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Turks & Caicos, Bahamas trip (2005)
This is a copy of our E-Mails from out trip to the Turks & Caicos, Bahamas. My wife and I took this trip in November 2005 in our RV6A. It was one of the most fun trips that I have ever been on.
Don & Joan McMullen
Hello, here’s the short story so far. I got a flu shot and got a mild flu.
Friday was the second day and I was starting to feel better so we departed east for wherever. We left late about 10:00am and after taking off and climbing to 15,500 ft on auto pilot I needed to doze and let Joan lookout for airplanes. She must have done a good job because I am writing this. After stopping in Arizona for fuel and lunch, we did the same thing to Pecos, Texas. Going east you can’t believe how fast the sun goes down and it was very dark by the time we got there. We called the FBO guy on the radio and he waited for us and gave us a ride to the hotel. His wife picked us up the next morning. Very nice people, very nice place.
We heard on the TV news that another possible hurricane was forming off Honduras.
Saturday when we departed Pecos and headed east it was to see how far we could get. After stopping in Brenham, Texas for lunch at a nice 50’s restaurant that was highly recommended by the pilots where we had stopped for gas. We flew on to Opelousas, LA. When we got there at 4:30 pm everyone was gone. Lucky we had cell service so we started calling hotels and finally found one that was willing to come and get us. Not only did they pick us up at they airport they took us to a nice Chinese restaurant and came and picked us up. So here we are in our $35 room (not the Ritz) but ok.
Sunday 11/20/05 we departed around 11:00 am in light rain and overcast at 4000 ft. We flew for a little while but had to stop for fuel in Fairhope AL.
after departing there the ceilings started dropping making it very hard to maneuver around all the airspaces so I went IFR. They gave me 5000 ft. and a direct to Zephyr Hills Florida, straight across all the restricted airspaces and gulf. We were in IMC most of the time with large fluctuations in altitude due to winds, and rain and clouds. I miscalculated again and we arrived at dark about 6 pm. Luckily the ceiling was very high about 5000 ft. Some nice guy at the FBO gave us a ride to the Best Western hotel with a wireless hotspot.
The weather report states that the hurricane is dissipating……More to come later.
Don & Joan
Due to many lines of thunderstorms across our path south so Joan and I decided to stay put for another day in Zephyrhills Fl. If it is good tomorrow we will leave early in the morning and try to go all the way to Provinciales in the Turks & Ciacos with a stop in Homestead for fuel and to file an International flight plan.
Hello again everyone.
Didn’t report on the most important part of Monday – antique shops galore in the nearby town of Dade City…we rented a car, drove there, had lunch in a little Cuban place and Joan looked in many of the antique shops while Don read. The sky got darker and darker and finally opened up to release a deluge. Joan got stuck under a big tree as Don had left the car to take a walk. It stopped raining hard after about 6 minutes.
Today we awoke to clear skies and very windy conditions from the north and colder. We departed Zephyrhills, Florida, early 8:00am for Homestead airport X51. The flight took about an hour. We fueled up, filed IFR for Providenciales because of a ceiling and lots of build up (IFR was controlled by Miami center all through the Bahamas and T & C islands) We had a good tailwind about 20 to 40 kts. so it only took just over 3 hrs. We got a hotel close to the airport to stay over night and then on to Grand Turk in the morning. This part of town near the airport including our hotel looks depressed and rundown. The FBO and customs people are friendly. It is raining tonight with lots of clouds - I hope for better wx in the morning - wish me luck.
We departed with broken, overcast skies around 5000 ft. and flew direct to Grand Turk and took a taxi to the Osprey Beach Hotel. It is very windy -30
kts- and overcast with rough surf. Our room opens onto a patio that has a seawall and ocean breaking beyond. The Osprey hotel is very nice, we like it and we decide to stay for 3 days. Joan and I walked all over town and found out where everything is so we can know what to do tomorrow. Don plans to sit at the internet café in order to mail this and Joan plans to buy a phone card to phone family members for Thanksgiving. (Our cell phone carrier, Verizon, does not have service here). It is not a holiday here – they are a British territory. The youngsters just got out of school and wear clean uniforms composed of a white shirt and navy jumper. This area too has evidence of a depressed economy with abandoned construction, rundown streets needing repair and trash heaps. We bought a few items in the market. This whole area resembles Baja. We heard the grocery store clerk conversing with a customer but couldn’t tell what language they were speaking. Don asked the liquor store clerk and she said they speak Spanish. Not a Spanish we recognize….probly a local dialect, more akin to Cuban Spanish. We walked down the street for dinner –conch and grouper and delicious. We met two young couples (our age) from Tampa, FL, who had flown in just after we did and invited us to eat with them. A nice evening.
