After the trouble we had in Brownsville, Texas we were eager to get going and through Mexico. We had lost a day, but figured that the worst was behind us. Well, you know how optimists can be...
We had availed ourselves of the best information we could gather from both the AOPA and the Bush Pilots Association. We had gone over all the requirements; dotted every "t" and crossed every "i". Twice. And then again. Just to make sure, I re-read everything prior to departure from Brownsville.
One of the items the AOPA said was required was a permit to fly in Mexico. A fax number was provided. I raised the question, and my copilot/flight-planner Bart held up a hand. He assured me that he had spoken to a pilot/friend who'd flown through Mexico before, and he had spoken to "Mexico City" and everyone assured him that this "permit" was no longer necessary. Well of course it was. And is. As we were soon to find out.
But we had one other small matter to deal with when we landed in Tampico, Mexico to clear Customs: My passport was expired. Oh, I'd had it renewed of course. But they sent the old one back with the new one. I stuck the "new" one in with my pilot docs- or so I thought. The real new one inadvertently went into my personal file. Hey, they look exactly the same (except for the picture, of course). When the Customs guy in Tampico opened my passport and I saw that picture of a *much* younger me, his eyebrows raised and my heart sank. Shit! I explained this as best I could in my broken high school Spanglish. Senor Customs man laughed and issued us two tourist visas anyway.
From there we went to the office of the airport "Comandancia." His first question: "May I see your permit to fly in Mexico." I looked at Bart; he looked at me. We tried to explain what we'd heard, but the Comandancia stood firm. We had screwed up; now the only thing we could do was return to Brownsville. Shit! Again. We knew enough to not argue. We just acted contrite and dejected. The Comandancia toyed with us for a little while, but eventually produced the necessary permit. Afterward, we concluded that he just wanted to see how we'd react- whether we'd turn into "ugly Americans" or not. We did not. We tried to not show that we were pressed for time and in a hurry, although we were, big time. We were just polite, friendly, and we smiled a lot. And it worked. (Whodathunkit?)
All through Mexico, everywhere we stopped, we met friendly, helpful people who seemed genuinely interested in our trip and our helicopter. Most chuckled at our weak Spanish, and made every attempt to communicate with us in English. We considered ourselves very fortunate.
And Mexico itself was a surprise. Our t.v. image of Mexico is that of a hot, dry, dusty place, made up mostly of desert and populated by sombrero-wearing, burro-riding hombres with big mustaches. Instead, what we found was a beautiful coastline, absolutely deserted for miles and miles and miles, occasionally dotted with quaint, isolated towns and the odd (and seemingly out-of-place) resort. If we'd had more time, we would have landed and taken advantage of the remoteness. Unfortunately, it was not possible. And in any event, with my luck if Bart and I had landed and shut down, the ship would have refused to start again. Once though, we had to take advantage of the deserted beaches when our time enroute due to headwinds turned out to be longer than the fuel range of the helicopter.We landed and put in ten gallons of "spare" fuel we carried just for such an eventuality. (We left it running.)
But Mexico really is surprisingly beautiful. We kept looking down and going, "Damn! Looks more like Ireland or Scotland than Mexico."...Verdant, rolling hills, lush, tropical rainforests....Even Mayan ruins! Needless to say, we were impressed.
The most direct route to our destination would have been directly through Belize. But we had been warned that clearing in and out of Belize could take hours and hours and hundreds of dollars. Instead, we were advised to go to Chetumal, which is to Mexico as Brownsville is to Texas: the last stop. Can't say we saw much of the town, as we were there only long enough to get fuel and clear out. But as we had come to expect, everyone was friendly and helpful.
Chetumal was one of two stops at which we'd been greeted by a cadre of armed military men with mean-looking German Shephards. The men (boys, really) checked our docs and the dogs sniffed around the bird.
At the other stop (Ciudad de Carmen), there was a gaggle of Eurocopter products used in the Mexican oil industry support. Their pilots and mechanics swarmed out to pore over the FH1100, as none of them had ever seen even a picture of one before. They were all taking pictures with cameras and cellphones. But when Bart raised his camera to take a picture of them, the military kids barked, "NO PEEKTURES!" Not for us, anyway. Ah well...
Our transit through Mexico was a pleasant surprise. Both Bart and I wished we'd had more time to meander and explore and stay longer. And we vowed that one day we will. But time pressed, it was getting late, and we still had a long way to go before Honduras.