That turned out to have an easy answer also, because one participant was planning to fly from Phoenix to Ciudad Obregon on Sunday morning. He graciously offered to drive to Roger’s hangar Saturday night to pick up the battery and fly it to MMCN on Sunday. Local mechanic installed it and we didn’t lose anybody from the group.
We launched as a group of 9 airplanes from Tucson to Ciudad Obregon on Sunday morning. Two airplanes flew to Alamos on Saturday (one having the battery issue there), and one flew directly from Phoenix to MMCN also on Sunday morning. The flight would be unremarkable if not for overcast skies with low visibility, which forced us to stay low due to icing threats. One airplane, a Cirrus Vision Jet, could safely ignore overcast and icing and flew IFR over the top. In spite of having sent all documents ahead of time to the airport, it still took a bit of time to process everybody, The delay would be completely unacceptable in the US, but it was quite normal for Mexico. Alamos is only about 20 minutes from Ciudad Obregon, a flight we’ve done many, many times.
In Alamos, we stayed in my favorite place in the whole country, Hacienda de los Santos. If you’ve never been there, pick up the phone and make a reservation right away. There is a 5,000′ paved runway in town, and it is only a 20-minute flight from MMCN, or about 2 hours from the US border. The first night we had a rooftop party to get to know each other, followed by dinner with live music both nights. A tequila class is one class that I am proud to have failed to graduate from, so I have to take it each time I am there.
After a day of relaxing, it was time to launch for the flight to Guanajuato/Leon airport, which takes about 3 hours. We stayed under an overcast for the first 30 minutes and then climbed to 14,500′ for a smooth sail to the destination.
Approaching MMLO, many of us had a GPS outage, I experienced it with one of the two units, but I already saw the airport and my iPad was still getting GPS reception.
An unpleasant surprise awaited us after arrival. In spite of calling ahead of time to ensure there is enough space on the ramp, we were told to park at the FBO. FBOs in Mexico are relatively new invention, but they pop up at all major airports with an intent to extract maximum cash from all visitors. This particular one did it to the tune of $380 for 3 nights parking without any other services. What is even more appalling is the airport personel that works hand it hand (or perhaps hand under the table) to force unsuspecting visitors to pay these fees.
The city of Guanajuato was worth the visit. We stayed in a small boutique hotel, Casa del Rector with beautiful views of the city, which is laid over hills and still has working silver mines. After a short walk, we were rewarded by a truly gourmet dinner at Costal Cultura Cafeteria.
The next day started with a walking tour of the city, which was very pleasant because the center is pedestrian-only, most traffic is in tunnels beneath the city. The tunnels were initially built to prevent flooding of the nearby Rio Guanajuato from damaging the city, but now they protect it from traffic.
After lunch at Casa Valadez, we took a funicularto the top of the hillside to the Monumento Al Pipila for more views of the city. In the evening, we had dinner at another Guanajuato culinary gem, El Comedor Tradicional,followed by a unique Guanajuato experience, Callejoneada, which is a walking tour of the city accompanied by a group of musicians and artists, who enliven the way with traditional Mexican and Guanajuato music, typical dances, stories, and legends that are told throughout the tour.
San Miguel de Allende
There used to be a dirt airstrip in SMA. Over ten years ago, the municipality decided to pave it, and it is now a nice 4,500-foot-long runway. Unfortunately, as is often the case in Mexico, somebody didn’t pay something, some paperwork was not completed, and some contractors didn’t do the job. The runway has remained closed since. You can admire it on Google Maps, but you can’t land there.
Two buses picked us up at the hotel for an hour ride to visit Santuario de Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco, which is sometimes called, perhaps with only slight exaggeration, the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico.” After the visit, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Nirvana, an oasis of calm and delicious food 15 minutes outside of SMA,
We were originally planning to stay in Live Aqua, a modern hotel near the center of the town. We negotiated and signed the contract, and pre-paid all of the rooms for the group, only to learn that our reservation was cancelled about a week before the departure. To their credit, the hotel helped find alternative accommodations at the Numu Boutique Hotel, a convenient although somewhat bland newly opened hotel that is part of the Hyatt chain. A formal opening ceremony was taking place during our stay there, with numerous officials participating, which I suspect had something to do with the cancellation of the reservation at Live Aqua.
We had a dinner at Terazza 48, the restaurant chosen for the fabulous night views of the city. The next morning we went for a short walking tour of the city with a guide, which was somewhat disappointing. The guide wanted to get over it quickly and wasn’t that interesting.
