June 24 ’10
My ultimate dream is to find the flying carpet that will fly me to my dream adventures and places. The carpet that I do not have to insure, repaint, do interior refurbishing, upgrade avionics, and of course no refueling or ground handling needed.
Rendezvous point was Zurich Airport Saturday morning, Supap from Thailand and myself from Manila. Thirty minutes difference but we were not racing planes; he was just in Thai Inter and myself on KLM. We were to have a day’s rest and we are off to fly by HS-SMC back to Thailand.
Upon arrival, weather was forecasted to be very bad on the Monday (our planned departure day) but still excellent flying weather until Sunday. The Pilatus folks were hesitant to let us go because everyone was not working on Sunday but at the same time worried that we may never get to go if we did not depart.
Shopping and a relaxing day in Lucerne was abandoned and we worked on the plane and got ourselves ready. Old Capt. Instructor Hans was helping us and of course never really trusted these two Asians to be able to get out of Bouch and fly back to Asia without a good briefing (with our looks, I can’t really blame him). He disliked computer flight planning and wanted to do manual flight planning with all documents complete. It was a bit of a rush and I did not get all my documents down so we were like student pilots who got their sermons from the oldies just before we departed. Our cub master insisted on a quick flight with him to show us how to get on the airways with Swiss ATC. We of course obliged and listened like good cub scouts.
Our overflight permit in France was not ready and our Moroccan landing permit is dated. Our cub master said that in Europe, if they accept your flight plan then that is it. There is no need for overflight or whatever. Just file and if they approve, then you are okay. We had one day to kill and we would not like to go to France because they did not even want to issue us an overflight permit. We decided to go to Malaga, Spain. I worked on the handling agent and informed him we were coming and we were ready for take off.
It was a nice flight and after our Bon Jour and Au Revoir with the French ATC, it was a Buenas Dias for Spanish ATC. I impressed Supap about my Spanish 101. Of course I did not tell him that in the Philippines during my time, we were obliged to have 12 units of Spanish in the university. He kinda felt that I could be a linguist in my next life and I, of course did not argue.
The approach to Malaga was easy and just seeing the view made us feel that we were landing in a nice Spanish beach resort island. Our handling agent was good and we were actually delayed going out because of our picture taking more than anything. The genav terminal reminded me of small airport terminals in the Philippines and really made me feel at home. Our hotel had a nice view of the sea and was very near the plaza area. Threw our bags in the fancy room, rushed out to the lazy restaurants for late lunch (for us) but just the right time for the locals.
Paella Marinara was my first choice and of course fresh grilled fish on the side. This was very nostalgic for me. Spain reminded me so much of my dad. The last time I was in Madrid was with my mom and dad and remembered him feasting on churrros and chocolate. Every time there was an occasion in the house, my dad’s specialty was paella- boy I do I miss him. The café, the plaza, the slower pace of life is really Spain and we were lucky to be here than cold and wintry Switzerland.
We both felt we should do the horse carriage ride and be like tourists in the afternoon. It was very interesting going thru the city and by the ports. It reminded me that these were the same sailors that have been adventurers that wondered around the world and discovered the Philippines. I felt I was so connected to Spain. Our breakfast even strengthened this when they served jamons and quesos that reminded me of breakfast with my grandfather. I enjoyed explaining to Supap exactly how our culture and education was influenced by Spain. Now he realizes that I can never be a linguist and maybe just a Don Quijote illegitimate great grandchild who can speak a bit of Spanish and is constantly looking for the fountain of youth.
It was very hard to leave Spain but after a few hours on flight it was Adios to the Spanish ATC and Bon Jour to Casablanca controllers. I wanted Marrakech but Supap wanted Casablanca. He was imagining the place to be like the movie and now you know how old he is with the movies he has watched. We had a good handler and managed to get Supap into Casablanca even without a visa.
We were ready to look for Aladdin’s magic lamp-Mr. Genie, be ready with our “out of this world” wishes! I have rubbed all the lamps in the market but no genie in the lamps but instead we had our tour guide in his Mercedes van just shooing away Alibaba and the forty thieves every time we went to the market. We wanted to see a very local market and asked him to take us out of town to see one. We wanted to see the goats, donkeys, and camels that they were trading; we wanted to see the spices, the food, the carpets, and the local products that they bring to the market. The colors, the noise, the wild music, the different faces, were all very good subject for Supap and his fancy camera. We stood out from the crowd. Very seldom would they see not so tall, not so dark, and not so handsome men looking around in the market. We were not buying and just taking photos and the shop owners did not like this. Our guide may not be the Genie but he did manage to take us away from trouble!
