A Journal, with Pictures

Panama

by on Mar.17, 2018, under Flying

On Sunday, February 25th, we did the most demanding day of the trip. Because of the drive from Antigua to Guatemala City and customs uncertainty, plus a refueling stop for 12 airplanes we had to leave Antigua very early in the morning (6:00am departure). When we arrived in Guatemala City in the morning we had to re-position our planes to customs, clear customs, then take off. We flew two and a half hours to Liberia, Costa Rica, did the approach, had the normal 30 knot gusts, landed, refueled and with the help of the great handlers were back in the air for the two hour and forty minute flight to Panama City’s GA airport. The FBO and customs in Panama were very good (customs in the FBO) and we were off to our hotel in the center of the old city. The first full day we went to the canal exhibition site to view the original canal Miraflores locks (first Pacific side locks), in the distance we could see the Pedro Miguel Locks (Lake level). The exhibition center included a museum that told the history and the operations as well as information about the new larger locks that operate in parallel to the original canal. The history is very interesting and the engineering and construction are clearly an amazing human accomplishment. The French tried and failed in the 1880’s and the US finished in 1914. The original canal consists of three sets of locks, a man made lake (Lake Gaton) that span roughly 45 miles across the isthmus of Panama and some of the most inhospitable swamp, jungle and mountains in the world. There were over 25,000 lives lost between the French and American efforts, mostly to yellow fever and malaria.

Our second day we had several choices for tours, one being taking the train to the Caribbean side and visiting Colon and the one we choose which was to take a boat trip onto the lake. We got a taste of the jungle that borders the lake and ships transiting this part of the canal. An interesting factoid is the lake took seven years to form after completion of the locks, supplied primarily by the Chagres river.

We had a good time in Panama with shopping near our hotel, and most everyone was sporting a new Panama hat, we had group dinners in local restaurants in addition to one night in the hotel, lunch on roof top restaurants gave us a great view of the new skyline. The last night after dinner we enjoyed a show that featured local dancers in local costumes.

Panama was extremely interesting and for those interested David McCullough’s “Path between the Seas” is a must read. This was another stop on the trip that was worth the trip alone.  The next morning we fly back to Liberia for an overnight then on to Tapachula.

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Panama to Tapachula

by on Mar.15, 2018, under Flying

We had a rather leisurely departure on Wednesday February 28th, since we only had a three hours flight back to Liberia, Costa Rico, where we would overnight. The departure was easy with customs formalities well organized and after pre-flight the twelve Cirrus were lined up for take off from Marcos A. Gelabert International (Panama’s general aviation airport). As we climbed out we made a left turn and below was the entrance to the Panama canal and the Miraflores locks, quite a sight. Of course there always has to be a little excitement, so Panama ATC changed our route so here we go fly the airplane with one hand and punch in the route changes with the other, while taking in the sights. Easy flight back to Liberia and of course 30 knot gusts down the runway for our landing. Some went to the beach, others just relaxed at the hotel near the airport until the group dinner.

The next morning we have to go through the main terminal to clear customs, load the bags, pre-flight and we are off for the three hour flight to Tapichula, Mexico. For most of the flight we enjoyed a great view of the volcano’s that form the mountain range of Central America. An interesting sight is the active volcano rising out of Lake Managua, in Nicara. The forecast was for clear skies, but they got it a little wrong for our destination and we did a very interesting VOR DME approach into the airport. Welcome back to Mexico, customs and immigration, very interesting, but soon we are on our way to Argovia, Finca (plantation) resort, which is a working coffee plantation. The resort is in the mountains and up a winding road, but not to fear, there is a stop for  snacks and cold cerveza,  so the hour and a half drive was good.

We are taken to our casitas, which are sprinkled along a ridge down a stone trail in a jungle like setting. The units are rustic, but clean with everything you need, plus a veranda over looking the valley with a spectacular view. We all relax, in our case with a cold bottle of wine on the veranda, then we are off to the group dinner. It’s a fun evening, with lots of conversation and laughter, capped off by a surprise to Joyce, birthday cake and champagne with a  serenade by the wait staff.

The next day the owner of Argovia, Bruno Guseman, third generation plantation owner gives us a tour and explanation of growing, picking, processing, roasting and brewing coffee. Bruno made a special trip from Tapachula to personally conduct the tour, and he not only educated us but totally charmed us. In addition to coffee, Bruno explained that Argovia Finca had diversified, and was producing a wide range of products ranging from flowers to hard wood in addition to operating the resort.