Friday November 25, 2005
Hello Everyone-we’ve been gone one week today and Joan is finally getting into the spirit of the Islands. Today and yesterday we explored the island of Grand Turk on foot. Don tried to convince Joan to rent bicycles but with Joan was uncomfortable with riding. Just over little things like being out of practice and worried about breaking a hip and getting stuck here. It is a small island, only about 6 or 7 miles long but the resort info says it has a hospital. We found the museum and enjoyed it. Then we bought a local meal being sold in front of the post office by some women: peas and rice, baked chicken and macaroni salad. It was delicious. Later, Joan had fun walking on the beach collecting shells and beach glass of all sorts. Don tried snorkeling out from our hotel but the water is too murky from the wind swell. Perhaps in the Bahamas it will be better? Tomorrow we plan to leave and head somewhere north to clear Bahamian customs – we have some good ideas for resorts from talking to pilots. Talk to you at the next wireless hot spot.
Don & Joan
11-26-05 – Saturday Joan’s Happy Birthday
It took awhile to disembark from Grand Turk due to the Customs and/or Immigration agents being disorganized, but they finally cleared us and we left there after 10 a.m. We flew to Great Inagua, a Bahamian port of entry.
The island is a nature preserve for flamingos and other birds and a Morton salt company business…and no tourism. It took about 10 minutes after we landed before a white pickup truck full of big, burley, black men drove up - the immigration agents. The little run-down airport was empty when we landed. We almost rolled into an area where two huge U.S. Coast Guard helicopters were parked but they waved us away. As you can tell no one here is in a hurry, they are on Island time. After the Customs men drove off it took about 15 minutes for the gas truck to arrive and fill us up…giving us a receipt labeled Morton Company.
Don wanted to land on Crooked Island at Pittstown Point runway and resort to inquire about activities and rates. We were underimpressed and only had lunch. We enjoyed talking to the young couple who are in the process of purchasing it…..they are both from Jackson, WY originally.
We had read about Stella Maris Runway and Resort on Long Island and decided to forge ahead and are happy we did. . After a short taxi ride, we registered and had a complimentary rum punch and later took a long walk on the beach. It is a huge compound on a gentle rolling hillside on the Atlantic, run by two German men. We have a lovely room with balcony and ocean view. We will go kayaking and snorkeling tomorrow and look for seashells on a nearby beach and decide where to light down on Monday. The birthday dinner was Pan fried island Grouper with fried plantain, linguini, breadsticks, and French green beans. And, of course, Chocolate cake. Will need to run on the beach tomorrow.
11/27/05 Sunday – Stella Maris, Long Island Bahamas
Today Joan decided she would go for a walk on the beach and look for seashells and I went kayaking with some other pilots we had met. Joan and I met for lunch and then Peter one of the owners offered to drive us to Cape Santa Maria on the north end of the Isand where he knew there was good snorkeling. The water was crystal clear with many colorful fish, schools of fish, and all sorts of beautiful sea plants & coral. Joan got many lovely seashells as we walked (about a mile one way) to the snorkel site.
We had a nice dinner and started planning our next destination. We had talked to lots of people about where to go and finally decided to go to Staniel Cay on Exuma Island. We called ahead and made reservations at the yacht club Mon. morning -not too expensive $148. per night minus 20% Pilot discount, plus taxes and other fees.
11/28/05 Monday – arrive at Staniel Cay, Exuma Island
We got up early, 7:00am, early for us. When Joan emptied the seashells from her day pack she found a displaced hermit crab who wondered why his shell was in such a strange place. Joan took him down to the beach in a plastic bag and found him a new home which he liked because he immediately took possession of it. We checked out and took the short taxi ride to the airport. We paid cash for the gas bill at $4.75 per gallon. Other fees are: landing fee $7. and 2 nights parking at $7. a night They would have taken a credit card for a 5% service charge but we’d read to bring cash to avoid some of these extra charges.