After a while, we had enough of the goat’s head,cow’s hoofs, red spleen and liver of some large animal in the market. The walking got us tired and we were ready to see the Casablanca beaches, old forts that were talked about in the movies and lunch but definitely not meat after we what we saw in the market! We had lunch in the same place the day before. This was the Le Mer restaurant, which is the best seafood place in whole Morocco as far as we were concerned. They certainly knew how to do the lobster and the grilled fish with lemon and olive oil. De-boning the grilled fish was shown as an art and is something that no one can match. Their preparation of the food in front of the customers was something unique to this place. The view was also something we cannot forget-light house, big waves pounding the jagged rocks and intrepid fishermen trying their luck on the sea and the kids using the sharp rocks as their playground.
After the good lunch, we drove around the shoreline and the long beach of course was nothing compared to Philippine’s Boracay but the place was so different in terms of architecture, colors and people. We made a short stop at the local souvenir shop to check out the carpets. The Berber design was not attractive for us and certainly did not look like they would fly.
We were up early the next day in time for our planned departure for Palermo, Italy via Tunisia and Algiers. We had to make one stop before getting to Istanbul. Italy’s Ambassador Fedele warned me about the numerous accidents in Punta Riasi airport and this makes it even more of a challenge. Flying over North Africa was the typical dessert-like terrain. However, as we approached Palermo, one can’t help but be fascinated with the beauty of southern Italy. The deep blue sea, the golden sands of the beach and the majestic rock mountain on the side of the runway was a sight to behold. It was a small airport with only one FBO- Aer Sicilia. These guys eventually became very good friends.
This was an overnight refueling stop with a hope of savoring Sicilian cooking before we head off to Turkey. True enough, that evening was steamed fresh clams with extra virgin olive oil and a very talkative Italian waiter whom Supap thought was surely gay. We had too much Italian red wine and staggered back to the hotel. There were a lot of Alpha Romeo police cars with detective lights and sirens whaling while we walked. For a while we imagined ourselves as the Mafiosi godfathers who were being chased and shot at by the police. We were lucky they did not pick us up for just being drunk.
We were ready for departure early the next day we did our CIQ clearing our photo sessions and were ready. After starting, stick shaker and flaps warning light would not go off. This was a “no” go item for this airplane. We decided to shut down and give Switzerland a call. They were convincing us to bring it back to chilly Bouch. We obviously put our foot down and asked them to do the work in Palermo. SMC just came from an inspection and this should be covered by warranty. I was sure our roaming charges were ticking as we tried to do the trouble-shooting over the phone. At the end, they sent the manager, Schaub Tobias to work on it but had to stay another day. Good excuse to be in Italy Schaub!!
Our landing permit deadlines were ticking and if we are not able to take off the next day, all the entry dates will have to be revised. There was added pressure because the immigration officers could not find the departure stamp of Supap and assumed that he has been staying in Europe for the past month or so. The aircraft repair was finally done mid afternoon which meant that we will arrive late evening in Istanbul plus we missed a day of touring around. Still a bit better choice than arguing with the Italian immigration officer and going thru the hassles of revising our landing permits. Upon our arrival in Ataturk, the genav parking area in this huge international airport took a while to taxi. Supap was scolded by the ATC on a taxi procedure but Supap’s logic was it was still better getting scolded by the ATC than by me.
We decided to stay in a hotel close to the airport since we had to depart next day for Teheran. Istanbul would have been an interesting place to wonder around if only we had more time. Weather was excellent and the cool breeze inspired us to walk to the nearby restaurant. We had a sumptuous Turkish dinner by the sea and the strong Turkish coffee kept me awake to work on the Teheran flight plan.
