Flying and Travels

Author: Thomas Daniel Page 1 of 4

Land of Volcanos

“You entered the country illegally”, said an immigration officer to Amy, when we were leaving the country. Definitely not something you want to hear when departing Guatemala, a small Central American country that our group visited for 6 days.

These used to be Cirrus-only trips, which started as COPA trips, but over time became independent. This year, we had 8 SR22s, two SF50s, and one Piper Malibu. Although Tino, the Piper owner used to fly a Cirrus, so he didn’t feel completely out of place. We limit the group size to twelve airplanes, but the twelfth developed a last-minute medical issue and grounded himself as PIC, which didn’t prevent him from joining us in Tikal traveling on commercial flights. My wife Ania and I organized already 10 of these trips, until then to Mexico, this was our first venture to Central America.


Our first stop, Tikal is a Mayan archeological site located in the Eastern part of Guatemala, close to Belize. To get there, our group met in McAllen, TX on a Saturday afternoon and departed on Sunday morning for our fuel stop in Minatitlan, Mexico. In January 2024, Mexico changed its entry procedures, which could create significant havoc when a group of 11 airplanes arrives at the same time. Before departure, you must send the required documents to the Airport of Entry. These include airplane airworthiness certificate, registration, pilot and medical certificates, copy of insurance policy, and the so-called LOPA. If you google that term, you will find out that it is Layout of Passenger Accommodations and it is an engineering diagram of the aircraft’s cabin interior that includes, but is not limited to, locations of passenger and flight attendant seats, emergency equipment, exits, lavatories, and galleys. Right, for a SR22! With typical Mexican efficiency, they don’t publish email addresses where this should be sent, you are on your own treasure hunt to find it. In addition, you are supposed to send to Mexican immigration services a monster Excel spreadsheet, which serves as an APIS entry document. And resend it “30 minutes prior to door closed”. I highly recommend joining Baja Bush Pilot or using the services of to help navigate that madness.

Group trip itinerary

In this case, since we organized the trip, we had a local contact in Minatitlan, to whom we sent all documents and who arranged for the so-called Autorización de Internación Única to be prepared. You would think that since AIU is Unica, it is for one entry into Mexico, but no, it is valid for multiple entries during 180 days. At least for now, it might change by the time you read. While our AIUs were all ready, the handler we used didn’t think about preparing our necessary exit documents since we were only stopping for fuel and continuing to Guatemala. Most countries have a concept of a “technical stop” for refueling, where the airplane occupants do not leave the airport, and which allows to skip entry/exit immigration procedures, but not Mexico. It would be foolish to skip the required administrative tasks and associated fees, wouldn’t it?

Altogether, we spent a little over two hours in Minatitlan and departed for Mundo Maya airport in Guatemala. Most of us flew both legs under IFR, the weather was making it preferable, but one pilot was not instrument-rated and managed to get through VFR. Our handlers were very efficient at Mundo Maya and we breezed through immigration and customs very quickly.


Our first hotel was called Las Lagunas and consisted of beautifully decorated individual bungalows on a small lake next to Lago Petén Itzá. We arrived there in the late afternoon and stayed in the hotel for dinner to launch a visit to Tikal the next day.

Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel

Tikal site dates back to 1000 BC, at the peak of its glory, around 750 AD, it was home to at least 60,000 Maya and held sway over several other city-states scattered through the rainforest from the Yucatán Peninsula to western Honduras. At that time, “downtown” Tikal was about six square miles, though research indicates that the city-state’s population may have sprawled over at least 47 square miles. Today much of the city is still buried under the forests and overgrowth, but what has been excavated shows an elaborate and huge ancient Maya city with beautiful, crumbling temples and ruins around every corner.

We started the visit at the most spectacular attraction of the city, the Great Plaza, home to palaces, ceremonial buildings, stelae, carved altars, and the two giant pyramids known today as Temple I and Temple II. The magnificent Temple I is 154 feet high, dedicated to Lord Jasaw Chan K’awil who died in the year 734 AD. Also known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar, the impressive structure had its pyramid added approximately 10 years following the death of the king.

Tikal archeological site

Believed to have been erected in the year 700, the adjacent Temple II, known as the Temple of the Mask, was constructed on the orders of Kasaw Chan K’awil. Deciphering the hieroglyphics in the structure, it is believed that Lord K’awil had the temple built for his wife, Lady 12 Macaw, although no tomb or human remains have been discovered inside. Lady 12 Macaw’s pyramid reaches 125 feet to the sky overhead. It is precisely oriented toward the rising sun, giving visitors an unparalleled view of the rest of the city and the surrounding jungle.

With private guides, we toured Complex Q and R, Temples I, II, III, and IV, Plaza Central, Central and North Acropolis, and Mundo Perdido.

Lake Atitlan

The following day, we drove back to the airport and departed for a short 150 nm hop to Aurora airport in Guatemala City, before boarding a bus to drive to Lago de Atitlán as it’s known in Spanish, which is one of the most beautiful lakes in all of Central America and is surrounded by three massive volcanoes – Tolimán, San Pedro, and Atitlán. The lake has an area of 50 square miles, and the color of its waters varies from deep blue to green. Formed approximately 84,000 years ago as a result of a volcanic eruption, it is 4,500 feet above sea level, with a length of 12 miles, and a depth of up to 1000 feet, making it the deepest lake in Central America. The shores of the picturesque lake are dotted with Indian villages, with the main towns Panajachel, Atitlán, and San Lucas.

Lake Atitlán

Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World wrote in his travel book Beyond the Mexique Bay published in 1934, “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.”

We stayed in Casa Palopó, an exceptional hotel that is part of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux, and had dinner in the hotel.

Casa Palopó – Relais & Chateaux

The following day, we met our private guide at Casa Palopó dock for a boat ride to experience the Maya culture and impressive views the lake offers. We visited San Juan La Laguna, learned about traditional dye with natural colors at the textile workshop, and visited the local art galleries.


This was already the fourth day in Guatemala, and we boarded a bus again for a ride to Antigua, the ancient capital of the country. Founded in the early 16th century, Antigua served as the capital of the Captaincy General of Guatemala for 230 years. It survived natural disasters of floods, volcanic eruptions, and other serious tremors until 1773 when the Santa Marta earthquakes destroyed much of the town. At this point, authorities ordered the relocation of the capital to a safer location region, which became Guatemala City, the county’s modern capital. Some residents stayed behind in the original town, however, which became referred to as “La Antigua Guatemala”.

Santa Catalina Arch – Antigua Guatemala

The city was revived in the mid-1800s, as a center of coffee and grain production. Now, the city’s cobbled streets — arranged in an easy-to-navigate grid, with views of the imposing Volcán de Agua to the south and the twin peaks of Volcán de Fuego and Acatenango to the west — are lined with farm-to-table restaurants, contemporary art galleries and design studios. We stayed in one of the best hotels in Antigua, El Convento Boutique Hotel.

The pattern of straight lines established by the grid of north-south and east-west streets and inspired by the Italian Renaissance is one of the best examples in Latin American town planning and all that remains of the 16th-century city. Most of the surviving civil, religious, and civic buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries and constitute magnificent examples of colonial architecture in the Americas. These buildings reflect a regional stylistic variation known as Barroco Antigueño.

We explored the city with a private guide. The walking tour focused on the city’s history, cultural trends, and restoration efforts. We saw the City Hall Palace, Fountain of the Sirens, Royal Palace, visited San Jose Catedral and its ruins, and learned about Maya archeology at the Maya Jades Museum, completing the tour at the best museums in town at Paseo de los Museos.

The following morning we took a bus for a short drive to Finca Filadelfia for a group-guided visit to one of the oldest and most established coffee estates in Guatemala. We were able to follow the path of the coffee bean from the nursery to a cup and concluded with an educational tasting.

In the afternoon, we had an opportunity to visit Pacaya Volcano National Park and a horse ride up the volcano with a plan to watch incredible views, which unfortunately didn’t materialize due to clouds.


This was our last day in Guatemala, and it was time to launch for a return trip and that is where Amy ran into a snag of illegal entry. My wife Ania who is fluent in Spanish was next to Amy and learned that the problem was that Amy didn’t have an entry stamp in her passport. We called our handler who in turn called people in Tikal, who called the airport there. The immigration people at the Mundo Maya said that indeed, they ran out of ink, and couldn’t stamp Amy’s passport, but not to worry, it was properly recorded in the immigration authorities’ computers. The officer in Aurora didn’t want to hear any of that, no stamp, no entry. That particular dance took about half an hour, at which point everybody was yelling at everybody, and finally the stubborn official gave up.