We took the short half-hour flight over to Staniel Cay where many young men arrived in golf carts and complimented Don on his airplane. Tyrone charged us and told us to drive the golf cart to the Staniel Bay Yacht Club with directions. Joan and I checked into our cottage – the Blue cottage. It is a cute little place right on the water with our own dock. It is beautiful here. The water is crystal clear and you can see the bottom everywhere. This is the place where they made the movie Thunderball. Joan and I plan on exploring the caves and grotto where much of the movie was filmed.
Joan and I ate lunch at the yatch club bar/restaurant. To give you an idea of meal prices, lunch was $34.50 for two conch sandwiches with small salad and three diet cokes. As we were finishing lunch 2 young American couples came in with 4 little children for lunch – probably from their yacht moored nearbly in the marina. We are going to take a walk around and check out the little community.
More later .
Don & Joan
Today Joan and I rented a 13-foot boat with a 30 hp motor. It really zipped along. We explored many of the tiny cays (pronounced keys) of the Exumas, north and south of Staniel Cay. We motored through marinas; stopped at beautiful beaches, saw lavish homes on the waterway with docks for the owner ’s yachts. We stopped at the Bitter Guava Cay populated with the endangered species, the curly tailed Iguana. The iguana we saw could have been waiting for a handout as he was posed just under the sign warning that they are a protected species. The best part was snorkeling on an isolated coral “rock” where we saw exotic corals and seaweed with ethereal, luminescent fish. And of course, the cave made famous by the James Bond Thunderball movie thriller. It was really neat. The cave, or grotto, was a huge dome inside a volcanic (?) rock and went far under the island. Sunlight came through holes in the ceiling. There were fish of all sorts and sizes to swim with. There is a “no fishing” sign posted at the entrance. Many people feed the fish and it makes them swarm around in schools thinking they are going to get fed. We forgot to get old bread from the kitchen, and did not want to share our potato chips. One of the bolder fish took a bite out of Joan’s thigh. It scared her but after she got in the boat it was sort of funny, and we took a picture of the wound. Don says it was a Piranha. We rented the boat for $65. for a half day, or 5 hours, plenty of time to do everything we wanted to do. We also went to the Cay where the swimming pigs live. Two came running out of the brush but only waded up to their bellies when they saw that we were not throwing out food.
We ended this lovely day with a beautiful sunset seen from our porch, and had another delicious fish dinner of grilled grouper and cheesecake for dessert. Tomorrow we plan to fly to Marsh Harbour on the Island of Abaco, a larger city than we have yet visited.
Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005 Marsh Harbour, Abaco Island, Bahamas
It rained this a.m. and sprinkled on us as we drove the golf cart from our Staniel Cay hotel room to the airport but not enough to bother us. We landed at the airport here and the customs/immigration man kept our arrival/departure paper for checking us out of the country tomorrow morning.
We had a recommendation for places to stay near restaurants from a pilot we met who lives in Florida and flies here frequently. So we had a taxi driver bring us to the Lofty Fig Motel and got a room with kitchenette, across from the marina. We took a walk after eating lunch – fresh grilled tuna. We thought about taking the ferry to Hopetown but the time got away with us since we needed to find a market to purchase liquid black shoe polish. This will be used to paint our plane ID number in 12” high letters as required to re-enter the U.S. We found it in a large supermarket almost like in the U.S. and also got some muffins and a plantain for breakfast (we got no bananas here). This is the largest town we have visited since we left the U.S. and an A.O.E. (airport of entry with customs/immigration).
They are supposed to even have a movie theater. We stopped at the liquor store for red wine. Although California wines dominate the available choices, we could have those any day so we picked a generic “red wine” from Spain. Don picked out 3 beers on sale for $5.00. He chose one from Jamaica, one from Belgium, and one from the Dominican Republic. He liked the Jamaican brand best. He was tickled to discover our room has wireless internet so he could check his e-mail. Joan took a nap while looking at the decorator channel- our first TV since we left Grand Turk 4 days ago. We completed paperwork we’ll need for US customs tomorrow when we fly into Fort Pierce, Florida, an airport of entry. Don will also have to file an international flight plan and notify customs of our arrival time. Don checked the weather and our path looks clear on the southern route home. Let’s hope it stays like that. Talk to you at the next wireless hot spot. They seem to be everywhere.
