Three days in Lima, Peru in May

x02_02On a recent 3-day trip to Lima, Peru, not only did we have the pleasure of meeting with members of the Peruvian aviation community & flying a rented plane over Lima’s nearby barren peaks and beautiful coastline, but we also visited some of the city’s spectacular sights.  Our itinerary for the 3 whirlwind days (and blog posts for each activity):

Day One: Huaca Pucllana, Mercados Artesanal, and a self-guided cycle tour with rented bikes in Miraflores, along El Malecon, the cliff-top promenade overlooking the Oceano Pacifico.

 

Day Two: Lib Mandi Aerodromo, Playa San Bartolo, Cruz de Hueso ultra-light airstrip

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Day Three: Urban Adventures cycle tour of Morro Solar, Chorrillos, and Barranco; and a self-guided tour of the Basilica Cathedral of Lima, the historic district of Lima, and the Olive Grove Forest (Bosque El Olivar).

There are 10 million people in Lima, and the traffic is horrific.  Taxis are cheap and Uber is cheaper.  It’s a city of contrasts: sky-rises and shanty towns, manicured parks and barren hillsides, ancient ruins and upper-class manors, haute cuisine and greasy cafes. Modern meets ancientDuring the Peruvian winter (June to September), clouds frequently clot the sky along with garúa, a thick mist which is the only source of ground moisture in this subtropical desert region. Despite all the clouds, rain occurs only a few times in a century in Lima, making this the driest city on the planet.  Three days was, for us, ample time to enjoy Lima’s bustling main streets, historic plazas & architecture, and bohemian districts of artists and musicians.

Flying a Cessna over Lima, Peru

A Stearman in downtown Lima, Peru
Our aviation adventure started in the heart of Lima, where we discovered an old Stearman behind an imposing iron fence on Avenue Arequipa, Miraflores. The fence was ajar; we went in & snapped a photo. An armed guard politely but firmly prevented us from exploring further.

Lib Mandi is a privately owned and operated aerodromo in Lima, Peru.  It’s about 30 miles south of Lima; however, it’s almost a 2 hour drive to reach, not only due to traffic, but because there are so few exits off the highway.  We had to drive 30 minutes past the airport, then 30 minutes back down the other side of the divided highway to access the aerodromo entrance.

Even then, our driver almost missed the entrance to Lib Mandi, as there is no paved road; one simply pulls onto the shoulder of the highway at speed, then onto a dirt track.  Entrance to Lib Mandy
Peru has no “private” aviation and is home to only around 87 GA airplanes, all of which are commercially registered and operated, 17 of which are based in Lib Mandi.  The only way for us to rent a plane & fly as PIC was as flight students of Masters of the Sky, Lib Mandi’s sole flight school. Organizing this took place well in advance of arriving in Lima, with much assistance from, Raul, a local aviation enthusiast.

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Raul is the first one on the right, across from his brother, a retired military pilot

Aviation in Peru is far different than in Canada. It takes one year to register a newly imported plane, and during that year, the owner must pay storage fees and wages to keep a mechanic “active” for the plane. Fuel can only be purchased by those with a fuel purchasing license; this was originally done to control the use of kerosene (jet fuel) in purification of cocaine, but 100LL got caught up in the same bureaucracy. Transportation officials actively and openly discourage aviation so as to lessen their own workloads, and because Peruvian airlines prefer to hire Venezuelan pilots for half the wages of hiring Peruvians, prospects for young commercial pilots are very challenging.

Lib Mandy aerodrome, from the Control Tower
View of Lib Mandi, from the control tower

From the moment we arrived at Lib Mandi’s gate, it was clear that we were entering a markedly different aviation world.  The drive along the short entrance road into the bleak airstrip, looking up at the control tower atop its desolate hill, did nothing to dispel that unsettling feeling.Lib Mandy control towerAt Masters of the Sky, we were given headsets & high-visibility vests, then briefed by our flight instructor, a friendly Peruvian with the very non-Peruvian name of Halfdan Bryhner. The immaculate airplane was completely incongruent with the surroundings: a late-model Cessna 172 SP, with a G1000 Glass Cockpit.  Pre-flight briefingThe weather was about 200 broken and 1 to 2 miles visibility in garúa, a thick mist which is the only source of ground moisture in this subtropical desert region. But we did have a fully IFR capable plane with a G1000 cockpit, no possibility of icing, and plenty of fuel to reach nearby instrument runways, so we completed the start-up procedures and headed towards the run-up area.

Glass panel, location Peru
During my turn as PIC, David snapped this photo of the glass panel


The 3200-foot runway has an elevation of 240 feet at one end, about 180 feet 2/3 of the way down, and 200 feet at the other end.  Heading downslope, we were airborne well before the middle!  By about 2000 feet, we were above the broken layer, with no cloud above. Visibility was still only around 2 miles, so we headed south, looking for a break in the under-cast. Desolate, dry mountains surrounding LimaHeading back to the airport, we wondered if we’d be diverting over-the-top to Pisco, an airport to the south, to do an instrument approach, but Halfdan assured us there’d be a hole right over the approach at Lib Mandi. We rounded a partly obscured hill for base, flew down a short valley, and, as promised, found the only hole in the under-cast for 20 miles in any direction. Apparently, prevailing winds combined with land-forms conveniently provide this access hole.

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Approaching base

 

Although the flight was exhilarating and Halfdan was a congenial and excellent pilot, we left Lib Mandi disturbed.  Where was the opportunity for a recreational aviation community, and for youngsters to pursue a passion for flight beyond a flight school? We found it at Cruz de Hueso, just across the highway from Lib Mandi.  Despite its close proximity, it was another amazingly long drive to reach it, due to lack of highway exits. 

BBQ!
Peruvian BBQ at the Cruz de Hueso pilot clubhouse.

Located in the seaside town of San Bartolo, Cruz de Hueso used to be a golf course.  Indeed, all the maps and aviation charts still list it is as such.  However, it’s now home to a thriving GA community of ultra-light pilots, with a few helicopters thrown into the mix.

IAOPA meets COPA
Here we met the Presidente of iAOPA Peru, Guido Fernandez, a 90 year old retired airline pilot and current ultra-light pilot.

Accompanied by several tail-wagging canine co-pilots, Guido gave us a tour of the new taxi ways and helicopter pads under construction and the “control tower” atop the clubhouse.

Cruz de Hueso control tower
Clubhouse “control tower”

We were impressed by the existing airstrip and the plans & enthusiasm for the future of Cruz de Hueso. 

During an incredible BBQ of sausages, pork, ribs, and alpaca, with sides of steamed asparagus and delicious “asparagus cream” (a savory, velvety concoction that I will crave for the rest of my life), Guido regaled us with tales from his airline captain days, the most notable being how a combination of turbulence, fumes from a bottle of aftershave in the aircraft lavatory, and a flickering fluorescent light fixture caused an in-flight fire and explosion that haunts him to this day (yes, he safely landed the aircraft, the fire was successfully extinguished in-flight, and there were no casualties).

Pilot & asparagus king
Helicopter pilot & one of Peru’s top asparagus farmers, “The King” made some divine asparagus cream to accompany the BBQ

We ruefully learned from Guido that we had paid a “special tourist” price of $250 USD at Lib Mandi; a local student would’ve paid $180 USD. We deemed the loss acceptable in exchange for the gain received: an exhilarating flight at a truly unique aerodromo, and a valuable perspective on how crucial it is that we Canadian pilots continue to actively fight any restrictions and regulations that threaten our own freedom to fly.

Cruz de Hueso Ultralight field
Cruz de Hueso Airfield

After saying goodbye to the folks at Cruz de Hueso, we popped over to San Bartolo, strolled along the beach, then headed back to our hotel in Miraflores. The entire day was extraordinary, and truly underlined what a wonderful privilege it is to fly, and how it is essential in Canada that we protect our “freedom to fly” as private pilots.

 

 

Rowena’s Airstrip Open after flooding (Sandpiper Golf Course, BC)

rowenaAfter recent flooding of the Fraser River, the airstrip at Sandpiper Golf Course (Rowena’s) is now open again.  A phone call to the golf course confirmed that several GA aircraft have landed and departed from the recovered airstrip, and a fly-over confirmed that the river looks back in it usual place. No more underwater runway. Yay!

Rowena's post-flood
Rowena’s, post-flood

Rowena’s is a fantastic spot to fly into and great for impressing visitors. More info: Rowena’s Airstrip.

Underwater runway, Rowena’s airstrip, Harrison Mills, BC

Record snow-pack at the headwaters of the Fraser River, combined with above-normal temperatures for May 2018 in British Columbia, has led to a sudden rise in water levels all along the mighty Fraser.  One of our favorite little airstrips has been hard-hit by the resultant flooding: the gravel runway at Rowena’s (Sandpiper Golf Course).

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Aerial view of Rowena’s/Sandpiper airstrip (pre-flood)

We’d planned to impress visitors with a dinner flight to the scenic riverside restaurant at Rowena’s.  But as we flew east up the Fraser from Pitt Meadows, above mile after mile of flooded farmland in the Sumas/Chilliwack region, we realized that a backup plan may be in order.

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Flooded farmland, Chilliwack

 Sure enough, as soon as we turned north up the Harrison River, our backup plan proved essential.  It took a moment to even recognize Rowena’s because flooding so drastically altered the once-familiar terrain.

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Mid-downwind 20, flooded
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Actual length of runway

The boat dock on the southeast end of the golf course was a floating island, several meters away from land.  And the runway? An airstrip for a pastoral Lost City of Atlantis. rowena2a

Here’s a couple of photos that show the stark contrast between our usual final approach for runway 20 and “submerged runway” flyover of the same final approach:

Our thoughts go out to all the farmers and businesses affected by the flooding and evacuations.

Here’s a great little video which shows the dramatic snow-melt that’s occurred in just a two week period in our province: Meteorologist Tyler Hamilton’s video.