After the tour Bruno took us through his personal home, which was constructed of hard wood and could have been the set for a movie and was,surrounded by beautiful gardens. We then had lunch, some toured the flower operation, some relaxed or went to the spa. We then had our last briefing for the trip back to Brownsville, before our last dinner together.

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Back in the good old U.S.A.

by on Mar.15, 2018, under Flying

We arrived back in Brownsville after a four hour flight from Tapachula, to Tampico, Mexico clear customs, refuel then an hour and a half on to Brownsville. Due to late changes made by some of the group, the flight plans for all the other planes got “confused” by Mexican ATC. We spent the first 20 minutes out of Tapachula changing flight plans in the air then changing them back after Rick negotiated with the controllers. This again, re-enforced the lesson learned several times during the trip do the planning before you start the trip or you and your fellow pilots will pay the price. Tampico, was the best foreign airport experience of the trip which was fitting since Brownsville customs was excellent, so we returned to the land of good airport service we enjoy in the U.S.

That evening, those who stayed over, Rick, Connie, David and Elizabeth, Joyce and I had a very jolly evening of cocktails and dinner at a near by Italian restaurant. It was a celebration of great experiences and new friends made. The next morning we were in the air at 8:00am headed back to Hilton Head with a fuel stop in Hammond, LA. Tail winds eighty percent of the way so it was a great way to finish an incredible adventure. 5560 nautical miles and 44 hours of flying over very interesting and beautiful landscape, with visits to fascinating places, with a great group of people, it doesn’t get much better than that.  After a steak grilled on our very own barbecue, a fine bottle of wine and sleep in our own bed, we agreed it was nice to be back in the good old U.S.A.

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Christmas 2017

by on Dec.29, 2017, under Family

Christmas weekend started with Caitlin and Kinsey coming to Hilton Head on Thursday, with Heidi having outpatient surgery done Friday. Friday Jennifer, Mike and Alexandra arrived in the evening from Florida. Saturday morning Jennifer organized the traditional gingerbread house baking and construction and there as lots of other holiday baking. Kinsey declared that her gingerbread house was hit by hurricane Mathew, Caitlin’s was sturdy and nice but the prize went to Alexandra for prettiest house (pictured below).  Early Saturday afternoon we all traveled to the Chechessee cottage and to our surprise Heidi was there recovering. Gary and Brenn arrived Christmas eve morning. Christmas eve was spent playing games, watching college football, enjoying each others company, capped off by a fine dinner.

Christmas morning the excitement was high and yes Santa had delivered lots of gifts. There was lots of happines, but the highlight was Brenn shedding tears of joy when he opened his tickets to the Collage Football National Championship game. We all teared up and it capped off a great morning. We then had a big Christmas brunch then everyone enjoyed their gifts and socialized. In the afternoon we watched the San Francisco 49ers pull off an impressive win over the Jaguars who were favored. We then enjoyed a traditional prime rib Christmas dinner. We spent Boxing day doing more family things, with some shopping, working out and playing with new toys, before Gary and Mike arrived with Barbecue dinner. The Prado’s went back to Savannah on Wednesday and Montgomery’s to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday. It was a great family Christmas.

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Thanksgiving 2017

by on Nov.29, 2017, under Family

Joyce and I flew to Fort Lauderdale the day before Thanksgiving. Great flight and then time for Jen and Joyce to spring into action preparing for tomorrows feast. Dinner out a fun Italian restaurant, eat light so you are ready for turkey? Thanksgiving day was great, with the traditional dinner and quality time with family. Alexandra was in charge of the official picture and did a fine job.

Friday after Thanksgiving we drove into Miami to the Wynwood Walls area to me Dennis and Jill Haber and Dennis’s sister Arlene for lunch. We had a great lunch and a great visit. We then toured the area visiting a neat little car museum and taking in the incredible street art.

We then returned to Jen and Mikes home, and Jen did some shopping (Black Friday) and Mike and Gil went to the shooting range. Dinner at home and Saturday we flew back to Hilton Head another great flight. Another super Thanksgiving with family.

