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Back in Lib Mandi

19-26 AUG 2021

Peru was hit hard by COVID. Lock-down during the first wave lang and strict and international air travel was completely banned for nearly a year. I wanted to go back, badly, but it just wasn't possible. In July 2021 the Peruvian government started to relax the rules a bit. Luckily, Lufthansa informed me that they have no work for me in August. It became possible to go back.

But traveling is not easy these days. To start with, there are not that many flights any more, e. g. there is no direct flight from Frankfurt to Lima. Connecting in Miami or Houston is not possible, due to the US COVID restrictions, which are still in place for Europeans - even for transit passengers. I opted to fly via Colombia.

24 hour prior to boarding, I did a PCR test at the Frankfurt airport. This is now a well organized drive-through event, took only a few minutes. Filling out the health declaration now required for international travel took much longer.

August 17th, I boarded LH542 to Bogota, because Colombia didn’t enforce any quarantine restrictions. However, I had to wait there 26 hours before my connecting flight to Lima departed. Prices in Bogota were low, the Airport Hilton was as empty as the terminal with its mostly closed duty free shops. “Purpose of your visit is tourism?” The girl at the LATAM check-in counter called her supervisor, she hadn’t had such a strange case like me and didn’t know whether tourists are allowed to travel to Peru. Luckily they let me board the A320, it was nearly empty. “You have to wear two masks”, the flight attendant pointed out. They really take COVID serious in Peru.

Wearing a mask during a 12-hour flight is bad enough, but a vacation in Peru means wearing two masks over each other and all the time, while outside your hotel room. I see nobody not complying, the penalties must be pretty high.

The same driver who drove me to Lima’s Jorge Chave airport on that fateful morning 17 months ago, picked me up and brought me to the very same hotel which I had left in a hurry: The Kauhuhu in San Bartolo. Door-to-door, getting here took 44 hours, longest commute I ever did. I had a headache and slept like a stone.

August 19th. The hotel is a quite place, I am the only guest here. Disinfection protocols are strict, they even spray the dollar bills. Chino came and we discussed our plans for N5581M. Then, I met Alberth, his mechanic, who helped me in the following days to get my 140 airworthy again.

For 17 months, N5581M was parked in a hangar in Lib Mandi airport, about a mile from the pacific coast. Most of the time, the Peruvian coast is a dry area, but now, in winter, it was cold and foggy and the salt in the air had corroded the unpainted aluminum terribly. I feel bad that I ever took this beauty out of the Las Vegas desert climate. We went shopping for sand paper and polishing paste.

August 20th. When we switched the battery master to on, the solenoid didn’t work. Charging the battery didn’t help, the solenoid was corroded. Alberth fixed it easily. We spent most of the time hand sanding and hand polishing the tail. The hangar doesn’t have electricity and there are no battery powered tools available, so we do everything by hand. The engine started easily and the compression was good.

August 21st. Alberth suggested to paint the firewall black and the cowling white from the inside, so we spent most of the day on the cowling.

Alberth replaced corroded parts of the cowling with new parts he crafted out of 2024-T3 aluminum sheets and hand-riveted them to the cowling. Meanwhile, I cleaned the cowling from decade-old engine grease and sanded the grill.

August 22nd. My fourth day in San Bartolomé. It started to become a routine. Every morning I rode Chino's bicycle the two miles from my hotel to Lib Mandi airport. The mornings were colder than I expected for sea level at latitude 12 degrees south, the ocean didn't look promising to me, but I always saw surfers in the water.

The A & P with inspection authority came, completed the annual inspection prepared by Alberth and me and signed the logbooks, allowing me to complete my request to Peru's DGCA to fly to a few airports in central Peru. Plan was to fly from Lib Mandi to Pisco, Nazca and Ica between August 24th and 28th.

With the annual completed and the permit requested, I relaxed a bit. Chino allowed me to fly his Ultralight out of a dust strip just a mile away from Lib Mandi. He is the president of the local flying club "Alas del Mar". Chino flies everything, from helicopters to parachutes.

August 23rd. Alberth and I continued to sand and polish the airframe. To protect the pure aluminum, we finished by applying a clear coating. We taxied the 140 to the fuel pump and filled all tanks with the precious Avgas. I loaded all the equipment I wanted to take for the coming four-day trip and did a detailed flight planning after I listening to a local CFI. Late in the evening, I received the permission from the DGCA. N5581M was allowed to fly again.

August 24th. It had been cloudy since I arrived, but the clouds got lower and denser each day. When I was finally ready to fly, the mountain tops were in clouds and only 700 ft traffic pattern were possible. Lib Mandi is uncontrolled, but it is a private airfield with a flight school and the person in the tower took his job seriously. It took me some time to convince him (in Spanish) to let me go.

N5581M is flying again. Close to the mountains and just below the clouds. But unfortunately, the weather didn't improve, and I had to give up the planned and permitted cross country tour through central Peru.

August 26th. With the weather not improving, I flew another 20 traffic pattern, because for me, being unfamiliar with the area, nothing else was safely possible. I had forgotten how much fun it is to fly this little taildragger. You have to be quick with the rudder and this creates a symbiotic closeness between pilot and aircraft. She responds without lag; she feels like an extension of your own body. Very different from the nose draggers.

August 27th. With the weather stil not improving, I decided to give up and return to Germany. The main job here in Peru is done. N5581M is ready. As soon as Chile and Argentina welcome foreigners and my job allows it, I will be back, completing this epic journey.

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