When you enter Mexico from the North, you don’t have to land at the first Airport of Entry, you can continue to any airport along your route of flight. That is very different when coming from the South, your options are limited to Tapachula and Cozumel, and from where we were, the former made sense. Our AIUs were received without problems, but they still asked us to haul our luggage to the office for an X-ray machine inspection. We arrived on a Sunday and Mexico just started applying special $150 weekend fees for immigration services, despite the airport being open and staffed 7 days a week since the beginning of time.

Our original plan was to spend a couple of nights in Acapulco, in the spectacular Encanto hotel. We made a group reservation and paid a deposit back in September, but then Hurricane Otis ravaged the city in October and destroyed the hotel. Nobody was answering phones or emails anymore, the airport was closed, and it was a disaster area. We made a new reservation at Secrets in Huatulco, which was nice, but far away from the elegance of Encanto. This was our last group stop and after two nights in Huatulco, everybody launched individually for flights back home.

Secrets Huatulco

Organized trips like this one are a great way to spread the wings outside our borders without the stress of dealing with different languages, different procedures, and unfamiliar rules. Flying in a group is easier and safer, we communicate on an air-to-air frequency about any unexpected issues, interesting sights, or ATC directions. A camaraderie developed during after the flight debriefings, which invariably take place in a bar, often persists well after a trip is completed.

Hasta el próximo año.

Group airplanes on the ramp at Mundo Maya

Namib desert

Onguma was the end of the first half of trip, where the focus was on animals. We were now starting the second half, where the landscape was playing the major role and the first leg was a flight to Hartmann Valley with a refueling stop in Ondawanga. Landing at a dirt strip in the middle of nowhere, in a desert, with imposing mountains around was surrealistic – the airstrip had a toilet with running water, soap and the guide who greeted us already had cold drinks and some snacks ready for us.

Hartmann Valley airstrip

We drove for an hour to Serra Cafema lodge, which is located at the Kunane river, a border between Angola and Namibia.

This was the farthest we were from departure and the most remote. The lodge has eight bungalows over the river with a large bedroom and a living space.

As elsewhere, the staff is incredibly attentive, and since everything is included, if you ask for something and they have it, you will get it. When you arrive, you are always greeted by all the staff singing welcome, cold towels, and a refreshment drink. When you leave, there is an a cappella goodbye song.

In the afternoon, we went for a boat ride on the river. The blue mountains on the Angola side, yellow and gold of the desert and the green vegetation along the river create an incredible contrast. Our sundowner was actually on the Angola side of the river, I suppose it was an illegal entry without immigration control!

Next morning, we boarded ATVs for some fun driving over the dunes and climbed up to see incredible views over the Kunanu river, which is flowing down in a deep canyon.

In the afternoon, we visited a nearby village of Himba people. The Himba have clung to their traditions; the women are noted for their intricate hairstyles which and traditional jewelry, and men and woman wear few clothes apart from a loin cloth or goat skinned mini skirt, they rub their bodies with red ochre and fat to protect themselves from the sun which also gives their appearance a rich red color.

I would love to stay one more day in Serra Cafema, this would be an ideal place for a 3-night stay in the middle of the trip. However, we had to follow our itinerary and the next morning we departed for an hour drive back to the airplanes, take off and low-level overflight of the river and the lodge towards the ocean. We followed the coast at a few hundred feet southbound. At that altitude, we could see thousands of seals sunbathing on the beach and I was struck by the realization that we are hundreds of miles from any civilization. Yes, we had PLBs and satellite messengers to send distress messages in case of problems, but it was far for certain that anybody would come to our rescue in that remote part of the world if we had any problems. This was Skeleton Coast.

Bushmen of the Namibian interior called the region “The Land God Made in Anger”, while Portuguese sailors once referred to it as “The Gates of Hell”. On the coast, the upwelling of the cold Benguela current gives rise to dense ocean fog for much of the year. The winds blow from land to sea, and rainfall rarely exceeds 0.4 inches annually. In the days before engine-powered ships and boats, it was possible to get ashore through the surf, but impossible to launch from the shore. The only way out was by going through a marsh hundreds of miles long and only accessible via a hot and arid desert.

Finally, we reached Hoanib River dry bed, and we followed it inland towards Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, which we overflew before continuing towards the airstrip. I did a low-level pass to check the strip and winds and was relieved to see cars and people waiting for us. Half an hour later, the camp staff welcomed us with a song, cold towels, and drinks. After lunch, we retired for a siesta to wait out the worst of the heat.

I was thinking why somebody would build a camp in a place like that, and it occurred to me that the answer was the river. With a desert all around, animals are naturally confined to the river and while at that time of the year it was dry, we could still see lions, elephants, and giraffes. A sundowner at the top of a hill offered us an unspoiled 360° view around.

Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp illustrates why the prices at such lodges are so high. There is more staff than guests, the place is so remote that it takes full day for a supply truck to drive dirt roads from Windhoek once a week with supplies, before continuing for another two days drive to Serra Cafema and everything needs to be brought in.

While the camp had fuel in drums, we already had a pre-arranged drum waiting for us in Twyfelfontaine, an airstrip 95 miles to southeast. We launched there two days later, flying a low pass over the camp first. Landing at FYTF we found a similar situation as in Shindi, the airstrip was there, but nothing much more. In fact, there was a road nearby and after a while a car passed, then another, which stopped to ask us if we needed anything. We explained that we were supposed to get fuel there and he called the guy who had fuel, who showed fifteen minutes later. He said he didn’t know anything about pre-arranged fuel, but luckily, he did have a drum of avgas and he would bring it. I have no doubts that Andrew from Bushpilots did order the fuel, but again, this is Africa. Our mistake was not to call the fuel people before departing from Hoanib, we didn’t even have the number. In Africa, you should always call the next stop to advise about arrival and inquire about fuel. Half an hour later the guy showed up again with a drum on a truck and a manual pump, but no metering device. We used dipsticks to split it more or less equally between three airplanes, each taking 66 liters from a 200-liter drum, or little more than 17 gallons.

This was enough to get us to Swakopmund 140 miles south. I was a bit embarrassed approaching FYSM, two miles out I still couldn’t make the runway. It is simply delineated by white markers but otherwise has the same color as the surrounding desert, so it wasn’t obvious to see. We quickly topped off and continued southbound to follow the coast.

Abeam the Tsauchab River dry bed we turned inland towards the Kulala Lodge airstrip. It was hot and bumpy, we were tired, so we flew there directly planning to do sightseeing overflight on our way back. A guide waited for us at the strip with cold drinks, which was a godsend given the temperature and we embarked on a fifteen minutes’ drive to the lodge.

The next morning, we departed for the main visit, in fact the main reason we came back to Sossusvlei. In 2017, after completion of our flying tour of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, we flew commercial to Windhoek, rented a car, and drove to Sossusvlei. A local outfit was offering a scenic overflight of the area, which we did, and this is when I promised myself that we would return to the area, this time flying ourselves. That promise was fulfilled 6 years later.

Formed 55 million years ago, the Namib Desert is the oldest desert on the planet. The dry bed of the Tsauchab River is surrounded by orange and red sand dunes, the highest of which, the Big Daddy dune, is 325 meters (1,070 feet) high, and this is what we planned to climb the next morning. There is a 66 km road from Sessreim gate to a Sossusvlei area, but the last 6 km is open only to 4 WD vehicles. We stopped closest to Big Daddy and walked about a mile to the start of the climb. As soon as we started climbing, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to go all the way up. You are climbing a sand path and for each step up, you slide half a step down. After the first half an hour, I gave up and decided to walk back to the parking lot.

If you do decide to climb Big Daddy, you should start early in the morning, leaving the camp before sunrise, be in excellent physical shape and bring plenty of water. The three other people in our group continued the climb and got to about ¾ to the summit. You go up following the ridge of the dune, in fact I doubt it would even be possible to climb the face, but the descent consists of sliding down the face, all the way to Deadvlei, a white clay pan with dead camel thorn trees. The trees have been dead for 800 years, but the extremely dry climate prevents decomposition. I walked around the dunes to Deadvlei to snap few pictures of the very famous landscape.

The next morning it was time to start flight back.  Sossusvlei was our last 2-nights stop and it was a long 1,000 miles flight back to Wonderboom. The first leg was the most spectacular, flying low over the valley, below the dune summits, we could admire the landscape from 200’ AGL. I couldn’t climb Big Daddy, but I did overfly it, which was certainly easier. We continued towards the ocean, hoping to see the spectacular coast I remembered from the last visit. The sand drops about 100-200’ feet with a steep incline to the ocean and if you had a misfortune to wreck a ship in the area, you could swim to the tiny beach at low tide, but you could never climb up the incline. Unfortunately, that day, the coast was covered with low level clouds and we couldn’t see it. We continued southbound towards Luderitz asking ourselves a question how the weather was there. Flying an approach wasn’t really an option given airplane instrumentation and the closest alternates were too far given our fuel. Dropping through the clouds over the ocean would be putting excessive faith in the QNH (altimeter) setting. We ended with a much less stressful option, simply calling Windhoek Information, and asking about the weather in Luderitz, which was severe clear. Even at low altitude, radio coverage over Namibia is very good.

We topped it off in Luderitz, but we had a little trouble calling to file a flight plan, which was mandatory given we were crossing back to South Africa. Very nice people in the operation office escorted me to the tower, where I could meet the controller and file our flight plans. The long flight to Upington was uneventful and uninteresting. After landing, we quickly topped off, completed immigration and customs formalities without having to remove bags from the airplane and flew another 50 miles to Dundi lodge for an overnight. The lodge is next to Augrabies Falls, so we drove there to have a look. It was OK, but nothing that would demand a detour. The last segment of the trip included a stop in Kuruman to refuel and a repeat of past scenarios. A deserted airport and no cell phone service. Luckily, a car showed up curious what that noise was about and he called the person responsible for fuel, who showed up half an hour later. Credit card machine was out of service, and we paid cash in USD. The other two Cessnas climbed to 9,500 on the 280 miles last leg back to Wonderboom, but ours steadily refused to pass 7,500. Finally, after few updrafts we got there also and enjoyed smooth 130 knots sailing back.

Landing at FAWB was uneventful and we completed our 3,000 miles, 32 hours flight time tour around Botswana and Namibia. It felt as if we left Wonderboom just yesterday, the time passes very quickly with so many things to do. It was a wonderful trip, a wonderful group of people and we didn’t have any unpleasant surprises.

Few lessons learned if you are thinking about doing a trip like that.

  1. Cessna 182 is an ideal aircraft for flying in Africa. If you are used to a Cirrus with all automation, autopilot, and speed you will need to reset your expectations.
  2. On the flip side, our trip was about 1/3 of the price of a Cirrus trip organized by Flight Academy, which was shorter (4 stops vs 7), and we stayed in top notch luxury lodges.
  3. Navigation is mainly direct-to on GPS, with panel mounted portable GPS receivers and iPad with Skydemon.
  4. Always call ahead to the next stop to advise about ETA and ask about fuel at each refueling stop.
  5. You should know how to file a paper flight plan, including everything in the Remarks section for border crossing.
  6. Outside Johannesburg, radio is simple. At Wonderboom, you need a detailed briefing to know what to expect.
  7. Botswana doesn’t require permits, but Namibia does and you need to arrange that ahead of time.
  8. Cell phone reception may be variable, a satellite phone would be convenient.
  9. Travelling in a group, even if small, is much more fun. It is lonely up there in the middle of the sky hundreds of miles from any civilization.
  10. It is hot in November. Lodges are slightly less expensive, but the temperature is much higher than in winter.

This was our third trip. I would love to come back, but we have still so many other places to fly in the world. If I burned Jet-A, I would plan an Africa circumnavigation, but it is a bit complicated with avgas.

Enjoy this compilation video from Namibia

Botswana and game rides

We arrived to Johannesburg on Wednesday evening to meet with our friends, who will be flying with us that epic adventure. It has been a tradition since previous trips to start the afternoons with a gin and tonic and we immediately resumed that activity, when we met at Opikopi Guest House.

The next morning, we drove to Wonderboom airport for airplane checkout and a refresher on local procedures. South Africa has a vibrant GA community and Wonderboom is a very busy airport. Local procedures and phraseology are different than in the US and it took me some time to recall how to do and say things from four years ago. For example, on the first call to ATC all you say is: Wonderboom  ground, ZSPWC, good morning and you wait for the call back ZSPWC Wonderboom, good day, go ahead to say your request: ZSPWC is a Cessna 182, 2 crew, 5 hours of fuel, parked at south hangars, request taxi instruction for a flight to Pretoria general flying area 1, elapsed time 1.5 hours.  You first get departure instructions PWC runway 29 in use, QNH 1020, after departure right turn route 2 miles west of the power station. You read it back and get taxi instructions Taxi foxtrot, enter 06, turn right up bay 29, report ready for departure. When you tell them you are ready after runup, they tell you to taxi on bravo, report at holding point runway 29 and then switch you to the tower. Finally!

Coupled with South African accent, the unfamiliar phraseology is initially intimidating, but the controllers are nice and helpful.

When you fly from a controlled airport to a controlled airport, you need a flight plan. Our first leg on Friday was from Wonderboom to Polokwane, which is an Airport of Entry, to clear immigration and customs. South Africa has a website, where theoretically you can file flight plans. Half of the time, you can’t log in to that website, the other it times out when you try to file anything. It is truly completely useless. By a stroke of incredible luck, we managed to file flight plans to Polokwane, but this was the only time during the whole trip when it worked.

The chart above is from SkyDemon, a very nice EFB that we were using to fly in Africa. It has good VFR charts, although user interface is very different from Foreflight I am used to.

We were told that we needed to take all the bags from the airplane in Polokwane to clear customs. We did, but if I had to do it again, I would just take one light bag. We entered the terminal, paid landing fees, and went through security including the X-ray machine and emptying the pockets to be able to exit it back to our airplanes.

After trying to file our flight plans online, I finally called their equivalent of FSS by phone and filed it that way. It was necessary since this was an international flight to Limpopo Valley in Botswana.

FBLV is located right after the border, there is a small open area for arrivals, we paid our landing fees, got the passports stamped with a smile by a very bored immigration officer and boarded a Landcruiser for an hour drive to Mashatu Euphoria lodge. It was incredibly hot, likely about 45° (113°F) and it literally hurt when the hot air was hitting your face during the drive in an open car.

Euphoria Villas is a high-end lodge with 8 luxury villas. When I posted on COPA forums about our experience, somebody asked me if it is a good as “Four Seasons”. The huge difference is that you have only a few people in the lodge, the first night it was only us, and the staff that are going out of their way to make sure that we have anything we want. It is all inclusive, lodging, meals, drinks and game drives and it is incredibly beautiful, situated over the Mali river. At this time of the year, the river is dry, but as we went on game drives, we saw an incredible number of animals. Elephants, giraffes, impalas, lions, leopards, cheetah, ostrich, we stopped the car every five minutes and all you could hear was the click-click of cameras. This was our third trip to Africa, and except for Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania, this was the most incredible game sighting we ever had. The next day, we had two more game drives and I started to be concerned that I only had one SD card in my camera.

The typical day at a lodge starts with a wakeup call at 4:30 am. You come over for coffee and a light breakfast at 5:00 am and leave the lodge for a game drive, while it is not yet incredibly hot. You stop somewhere during the drive, for a coffee and a snack and come back around 11:00 am for lunch and siesta time during the hottest time of the day. At 4:30 pm, you have the “tea time”, which in our case should really be called “gin and tonic time” and board the cars for the afternoon drive. When the sun sets down around 7 pm, you have “sundowner” drinks in a spot with incredible views before returning to the lodge for dinner.

Sundowner drink

It cools down after sunset and it is an incredible experience to have dinner outside under stars with very little light around.

The following day we launched for our second leg. We first did a low-level overflight of Limpopo River, which is the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe. I flew at about 100’ AGL over the river dry bed, knowing there is exactly zero risk of any power lines or bridges crossing the river.

Limpopo River dry bed

We continued to Matante airport to refuel. This was fast, we filed a paper flight plan in the office, but the landing fee office was closed on weekend, so we just left our information for invoicing. The next leg had us flying to Shinde lodge airstrip, which is in Okavango delta, a vast inland delta formed where Okavango River flows into a tectonic trough, which prevents it from continuing toward a sea. All the water reaching the delta evaporates or transpires.

Before leaving Mashatu, we called Shinde camp to update our ETA to 2 pm. We landed a bit early, at 1:30 pm and there was nobody on the strip to meet us. At 2:00 pm, there still was nobody and we started to formulate backup plans. You must remember, this is Africa, and you just do not start randomly walking through the grass, a pride of lions might enjoy you for dinner. We thought we would take one airplane, take off, look for the lodge and buzz it to alert them about our arrival. The backup to backup was to walk a dirt road which seemed to lead to some human structures. Of course, there was no cell phone reception, I sent text messages by satellite to the Bushpilot office in Pretoria so that they could call the camp, but I didn’t get any reply. Finally, as I was walking to the airplane, a car arrived. It turns out that they forgot about our arrival. It is Africa after all.

Waiting at Shinde airstrip

Shinde is a tented camp located on an island in the northern part of Okavango delta. Of course, “tent” is a misnomer, while the structure is wooden with fabric walls, the interior is luxurious with a large bedroom, in-suite bathroom with indoor and outdoor showers.

