Date: December 10 2006
To: All on CenAm '07
From: Jack
Reg: The Trip

We don't take trips, our trips take us....

You have learned to take the ball and run with it. If it is broke and can be fixed, you fix it. If it is broke and can't be fixed, you live with it. You try to make the best out of any situation. You insure that there is always water, matches, and a candle in your room. You are staying in a "middle class" hotel normally located in the center of a town on or near the main square. Some may have telephones, TVs, and running water. Others might not. You may or may not be required to post a credit card prior to check-in depending on if you charge to your room. Some allow rooms charges and some do not. What you really expect is the unexpected. You are a traveler, not a tourist.

That being said:

Regarding dress, we will be casual during the day and a little nicer at nights. And we will have two or three dressy nights. (Latino Dressy) Don't worry about wearing the same thing twice; all will be doing that after the fourth day. (Guys will mix and match, yea, sure)

Regarding other things:

I have put together trip books that I will provide to all pilots prior to the trip. These books will include:

  1. Airport diagrams
  2. Name Tags
  3. List of all on trip
  4. Baggage tags
  5. Trip Card
  6. Permits for landing/over-flying all Central America countries
  7. Information on each country
  8. L1 / L2 Mexico/Central America chart
We will provide four (4) luggage tags per person with your trip book. Please put one on each of your bags, etc. This way we know which bag belongs with our group. This is good for many things including protecting someone from picking up your bag and walking off with it.

For the most part, the BBP will be registering all when checking into a hotel. That being said, BBP staff will attempt to get to the front desk of our hotels ahead of others so that all can work smoothly. If all arrive at the same time, please give us some space so that we can pull the keys and give everyone a room.

In some cases, you could be asked for your passport number. As I don't carry mine with me, I sometimes make up numbers as I go. Not a good idea, you should use your real numbers.

Check our website from time to time prior to the date of departure. Things can change and we have no way to reach all the pilots if necessary. If you do not have access to the internet, call the office during working hours prior to departure. If something changes and you don't know about it, it is your fault, not mine....

We will have a pilots meeting at 6:00pm in Flores Monday evening. All pilots (and perhaps navigators) must attend. This is required so that we can talk through the trip and in particular, the buddy assignment, how we will be getting fuel, and more...

I am not bringing any BBP hats, shirts, etc. Want something for the trip, call or fax the office, tell them what you want and the size and I will bring them down with me.

Navigation:

On the scheduled part of this trip, we will be landing and departing both ICAO and IATA airports. The ICAO airports should be in your GPS database and the IATA airports will have to be put in as a user waypoint. If you don't remember how to put in a user waypoint, dig out your user's manual and learn prior to being in the air and grasping for information. Regarding the airports, ICAO airports will be shown in a four-letter capital letter configuration and IATA (or user waypoints) will be in small letters.

Now, with being said, there will be three persons who don't do this and will be asking for help just about the time that they need that waypoint. Passengers, ask your pilot when you read this if he knows how to put in a user waypoint.

And, to further help you out, you will notice that all ICAO ids in Mexico and Central America countries start with "M" and then the letter of their county (with several exceptions) so:

Itinerary:

The itinerary has changed several times. The biggest concern was the length of the legs and the second concern, the weather. Coming in third were the trophy hounds. (those that wanted more countries stamped in their passports)

Most have indicated that they wanted to spend as little time as possible in Mexico and get into Central America. Based on this input, I have set the trip up as follows:

Mon Jan 8 Meet in Tikal (Flores) Guatemala
Tue Jan 9 Depart to Rio Dulce Guatemala
Wed Jan 10At Rio Dulce Guatemala
Thu Jan 11To Guatemala City Guatemala
Fri Jan 12To Granada Nicaragua
Sat Jan 13At Granada Nicaragua
Sun Jan 14To Tortuguero Costa Rica
Mon Jan 15At Tortuguero Costa Rica
Tue Jan 16To San Jose Costa Rica
Wed Jan 17To Panama City Panama
Thu Jan 18In Panama City
Fri Jan 19Home (or wherever)

Note that the above is our itinerary as planned today. It could change tomorrow, next week, or four hours prior to arrival depending on weather, earthquakes, etc.

I have several challenges on this trip however not as great as last year. No, we are not going to San Blas.