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Maine 2017

by on Nov.19, 2017, under Flying

Joyce and I flew to Maine for our 2017 lobster fix and a COPA fly-in at Bar Harbor. We delayed our flight by a day and left October 16th for Owls Head, Maine. We flew in perfect weather to Delaware for lunch then over JFK with a great view of N.Y. City then on to Maine. Head winds the whole way so it was a long 8 hours in the air. We stayed at the Inn at Sunrise Point, above Camden, which is one of our favorite places. We toured the area again and soaked in the beautiful Maine fall colors and coastal beauty as well as consumed great New England sea food. Joyce found a great wooden carved mermaid that will be perfect for our cottage and of course they ship.

On Thursday we flew the 20 minute flight to Bar Harbor to join the 40+ other Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) members for a fly-in. We spent a jolly three days in Bar Harbor, dinning together, touring Cadillac Mountain and going out on the water to sail around the Bar Harbor area, see old light houses and learn about the great history of the area. The weather was perfect, the fall colors were on full display and socializing with fellow pilots was the best. Rhonda and Mike did an incredible job of organizing the fly-in of over 20 Cirrus aircraft, THANKS. On Sunday we flew back to Hilton Head and sure enough we had a head wind the whole way. We traversed 12 states and only one had weather in one, our destination, South Carolina. We did an instrument approach into Hilton Head and ended a great week of flying fun on a positive note.

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Weddings in Oregon

by on Aug.03, 2017, under Family

We flew to Oregon for two joyous events, the weddings of Brian Littlefield (nephew) to Lynda Mathews and my brother Mike Williamson to Laticia Stryker. We stayed in Bend, Oregon, where my brother lives, then traveled to Salem the site of the rehearsal dinner and wedding. We stayed in Salem at the beautiful Oregon gardens.

Oregon Gardens


Rehearsal Dinner

The wedding was outdoors in a beautiful setting, followed by dinner.

Brian and Lynda’s wedding

We traveled back to Bend stopping at the Willamette Valley vineyard to taste wine and have lunch with Mike, Laticia and cousin Kayle. We liked the Pinot, and sent a case back to South Carolina.

Oregon Wine Country

On Monday we traveled to Camp Sherman, Oregon for Mike and Laticia’s wedding in a beautiful wooded setting, followed by dinner. Laticia had a fabulous photographer who did not want competition so these images were taken with my spy camera. It was a wonderful wedding enjoyed by the whole family.

Mike and Laticia’s wedding

We returned to Bend with my sister Patty and her husband Lenny and the next day had lunch with Mike and Laticia. During the week end we had the occasion to reunite with our family in Oregon including my three sisters (Suzy, Patty and Tina) and their husbands and children as well as of course Mike. We decided it was time to have a family reunion and include all of the east coast contingent next year. Patty is in charge so we know it will happen. Joyce and I got up very early Wednesday and flew back to South Carolina. It was a great weekend which we will be reminded of as we sip the very nice Oregon, Pinot Nior that is on its way.

 

 

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Beijing

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

We embarked to China on May 5th, 2017 for a three week tour of China. The trip was organized by our friend Tony Huffman who employed Imperial Tours of China that turned out to be a great experience. We had a China host, Lotus Qi, who accompanied us for the entire three weeks and in each city a guide and in some cases special guides for a particular area. We stayed at great hotels, and had a private car and driver  in each location. I do not comment in each city about the food, but we ate at the best restaurants, mostly Chinese, but also international cuisine. We laughed at “another light Chinese lunch”, because every meal was a feast, orchestrated by our Chinese Foodie, Lotus. We had the best Pizza we ever had in China (Truffle Pizza) and the best French Toast. We ate our way through China. We also witnessed what has been called the “Chinese Economic Miracle”, which has produced an infrastructure now world class and the largest middle class in the world. I will save my comments of what I have learned about the Chinese system of Governing and the “Economic Miracle” for a separate blog that I will post later and just focus on the sights of China for now.

We arrived in Beijing and were met by Lotus and taken to the Peninsula Hotel. As we were descending into the area the first thing that struck us was the huge  number of high rise apartment buildings and how modern the Airport and other infrastructure was. Beijing is a city of twenty two million covering about one hundred square miles. We had a good flight, but having done this many many times, I concluded I’m getting old, won’t go work out right way. Our first day was spent touring Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City and doing a tour of the Hutong district of Beijing.

Across the street from Tian’anmen Square is the Forbidden City the Imperial Palace of the Emperors of China. This complex served as the home and seat of power for 24 emperors, their courts and harems from 1420 to 1924.

