We said goodbye to the beautiful island of Martinique with a tilt of the wing, a sign of appreciation dedicated to our hosts Comité Martiniquais du Tourisme and all the wonderful people who contributed to make our visit to Martinique an unforgettable and again unique experience
By now most participants understand why this event is called the Air Challenge. The Air Rally is about, not one, not two, not three but 5 totally different adventures in the course of 15 days. After all, pilots have a passion for flying that is driven by the freedom and convenience it creates….. so let’s make the best out of this freedom !!!
A perfect flying day was ahead! At least until we reached San Juan PR. The Air Rally recommended safe route was via San Juan Puerto Rico identified as the refueling and lunch stop. Signature FBO, 2012 Air Rally partner, provided free landing and handling as well as free lunch. Some pilots made a choice between flying 1hr30 over water or clearing customs in the USA and they chose the water ! Life vests on, raft between the seats ready for use!
I was onboard one of the two Pilatus PC12 bringing a cameraman whose mission was to film the planes as they landed in Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo was to be an overnight stop as Dominican Republic was not an official host of the GGC Caribbean Air challenge and our mission there was simply to attend a local wedding in the mountains of Constanza to share some good times with the locals.
We happened to fall in the middle of the presidential campaign. Elections taking place this coming May 20. Being fluent in Spanish I was asked to go to the studios of the most popular Hispanic television, on Prime time News show! 7:30 AM, there goes my breakfast in bed at the beautiful Melia Santo Domingo. “Catherine, we need something positive in the news today! … so you have to go on TV to bring something good to the people !” said Mr. Polanco. Dear participants now you know that your visit to DR served a good cause! the venue of pilots from 7 different countries and TV crew from Canada was indeed good news considering the newspaper headlines bringing up the discontent of the population suspecting upcoming polls sabotage…. This is what I heard on the news that day….
Tuesday, the adventure to the mountains of Constanza! This year exceptionally, weather has been bad particularly in Dominican Republic. It has rained for the past three months! Going to Constanza, located at 4000 ft in the middle of the Cordillera Central could not be accomplished by plane due to the thick layer of clouds sitting like a lid over the valley of Constanza. The valley is 8 km long and 4 km wide.
But we had made a commitment and we had an option: THE BUS!!! Two buses were called in. The day was beautiful, we stopped in a very nice restaurant Spanish style and enjoyed great food. So far so good, no stress, we loaded with goodies and beer and enjoyed chatting along the way. As we started our ascent into the mountains we were amazed by the beauty of the mountains covered with tropical vegetation. I wasn’t sorry we did not fly in! This could not be seen from the air.
After a couple of hours we reached the village of Constanza, just in time to grab our keys at the Hotel (former Mi Cabana Resort) get changed into our fancy clothe and make it to church. The church was full. All around, doors were wide open into the street and people were standing on the pavement outside looking in. We found places to sit within the people. It was a very emotional moment, some shed a tear…. We could feel so much appreciation. You can imagine when we got to the embracing part!
After church the newly wed and guests proceeded to a place for supper and dance. Young people dressed in traditional clothes performed all evening, it was a great celebration for all.
The hotel was a lovely place. Rooms opened to the garden and there was a nice area where we could sit outside. It had rained during the night. Many of us got water in the room. There was no electricity in the morning until the generators were started. How much more do you want for an authentic experience? Participants, if you had known that it was cheaper to go to an all-inclusive four star resort in Puerto Plata, no wedding, maybe you would have killed me!!! But no one complained, It was part of the great memories we took home with us. As I mentioned in the program, Constanza is for special people and you all were very special indeed!
We all enjoyed a great breakfast before we set for the Aguas Blancas expedition onboard open side trucks protected with plastic covers, sitting on benches like workers going to the fields. On the way, we had to make a stop in town. Some needed rain coats, others rum and coke and fruit juice, cigars….etc.. For the road!
We proceeded through the hills and the fields covered with various vegetables, such as carrots, broccolis and garlic. On the road we could see inside the very small one room houses built practically on the road’s edge. Tora from Holland decided we should all contribute to buy the kids a bus as she found out it took them 2 hours by foot each way to reach school! It is a great idea and I will follow up on the subject.
Unfortunately due to the bad weather the road to the waterfalls was not opened so we stopped before to a lovely restaurant built with surrounding elements such as stones, trees and sand.
Thursday April 26! Day of the finals, we had to be in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos for award ceremony. Bus pick up was set for 7:30; the first bus left 20 minutes ahead of the other. No problem, the second bus was occupied by the crews of the fastest aircraft, ie Pilatus, cirrus, pipers….
On the way down, the second bus broke down, downhill, in the mountains! No panic, we came out and enjoy the scenery while the bus driver was figuring out a solution. How long would it take to get the replacement there ??? Too long!
I was determined to get us down as fast as possible and the only way was to stop a truck with an empty bin proceeding down to the nearest village. There it comes! The driver agreed and we all got in the back and arrived safely to the nearest town. It wasn’t long before t the replacement bus arrived.. I will spare you a few details, I am sure you read the other side of the story already.
The adventure was far from over! We had to get out fast as weather was again an issue. We arrived in Provo few minutes before 4 PM. A group of enthusiastic future young pilots from Provo met us at the airport.
The Comfort Suites Ports of Call Resort is the perfect place for pilots; located within the beautiful Grace Bay area A short 15 minute drive from Providenciales airport and only steps away to the shopping center and best restaurants in Provo. The manager, Daniel Croft, a gentlemen from Vancouver BC, a very friendly and warm person with a great sense of humour, made us feel at home and we prepared for the Finals.
And the winners are !
Han Plangger and Paule Boilard
a couple from Ontario Canada onboard Piper Arrow PA28RT-201T C-GYNY
In second position :
Patricia Horn and Donald Stark
and supporting pilot, Tony Tabbart from Australia !
A couple from Wisconsin onboard Cirrus SR-22 N280L
Patricia happened to be the pilot in command and recently IFR rated.
It was Patricia’s first time on a long cross country flying journey and surely she did not pick the easiest one !
Patricia is now an accomplished pilot full of confidence and she deserves all our admiration She is a winner across the board !!!
Another very well deserved third position !
Team Richard Schmidt and Derek ,father and son from Wisconsin with onboard Jo Poklington from Australia and Mr. Jin from China
Onboard Beech Baron B-55 N7821R
The next day many took their aircraft and went home, some decided to stay a few more days to enjoy Providenciales especially those who enjoy diving. No wonder, The Turk and Caicos islands are known for their dramatic limestone cliffs and caves. Grouped around a shallow underwater plateau they provide outstanding dive and snorkeling conditions in azure waters. The TCI’s also have some of the best sports fishing anywhere
Note : Lara was hired on her returned to work as first officer for a company in Ontario
Mathieu flew to Ecuador and Panama training on Pilatus PC12 and was hired to Ferry same to Europe, as first officer to Daniel French the Captain.
Anthony is taking his time, as instructor pilot in Mont Tremblant, his ambition, working for major airline soon… and he will !
Since 2010 The Governor General’s Cup has been hosted by some of the most beautiful, hospitable and aviation friendly islands of the Caribbean. From the Bahamas to Turks and Caicos, Anguilla & Saint Martin, Martinique & Grenada the Islands we know offer far more than the world’s best beaches. They have preserved their culture and the astonishing ecological treasures add to the beauty of the beaches and waters. The people are very hospitable and proud of their origins and will gladly share their rich history and tradition. From our experiences we can say that these islands offer a very diverse and more vibrant travel experience than you could ever imagine