The Istanbul-Teheran routing was interesting. We should not allow ourselves to be drifted south because any slight deviation takes us to Iraqi airspace. We were not really excited to be intercepted and asked to land in this country. The minimum en-route altitude will be FL280. Since we were headed east, we had to go 290 and we were not RVSM. So we made a request for lower. We requested for two-day stopover since we were sure that the carpet of our dreams would be found in Teheran. They replied to us that if our purpose were only for refueling then they would allow only one day. In Switzerland, we heard horror stories from our Swiss friends about how they were harassed during their stop because of undeclared currency and how a stop in this place should be completely avoided. We however, always want to look for the challenge and an adventure to conquer. While cruising, we both agreed to keep our cash under the airplane carpet, under the soft drinks storage, under the candies and snacks cabinet, inside the shoes in separate suitcases that we would leave in the airplane to avoid any harassment. We had to bring plenty of cash for the fuel and handling payments so you can imagine how frenzy the cruise activity was.
From the air, I was surprised to see how nice Teheran stood out from the dessert with a lot of greens and nice snow covered mountains on the background. We tried to take a lot of video but after landing, while taxiing, Supap got worried and was panicking that the tower could probably see me and I was taking video. He reminded me where we were and for a while I got scared too. I slowly kept and moved the video camera down into its case. This will be our last video in this town. We definitely will avoid getting into any trouble here. Supap reminded me that in Morocco, the policemen chased us and put up a roadblock to catch us for taking videos while in the car. Since this is Teheran, who knows what they will do to us and we were taking videos in an airplane instead of a car!
Our ground handler was waiting for us and he had 4 bars in his shoulders and had a look of authority even as he smiled. We explained we needed fuel, we had friends meeting us and by the way, we did not have visas (said exactly in that order) and if he could help us with crew visas. There was a pause and silence for a minute and Supap and I were almost ready to put our hands out for handcuffs but to our surprise, he said no problem and just needed some cash to process our documents. He was actually very nice and was a bit embarrassed to ask for the cash. His smile made our impression of Iranians very different.
We had second degree (friends of friends) friends who were suppose to pick us up at the airport and help us get around this was great since we did not know a single person from this town. Everyone seemed to be extremely nice contrary to what we have envisioned. Our first stop of course was the carpet place. Offices were closed for some holidays and they asked these guys to open the store for us that was like on a corner of the third floor of a dark building. We know the routine and they started laying out the carpets. Supap could not stop himself saying, “yes” to everything he saw. I could not stop him too because they were all so nice. We did not need Aladdin or the Genie to be our consultant because the design, artwork, and colors of silk on silk were just gorgeous!
We asked for the prices of each and possible discounts but they said they would do it after our choice was made and depending on how many we will take. We were fed with very fresh Teheran fruits. After about an hour and a half, it was about 30 for Supap and 3 for me. They spoke in their local language and started computing and writing in a small piece of scratch paper. They double-checked our choices and said it was a total of about $140,000 USD. I almost burped out all the fruits that I have eaten. Supap pulled me in the corner and asked me to offer $70,000 for all and we pay cash. I was a bit hesitant, I told them we felt it was too expensive, and some other bit of soap opera stories, then I said can we offer about $90,000 USD. He computed how much it was in their currency and after getting the equivalent, his eyes flared, his voice went up, and his hand was on the air. I suddenly recalled the CNN newsreels when the crowd was demonstrating and ousted the Shah. I wanted to shrink and disappear. Supap was less 50% and I tried to make it less 30% and he was still offended! Now I was expecting them to take their AK47 out and I was ready to jump out of the fire escape. Our minds should work faster than a supersonic jet to get away from this situation and I said calmly that in that case we will just buy a couple instead of in bulk. Okay, he was cool now and explained that they gave us the best quality and lowest price since we were escorted by our friends and that if we could get them lower by 10%, they will buy as many as we can supply. We felt very embarrassed and in the end, we forgot that our money was in the plane! They even trusted us and allowed us to bring the carpets without payments. They were really great guys and we made new friends. If only it was a flying carpet, all my dreams would have been fulfilled.
Dinner at the hotel was good – we even had non-alcoholic beer! The ladies had very colorful veils and even wore fashionable blue jeans. It looked very good and fitted them very well. Most of the local folks in the restaurant were one big extended happy family. The place was more relaxed and cosmopolitan than we expected. Teheran is definitely a place that I would like to come back to and learn more about the arts, the culture, and people.
