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Colombia (getting out)

11MAR - 12MAR 2020

The flights from Medellin (SKMD) to Cali (SKCL) and from Cali via Tumaco (SKCO) to Esmeraldas (SETN) in Ecuador

March 11th. Left that amazing house early and drove to the airport. Getting today's airport ID took over an hour. Picture above shows people waiting patiently in line in order to get batched. Taxied the 140 from the AeroClub to the plataforma. Filed the flightplan. Waited for the permit in the departure hall of the terminal. Security came and said that my airport ID is only valid for the hangar area, not for this part of the airport. They made me a new airport ID, took only half an hour. Permit is now ready; we walk to the aircraft. Police checked the plane and I am ... allowed to fly? No! Wait for drug inspection. We wait for an hour, but no dogs. Rumors: The jefe de aerodrome will come and check your plane, Andreas. It is 11:30 now, I was at the airport at 7 AM and all I want is fly. An officer came, checked registration and airworthiness certificate and told me I can fly to Cali now.

For more than 4 hours, Claudia, Louis and Sergio have waited with me. It felt good, to have them around. Don't fly in Colombia without loyal local support.

Startup approved. Yes, in Colombia the mono-motors, as our small single engine piston aircraft are called, have to request startup. Which, as every pilot knows, means to turn the radio on, request and get the clearance, turn the radio off, start the engine and turn it on again. Stupid procedure! Runway 02 of course. Full length, I used every meter available. Visualized my departure route as planned the day before from that hill. It had rained heavily the day before and a lot of dirt has been washed out of the atmosphere, but it was hazy with lots of clouds. Weather is often like this, the locals said.

Take Off power. You feel the 4900 ft, it takes forever, until the tail gets up. Poor climb rate. Don't build your house in the departure area of a high elevation airport.

Circled around the hill to gain altitude. Climb rate about 100 ft per minute, so I had to circle twice.

I crossed the pass south of Medellin in 8500. It is possible to cross it even a bit lower, if you can choose the lowest pass, but sometimes this is blocked by clouds, so better have some margin.

South of Caldas, I followed the river, as suggested by Louis. Used the "fly low" tactic and got down to 6500 ft, with clouds above me covering peaks up to 13000 ft. If you follow a river (especially if you follow it downstream), you are pretty safe. It is not as dramatic as in Star Wars, the valley is wide. And you have GPS coordinates. Partially official, partially self-created waypoints, defining the valley route. It is nice to fly here.

And so quiet. Quiet? I had lost radio contact with Medellin. Apparently, 6500 is too low to stay in contact. Couldn't reach anybody for a while. North of Pereira I called Matecana Tower and they sent me to Pereira Approach. Necessary, because traffic was picking up, as I could see on my ADS-B In enabled tablet. Got vectors around the traffic. Frequency was busy like Kennedy approach. Had to deviate from an assigned heading to avoid terrain and from a cleared altitude to avoid the clouds and couldn't tell him. But I saw all the traffic and could guess for most of them what they were doing, so I chose my path to stay out of trouble. It worked. South of Armenia, everything went back to normal.

The valley widened, the clouds got lower and I flew lower too. Tried to stay out of R-5, but got a clearance back into it.

Then I saw Cali airport. Actually, it is closer to Palmira, than to Cali, but who knows Palmira? It has room for extension, there is nothing around it. Like Denver, but only half a mile high and green.

Landed and taxied to the AeroClub Pacifico, close to the north end of the runway. Gerd, Harry and Jose expected me. It is a big club, with lots of aircraft under huge shades. One was available for me, what a service! But first we taxied to a fuel pump. First time since at least 20 airports, that I used an old-fashioned fuel pump and not a truck. I like this. Feels like GA.

Jose drove me to the famous Cali Aviation & Transportation Museum , and I must say, it has really impressive collections.

From DC3s to airline silver ware, from Wright brother's flyer 1 to Gerd's Cessna 140A (newer than mine). Lots of models of historic transportation vehicles. A collection, proofing what a man can achieve, if he dedicates his life to the preservation of our history.

Gerd showed me his Stearman PT-17 from the 1930s. Thousands of US WWII pilots have had their first solo on this robust trainer.

Caribbean Flight Support booked a luxury suite in the Spiwak Hotel for me. Probably, this is what the jet set normally wants, but for me it was beyond my usual budget. In the future, I'll try to avoid having an FBO choose a hotel for me.

March 12th. Driver picked me up and drove me all the way to my plane parked at the AeroClub. Nice! Permit to leave the country should be ready, they say. I had worked on my Ecuador permit since February 29th, but still didn't have it in my hands. There are many bad guys out there, who want as much of your money as possible with the least effort. One method is, that they don't give you a quote and delay your permit until you have no other choice but pay them whatever they ask for. The authorities don't allow multiple FBOs working on your case, so if you have asked one to get you the permit, you can't ask another. And if you ask for a quote, they say that this depends of this and that and as this is not clear yet, they don't give you a quote.

Taxied from AeroClub to Cali's plataforma and began the migracion process. After less than 2 hours, I was allowed to fly to Tumaco (SKCO). There are basically two possible passes out of the valley. A lower one just northwest of Cali and a higher one 100 miles south. Cali reported broken clouds at 4000 ft (above aerodrome, which is at 3300 ft) and they blocked the pass in the northwest, so I asked ATC for a rerouting to use the pass in the south. It is 1000 ft higher, but doable in 8500. As typical, the satellite picture and visual observation confirmed there are far less clouds in the valley, than in the coastal flatlands.

But while doing my climbing circles west of Cali, I saw that the clouds hanging at the mountains topped below 8500, so I cancelled my rerouting request and went straight towards the lower pass.

West of the peaks, jungle begins. One of the world's largest rainforests. Endless green, only interrupted by brown rivers.

Small shabby settlements at the rivers. No visible roads. Most of these settlements are probably only reachable by boat. Flew over clouds, most of the time. Typical for a rainforest, I guess. Closer to the coast, some larger villages appeared. All next to a river, still no roads, but a few even had runways. In the radio, I heard the police helicopters in their working areas.

They look for drug production facilities and destroy them. My destination Tumaco is Colombia's drug capital. Ideally situated with the ocean for export (in submarines), the jungle for production & storage and a large poor, corrupt city as a hidout and hiring place. Couldn't fly direct to Ecuador, had to land in Tumaco as Escala Technica (Technical Stop), similar to Los Cedros when entering Colombia a week ago.

The airport looked like an airbase, I only saw military aircraft and men in uniform, no civilians. Tower asked me to park close to a Casa 235. Expected the worst, but nobody came. Looking for a toilet, I strolled along the whole airbase but couldn't find one.

As in Los Cedros, I filed my flight plan directly in the tower. Controller spoke perfect English. Where did you get your accent? I asked. In Medellin, he said. Refueled out of jerry cans, requested startup and taxied onto the runway.

At the take-off position, the controller told me that there is a problem with my permit to leave the country. I switched off the engine and started to sweat. It is hot and humid in Tumaco and without air from a running prop, the cockpit becomes e a steam sauna. Texted Caribbean Flight Support and after a few phone calls in the background, I got the takeoff clearance, restarted the C90 and took off. After 30 minutes, I passed the border to Colombia. Thanks to the help of my Colombian friends and Caribbean Flight Support, customs didn't take my plane and didn't fine me.

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