Bali….

Posted: July 20, 2014 in Adventure

2014-07-16 08.51.22

Bali is to the Australians what Key West is to the Americans.  Run over by tourists, commercialized and set up for everyone looking to make a quick buck.  The main beneficiaries of this commercialization are the big corporations that have the same outlets and stores that they have opened in Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Bali.  The locals have been left to scrape the bottom while the tourist hordes descend upon the Batik shops, wood carving shops and the jewelry makers shops like there is no tomorrow.  Just when one starts to enjoy a nice scenery, a bus load of tourists arrives and messes up the scene.  This is not what I had in mind when I wanted to visit Bali….frankly, I am a little disappointed.

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Upon arrival, our handlers brought us to the B&B where we were going to stay.  Slightly off the beaten path, quiet and serene surroundings.  After we settled in our room, we decided to go out for dinner.  With our recent track record with food borne illness we decided to find a place to eat that we could trust.   Off we went in search, but did not have to go far.  We found this Italia restaurant that looked good and they had a live band playing.  We decided to park ourselves there and ordered our favorite meals, with Haris that was Pizza, more so since he had to had any ever since he got sick.  I also decided to play it safe and ordered some grilled chicken breast.  While we were eating, the band asked the diners if anyone had a special request; Haris feeling homesick requested Hotel California, they obliged and were not bad.  After dinner we went for a stroll and stopped at one of the few hundred tour guides.  We were able to hire a private taxi for quite a reasonable amount for the next day. The next day our tour guide and his driver arrived at the appointed time and we were ready as well.  After a brief discussion about how the day was going to be planned, we set out on our tour of Bali.  Our first stop, along with hundreds of other tourists, was the Batik shop.  We were given a tour of the process needed to develop the Batik designs, which turned out to be quite labor intensive.  There was also a show room right next to it where the tourists were encouraged to spend some money and buy souvenirs for their loved ones.  We played our part and bought a few items for our near and dear ones.  Our next stop was the art center where we saw how the Bali art was produced.  Haris decided to buy a souvenir for home and since it did not weigh much, I agreed.  From there we made our way to the wood carving district.  The teak, mahogany and hibiscus carvings were very nice, but their prices had been appropriately elevated for the Australian tourists.  Haris and I did not want any items with any significant weight as we still had a little bit of Indian and a whole lot of Pacific Ocean to cross.  Our need for fuel was far greater than a wood carving, so we passed and left.  We also found out that Australia does not allow any food items and items made out of wood to be brought in.  We decided to press on and decided to visit the Volcano, but along the way was something quite interesting as it was made to order for the Australian tourists.  It was the Luwak coffee.  This contraption was first grown as the Bali Coffee and then there is this exotic cat like animal that eats the coffee bean, but it only eats the ripe red shell and swallows the rest of the coffee bean, which the goes thru some chemical transformation and is then excreted out by the animal.  Lots of Balinese pickers scour the hill sides looking for this excrement.  It is then brought in and washed in hot water, cleaned out and then roasted on a wok.  Once roasted, this is ground into powdered coffee and is the most expensive coffee they sell in these farms.  All tourists make is a mission in their life to actually drink this coffee.  At these coffee farms they also sold other more normal kinds of coffees and teas, that we decided to buy and bring back in small quantities.  The volcano park turned out to be more of the same with hordes of tourists and locals trying to sell trinkets that we declined to buy.  Our tour guide wanted us to visit one of the temples next, but we requested a visit to the monkey temple, which is monkey sanctuary.  These are smaller sized monkeys, not the larger kind that may look like chimps.  Haris tried to get cute and take a selfie with one of them, but that guy was not amused and he attacked Haris, but could only grab  his shirt.  I jumped in towards the monkey and Haris was able to pull away from it.  Monkey’s have a sacred spot in the Hindu mythology and Bali being 95% hindu, this was probably a testament to them being sacred.