 

Of course we had a lunch of Peking Duck, which was great, but I said I would not obsess about the food but it was special having Peking Duck in Peking. We then did a tour of the Hutong, means alley ways, which was an exclusive neighborhood before the revolution.

On our second day in China, which was a Sunday, we visited The Temple of Heaven. This structure was build in 1420, using no nails, and was where the Emperor would visit twice a year for three days to meditate on the affairs of God and man. On the way to the Temple we visited an exercise park paid for by the Welfare Lottery, that’s right, no entitlements in China. We also witnessed mothers in the park soliciting wives for their sons, since the one child policy has produced a thirty million man surplus. Another example of unintended consequences when governments meddle in the peoples business.

 

After the Temple of Heaven we visited Beijing’s Art District that was created from a Cold War arms factory. This area was very lively and an impressive use of Factory 798.

On our last day in Beijing we visited the Summer Palace and then traveled out to the Great Wall. The Summer Palace was rebuilt in 1888 by the Empress Dowager Cixi and consists of 3000 buildings, gardens and ponds, around the man made Kunning Lake.

The Great Wall was built to protect China from predatory nomads, and is an impressive structure with questionable effectiveness. This again demonstrates that a government project is hard to stop once started. We saw the wall and were surprised to learn that a private luncheon was catered for us, on top of the wall.

 

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Xi’an

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Xi’an is a modern city  of eight million people including a million students attending fifty universities. It is an agriculture center with both the Yellow and Yangtze  rivers flowing through the area. It is most know for the Terracotta Warriors, the 8,000 man army that Emperor Qin had built to serve him in the after life. The Qin dynasty (259 BC) was pivotal, as he was credited with unifying China into a single nation.  The Tomb and Warriors were discovered in 1976 and now have become a major tourist attraction in China. Xi’an was the place where the Silk Road began and today there remains a significant Muslim population. In addition to the Terracotta Warriors there is Shaanxi History Museum, that features the Tang Dynasty murals. The city itself is interesting in that the four mile wall around the historic central city remains intact.

We had another cultural experience in Xi’an, learning to make dumplings. We love Chinese dumpling, and now know that the Chinese should make the dumplings, but they are yummy. We also toured one of the few City Walls to survive the cultural revolution.

We toured the Muslim market and Mosque, a historic carryover from the trade silk road trade route that terminated in Xi’an.

The Mosque is in the Market area and when we visited there was a Muslim funeral service in progress.

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Tibet

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

We visited Lhasa in Tibet, which is at twelve thousand feet. Our hotel was the Shangri La in Old Lhasa. New Lhasa has been built by the Chinese since their occupation. As with the rest of China, they have rebuilt the infrastructure around old Tibet and in this case moved in a lot of Chinese. What Tibet is all about is Buddhism with  ninety percent of the population practicing the faith, and they practice it hard.  We mainly visited monasteries, the Dali Lama’s Palaces, with some time spent in the market. Our guide was intent on converting us to Buddhism, but I flunked catechism so there was no hope. Our first visit was to was to the Jokhang Monastery then the Barkhor Sera Monastery and finally the debating gardens, where the monks debate philosophy daily. They seem to enjoy it. For me Tibet was mostly about the interesting images of the pilgrims and monks.

Our lunch on the first day was served on the mountainside overlooking New Lhasa.

Our second day was spent touring the Summer and Winter Palace of the Dali Lama (Currently exiled in India), so it’s for pilgrims and tourist. The Portala Palace (Winter Palace) sits on a hill over looking Old Lhasa, the summer palace is in Old Lhasa. The Buddhist scriptures are are too voluminous to read, so the faithful spin prayer wheels to absorb the meaning. The Temples and Palace are lit by Yak butter candles and there are contributions of money at virtually every stop made by the pilgrims. The summer palace grounds are used for family picnics and we were amused to see one family carrying a case of Budweiser beer of course made in China. The Chinese including the Tibetans are addicted to smart phones and we noted even the monks were head down communicating. The Chinese equivalent to Twitter or Facebook is called Wechat and has nine hundred million users.

 

On our last day in Tibet we visited the Ganden Monastery which was my penalty for flunking the first two day of Buddhism. It is at fourteen thousand four hundred feet above sea level and involved lots of hiking including a hike on a pilgrims trail (What am I doing this for?). On our way back we past through New Lhasa (very modern) and then in old Lhasa visited a typical Tibetan market area.

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