Shindi tented camp

That same afternoon we went for a game drive, and while we saw less animals than in Mashatu, the scenery was much different – it was more like savannah, with tall green grass and trees.

The next morning, we were awakened at 5 am by the delicious smell of fresh coffee brought to our tent. After light breakfast we launched to visit the delta in a makaro, a wooden boat traditionally made from a tree trunk, although now fiberglass is more common. It is pushed by a wooden stick because the water is never deep.

Boating in makaro

The routine was similar as in Mashatu, early wake up, light breakfast, morning ride with coffee and biscuits stop, return to camp, lunch, siesta, afternoon “tea” followed by another ride ending by a “sundowner” drinks, return to camp and dinner. During our afternoon ride in a power boat, we saw hippos soaking in the water. While hippos are herbivores, they don’t hesitate to attack when threatened and they can run at 20 km/h in the water and over 40 km/h on land.

The next day we had a long day of flying, first a short hop to Maun, to clear customs and immigration since we were leaving Botswana followed by a 3-hour flight to Rundu to enter Namibia, followed by a 1.5-hour flight to our destination, Onguma the Fort in the Onguma game reserve. We took one medium suitcase with us out of the airplane to customs, to show good faith, but I have an impression that nobody really cared. We filed a flight plan on paper in the office, since we were crossing the border and took fuel. While it was not strictly necessary to refuel both in Maun and in Rundu, the general rule of flying in Africa is that if there is fuel, you top it off. As much as Maun customs didn’t really care about suitcases, they did ask us to bring all of them to the office in Rundu. I had an impression that people there were embarrassed to have to ask us to haul our stuff inside, but they were told by their supervisors this was mandatory. They helped us carry suitcases and the inspection was purely for the show, simply sending luggage through an X-ray machine. Since we were flying domestic in Namibia and to uncontrolled field, no flight plan was necessary.

In the afternoon, it was time for a game drive in Onguma reserve followed by the traditional “sundowner”. Within a few minutes of leaving the lodge, we saw a pride of lions resting in shade, then giraffes and elephants.

The following day, we went for a morning game ride to Etosha National Reserve but decided to stay in the lodge in the afternoon to rest. Our general plan was half a day of flying, and one and a half days in a lodge, with two nights at each location. This is an intense schedule and if I were to do it again, it would throw in one or two 3-night stays to have more rest.

Onguma Fort

Onguma the Fort is a rather weird lodge, it looks more like a hotel in Morocco, but the suites were exceptional. We left airplanes at the strip in an open hangar with cement floor, so we couldn’t tie them down, we only put in chokes. That night, we had a splendid thunderstorm show with associated high winds and I was somewhat concerned about airplanes being blown out.

The following morning, we launched for a flight to Hartmann Valley with a refueling stop in Ondawanga. This was the end of the first half of the trip, where the main focus were the animals and game drives, and the beginning of the second half, where the scenery of Namib desert was taking the prime spot.

Africa, three times a charm

There is no question that I fell in love with Africa, perhaps more specifically with flying in Africa. During our first trip in 2017, we flew a Cessna 182 from South Africa to Zimbabwe and Botswana back to Johannesburg. We wanted to continue to Namibia, but originally it was supposed to be in a 172 and the limited range made it too sketchy, so we decided to hop over to Windhoek commercial, rent a car there, and drive. I of course managed to find an outfit offering scenic overflights of incredible dunes in Sossusvlei, and the views we’ve seen made me promise myself we would return.

We flew again in 2019 from South Africa, through Mozambique and Tanzania to Kenya, which was truly a trip of a lifetime and that just reinforced the idea that we have to come back.

So here we are again, impatient to fly back. Johannesburg is at UTC+2, in other words, 10 hours ahead of us in San Francisco, I thought it would be prudent to arrive a few days early to acclimate and we wanted to see Cape Town again, so we are flying there from the US and staying 3 days in a wonderful Cellars-Hohenort hotel in the Cape Town wine country, before taking commercial flight to Johannesburg. Together with 2 nights in Opikopi Guest Lodge in Pretoria, we will have a full five days to adapt. Click on the map below to see more details.

Our itinerary will take us from Johannesburg, Wonderboom airport to Mashatu game reserve in Botswana. We have to stop in Polokwane to exit South Africa, luckily Limpopo Valley airport in Botswana is an Airport of Entry. Our plan is to fly for half day, and spend 1.5 days, 2 nights in each lodge. The first stop is Mashatu Euphoria lodge. After that, we are flying to Okawango delta, with a fuel stop at Matante airport. We stay two nights in Shindi camp. The next flying day has us exiting Botswana, so we have to stop in Maun and enter Namibia in Rundu, before continuing to Etosha National Park, where we stay in Onguma Fort. Etosha is the end of the first half of the trip, where the focus is animals, we now be watching incredible views of Namib desert.

We will stop in Ondawanga, before continuing to Hartmann Valley airstrip and a short drive to Serra Cafema lodge, located on the Kunane river, which is the border between Namibia and Angola. From there, we will follow first the river and then Atlantic coast to Hoanib Skeleton Coast camp and then to Kulala Lodge in Sossusvlei. It will be now time to head back to South Africa, we will first stay at Dundi Lodge to see Augrabies Falls and then make a long flight back to Johannesburg.

In total, that will be close to 3,000 nm and probably around 30 hors of flight time. The itinerary is set up so that we spend one day flying and one day at the location, two nights at each lodge. We are flying in a small group of three airplanes, all Cessna 182, which is a perfect airplane for flying in Africa. We will be landing at many dirt strips and a Cirrus, while more comfortable, would be certainly less practical.

We are using the same company as before, Bushpilot Adventures to lease the airplane, arrange permits and make reservations. Experience has shown that it is very important to have somebody in the “back office” to follow the flight and be ready to help in case of any mechanical problems, which we had during our previous trip.

Cape Town

Cape Town culinary landscape rivals the best of them. Our first night, we were tired after 24 hours door-to-door trip and stayed in the Cellars-Hohenort hotel, un upscale lodging part of Small Luxury Hotels.

Beautifully appointed room with a terrace and views on the garden.

It was rainy and windy next day, we drove to the spectacular Cape of Good Hope, which was crowded and there was a line to take a picture in front of the panel with the name. We did that 4 years ago, so we skipped the line. In the evening we had reservation at the La Colombe restaurant. It wasn’t easy to get, because all online reservations required four people and nobody was picking up the phone. We finally left a message and the next morning at 2 am (that’s noon in Cape Town!) somebody called back. The reservation battle was definitely worth waging, the food was extraordinary.

Stellenbosch area is known for excellent wineries and we couldn’t skip a wine tasting drive the following morning.

We finished the day in the Potluck Club, remembering fantastic dinner we had at Test Kitchen 6 years ago. Test Kitchen doesn’t exist anymore, but the chef, Luke Dale Roberts opened other restaurants in Cape Town and Johannesburg, you should definitely visit them if you are there.

This was the end of lazy vacation time in Cape Town, the next day we are boarding a flight to Johannesburg, where our adventure begins.

Pueblos de Plata

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 or two cancellations, sometimes the week before. 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.

Nothing that can’t be fixed with some duct tape.

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.

Dinner at Hacienda

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.

Tequila class

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,

Lunch at Nirvana

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.

Dinner at Terazza 48

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.

Quinta Real Zacatecas

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.

Mina el Eden

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,

Return home

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.

In the mud

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.

2022 Viva Yucatan

This was the 8th time we set up a trip to Mexico and it was the most ambitious trip. Close to 2500 miles and it felt double, because my autopilot failed right after departure. Hand flying a Cirrus is not particularly pleasant, particularly for 30 hours. Our first destination was Brownsville TX, where we met most of the group. One participant elected to fly to Merida from Florida directly, but everybody else flew to KBRO. Initially, we were supposed to have 12 airplanes, but one had engine issues a week before departure, so they elected to join us in Merida flying commercial.

We left on Friday afternoon and flew at 17,500 to cross Sierras and landed at the North Las Vegas airport. Vegas is not our preferred location, but it is a convenient stop to spend the night. The autopilot failed during the initial climb and no amount of circuit breaker pulling made a difference.

Saturday morning didn’t start well. First, when walking to the airplane I noticed that I didn’t have my iPhone. A quick look at the Find My iPhone showed it happily travelling on a highway back to the city. I have to give it to Apple engineers that they thought about that scenario when they decided that answering a phone call doesn’t require a passcode. The taxi driver pick up and said he was “super busy” and didn’t know when he would have time to bring the phone back. A quick negotiations reversed his priorities.

Then I got a phone call from one participant, whose airplane sustained damage so much so that he wouldn’t be able to join. At that point, we already passed our cancellation deadlines, so we wouldn’t be able to provide him a refund. However, I planned to negotiate with hotels, hoping to recoup at least part of his cost.

We stopped for fuel in El Paso and after a delicious lunch at a local Subway launched for the 2nd leg to Brownsville KBRO, but not before receiving a message from another participant that his alternator 1 failed in flight. That is a required equipment per the Cirrus Kinds of Operation List, and we thought we would loose another airplane.

“Executive” terminal in Brownsville

Brownsville isn’t much of a town and I don’t think we will choose it again as a point of departure, in spite of its favorable southern location. Neither Uber nor Lyft had any cars, but we managed to call a local taxi company for a drive to a Courtyard. A local Olive Garden was too busy for our group and we ended in a burger joint.

Next day morning departure confirmed that ALT1 was definitely inoperative, but it turned out that the nearby McAllen had a Cirrus Certified Service Center, obviously closed on Sunday, but reopening on Monday morning. The pilot elected to fly there and in the meantime discovered that it was the field current jumper that snapped. A fix would be easy.

Everybody else departed for a three hours flight to Minatitlan MMMT. My usual stop for that itinerary is Veracruz MMVR, but with 10 airplanes, we needed a handler, so that all our paperwork and in particular multi-entry permits were prepared ahead of time. Few years back we didn’t do that and an entry through Oaxaca was taking hours. Assuming 30 minutes for one permit and 10 airplanes, you can easily see how long it takes if done serially. Veracruz handlers were ridiculously expensive, so we decided to switch to Minatitlan.

Passing through 5000′, I saw 40 knots headwind, but at 11,000′ it was only 12 knots. We were above overcast most of the time on an IFR flight plan. 25 miles from Minatitlan tower said “Below 8000, you are in uncontrolled airspace, cleared for VOR/DME runway 10”. Great, but what about that 6000 feet mountain that I could see on the charts? We managed to descend without hitting anything and executed a full VOR/DME procedure, with a teardrop course reversal in actual conditions. I was glad to be proficient with hand flying.

Our handler in Minatitlan did a splendid job and all processing was done in record time, less than an hour for all airplanes. And that is when we learned that the fuel truck was not working. The only fuel truck. A specialist was called and after half an hour, he managed to fix it. In the meantime, , e looked at other options, but we definitely didn’t have enough fuel to get to Merida.

Hacienda Temozon

Arrival to Merida was uneventful, we exited the airplane and were picked up by the arranged mini-buses, which drove us to the Hacienda Temozon. A margarita and a nice dinner later, we all went to bed early tired after a long flight.

On Monday a bus picked us at 9 am for visiting of Maya site in Uxmal. It was a 45 minutes drive for a guided tour of the impressively well restored ruins. The site is the most important representative of the Puuc architectural style, which flourished in the Late Classic Period (AD 600–900).

Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal

Quite probably this style and the northern Maya lowland culture continued in full vigour for a century or so after the decline and abandonment of the southern Maya lowland centres such as TikalPalenque, and Uaxactún. After about 1000, when Toltec invaders arrived in Yucatán and established their capital at Chichén Itzá, major construction in the city ceased. According to Maya hieroglyphic records, however, Uxmal continued to be occupied and was a participant in the political League of Mayapán. When the league ended, Uxmal, like the other great cities of the north, was abandoned (c. 1450). Before abandonment, the ruling family of the city, like the Itzá of Chichén or the Cocom of Mayapán, was the Tutul Xiu.

Landrover tour

After visiting the site, we had lunch at a local restaurant and ended up with a Land Rover tour of the plantation and ruins of Hacienda Uxmal constructed in 1673.

On Tuesday, we again boarded a bus, which drove us to Merida, for a short tour of the city. Merida, capital state of Yucatan whose heritage is a rich blend of Mayan and colonial was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo on the remains of the ancient Mayan city, called T’hó, which means 5 in the Mayan language.

A palace-house on Paseo Montejo

In fact, when he arrived, he found 5 Mayan temples surrounding a huge plaza and resembling the Roman ruins of the city of Merida in Extremadura, Spain, and therefore he adopted the same name. Merida of Yucatan. On our tour of the city, we drove along Paseo Montejo, which is a gorgeous tree-lined avenue stretching from the Santa Ana neighborhood ending with the grand and unmissable Monumento a la Patria. The incredible mansions are a reminder of the wealth that was in the Yucatan during the 19th century. At one point Merida was home to the most millionaires in the world, wealth created by processing and export of locally grown henequen, a fibrous plant from which twine and rope are produced. Our tour of the city ended with a lunch at the Kuuk restaurant.

Dinner at Chable

We returned back to Temozon after lunch to rest a little before our dinner escapade to Ixi’im restaurant at the Hacienda Chablé. Overseen by chef Jorge Vallejo (whose Mexico City restaurant Quintonil was named one of the World 50 Best), using organic, seasonal ingredients that are often sourced from the expansive on-site gardens; Ixi’im is lit up like a jewel box at night. Set among trees, the stone ruins of one of the hacienda’s buildings have been attached to a glass dining room lined with the owner’s 5000-strong collection of vintage tequila bottles.

Wednesday was a short flying day. We boarded again a bus, which drove us back to Merida airport. Departure formalities took surprisingly long considering it was a domestic flight and we all had flight plans prepared. A twenty minutes flight brought us the Chichen Itza airport.

Conga line of Cirrus flotilla on the way to MMCT

No paperwork on arrival, we boarded a bus to drive to Mayaland hotel for a check in and almost immediately returned to the bus to drive to cenote Ik-Kil. It is arguably one of the most beautiful cenotes of Mexico. The waters of Ik Kil were considered sacred by the Mayans who performed here human sacrificing to their rain god and archaeologists found there bones and jewelries.

Light show at Chichen Itza

We returned to the hotel for dinner and then drove for yet another attraction: Noches de Kulkulkan, an audiovisual presentation that describes Maya cosmogony, their particular vision about the origin of the planet and of humanity, as well as the history of this place which is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. The light show was spectacular, pyramids gleaming in bright colors and ancient silhouettes alive projected on main pyramid side.

On Thursday morning, we departed the hotel for a visit proper of Chichen Itza ruins. Chichen Itza was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. In 2007, the Temple of Kukulcán at Chichén Itzá has joined such famous architectural wonders as the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal on the list of the Seven New Wonders of the World. This impressive pyramid symbolizes the grandeur of the Mayan civilization. The greyish white colossus is 30 meters high and has exactly 365 steps to the temple at the top – this was also the number of days in the Mayan calendar.

Historians believe that Chichen Itza was founded and rose to prominence due to its close proximity to the Xtoloc cenote, an underground source of fresh water. The name Chichen Itza is a Mayan language term for at the mouth of the well of the Itza. The Itza were an ethnic group of Mayans who had risen to power in the northern part of the Yucatan peninsula, where the city is located.

After the visit, it was time for another quick flight to Cozumel. Our handler at MMCZ did a great job ushering everybody to exit and calling us taxi. A short ride to the El Presidente hotel brought us two days of sun, beach and do-nothing rest.

On Saturday night, we had a goodbye dinner at the Buccanos Beach Club hosted and invited by a COPA member, who splits his time between Florida and Yucatan. This was the end of the trip and everybody was returning home individually. We chose to stop overnight in San Luis Potosi, we never been to the city and make a second stop in Alamos, to spend a night in Hacienda de los Santos, our favorite place in Mexico.

Mexico 2022 group

Remember these problems I had with the magneto? I called the avionics shop who did the work on the airplane before departure and asked them is there anything I could do to debug the issue. They said the first thing they would try is to make sure that the autopilot was properly seated in the tray. Departing Alamos, I pushed the autopilot as hard as I could into the tray and everything returned to normal. 25 hours hand-flying the airplane and I could have loved it by a simple push!

Mexico 2020

This was already our7th trip to Mexico. This year, with a trip name México diverso we chose three very different locations, the description is under the link above.

The group met in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday 2/15/2020 for a dinner and departure to Ciudad Obregon on Sunday morning. Tucson is normally a rather quiet class C airport, but we choose to depart at the same time as the morning airline rush hour. Twelve Cirrus airplanes calling clearance and ground created lot of confusion.

I sent all the required documents ahead of time to the Commandante of Ciudad Obregon airport and when we arrived, multi-entry permits and flight plans were ready. We were in an out under an hour – for 12 airplanes – what a change compared to the mess last year in Oaxaca.


Dinner table at Hacienda

After 20 minutes flight, we all landed in Alamos and settled in Hacienda de los Santos for well deserved margaritas and roof top party before dinner. Dinner at the Hacienda is always magical, with live music, beautiful tables and great food.

The following day, those who didn’t fly it before, went for a Copper Canyon flight. Barranca del Cobre consists of six distinct canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental. The overall canyon system is larger and portions are deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The canyons were formed by six rivers which drain the western side of the Sierra Tarahumara. All six rivers merge into the Rio Fuerte and empty into the Gulf of California. The walls of the canyon are a copper and green color, which is where the name originates.

In the afternoon, I had a talk about our flying in Africa and the infamous fuel cap and Jim gave his great tequila class, always a favorite.

Extra fuel before leaving Alamos

The next leg was about 760 nm to Puebla, which was putting us at the edge of the range, considering that we already burned about 7 gallons coming from Cd Obregon. While it would be possible to do that flight non-stop, it is always better to be conservative when flying in Mexico, so we split the group in two halves. Those who flew Copper Canyon, flew to Durango and those who didn’t, to Zacatecas to refuel. Since refueling and paperwork is done serially, processing all 12 airplanes would take too much time if we all went to the same place.

I refueled rather quickly and got the flight plan filed first, but when we got back to the airplane and tried to start the engine, we were in for an unpleasant surprise. Zero fuel flow. All the tricks and methods for dealing with hot starts that I knew didn’t have any effects. We started to think that we might need to spend the night (or more) in Zacatecas. Finally, after 1.5 hours, fuel lines cooled enough so that the fuel condensed again and the engine started. Our electric fuel pump was recently replaced and I suspect this had a lot to do with that, plus the fact that Zacatecas is at 7,200 feet and it was 20 deg C.


There was a SIGMET around Puebla for volcanic ash due to volcano eruption, but it turned out to be less severe than anticipated. While the visibility was reduced due to smoke, it didn’t create any flight difficulties.

Popocatépetl volcano

Two vans drove us to Azul Talavera hotel (ex Rosewood Puebla), a beautiful, modern hotel with excellent service. We walked 10 minutes to Casa Reyena for a fabulous mole poblano dinner.

Azul Talavera rooftop swimming pool

The next day we set up to explore the city with a visit to Capilla del Rosario located in Iglesia de Santo Domingo, which is considered a jewel of Mexican baroque. Its construction dates back to the 17th century and is the first in Mexico dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. The sumptuous decoration onyx, gilded plaster, paintings and tiles lined with 22-carat gold sheets, make the chapel a unique property of its kind, which has been considered the eighth wonder of the new world and named as reliquary of America by Pope John Paul II in 1979.

Capilla del Rosario

We continued to the Cathedral on the Zócalo. Built piecemeal over almost two centuries, beginning in 1575, the church has an unusual altar and magnificent choir stalls with Moorish-inspired inlay.

Biblioteca Palofoxiana – gorgeous 17-th century library, designed to rival Europe’s greatest, is recognized by the UNESCO for being the first and oldest public library in Americas. It has more than 45,000 books and manuscripts, ranging from the 15th to the 20th century. In 2005, it was listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

Biblioteca Palofaxiana

The last morning stop, Museo Amparo‘s permanent collection traces Mexico’s development over its history. It has one of the most important collections of pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern art in Mexico, with dates of pieces ranging from 2,500 BCE to the present day. The museum is housed in two colonial-era buildings that date from the 17th and 18th centuries, which were popularly known as the Hospitalario.

El Restauro

After another exquisite mole at El Restauro, we boarded the bus to drive to Museo Internacional del Barocco, which is housed in an iconic building designed by acclaimed Japanese architect Toyo Ito and which opened in February 2016. The museum presents art and culture of the Baroque age (from the early-17th century to the late-18th century) in European and Latin American societies.

Museo del Barocco

The next day we drove to Cholula and started our visit at the Church Santa María Tonanzintla. Its name comes from the Nahuatl word Place with our Lady Mother. This is one of the most viewed churches in Puebla for its indigenous Baroque or New Hispanic baroque style, consisting of an exuberant indigenous decoration; angels with feather tufts, with flower garlands, with horse attire Eagle and with fruits and plants, the church is a splendid mixture of pre-Hispanic and Christian influences.

Cholula main point of interest is the Great Pyramid with the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios sanctuary on top. At first glance, the pyramid looks like a hill as most of it is overgrown. The south side of the pyramid has been excavated and there is a network of tunnels inside, we walked part of it. Building of the pyramid began in the pre-Classic period and over time was built over six times to its final dimensions of 390 ft on each side at the base. This base is four times the size of that of the Great Pyramid of Giza and is the largest pyramid base in the Americas.

Model of Great Pyramid in Cholula, with different layers and church on top

After lunch in a local whole-in-the-wall eatery, the bus drove us back to the airport. This is the first time I experienced a true a**hole Commandante. The guy refused to take our printed flight plan, because he needed four copies and not one, refused to copy it and refused to give us blank forms to hand-write flight plans. I had a bunch of blank forms exactly for such just-in-case situations and we managed to file our flight plans to Zihuatanejo.

Arrival to the Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa airport was epic, late afternoon is the most busy time for commercial flights and between our now 13 airplanes and half a dozen airline jets, some of us had to draw doughnuts in the sky for quite a while.

Holds approaching MMZH


The last two days of the trip were designed with only one objective; relax and do nothing. Cala de Mar resort has beautifully appointed rooms, each with individual plunge pool and stunning views of Pacific Ocean. I am happy to report that we not only fulfilled, but also exceeded that objective – we stayed one extra day.

View from a room at Cala de Mar

The price to pay was the return back home, perhaps foolishly I decided to do it in one day, about 1,650 nm, with landings in Los Mochis (fuel) and Calexico (fuel and immigration). That plan was only half stupid, but it became really crazy with 30 knots headwinds. I tried 10,500, 14,500 and 16,500, the ground speed remained stubbornly between 150 and 160 knots. We landed in San Carlos at 7 pm.

Mexico 2020 group

Flying in Africa – tips and tricks

Airports where I landed

I flew in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya. This isn’t perhaps a terribly vast experience, but if you contemplate flying there, you might find the following observations useful.

  1. It is vast, it is beautiful and it is remote. Africa total area represents 20% of Earth landmass but only 16% of Earth population and you could fit there US three times over. You have to plan flights accordingly with respect to fuel and survival equipment.
  2. General aviation is incredibly bureaucratic and you need permits for each country, sometimes for individual airports. You should plan to secure those permits well ahead of time, preferably using local resources.
  3. It is very useful to have somebody in a “back office” tracking your progress and being able to help with permits, flight plans, aircraft parts while located in a place with good internet and good access to parts, mechanics and information.
  4. Plan for minimum of two hours for each stop at each airport. You may get lucky, but this is a reasonable estimate to file flight plans, pay landing fees and any other required fees, pass security checks or, if required, immigration and customs.
  5. You will get frustrated and perhaps angry at the absurdity and slowness of the processing at different airports, at having to haul you luggage thru x-ray machines, at having to file paper flight plans, at the interminable waits. Plan for that and don’t let it spoil the adventure.
  6. Don’t sweat about ATC, airspaces, prohibited, military or restricted areas. If you manage to talk to ATC, great, but if not, that’s fine too. Different airspaces exist on paper, but with the exception of few really large international commercial airports, nobody will pay any attention if you fly through them.
  7. Always call ahead to the next airport to verify they have fuel and how much. If there is fuel, top it off and top off you jerrycans if you have them. You never know when you will need it.
  8. Bring cash in US dollars, I take $300/airport. Credit cards machines are often “broken” and you will need to pay for fuel and for the fees in cash.
    Make sure you have survival equipment, PLB, satellite messenger or phone. While cell phone coverage at airports is usually quite good, you can’t count on that.
  9. Print sufficient number of copies of general declaration with your basic data, so you only need to fill departure and destination. At many airports they don’t have blank copies, but they still require that you give them gendecs.
  10. Know how to fill ICAO flight, including your equipment codes, how to put permit numbers, search and rescue requirements and estimates to FIR boundaries in remarks.
  11. Keep the duct tape and basic tools handy.

Above all, be ready to adapt your plans as the circumstances change, keep your cool and you will have the most incredible flying adventure of the whole life. I was lucky to fly there twice, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Hakuna matata.

Great Apes in Uganda and Tanzania

This is the third part of our trip, we flew from South Africa, through Mozambique to Zanzibar and traversed Tanzania East to West. This part is about close encounters with mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, also flying without fuel cap and fuel exhaustion. We were a group of friends flying in four Cessna 182 and 206 airplanes.

We left Mbali Mbali Soroi lodge when it was still dark and witnessed sunrise while driving to the Seronera airstrip.

Serengeti at sunrise

After a short flight Mwanza, refueling, customs and immigration, this time without taking suitcases out of airplanes, we launched for Kisoro in Uganda. There are quite high mountains on the direct line, up to 14,000 feet and we decided to fly around them to the North, which was a fortunate decision, because about half an hour after departure we got into an area of low ceilings and rain with reduced visibility. Let’s just say it was marginal VFR, although I usually call something like that “African VFR”. At one point we seriously considered turning around, but Chris who was flying first called with an update that weather was improving further north and we continued.