At this point Haris and I decided to call it a day and come back to see the sunset from across the street from our hotel.  As we got to the beach, apart from more tourists, side of the sky where the sun was going to set was all clouded up.  So, we took some touristy pictures and decided to catch an early dinner as we had to depart for Darwin Australia the next morning over the Indian Ocean.  Playing it rather safe, we both unanimously voted for the same place we had dinner the night before.  We grabbed a quick dinner and came back to our hotel room to prepare for our departure from Bali.  All night long the drunk Australians kept noisily coming back to their hotel rooms until it was time for us to get up and get going.  Our handling agent arrived right on time and took us back to the Bali airport.  We paid our bills, filed our flight plan and were ready to go. On reflection, Bali ended up  being way below our expectations.  One thing that stood out in Malaysia and Indonesia was the level of corruption.  We heard a lot of  people complaining about corruption in Malaysia, but there was also a lot of development.  In Indonesia, however, the level of corruption was much higher as our tour guide had to grease the plams twice during the day while we were being toured around.  There did not seem to be a lot of development done at the state level as it was in Malaysia…

Kuala Lumpur and Beyond…

Posted: July 16, 2014 in Adventure

Our one day stop in Kuala Lumpur turned into a four day stop due to Haris’ illness.  We were sure that what started in Pakistan was not properly cured and with a little travel stress, it all came back.  This time it must be completely cured before we press on.  Upon suggestion from a virtual panel of doctors from several countries, it was decided that Haris needed an anti-biotic.  A course of Cipro was in order and was administered.  While all of this illness was going on, there was a mention of the world cup final being played during the illness…..hmmm…could that have something to do with the illness…I am not sure, but I have my suspicions as we are a strong soccer/football family….  For the next two days, I stayed in the hotel room with Haris and made sure he took his medication and ate and drank plenty of fluids to nurse him back to health.  Meanwhile, my Sargodhian entry-mate, Nawaz Khan, who is in Singapore, kept insisting that I visit Singapore as well.  But due to Haris’s health concerns, I did not want to take a chance and had to decline.  I also declined to see anyone else due to the fact that we did not want to venture too far from the hotel.  Capt Mani and Ms Rani, our hosts in Kuala Lumpur from EAA Malaysia, were awesome and checked up on us several times a day and were always there when we needed them.  Finally, when Haris gave us the indication that he was ready to go, we filed our next flight plan from Kuala Lumpur to Bali for the morning of Tuesday, July 15.  Our next stop was at the immigration, which was a breeze – in and out in 10 minutes.

2014-07-15 08.40.21 2014-07-15 08.29.55-1Our last stop was at the Air Traffic Control area where Ms Rani’s brother in law, Kadarvaloo Maniam, who is an air traffic controller at the Air Traffic Control Center for the past 40 years, wanted to give us a grand tour of the facility.  This was an awesome event, we got to see how the the plane goes from clearance delivery to tower to departure control to enroute control and on to destination.  We knew that it happened but we got to see every part of the system function on a first hand basis.  After departure and until we cleared the Singapore Approach, every controller knew Haris’s mission and wished him success.

2014-07-15 09.20.09As we got to the airport, there was a group of young ethnic Chinese Malaysian kindergarten and primary school teachers who wanted an introductory flight that day.  When they found out about Haris, they all wanted to be photographed with him and the plane.  So, we spent the next ten minutes taking pictures in various groups and individuals.  Then it was time for us to get going as we were almost two hours behind schedule.  Startup, taxi and take off were uneventful and we were established in cruise at 11,000 feet.  The flight through Malaysian and Singaporean air spaces were a breeze.  Then we were handed off to the Indonesian controllers and the hide and seek with VHF and UHF radios started.  Since we had an ICAO flight plan in place, I was sure that the controllers along our route of flight knew we were coming, but in third world countries it is never a good idea to assume ANYTHING.  I also did not want us flying without ATC coverage.  So, we kept looking for active frequencies and would sometimes luck out and stay with a controller through their sector, only to be dropped to the HF frequency that does not work worth a darn unless you are prepared to spend some serious cash on a very good airline quality HF radio.

 

 

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Finally, leaving Isthmus of Kra through the Straits of Malacca, flying over the Island of Sumatra on to the Island of Java we made our way to Bali.  Along the way, we saw some really tall volcanic mountains that stuck out of the clouds presenting a very majestic view.  One seemed to be producing some smoke, but it could have been our imagination also, although we did look at it through our binoculars to make sure, but it was too far to say for sure if it was spewing out something or if it was clouds that gave us that impression from afar.  While looking at all of those dormant volcanoes Haris informed me that we were headed straight into one of them that was in our flight path.  Soon, the controllers routed us around them and started our initial descent into Bali.  The thin cloud deck was close to 7000 feet but did not present a problem.  We had completed an 8 hour leg, fighting headwinds and 1120 nautical mile trip and we were ready to land.  Haris executed the VOR 09 approach into Bali with ease with an airliner waiting for our landing, we landed and made our way to parking.

2014-07-15 17.04.33 2014-07-15 17.16.35As we landed, our handlers were waiting for us and as soon as we emerged from the plane, they requested our passports.  With some bad experiences with re-fueling in recent arrivals, we had requested fuel to be ready on arrival at Bali.  Even before the efficient immigration officials could return our passports, the fuelers were there with our requested two 200 liter barrels of fuel.  They pumped all 400 liters in about 45 minutes and were gone.  This arrival has been, by far the best so far.

2014-07-15 23.11.59The handlers then presented Haris and I with wood carved “signs” – you could not call them name plates if you saw how well they were made and then they drove us to our Bed and Breakfast (B&B).  This B&B is quite interesting, in that, it is just slightly off the beaten path in Bali in the Kuta area and avoids the extreme hustle and bustle of the million strong Australian tourist presence, but is only 5 minute walk from the main drags.  There are two parts of this B&B, one is cottages that are ringed around a swimming pool but for single roomers like Haris and I, there was a separate section that had just one room with whatever configuration of beds one may want.  The whole atmosphere inside the B&B belied the extreme touristy appearance just 100 yards outside the main gate.  It would be dishonest at this point, if I did not give due credit, once again, to our program managers : Eddie Gould and Ahmed of GASE, who got us the landing permits, over fly permits, handlers, fuel and hotel – each one at its best, bar none.  Once again, Eddie…I don’t care what anyone (Ahmed and Anthea) says about you, or as we say in the US : You da Man !

 

 

Upon reaching our room, Haris wanted to work on his blog, while I was hungry and wanted to go out and eat.  It took me about 35 minutes to get Haris to disengage and leave for dinner with me.  After the recent spat with illness, Haris now questions everything he eats- which is a good thing.  For my part, I decided that we will only eat at places we could trust, which, on the road can be challenging.  But, for the most part, one can figure out the kind of food that would be served out of an establishment and so long as it was not Pakistani/Indian (desi) food, Haris did not seem to have a problem.  It will probably a dark day, when Haris agrees to go to a desi restaurant to eat.  We also decided that whatever we eat, must be completely dead and cooked at very high temperatures – if it kills all the nutrients at those temperatures, so be it – at least it will kill all the bacteria with it…..

The Indian Ocean and Kuala Lumpur

Posted: July 13, 2014 in Adventure

We arrived at the Colombo airport around 7:15 AM on the day of our departure.  It took us a little bit of effort to figure out where to go.  The security guards were inspecting tickets before allowing people to enter the departure area.  We did not have a ticket or a boarding pass and Haris was concerned.  I told him that this is where our pilot uniforms come in.  We walked up to the guards very confidently, handed them our passports and informed them that we had a charter flight (the concept of a private flight is nonexistent in the rest of the world – so Americans take note).  They sent a guard with us to the Sri Lankan Airline Passenger Services counter to make sure it was all OK before leaving us there.  The Sri Lankan Airlines, our handlers, had no clue as to who we were and why we were there.  With a lot of help from me, they located our paper work and informed us that we must pay our landing and parking fees before we can even think of departing Sri Lanka.  Off we went to the Airport Deputy Managers office, who prepared an invoice for $14 for two days of our stay.  He also admonished us to leave with in the next hour or we would have to shut down our engine and come back and pay another $4 for another day’s parking charges.  Next stop was to file our flight plan.  I asked the handlers what my destination was on the flight plan and was shocked to find out that our destination was in Africa, about 180 degrees opposite to where we were planning to go.  I whipped out my iPad and pulled up my flight plan and dictated it to the Flight Ops people.  Upon successful filing of the flight plan, I was asked to now hand write a paper flight plan for their records !  Don’t these guys save what’s on their computers ?  Anyway, we got that done, next we had to pay handling fees to Sri Lankan Airlines.  We then proceeded to customs, then immigration and finally out on the tarmac to get to our airplane.  The only good thing was that everyone wanted to avoid having us to pay an extra $4 so they did their best to hurry thru every bureaucratic signature…..Once at the plane, I asked Haris to put on our full immersion suits and he protested but complied.  Indian Ocean is nothing to be trifled with and we had to be on our full survival mode to fly over it.