It is a short one hour flight from Leon/Guanajuato airport to Zacatecas, but it is a long 1.5-hour bus drive from San Miguel de Allende to the airport, all thanks to the stupidity of Mexican authorities and the closed runway in SMA. We paid the exorbitant parking fee at MMLO and launched. Approaching MMZC we all experienced a GPS outage, It seems that this is a popular setup in many towns in Mexico, and we can only speculate about reasons. In any case, it is best to be prepared with alternative means of navigation and check your iPad; it seems to be less sensitive to jamming than the onboard avionics.
Our excellent guides from Operadora Zacatecas picked us up at the airport and drove us to the Quinta Real hotel. We had dinner with friends with whom we flew together to South America, and we promised ourselves that we would repeat that trip in winter 2024. Last time, we flew as far as Ecuador, our next trip will be the circumnavigation of the whole continent, following the west coast through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Ushuaia, and then returning via Argentina, Brazil, and Caribbean islands to Florida. What a trip!
The next day, we boarded an open-roofed bus for a guided tour of the town. Founded in 1546 after the discovery of a rich silver lode, Zacatecas reached the height of its prosperity in the 16th and 17th centuries. Built on the steep slopes of a narrow valley, the town has breathtaking views, and there are many old buildings, both religious and civil. The historic center of Zacatecas has almost completely preserved the urban design of the sixteenth century, taken as a basis for further development in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
After the tour of the center, we drove six kilometers to the town of Guadelupe, known for its silversmith center. We started by visiting the Templo de Guadelupe. and then the Museo de Guadelupe, an old Franciscan church with 27 permanent rooms; that is one of the most important Viceregal painting galleries in Mexico. Silversmith Center has a school for silversmiths and many excellent jewelry stores.
After lunch in a restaurant back in the center of Zacatecas, we drove to visit Mina el Eden, Exploration of the mine began in 1586, forty years after the founding of the city. Its heyday occurred from the 16th to 18th centuries, when production consisted mainly of silver, gold, copper, zinc, iron, and lead. Work in the mine stopped in 1960, due mainly to urbanization, flooding, and its proximity to the city. This original tourist attraction opened to the public in the early part of 1975, with some adaptations such as bridges, railway access, stairs, balconies, lighting, re-enactments of the mining, myths and legends. After exiting the mine, we boarded the Teleferico de Zacatecas, which crosses the city in just 7 minutes and offers one of the most spectacular panoramic views, to end up at Cerro de la Bufa,
It is 1336-mile straight line from MMZC to KSQL, 7.5 hours of no wind flight time, but we had strong headwinds all the time, so it was in fact 8.5 hours. If you add two stops, including one in Mexico, from leaving the hotel to getting home, it would be a 12-hour day. There was weather in the last 1.5 hours before home, but it still sounded OK.
Other than headwinds, the first two legs went without issue, even the stop in Ciudad Obregon took only about half an hour, those who fly there know it was fast. The last leg was from KCXL to KSQL, about 450 nm, almost 3 hours with 30+ knots headwinds. Weather was fine until Central Valley, but it was supposed to get nasty after Gorman. Ceilings 2000-3000 feet, tops 16,000 and icing starting at 4000. I fly a basic TKS airplane, so I need to treat the airplane as having no icing protection.
Other than headwinds, the first two legs went without issue, even the stop in Ciudad Obregon took only about half an hour, those who fly there know it was fast. The last leg was from KCXL to KSQL, about 450 nm, almost 3 hours with 30+ knot headwinds. The weather was fine until the Central Valley, but it was supposed to get nasty after Gorman. Ceilings range from 2000 to 3000 feet, with tops reaching 16,000 feet and icing beginning at 4000. I fly a basic TKS airplane, so I need to treat the airplane as having no icing protection.
On the ground, I took fuel (why not?), topped off with TKS, and did all of that in rain and cold wind. Sure enough, TKS spilled over the wing, and the fuel hose didn’t want to unwind, so when I finally got back into the airplane, I was cold, tired from a long day of flying, and ground activities. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps it would be smart to overnight in Salinas, but I was so close to home and still within my personal minima. I did that IFR flight from SNS to SQL hundreds of times, I knew I would be OK for the 15 minutes it takes at 6,000, even if I got light ice. I had outs if needed.
That all sounds like a careful analysis, right? Well, I filed, called ground, and taxied to the runway. Or so I thought.
That’s my nose wheel in the mud, I did taxi into the grass area between two taxiways. We left the airplane, drove home (wonderful people at JetWest gave me a crew car), I returned this morning, and more wonderful people at Airmotive Specialties pulled the airplane out of it and cleaned that mud. Only luck prevented any damage.
This incident made me re-evaluate my personal minma with respect to length of light and fatigue. It was very clear to me that fatigue was the main factor in that incident, and I didn’t act on my symptoms.