Money:

+- (as of December 1, 2006)

This is being provided both to see the exchange rate as well as what the economy of the Country is....

Country/Name 2001 2002 2004 2004 2005 2006Notes
Mexico/Peso 9.45 9.12 10.15 11.30 10.66 10.85
Guatemala/Quetzel 7.70 8.02 7.69 7.97 7.61 7.63
Honduras/Lampira 15.13 15.80 16.83 17.63 18.89 18.89
El Salvador/Colon 1.00 1.00El Salvador uses the US dollar
Nicaragua/Cordoba 12.90 13.72 14.48 15.33 17.04 17.95
Costa Rica/Colones313.75338.23373.52414.67 492.00 517.04
Panama/Balboa 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00Panama uses US Money for anything larger than one dollar
Colombia/Peso 2277.002281.00

Check your paper money prior to departure. If there are any tears or hard folds in the money at all, there is a good chance it will not be accepted. I sweated it out one day at a gas pump with two US$100 bills with a small corner torn off both bills. Not good. Credit cards are usually accepted at most hotels as well as restaurants. In addition, you will find Ugly Tellers (bank machines) in most major cities. I don't depend on them always working however, I have gotten N$3,000 (pesos) and C$126,000 (colones) several times at machines.

In addition, once south of Mexico, most airports take credit cards for fuel.

And, the dollar will be accepted at almost any commercial establishment in Central America. (they like the stability of the US dollar) Expect to get local money in change.

Messages

I have provided a list of hotels and their numbers. If someone needs to contact you, have them call the hotel where we are scheduled to be on that day and leave a message. If you become separated from the main group, call the hotel where the group is supposed to be and let us know. In an emergency and you cannot contact me at the destination hotel, call the BBP office at 001 480 730 3250 during normal working hours.

Separation:

If you get separated from the main group, try to call the hotel that the main group is supposed to be at. (Ask for me, ask for anyone with the group, or leave a message that you are all right and will try to catch up) Then, try to catch up. This means that you look at the itinerary, look at the calendar, and if you are supposed to be in Panama on Saturday and it is Saturday, go to Panama.

Health

As far as I can find out, there are no requirements for shots prior to entering any of the countries that we will be visiting. The only recommendation is that you take malaria pills; however, recently, that has been somewhat discouraged because of the side effects that certain brands can cause. I have been led to believe, at the risk of practicing medicine without a license, that it is best to go for it. Malaria takes about two weeks to show symptoms and by then you will be back in the States. Feeling hot and sweaty, tell your doctor you have been in Central America and he will know what to do.

Oh yea... You will get hit at least once on the trip where you will be able to squirt through the eye of a needle. I always carry a package of Lomotil with me whenever traveling, be it in the US or south of the border. You can get Lomotil across the counter at any pharmacy in Mexico.

Safety

Just as in the US, don't walk up and down the streets at night. If you have to, be sure someone who is just as dumb as you is with you. Enough said....

No, you don't need to take a lot of sparkly things down with you. (You can just talk about them) I have two watches, one that I use in the states and another "cheap" watch for use south of the border. A little green around your wrist is better than losing the real one.

I have a secret place (when I had an aircraft) in my aircraft that I leave important papers, cash, passports, etc. I only take into town what I think I need. I figure that things are safer in the aircraft than in a hotel room. If someone steals my plane, I have more problems than just losing my passport, cash, etc.

Make copies of all-important documents i.e. passports, etc. Keep these copies separate from the originals. Fanny packs; backpacks, purses, and wallets in your rear pocket are an easy hit. (Fanny pack in front is best if you use one). If I am in a crowded area, I always keep my wallet in a front pocket of my pants and if concerned, put my hand in the pocket around the wallet. (That goes for in the US as well). I also keep a small amount of bills in a money clip (or wrapped in a rubber band) so that when purchasing something, I am not flashing a lot of money or identifying where my wallet is. (Arnold always traveled with a pouch that hung around his neck. Didn't look very cool but it sure did work).

Identification, Visas

The following information is believed to be correct. There is normally a +-US$10 to US$20 fee for each person entering a country.

Mexico You know the rules
Costa Rica Passport or Photo ID. Visa/tourist card provided at airport
El SalvadorPassport. Visa/tourist card provided at airport
Guatemala Passport. Visa not required
Honduras Passport. Visa not required
Nicaragua Passport. Visa provided at airport
Panama Passport. Visa provided at airport

Hotels

The hotels that we are staying at are middle class. (You can stay at a Hilton or Hyatt in the US). They will be clean and comfortable. This is the schedule as it is right now. Please keep in mind that even though arrangements have been made and deposits paid, this schedule is subject to change due to weather, etc.

Mon Jan 8Flores Guatemala Santa Ana (011) 502 29 26 33 05
Tue Jan 9Rio Dulce Guatemala Mansion del Rio (011) 502 23 35 30 22
Wed Jan 10Rio Dulce Guatemala Mansion del Rio (011) 502 23 35 30 22
Thu Jan 11Guatemala City Crown Plaza (011) 502 24 22 50 00
Fri Jan 12Granada Nicaragua Hotel Alhambra & Hotel Colonial (011) 505 5 52 29 55
Sat Jan 13Granada Nicaragua Hotel Alhambra & Hotel Colonial (011) 505 5 52 29 55
Sun Jan 14Tortuguero Costa Rica Tortuguero Lodge (011) 506 2 57 07 66
Mon Jan 15Tortuguero Costa Rica Tortuguero Lodge (011) 506 2 57 07 66
Tue Jan 16San Jose Hotel Gran San Jose (011) 506 2 21 40 00
Wed Jan 17Panama City Panama The Executive (011) 507 2 65 80 11
Thu Jan 18Panama City Panama The Executive (011) 507 2 65 80 11
Fri Jan 19Home (or wherever)

Taxis

In Mexico at controlled airports, there is a monopoly on airport taxis. They are painted yellow with the name "airport" painted on them. They are clean, crisp, comfortable, and in some cases, can be US$40.00 to town. They do not allow city taxis to "cruise" the airport so you are stuck. To get a taxi, you must go into the commercial terminal and find the taxi desk. You will pay for your ride at this location and be given a ticket to give to either the starter at the curb or the driver. No other money changes hands. In other countries, you cut your own deal with the driver.

Meals

Certain meals are part of the package however, because of logistics; (all getting together at the same time at the same place) we don't include lunches.

Tips

When people travel on inclusive trips like this, most forget about tipping as most of the time, there is not a bill when done. Please tip the persons for services provided much as you would in the States. The waiters, housemaids, etc., all work for about US$2.00 per hour and a dollar or two tip really makes their day.

Required papers for your aircraft:

  1. Registration
  2. Airworthiness certificate
  3. Pilots license
  4. Name, nationality, passport numbers of yourself and all passengers
  5. Medical
  6. Insurance policy (both US and Mexico)
  7. Log book
  8. Copy of notice of arrival (the permit(s) that I am supplying)
  9. International flight plan (it is given to you from each country)

Now that this has been said, in all my travels in Central America, once I got out of Mexico, it was a done deal. So much for all the rules however, I would have all they require just in case.

Security for your aircraft

We anticipate little problems regarding the security of your aircraft however, use common sense. Don't leave things laying out where they are easy to see and thusly, easy to want. Most theft from aircraft are not radios and other expensive things but things that a non-flying person could use i.e. blankets, jackets, etc.

Regarding your aircraft, many use prop locks, wheel locks, special door locks, and more. The fact is that if a thief wants your airplane, he will get it no matter what you lock it up with. Myself, I have a hidden switch that is in series with the right engine starter. Switch off, engine will not turn over.

Drugs, Guns

Want to get in trouble really fast, have bad drugs, guns, or ammunition on you or in your plane. This will set off all kinds of bells and whistles. Do this and you are in big trouble with little help.... And, no, no one plants drugs, guns, etc. in your aircraft to get you in trouble. This just does not happen.

Fuel, tools, oil

Mexico measures fuel by the liter, all other countries measure by the gallon.

