On 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):
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. During 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.
Lib Mandi is a privately owned and operated aerodromo in Lima, Peru (see below for airport info). 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.
Off the usual tourist path
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. 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.
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.
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.At 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. The 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.
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. Heading 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.
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.
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.
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.
We were impressed by the existing airstrip and the plans & enthusiasm for the future of Cruz de Hueso.
A new taxiway under construction
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).
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.
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.
AIRPORT INFORMATION ON LIB MANDI:
Airport: SPLX or Lib Mandi Airport (about 30 miles South of Lima) in the town of San Bartolo Elevation at SPLX: 200 feet Runway 32/14 (we used 32) is 3280 feet long by 55 feet wide. Significant DIP 2/3 of the way down 32. Only one taxiway on/off of the runway – Taxiway ALPHA at the 32 end. Flight Service Station (Lib Mandi Radio) on 118.80
A broad, tree-lined bike route runs down most of the length of Avenida Arequipa in the district of Miraflores, Lima and continues on through to Avenida Jose Larco. At the south end of Jose Larco, the bicycle path leads to El Malecon, the picturesque cliff-side promenade that links six gorgeous ocean-view parks. A bicycle rental shop is located right outside the Indian Market on Av. Arequipa, and another exists at Larcomar, on El Malecon itself: Modulo Parque Alfredo Salazar S/N Larcomar Miraflores. A map comes with the bike rental, and there’s no end of parks and scenic viewpoints along the very popular cliff-top walkway. It’s an easy, mostly flat ride. We rode north from the starting point at Parque Alfredo Salazar to just past Parque Maria Reiche and back in just under 1 hour, with many photo stops along the way.
It was well worth the $10 US/bike fee. But you might wish to avoid cycling during a Sunday! The route is enjoyed to an astonishing degree by locals on foot & bicycle, and bicycle races are common. Weaving between dense packs of strollers, dogs on leash, pedestrians, ice-cream vendors, toddlers on trikes, and bevies of spandex-clad competitors was a truly unique experience & great for testing our reflexes.
Located among the manors and genteel condominiums of the upper-class district of San Isidro, the Olive Grove Forest is a green and peaceful haven in the middle of a crushing population of 10 million people. It’s devoid of the “weekend-fever” crowds experienced in the parks along the ocean-side promenade of Miraflores, and it’s a delightful break from the tourist-saturation of Lima’s popular Huaca Pucllana, the Mercados Artesanal, and the Basilica Cathedral.Started from the only three saplings that survived the ocean journey from Spain in 1560, the grove is now a national monument, home to 1600 gnarled olive trees. Several of the twisted trunks still bear the scars where retreating Spaniards attacked the grove during the Peruvian War of Independence (1811-1826). After visiting the impressive historic center of Lima with its astonishing tourist crowds, a quick taxi ride to the grove was a sheer delight. We meandered through the shady park, serenaded by tanagers and squawking parrots, and then used Uber to return to our hotel (1/2 the price of the taxis, which are already very cheap).
A note on taxis: they are everywhere, and they are cheap. Strap yourself in; when they’re able to move fast, they do so, viewing speed bumps as launching pads for a little air-time, rather than devices to slow them down. To save money, some cab drivers have converted their vehicles to run off of BBQ propane tanks. Exploding taxi cars are not unheard of. As for cars running on regular gasoline, a local advised us to always open the cab windows, as carbon monoxide poisoning of passengers in the backseat is another common hazard.