We had the longest take off roll the next day. We were overloaded with the heavy carpet and with temperatures of about 30 degrees centigrade plus high altitude. Once airborne, it was interesting to see the desert lined with a road to small towns. This would have been an exciting place to live in during the height of the Persian Empire. We imagined the traders braving the dessert with just their camels to trade the riches of the other worlds. We are now the modern adventurers but with 1,605 horsepower engines and just trading stories! Karachi was the next stop.
I have not been to Karachi for ages. I remember the last time I was here was a stopover in PAL en route to Europe and my flight attendant buddies would throw the water in the mineral water labeled plastic containers and put gin instead. It was funny how they managed to get away from customs. It was a good time to travel. PAL stopped almost at every place and I would join my flight attendant friends and had free overnight stays.
Our ground handler was waiting for us as we taxied in. Waited for fuel for a while but he kept on asking if everything was okay and if his service was good. I was very polite but was very tempted to say NO and that we wanted to get out of there as quick as possible. As a matter of coincidence, the hotel we stayed in was the same hotel that the PAL crew used to stay at and I have stayed there before when it was still Holiday Inn. The place was almost the same and felt at home. After a filling Pakistani dinner, Supap wanted to rest and I was still in the mood to walk around. Walking outside was not exactly the safest thing for me to do so I decided to look at the shops in the lower floors. The old carpet place was still there and the owner immediately asked if I was Filipino. He said he always gave the best prices to the PAL crew and he was happy to give the same low price if I wanted a carpet. I needed just one last one with a shade of red so I could retire the old one in my office. After a couple of carpets, I was sort of eyeing one already but was not sure exactly how he was pricing it. He made me feel that I got a real bargain and I think that is all that matters.
It was Calcutta the next day. I tried to use a different handler and see if things will move quicker. To my surprise, we had two handlers meeting us and it was a disaster. We waited for processing just as long and ended up paying double just to buy peace. VECC is a place you would avoid stopping in if you can but flying distance and time was good for us and since there was an Oberoi hotel, we felt it would be okay. I requested for limo service to the hotel and the handler said they have reserved an ambassador car for us and this was the only one available. I did not pay too much attention to it and “ambassador” sounded nice and fancy. When we finally got out of the airport, I realized what he meant by “ambassador” car. There was a bit of an argument between our handler and the driver. After a few minutes, we were instructed by the handler not to pay the driver anything and we were off to the hotel. The red seat covers of the taxi were almost black at the edges, the rattles of the car were nerve wrecking, and the driving could pass for the “fast and furious” movie. Plus he would have to pump the brakes maybe four times before the vehicle would slow down. None of the instruments were working so we really could not tell how fast we were going. There was of course no air conditioning so we were not only wind blown but also dirt blown after just a few kilometers of reckless driving.
The driver drove us thru the slum area and it was scary even to have the windows opened. Then he stopped and asked where we were going. He knew very well where to take us and he said he does not know where Oberoi hotel was. Supap and I looked at each other and knew exactly what he wanted. There was no way we could get down in the neighborhood to change taxi with all our luggage. The driver was really smart and Supap knew exactly how to solve the problem. Supap said we would give you $ tip so try to ask direction and get us there quickly. He automatically got cured of his amnesia. Supap was cool but I was very irritated and felt like using my belt to choke the driver to death and I’m sure Mother Teresa would even help me ask for forgiveness because of the drivers bad attitude.
India has always been interesting for me. Tourism would be a good industry here but it is people like this driver that destroys the country’s image. When we got to the hotel, we gave him tip and even took his photos. I guess he thought that we looked like and were really gullible.
Again same standard of hotel as we expected, very nice ambiance, decorated in good taste, and great dinner at the restaurant but very sad because as I tried to step outside the hotel, people were lying in the sidewalks just begging for food for survival. I wish I could help and change things for everyone. I began to understand why the driver had to get even a little extra funds from us.
I walked back to the hotel feeling bad how unfair this world can sometimes be for others. I walked back to my room appreciating how lucky I am to be able to see the world, experience adventures, conquer some challenges, taste good food, enjoy a bit of luxury, and be able to come back to a home. The next day was our last leg for home. I may not have found my flying carpet but have seen the worlds of other people and I have learned to appreciate life a bit more.
This flying trip has definitely enriched me as a person and so with Supap. We hope to continue to improve our life’s flight planning so we become good pilots and better citizens of the world.