With the Andes disappearing behind us, we descended out of the forest of charlies to a reasonable altitude where the Amazon introduced itself to us. We have all seen pictures of the Amazon forest, the Amazon river and Amazon wildlife. I remember as a child reading National Geographic and being amazed at everything I saw and promising myself, to one day when I’m big I would go walk-about there, little did I know that I would fly over a vast portion of it in an airplane that I had a little part in helping create. I am a very lucky lad.
Mike and I were just starting to relax after the Andes crossing and getting excited about the jungle when we were rattled back into serious pilot mode again by turbulence and a wall of rain and lightning. The next hour or so was spent staring into rain looking for the the slightest hint of light in the dark sky ahead where the storm may end. Messages from Sias on the Indigo were encouraging and helped us find the thinnest part of the mayhem to navigate through. As my sailing instructor always told me, ” The great thing about storm is you know it is going to end!” and of course it eventually did.
As the rain thinned, we suddenly exploded into the most remarkable world, a site that is burnt into my memory forever. A sunlit ocean of green jungle from horizon to horizon! What a blessing and sense of joy! To top it, we spent the rest of the day savouring the delight of this unspoilt and untouched wilderness that is part of the lung of our precious planet. The price we had to pay was to dodge more rain storms and by so doing also learn why these are called “Reforests”. In the entire flight over the forest ( it is just one big one) I never saw one bit of diseased canopy or dead patch. Just remarkably healthy growth. From the beginning at the Andes until we got close to the border of Colombia and Brazil only rivers broke the perfect carpet below.
After cruising for a while and between storms we started to discuss ways of handling a forced arrival atop this ’carpet’’below. In a way our situation was similar to being out over the ocean. There was no civilization for many many miles and for long periods no comms. We never fired up the HF, probably should of. Anyway we were being advised of weather by Sias and so we knew the tracker was working and sending out our position faithfully, so we were actually in a good situation as far as being found was concerned. Back to our thoughts on the best way to arrive on the tree tops in the case of engine silence. If were by some stroke of incredible luck near a river with a slight bank then that would probably be the best option, but these were few and far between. So lets think about it. That canopy is made up of lots of leaves and branches and vines and all sorts of creepers and is about probably about four stories high off the ground. Two options exist in the Bullet, Try land as slowly as possible on the canopy( there really is no open ground, nothing, niks!) or slow right down and pull that red handle in the middle of the console. Consider option one. A perfect landing into wind would get our wheels tangled into the canopy vines and branches at about maybe, say 35knots. I am pretty damn sure that we would be stopped quite abruptly and nosed in. Depending on the type of growth at that point we may either be suspended or dropped about three or four stories onto our lovely silver spinner. That is of course if we are not turned into human sosaties for the carnivorous wildlife to devour. Can you imagine the insect attack?
Option two seemed far better. Slow right down and pull that handle! A loud bang should be heard and after a couple of seconds all hell breaks loose as the cables rip out of the canopy frame and a sharp jerk felt as our flight is arrested. Then hopefully silence as we gently float down under two round life saving canopies, and finally ‘crrrrrunshch! ‘as we land with our butts in Tarzan land. Now if the wind is not too strong or we are not in a storm this should put us in a reasonable situation to enjoy the experience.( It is now that I like to think in a perfect world) The Bullet would be nicely perched on top of a dense forest almost in perfect tack. Our perspex canopy still in one piece, keeping out the zillion insects and and no branches up our butts. The parachutes lying around us making us easy to spot. PLBs activated and the indigo set on alert we could crack the seal on the bottle of J&B (that Chris and Gareth went and got us just before we left and has flown with us so far for just this occasion) and sit back and wait to be rescued. So that is the prettier picture and the one I tried to keep in my mind for the rest of the flight over south American jungle.
The day ended with a decision at in the last 15 minutes of flight to not land in Colombia as filed, but to cross the border into Brazil and land at Tabatinga. This was facilitated by quick and competant action on the radio by Mike. Although we got stuck another day with paper problems the stay was interesting and pleasant and friendly. We got airborne a little late in the day because Mike was led to believe we could pay landing fees etc. in dollars but when he tried they refused and he had to get a taxi back into town to exchange cash to local currency. This late departure resulted in us landing just after sunset at our next destination.
Conditions on this flight were fair for most of the way and we were quiet relaxed taking turns to dose off. Sias had done a fine job of steering us around storms and big charlies but did make it clear that our arrival at sunset was not going to be in the finest conditions. A rather significant cell had developed right over our destination. He tried to put it in the least intimidating manner on the short message facility on the Indigo. Finally just before hitting the first wall of rain and streak of lightning his message read something like this, ‘no other way but straight through it hope you ok’ So with this we stuck our heads forward and attacked the task of trying to remain just the right side of being completely terrified and able to make decisions to steer through areas of least electrical activity and downpour. Trying to describe the mental experience of that last hour would do the reality no justice, it needs to be lived to be appreciated. All I can say is that Rainier’s GLS and autopilot worked wonders in getting us onto finals after our meander through a little hell!
A good nights rest, a pre -dawn take off and the blessing of fine weather set us up well for a relaxing flight to Rio. We were able to chat and think positively and creatively about the rest of the trip home. A very fine sunset welcomed us to Rio as we flew low level over the mountains surrounding the city. A warm welcome in Marica and a safe parking for the bullet rounded the day off perfectly. A good nights rest and look what happens!
Ever heard of the Cape to Rio yacht race?