City AvGasJetAInternational
Flores No No Yes
Rio Dulce No No No
Guatemala City YesYesYes
Granada No No Yes (Special)
Tortuguero No No Yes (Special)
San Jose YesYesYes
Panama City YesYesYes

Once in Central America, most airports that sell fuel also take credit cards. Fuel prices are increasing. Plan on about US$3.00 to 5.00 per gallon. (Last year Panama was US$7.00 per gallon) You will also have landing fees and parking fees that range from US$10 to US$20 (for normal aircraft) as well as some countries charge a one-time entry fee. Costa Rica and Panama charges US$10.00 to US$15.00 to de-bug your aircraft on each entry into their Country and, you do not get to keep the can.

Radios:

Air to air 122.75
Backup 123.45
Uncontrolled field122.8
Controlled field As listed/directed
Squawk 1200 or as directed

Buddy Plan

A list of all aircraft will be put together sorted by speed. We will then pair each aircraft with another and the two aircraft (and occupants) will become buddy partners. This way, when we get ready to do something as a group, I will not have to count 50 heads. If your buddy is not there, speak up. (He will do the same for you). This does not mean you fly formation or with your buddy, just let me know if he does not show up so that I can add him to my worry list. Already know who your buddy will be? Please let Claudia know prior to departure from the states so we can make it happen.

Insurance

Mexico is the only country that requires special liability insurance. The BBP offers Mexican Liability Insurance at US$110 per year.

Regarding US insurance which you will use for coverage on this trip, I have my policy with AOPA. My coverage covers all of Central America including Panama and the Caribbean Islands. (It was also the best quote)

Permits, etc.

I have applied for over-flight and landing permission from all the countries involved.

You will get a multi-entrance authorization letter from Mexico when you enter Mexico the first time in '07. If you do so, you will only have to pay the country entry fee once (on the way down) The form has been provided to you prior to the trip.

Regarding licenses, it is believed you need no more than what you have for traveling in Mexico. Some have asked about a radio license and although I have licenses for both the aircraft and myself, I have never been questioned about it in any of my travels in any of the countries

Water

I drink gallons of water on all my trips. They say that Northeast Panama (Boca Town) is the worst however, when I spent two weeks in Boca Town several years ago, I drank two gallons of tap water a day. Never did pop a Lomotil. Good water is available in most cities and many do bring their own drinking water... It is your call. Refer to "health" already mentioned and, be sure to bring a needle so that you can see if you can join the club.

Medical

We should have at least one doctor and dentist on the trip. Doctors generally carry a small medical bag and in most cases, can write prescriptions in both Mexico and Central America for emergency use while on the trip. (Don't plan on a vasectomy or liver transplant by one of our trip doctors. Wait until we get home and use your own). If you are a Doctor or dentist, re-read the above....

After Panama

As in the past, when a BBP trip gets to the furthermost point from home, people then spread their own wings and go different directions as they work their way home, sometimes seeing others on the way and sometimes not. I will have the permits set so there is no problem if you want to go anywhere else after Panama. In addition, because of time restraints, several passengers will be going home commercial from Panama.

What is included in trip fees

  1. Rooms for eleven nights starting January 8th in Flores and ending the night of January 18th in Panama.
  2. Breakfast each morning starting on January 9th and ending January 18th
  3. Dinner starting on January 8th and ending January 18th
  4. Transportation: We provide transportation as follows; All other transportation is via taxi and is not included.
    • Flores:
    • Rio Dulce: Airport to / from Resort (boat)
    • Giatemala City: Hotel to Airport
    • Granada: Hotel to Airport
    • Tortuguero: Airport to / from Resort (boat)
    • San Jose:
    • Panama City:
  5. Hosted reception at Flores and Panama City (first and last day)
  6. Permits for all aircraft to over-fly and/or land in all Central American Countries (except Belize which does not require a permit)

What is not included

  1. Transportation between hotels and airports (other than what is listed above)
  2. Permits, fees, taxes, fuel, repairs, etc. for your aircraft
  3. Immigration, etc. fees for people
  4. Lunches
  5. Beverages (other than at hosted receptions)
  6. Tips
  7. Personal Items.

So, I must again point out that all of the above is tentative and is subject to change tomorrow, the next day, or as we arrive. We are flying over and/or landing at seven (or more) foreign countries and as I have found on my trips, you have to be flexible. Again, we are travelers, not tourists. When things go sideways, just sit back, smell the roses, and wait for things to work out. Remember, waiting is an action....

A trip that will remain in your memories forever. It is almost time to start packing!

See you in Central America....