Leaving for Mexico, Part 2

Austin being one of our favorite cities, we quickly feel at home. After checking into the hotel we head over to The Cedar Door for a Mexican Martini and to make our plans for the weekend. It turns out that our favorite musician, Bob Schneider is playing tonight with his old band The Scabs. That makes the immediate plan really easy. We also decide we’re going to have some sushi at Kyoto, one of our favorite places in Austin.

We wander over to Kyoto and are saddened to find it out of business. Apparently it just closed one day and failed to open again. It’s a sad loss.

We go early to the show and catch two great opening acts. Suite 709 and Roxy Roca. They each did great sets and were high-powered lead ups to The Scabs. The Scabs did one of the best shows I’ve seen in years and played until the house lights were turned on and the show forced to a close.

The next morning we sleep in and finally manage to get out of the hotel for lunch at B.D. Riley’s. We call it an early night as we have to leave tomorrow for the push across the border.

At 7:30 we go down to the hotel restaurant and get some decent grub, pack our stuff and head for the airport. The weather couldn’t be nicer this morning. The sun is shining and there is no wind to speak of. We taxi to the runway 17L, run-up and takeoff.

Since we’re crossing an international border we have to be monitored and authorized. It’s possible to do this using visual flight rules, but I opt to file an instrument flight plan and let the magic happen for me. We are cleared via the austin.3 departure to San Antonio, then to the border and from there to Saltillo, Mexico.

Thanks to Amigos de la Aviacion and Caribbean Sky Tours I’m reasonably comfortable that I know what I’m getting us into, but there is still a certain level of apprehension doing something this unfamiliar.

We cross into Mexico over the Laredo/Nuevo Laredo border and notice the lines of trucks waiting to clear customs. This border crossing is the most highly trafficked one with some 8,500 trucks a day making the crossing. We’re glad not to be waiting in those lines. At this point we’re handed over to Mexican air traffic control and we’re officially outside the US.

We fly for another couple hours over the increasingly dusty landscape and soon find ourselves on approach to Saltillo. Upon landing we know we have to clear customs and the forms involved in doing so. What we’re less sure about is where the people are that we need to talk with. The control tower guides us down some yellow lines in the pavement and we stop and shutdown at the end. One of the pieces of advice Caribbean Sky Tours gives is to feel free to ask questions. That paid off in this case as we would have had no idea where we needed to go except that I asked tower for directions.

After we shutdown we get off the plane and are greeted by two 14 year olds with machine guns.

Ok, they probably are older than 14, but they are super young and the taller of the two is sporting a mouthful of braces. They speak no English, but only needed to write down a couple stats about the airplane, so we get that sorted out quickly. The ramp has a little bit of a slope to it and the plane keeps wanting to roll away. I don’t have any chocks, but Beth comes up with the brilliant idea of using a shoe. I grab one from the back and shove it under a wheel to the great amusement of the machine gun toting kids who laugh and say something along the lines of “a good Mexican solution”.

An immigration officer walks out to welcome us in English and takes our passports. He tells us to wait with the plane and he’ll come back when he’s done. Next, someone comes out and asks if we have any meat or fruit. No and no. We have knives, large bottles of shampoo and lighters, but no meat or fruit.

We next go to the airport Comandante and are faced with someone who tries to be helpful, but speaks no English. This poses a bit of a problem for us as we need his approval to move past this airport.

The immigration officer reappears with our passports and we get him to help us translate with the Comandante. We figure out the forms we need and get pointed down the ramp to the flight planning office with an incredibly nice woman who not only helps us sort out our paperwork, but gives us her number in case we need help in the future. We hang out for a few minutes to wait for the hourly weather update and find the winds at our next stop at 8kt and 10 degrees off the runway. We also, finally, manage to get fuel ordered.

Documents in hand we walk back down the Comandante, get documents stamped and purchase our multiple entry permit for 2013. For some reason the government has decided to do two weird things on this. First, it’s a calendar year permit instead of being something that lasts for 12 months from whenever you purchase it. Second, and more weird, is that the single entry permit is 550 pesos while the multiple entry permit is 567 pesos. I have no idea why anyone would ever buy the single entry. Seems like an invitation to find out three days later than you need to go back to Mexico and buy another permit.

Then we get a couple final stamps from immigration and we’re ready to go. The whole process would probably take 15 minutes if we knew what we were doing, but instead takes about two hours. It’s definitely what one would call either an adventure or a pain in the ass, depending upon ones personality. We’re definitely more in the ‘adventure’ camp.

We pack up and get ready to go. I start the engine and do much of the setup work I would normally do during run-up right on the ramp. I figure it’s smart to give the machine gunners, immigration officers, flight planners, Comandante and any other interested party as much time as possible to come running from a building and tell me to stop because I’ve not done something right. After a couple minutes of setting up the GPS, aligning the HI and other miscellaneous tasks I call the tower and request a taxi for departure.

He guides us to the end of runway 17 and sends us on our way into the mountains.

Saltillo is on the northeastern edge of the mountains that run down the spine of Mexico and we quickly find ourselves over beautiful mountains and valleys as we push toward Querétaro.

The original plan was to keep our plane in San Miguel de Allende, where we live in Mexico. This plan was thwarted in November by a construction crew shutting down the runway for paving. Why they did this remains a mystery. They are making incredibly slow progress on the ramp and, had they planned ahead, could have left the runway open the bulk of the time they working on the ramp. No use crying over spilled milk though, it’s closed. This leaves us with a few choices, Querétaro, Celaya and Leon.

Of those Querétaro would be the most appealing option since I work in that town. Unfortunately it is expensive (son bandidos, according to a friend). Celaya is a good second choice, but has no fuel. This is why we are heading to Querétaro. We’re going to pick up a load of fuel and go to Celaya from there.

Querétaro is in a bit of a valley, so we don’t make radio contact until we’re only 10 or 15 miles from the airport. Upon clearing the mountains I find out that the wind has shifted 80 degrees and increased in strength. It’s now a direct crosswind at 12 knots. This isn’t a great scenario for me. My personal limitation on crosswind is 5 knots and I have no other options due to the fuel issues previously discussed.

I accept a landing clearance and brief Beth. “Here’s the plan, the winds have shifted and we’re probably going to end up going around”.

Perhaps because of the shifting winds at Winnsboro or perhaps because I have tons of crosswind experience in tri-gear aircraft, this one is shaping up well. It’s a steady wind, which helps a lot. Coasting into ground effect I make the decision we’re going to land. I’m left wing low into the wind and touch down on the left main and rear wheel at about the same time. I hold the ailerons in and allow the right wheel to settle onto the pavement as the airspeed bleeds off. No brakes applied as with only one main on the ground the plane would go sailing sideways. Within a couple moments everything is calm and we’re taxiing to the FBO.

Unlike Saltillo, Querétaro has a full service FBO that streamlines the processes. Unfortunately, there has been a miscommunication with the rental car and it isn’t here. This kind of wrecks our plan to have Beth drive to San Miguel while I fly the plane to Celaya. We spend the next hour or so sorting this issue out and finally a car shows up.

We get in the car and head for home. Abandoning 2TF in Querétaro for a few days while I make arrangements to move it to Celaya.

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