Don & Joan
We departed Marsh Harbour, Abaco Island around 9:00 am local. Don filed an international flight plan and called Fort Pierce customs to let them know when we were going to arrive (1 ½ hours). Joan painted the12”high required numbers on the airplane with black shoe polish and we took off bidding a fond farewell to the beautiful Bahamas.
Clearing customs in Florida was easy and we met a nice customs agent who was just about to retire and wanted to talk about it. That made it easy and fun compared to some stories we had heard. We ate lunch in the Tiki restaurant right next door to customs. They advertise that they were voted the best airport restaurant in the U.S. Joan had a grouper sandwich and I had a very delicious veggy burger. We fueled our airplane and took off with few clouds broken and scattered. We talked about what a great time we had and how we had to come back. About 3.5 hrs. Of flight and we wound up at Dothan, Alabama International airport. A cute young lady in a dress (!) flagged us into a very nice FBO. We followed her into the office where she lent us a new van (loaner car) to use. She phoned the Best Western Hotel and got us a room. Talk about Southern hospitality!
Joan was hoping we could make it home before Sunday so we can attend the EAA Holiday party Dec. 4th. I called Bob and Marion and they made arrangements for us. Thanks, Marion, for your help and calling us back with the good news that there was a cancellation that we can have.
Tomorrow we hope to make it to West Texas or further (?) The weather service told Don there will be rain and snow in parts of AZ, N.M. and west of El Paso late tomorrow -another call to wx will be made in the morning.
Joan hopes it did rain for the sake of her plants. So nice to have the use of our cell phones again….No signal in the islands.
Don & Joan
12/2/05 Friday –Fredericksburg, Texas
We departed Dothan, AL. around 9:00 am and headed west under very cold and clear skies. We stopped after 3 hours for lunch. Joan researched the airports en route and found one with a restaurant “within 3 blocks” - walking distance. It was in the small town of Welsh, Texas, between Lafayette and Lake Charles. The Cajun Tale restaurant had a buffet with some Southern favorites such as jambalaya, fried catfish, lima beans with ham, and mustard greens. Ohhhhhh Don ate too much but it was very good. They didn’t have any Av gas there so we flew for about an hour more and stopped at Cleveland Muni still in Texas. Some helpful guys there fueled us up and we talked for a while. The FBO manager recommended that we fly to Fredericksburg, Texas and stay at the airport in the Hanger Hotel with a WW II theme.
We took off and flew there and after 6 hours in the plane, it felt good to stop flying. The hotel was fabulous! From the outside it looks like an old hanger. The interior is completely remodeled and fixed up sort of like a military officers’ quarters only it’s more luxurious. Everything is new but a replica of the ‘40s. The telephone is the old black model with white dial and the chairs are distressed leather club chairs. The desk clerk called a restaurant and a man came and picked us up. After dinner we elected to walk back to the hotel in order to get some exercise. It was about ¼ mile under a clear, star-filled sky. Don is going to look at the weather and see if we can make it home tomorrow.
Talk to you later
Don & Joan
To make a long story short, we made it all the way home today after being gone 2 weeks and one day. We spent about 81/2 hours in the air.
We departed Fredericksburg, TX this morning at 8:15 am for the earliest start ever on this trip. Don departed IFR because there was layer of overcast and he was told VFR was not recommended - HA! We broke through a thin layer to find it clear all the way home to Oxnard. We had hellacious head winds that caused turbulence until after El Paso. We stopped in El Paso at Horizon airport for fuel and lunch. They loaned us a courtesy car to drive into town to eat. We made it fast because we had a long way to go.
Our next stop was Casa Grande, AZ. We fueled up and took off again. I got flight following through the LA basin to keep me out of trouble and avoid a mid-air. We crossed over Van Nuys, then Camarillo, at 2000’, and into good old Oxnard airport - what a sight – the islands were deep blue and the view of the coastline was breath taking in the crystal clear air. We arrived at twilight with the orange sun just sinking below the horizon. Jim Ayers came over to greet us and it was good to see and talk with a familiar friend.
It was not the three week trip Don hoped for, however we can’t complain. Everything in the Bahamas was more expensive than expected but we were able to do everything we wanted to do. It sure is good to be back home with our cats - vacations are a lot of work (this is Don’s opinion).
Don & Joan
The Trip Pictures: