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Panama (Pearl Islands)

03-04 MAR 2020

Still March 2nd. Peru and Ecuador answered, but no good news. Peru wrote me that my Class 3 medical is not accepted in Peru and Ecuador told me I have to request permission via their system called QUIPUX and for this I need a ground handler. Conveniently, they immediately forwarded my permit request to a gentleman with an hotmail email account who offered to do this for me for 850 dollar. I think I need to look myself for a ground handler.

March 3rd. Used the time and took off for Isla Contadora, in the north of a group of islands called "Pearl Islands". After takeoff from Albrook's runway 02, I got a clearance that took me right between the skyscrapers and the presidential area. ATC kept me low. But the 140 is not a climber anyhow.

After flying in 1500 ft for 20 minutes, I was finally allowed to climb. But before I reached 3000 ft I already had to descent towards Isla Contadora. It looks promising.

Contadora's runway is 700m x 15m. As experienced since I arrived in Panama, wind was blowing from the north, so I chose 35. Landing was not easy, due to a strong downdraft right at the runway threshold. We will have a look at that side later.

Mine was the only aircraft on the island. Grass parking, setting tie-down nails possible, but I judged it not necessary.

Later, a small military transport appeared. As usual, the pilot's looked at my odd plane.

Contadora currently has a few small hotels and two open beach bars. I chose this one for my first (non-alcoholic) drink.

Let's have a look at the map. What is next? There are several small and medium sized runways in the Pearl islands. Gustavo had explained me that for some of those labeled "private" a flightplan can only be filed, if I have prior permission to come. What about MPFE on Isla Pedro Gonzalez? A brand new private runway, 1000m long and 30m wide, an A319 could land there. I decided to go there the next day, but first I checked in in the Contadora Inn and walked for 2 hours, until I had seen all of Contadora.

For example, its largest beach. Completely deserted.

The large hotel there is only a wooden skeleton. Seems the owner had given it up long time ago. Later I learned, that the people who inherited it, couldn't agree on what to do. Someone told me, the Hilton group had offered 50 Million US$ for the whole beach area. I actually saw many ruins on Contadora. Which is strange, when you think how much money goes into Panama City, just a few miles away. The sand is white and the water has an azul color and it is clear. Like in the Caribean. Unlike all the pacific-side beaches of Panama, I had seen so far.

The approach end of runway 35, where I had this downdraft. What caused it? I had a good headwind, so the wind blew over it and suddenly had to fill the hole below. I guess, this created the downdraft. What I liked with this runway is that there is no obstruction on both ends of the runway. See that they even stopped the barbed wire, to allow aircraft to approach or depart unobstructed? A good idea, if you have only 700m.

Occasionally, you find villa on Contadora. Apparently, some Millionaires have already started to use it as a retreat, close to the city. Will they build hangars for their planes here one day?

A restaurant, overlooking another beautiful beach. I think there are between 50 and 100 tourists on the whole island, most of them from USA, Canada and Europe. They usually stay for 2 or 3 days. The ones I spoke to all complained that Contadora is too expensive for what it offers. Gustavo already warned me that staying there is expensive. Prices are usually twice of what you pay in Panama City, so come and enjoy a day on the beautiful beaches, but better don't stay on the island for the night.

March 4th. I slept well. My room was only a few meters from the runway and very quiet. I think there are not more then 3 - 5 aircraft take offs and landings per day. During my whole 22 hour stay on Contadora, I saw only one other plane. In the morning, I saw the birds and made this picture of them. After take off, I nearly collided with one of them. He saw me coming (I think I saw the fear in his eye) and did an emergency evasive maneuver. He folded his wings, and dived below my aircraft to avoid it. It all happened in a split second a few meters ahead of the prop.

My flightplan to MPFE on Isla Pedro Gonzalez showed a flight time of 10 minutes, but I did some sight-seeing detours to enjoy the beautiful Pearl Islands.

Who built this huge runway on top of that island?

Approaching MPFE runway 01.

Parking in a corner of the plataforma. Nothing here. Just the runway, a little plataforma and a path leading into the jungle.

I took the path and met a worker. He was a talker. Didn't stop as long as we were together. I understood that a group of about 100 workers dynamited the runway out of the rocky island ground, builds streets and water supplies, operates large diesel engines for electricity and prepares the island for building houses. Someone invests a lot. He said, the locals are happy with this, it will make them all rich.

Currently, they aren't rich. We entered the small, poor village of fishermen and I bought some water and cookies for breakfast in the small island store which gets its supplies every 2 weeks by boat.

The village has an elementary school, but the bigger kids visit schools in Panama city. There is not much to do on Isla Pedro Gonzalez. There are no streets, no cars, no shops. The restaurant was closed. The kids watched offline movies with their smartphones, there was no cell network or internet.

Back at the runway. Locals walk their dogs, crossing the runway casually.

After spending about 2 hours on the island, I took off again.

It was getting warm and I flew low, so I flew with open window.

I circumnavigated some of the islands. Many show little sign of civilization.

Some have beautiful beaches.

Hello reader!

While flying here, you are in contact with Panama Radio. I heard other traffic on that frequency, opening and closing flight plans all the time, but didn't hear much on the Unicom frequency, to which Radio usually sent you, once you reported that you have the field in sight and want your flightplan closed.

San Miguel is the biggest of the Pearl Islands. On its northern shore, there is a poor looking village and right next to it a 600m x 10m runway. Gustavo warned me that it is a difficult one. I wanted to try it.

It is oriented 02/20. There is terrain rising up to 732 ft just south of the runway, which has an elevation of 66 ft. Winds from the north. I decided for a right pattern 02, to stay clear of the village just west of the runway. My plan was a full stop, but I made it a touch and go, because due to the terrain I came in too high for a safe full stop. I think with some practice, it is safely doable, but my fuel was getting low and I decided to head back to Panama City.

Over the Pacific again. Initially in 3500, but then I had to duck below the approaches into Tocumen and crossed the waiting ships in 1500.

The entrance to the canal.

Approaching Allbrook.

As I was parking the aircraft. Gustavo called me and invited me to lunch. Best clams and Pizza I had for a long time.

March 5th, I didn't fly. I went to see Panama's only FAA designated AME (flight doctor). I had no appointment and when I showed up at 8 AM, the receptionist sent me away and said I should come back at 6 PM. Spent the day at the Miraflores canal locks. Picture shows the first pacific-side lock. They expanded the canal a few years ago, this is one of the old locks.

From the terrace on the roof of the Miraflores visitor center, you can see ships passing through the locks. Then I watched the new Imax movie: "A land divided, a world united", praising the canal and its recent extension. Later, I idled in the huge Allbrook Mall and enjoyed lunch there with Ibu, Gustavo and Henry. At 17:30 I showed up at the doctor again. Waited until 19:30, everyone working there was slowly going home. Then Dr. Staff had time for me. He did a full Class 2 Medical with me and I am grateful that he did it that late. Medical was no problem, but I got scared, when we initially couldn't print the certificate. I expected him telling me that I have to come back next week to get it, but then, suddenly, the printer decided to print it and everything was fine. I sent the certificate to Peru the next day and immediately got my Permit for Peru.

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