Flight from Mwanza to Kisor

The solid red you see above, this is terrain higher than 7,000 feet. The African VFR happened about half way, so over relatively low terrain.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Flying over Bwindi Impenetrable Park we could see the mountains we were to explore the next day. Landing in Kisoro was refreshingly simple, there was an immigration officer already waiting for us, he efficiently stamped our passport, we didn’t have to pay anything extra in spite of the fact that Kisoro is definitely not an Airport of Entry. There was no customs, so nobody checked our luggage. We boarded vans for an hour ride to Mutanda Lake Resort.

Lake Mutanda

Mutanda Lake is beautiful, with little islands sparkling in water and mountains around. The resort not so much, it is one of those places where internet photos are heavily photo-shopped. The next day we drove another hour to enter the park for the gorilla trekking. After a briefing about what to do when in close proximity to gorillas, we got an option to hire porters. I had just a backpack, so we thought one porter would be sufficient, but we hired two to support the village. This turned out to be the best decision of the day. The trek involved descending and climbing over very steep slopes in the jungle, lasted six hours and at the end, we were all beyond exhausted.

This snapshot from iPhone Health app says it all. Porters helped us not only with the backpack, but by literally pulling us uphill and holding us during the descents. If you ever do this trek, make sure you have one porter per person. We did manage though to get very close to the apes, within 3-5 feet and we could observe them for about an hour. They didn’t pay much attention to us and kept eating leaves. The alpha-male silverback was impressively large, even when seated. The effort spent to get that close to them made the whole experience even more precious.

Close encounter – no zoom used in with this photo

We could barely walk next day, I was feeling muscles I didn’t even know I had, descending steep inclines makes you more sore next day than climbing, but we boarded the van again for a ride back to Kisoro airstrip. This time, customs was there and insisted on inspecting every piece of luggage, which was really driving me nuts. The field is at 6,200 feet and has a terrain rising to the south. We had between 10 and 15 knots of wind coming from the south, so we decided to takeoff in that direction, which turned out to be somewhat challenging. At Vx, I had an impression that the airplane is not climbing and that we will settle in the trees. Finally, we cleared the hills and flew back over the lake for some last-minute pictures. In hindsight, it would have been preferable to take off with tailwind. The flight to Kigali, capital of Rwanda was beautiful, in spite of strong headwinds.

Refueling from drums in Kigali

On arrival the approach controller was querying us in flight about our permit numbers, upset that we were coming from Kisoro and not from Mwanza, as if that was important, told us first to turn to a heading which would send us into a hill (unable), then told us to fly a DME arc (unable, we were VFR), then told us to hold and finally switched us to tower, who cleared Robert to land while an airliner was taxing onto the runway for takeoff in the opposite direction. Clearly, Kigali is not used to VFR and light airplanes and indeed they have no avgas. We refueled from drums, which we had shipped there ahead of time and this is when I found that my left wing fuel cap was gone, again.

Remember departure from Wonderboom and losing the same fuel cap? I will never know if I was distracted and angry by the ridiculous luggage inspection in Kisoro and didn’t properly secure the cap after checking fuel level or if the cap had a problem, since it was the same one we lost in FAWB. I decided to turn this into a positive event, by promising myself I will never allow myself to become excited and emotional prior to takeoff. A mental trick I use now is to visualize that fuel cap whenever I feel I might lose focus. Lack of fuel cap presented us with two problems. How to secure the left tank and how to get from Kigali to Tabora, our next refueling point? We were supposed to fly to Kigoma (180 nm), then to Mahale (84 nm) and only then to Tabora (194 nm), total distance of 460 nm with three takeoffs, too far on only the right tank.

Universal airplane repair tools

We resolved the first issue by the universal airplane repair tool: duct tape. While I wasn’t sure it would actually prevent fuel from leaking, there was only about 8 gallons left in the left tank and I was planning to only use the right tank. As to the second issue, when we were in Mwanza, we applied another universal rule for flying in Africa: when you see fuel, you take fuel and we filled four 20 liters jerrycans, just in case, without knowing it would become so useful so quickly. Twenty gallons in jerrycans combined with forty gallons in the right tank gave me an endurance of five hours, which was cutting it a bit too close with less than 30 minutes reserve. That problem was in turn resolved by stopping at a gas station in Kigoma and filling another twenty liter jerrycan with mogas. The 206 had a STC for mogas, but Marcus warned us to use the minimum necessary – in this case, we were only mixing 8 gallons of mogas with 40 gallons of avgas so I felt this was reasonable.

The flight from Kigali to Kigoma made us overfly Burundi. While we had overfly permits, we never managed to talk to Bujumbura Approach. Half over the country is covered by a TMA, so it was theoretically required, although it didn’t bother me at all we couldn’t. When arriving to Kigoma, I was trying to raise Kigoma tower on the radio. After landing, somebody finally replied asking why we didn’t call tower. I said we did, many times, on 118.4, frequency listed on Skydemon and Jeppesen charts, to which he replied “ah yes, we recently changed it 133.5”. Flying in Africa.

We stayed one night in Kigoma Hilltop Hotel, a comfortable but uninspiring hotel on the shore of Lake Tanganyika and after another security checks, launched for Mahale, one of the most stunning parks in Tanzania, with sand beaches, behind which rises a range of imposing mountains, clad in verdant tropical vegetation.

Resting and thinking

Mahale National Park is home to around 1,000 chimpanzees. Most significantly, one group of Mahale chimps – the Mimikire clan – has been habituated by researchers since 1965. Currently led by an impressive alpha male, Alofu, the M-group, as they are commonly known, has around 56 chimps. They go where they want and when they want but are relaxed near people, so it’s possible to track and observe them from very close quarters. For the good of the chimps’ health, all human visitors on chimpanzee safaris are required to wear surgical masks.


We stayed in Mbali Mbali Mahale, an idyllic lodge with luxurious bungalows, great food and very attentive staff. The next day we went to see the chimpanzees and I could still feel my legs after the gorilla visit. This was however incomparably less strenuous and we got chimpanzees passing couple of feet from us – not paying much attention to what we were doing, which was really just taking as many pictures as possible. In the afternoon, part of the group went for fishing and caught our dinner, but we stayed at the lodge, just relaxing.

Our last day started very early, with breakfast at 6 am and departure from the hotel at 7 am for 1.5 hour boat ride to the airstrip and 2 hours flight to Tabora. My fuel consumption was as planned and we arrived with comfortable margin. This time, I filled both tanks, but failed to follow the universal Africa fuel rule: when you see fuel, you take fuel – we didn’t fill the jerrycans. I put a little square of hard plastic made from plastic water bottle over the opening in an attempt to isolate the duct tape from the fuel and covered it with tape. We went thru usual hassles of immigration, customs, paying the fees and filing the flight plans and launched for the 4 hours flight to Mombasa. I was the first and immediately after the takeoff we noticed fuel streaming from the left tank.

Applying duct tape with staff watching and the end result
Aircraft “inspection”

I returned back to the airport and we attempted to put more duct tape over the wing. When satisfied with the result, we wanted to launch again, but the whole airport staff and a fire truck was there – the airport manager said he couldn’t let me go because the airplane was not safe. What followed was a ten minutes discussion, we were explaining that a Cessna 206 has two fuel selector position, left and right and even if we lost all fuel from the left tank, we still had enough to fly to our alternate, Arusha. Finally, he made me write and sign a release and agreed to let us go.

We couldn’t see fuel streaming on the second takeoff, so I hoped the tape would hold and it seemed it did for a while. Fuel gauge on the left tank was moving towards zero too fast, but then it stopped moving at a quarter tank. I set myself a limit – I was flying on the left tank and if I could delay switching to the right tank until 300 nm from the destination (about 3 hours with headwind we had), I would continue to Mombasa, otherwise I would divert to Arusha. Things were going on nicely, but then at 330 miles, engine stopped. That’s always an unpleasant event, but particularly when you are over middle of Tanzania with nothing but low brush below – lions and leopards are much less cute when observed from a crashed airplane. I was obviously spring-loaded for that situation, immediately switched to the right tank, fuel pump, and the engine restarted few very long seconds later. I now had dilemma – continue to the destination and land with couple gallons of fuel or divert to Arusha. In any normal country, it would be a simple call, but in Tanzania we already exited the country, Arusha is a domestic-only airport and I recalled experience of my friend John who declared emergency over Medellin, Colombia and was stuck there for four days resolving paperwork. I thought about it for couple of minutes, redid fuel calculations and announced on our air-to-air frequency that we were diverting to Arusha. My calculations showed that if reduce power and lean brutally, I most likely would made it to Mombasa, but with less than half an hour reserve and “most likely” together with “less than half an hour reserves” didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t have fuel totalizer. fuel flow indication was an analog gauge and I wasn’t 100% sure how accurate it was. I recalled another experience in Bogota, Colombia when I broke my one hour fuel reserve landing with 45 minutes and how I promised myself I would never do it again. Well, here I was again, what’s the point of making yourself promises and setting up limits before departure if you are not prepared to respect them?

All the others continued to Mombasa, they couldn’t help us in Arusha and in fact would have made the situation worse by having four, instead of one aircraft in an irregular situation. Approaching Arusha, I called Kilimanjaro Approach and explained that I had a fuel leak, I was diverting to Arusha to make a technical stop. After being cleared to land, we taxied to fuel and took 42 liters (11 gallons) into the right tank. I most likely would have made it to Mombasa, but most likely was not good enough. I went to the tower and explained the situation there, hoping they would let me leave on my existing flight plan. After few phone calls it became clear that they had no clue what to do with me, so finally they found a solution allowing them to get rid of the problem altogether. “This is a domestic airport, you are flying to Kenya, you need to receive the clearance from Kilimanjaro Approach”. Whatever was getting me back in the air was fine by me, so we back-taxied and took off. We called Kili Approach, who thought we were coming for landing at Kilimanjaro International, but I explained we were on the fight plan to Mombasa and they just requested we stayed at or below 5,500 when in the control zone.

When we left the CTR and I switched the frequency, we knew we were going to sleep in Mombasa that night. Soon we entered Kenya airspace and proceeded to the destination. The 30 minutes turnaround in Arusha will most likely remain a record hard to beat for years to come.

It was hard to believe this trip was now over. We flew 3,625 nautical miles in 34.4 hours Hobbs, landed at 19 airports in 6 countries and brought back 120 GBytes of pictures and videos. You can see the map on the right in more details on Google Maps.

Tanzania East to West

This is the second part of our East Africa trip, after flying from South Africa through Mozambique, we now traversed Tanzania from Zanzibar to Lake Victoria. We were a group of friends flying in Cessna 182 and 206 aircrafts.

Dar es Salaam TMA (terminal control area) extends 100 nm around the city, from 1,500 AGL to FL245. TMA is controlled airspace and you should theoretically be in contact with ATC to enter it. Well, good luck raising anybody more than 20 nm from Dar. The CTR (control zone) extends 15 nm from the airport and it is generally frowned, even in Africa, to fly there without clearance. I finally managed to talk to a controller, who tried to send me 20 miles east of the airport, which would 10 miles offshore. After a bit of negotiation, we got that down to 10 nm, which I arbitrarily reduced to 8, on account of unreliable navigation instruments. We still had to fly over water, the island of Zanzibar is 18 nm from the shore, but at least we didn’t spend more time than the minimum necessary. That big red circle on the left side, that’s a prohibited area HTP6(E). We didn’t need to fly through it, but I wouldn’t think twice about it if I had to.

Zanzibar is an interesting place. It used to be an independent country, before it merged with Tanganyika to form Tanzania. There are still very strong feelings on the island against that union, as explained to us by a guide who took us on the walking tour of the Stone Town. It is indeed a mélange, Arab, Black, European, Indian all mix together. The city is falling apart, but you see some nice renovated building and above all, you see a peaceful coexistence of these many different cultures and religions. We stayed at Zanzibar Serena hotel, a colonial building from the time gone, but well preserved. We went to Africa House for sunset cocktails and walked the town narrow street avoiding motorcycles and bicycles. One day was not enough to get a real feeling of the town.

As much as we were happy to arrive to Zanzibar after our magneto and starter problems in Mozambique, departure was a different story. It took over two hours and literally tons of money to pay for the required permits and file flight plan. Tanzania general aviation infrastructure is abysmal, you pay exorbitant fees in cash, because the credit card machines are usually broken, it takes hours to process, computers are down, employees barely move, in summary it is an aviation hell. We finally left to fly towards Moshi and Arusha to see Mount Kilimanjaro, but the visibility was about ten miles and we could hardly see anything. Half way through, we took a decision to fly direct to our destination, Ngorongoro Crater with an airstrip that is at 7,800 feet on the rim of the crater. I cajoled our 206 to climb to 8,000 and later to 9,000, which she did very reluctantly. The approach and landing were spectacular, with the crater caldera below us at 5,000 feet.

Ngorongoro Crater Takeoff
View from the hotel on the caldera and the crater rim

Ngorongoro Serena lodge is about 10 minutes from the airstrip. The hotel has amazing views on the crater, rooms are functional, each with tiny private balcony and the restaurant and bar remind a mountain resort. The next day we boarded safari cars for a game drive in the crater. It is hard to describe the combined effect of thousands of animals grazing around and crater rim looming above.

Ngorongoro caldera

We saw lions, leopards, hyenas, elephants, rhinos, zebras, buffaloes and antelopes. At one point, two hyenas attacked a wildbeest (gnu antelope), which was trying to escape. Hyenas are normally scavengers, but they also attack live animals, they have extremely powerful jaws, second only to crocodiles. They managed to bite the wildbeest on the side, but it looked like that hunt might take a long time, when suddenly we saw two lions coming over. The wildbeest run towards the cars, which at this point were converging from all directions, so that the tourists could witness the killing. It didn’t take lions more than a minute to finish the wildbeest and they started to eat it, with by now about two dozen cars around. While it was fascinating, in perhaps morbid sense to witness the killing in nature, I couldn’t shake the sense of disgust having all of us congregating around to see the spectacle. Don’t watch the video if you don’t want to see a killing.

Lions killing a wildbeest

The next day we visited a Masai village. Masai are usually nomads, but that tribe settled in the current location and allows tourists to visit and photograph their village, in exchange for a fee of course. The huts were extremely primitive, it was hard to imagine people living in such conditions. They had sandals made of used tires and colorful blankets to guard against cold. The village chief was a young 25 old guy, who spoke very good English. At one moment we said something in French and he replied in that language. After the visit, we drove again to the crater for more game watching.

Masai women

On Tuesday, we were planning to fly to Arusha, refuel, fly towards Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Natron for sightseeing, but weather early in the morning was showing 2,000 overcast in Arusha, which soon turned into low level fog. Plan B was to fly directly to our next destination, Seronera airstrip about 60 miles away. We had enough fuel to reach it and to continue to our next fuel stop, Mwanza, but not enough for any sightseeing.

We thought that Seronera would be like Lumbo, no other airplanes around, but it turned out to be a very busy airstrip, with Coastal Air Cessna Caravans bringing in tourists to visit Serengeti. This was when we realized none of us had an idea what frequency to use to self-announce. On long final, a Caravan cut in front of me from left base and I had to do a 360 to let him land. After landing the pilot came to me and said he saw me on TCAS and he tried to talk to me. It turned out that uncontrolled fields in Tanzania use 118.2, which was something Marcus told us about in a pre-departure briefing, but we forgot.

Mbali Mbali Lodge In Serengeti

We were picked up by cars from Mbali Mbali Soroi lodge, our hotel for the following three nights. We had a picnic lunch and went for a game drive on the way to the lodge. The lodge is located on a hill, with amazing views on the valley below. The staff told us that during the time when Migration passes there, which usually happens late June, early July, you could literally sit on the chair and see thousands and thousands of animals passing by. We were a month late, unfortunately. If you are planning to visit Serengeti, make sure to choose a lodge which is close to where Migration is when you arrive. In our case, the animals were already in Kenya and we missed it. In spite of that setback, we did go for game drives both days and saw giraffes, elephants, zebras, buffaloes, antelopes, lions, leopards and hyenas. Many times, the animals were couple of feet from the car.

Leopards from really close

Departing Seronera for Mwanza, we showed at the airstrip with all our luggage and were told we had to go through security check. This is a problem everywhere in Africa, and if fact the same was the case in Central and South America. They just don’t understand there is something like private airplane and apply the same security checks as for commercial flights. I simply refused to follow their admonitions and loaded two of our four suitcases into the airplane bypassing the security checks. A guard grabbed however the remaining two, opened them and started to check the content. He found a hair spray and triumphantly told Ania: “you can’t take it with you to the cabin”, to which she had a brilliant reply: “oh, don’t worry, this is in the checked in luggage”. The guy was so stumped, that he only managed to say: “ah, ok then” and off we went. This exchange wins the first price for absurdity.

After an hour flight to Mwanza, which is located at the shore of Lake Victoria, where we refueled and went through immigration and customs, we departed for our next destination, Kisoro in Uganda.

480 nm through Tanzania and 5 hours on Hobbs

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