2014-07-11 15.04.282014-07-11 15.16.162014-07-11 15.16.21During our pre-flight weather briefing, I noticed thunderstorms and lightning over much of Kuala Lumpur.  In studying the direction of those storms, we surmised that these storms would move out by the time we got there.  But just to be on the safe side, I requested that Eddie Gould, our program manager in Egypt to send us meteorological information (METARS)  in the last three hours of the flight so we 2014-07-11 15.16.37could decide where to go if we had to divert.  Eddie’s text messages with the METARS did alleviate some stress, but the visual of the skies helped us tremendously in making our decision.  We found the cloud system with a dissipating convective activity, which was good news…. it made our decision to press on a whole lot easier.

 

 

Once again, upon arrival at the Subang Airport (WMSA), we were cleared for an ILS 15 approach.  This time Haris decided to set up the autopilot to fly the approach.  I pointed out to Haris when the runway was in sight that there was no decent place to put down in case of an emergency, so it may be prudent to hand fly the approach, stay high and dive at the last minute to a landing.  He agreed and once again had a great landing….Kuala Lumpur…we are here.  Once we landed, we informed the controllers that we were supposed to go to the EAA Malaysia’s hangar; the controller sent us to a wrong hangar – twice.  I told Haris to park on a spot on the ramp and lets figure this out on foot before trying to find the place.  Captain Mani, our host, was supposed to be waiting for us – he saw us going around in circles and called the controllers on the phone and told them where to send us.  So, we started up again and this time we found Capt Mani, who took charge right away, got us parked and after the pleasantries we left in his car to get Immigration and Customs done.  That was a breeze, so we headed to the hotel that had been booked for us by EAA Malaysia, The Grand Dorset hotel.  It is a very nice hotel with all the amenities one could ask for.

Here is where I made a huge mistake !  I took Haris to eat Indian food….

2014-07-11 23.22.45We then called one of my wife’s niece’s and her husband Dr Muqaddam Khan, who took us sight seeing around Kuala Lumpur, to the Patronas towers and other places and we got back to our hotel around 1:00 AM.  The next morning Haris got sick again….we had to refuel the plane and EAA Malaysia had set up press coverage for Haris and there was pilot-talk (hangar-talk) with the local pilots.  We also got a chance to ogle at awesome helicopters….man, they were nice as heck !  Capt Mani gave us a grand tour and then we met Ms Rani, who practically runs the EAA chapter in Malaysia.  One of my fellow beechcraft pilots, Robert Ziegler called and he agreed to meet us at the airport.  Robert came over with his beautiful wife and an awesome three year old son.  We chatted away about his flying experience in the south east Asia and other countries.  I learned a bunch.  Robert then invited us to Lunch, but Haris did not feel up to it and he came back to the hotel.  I had a tremendous lunch with Robert,  his wife, his son, his young daughter, Ms Rani and Capt Mani…..Robert is on his way to India for his next gig in a week or so and we talked about his chances of satisfying his aviation habit while he is in India….

 

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Farewells are always difficult and with my sister at the airport to see us off, did not make it any easier.  On top of that, we had been planning for this for six months and now it was time to move on.  I wanted to stay longer but we have a mission and we must move on….

 

 

 

 

 

Karachi2Our departure for Sri Lanka was delayed as we had planned to take on a little extra fuel for insurance….just in case.  It was a good thing we took some extra….The weather forecast for India was all wrong and there were massive buildups and the controllers were having a heck of a time as everyone was deviating, ducking or just refusing clearances.  Our initially filed plan was modified by the Indian controllers that added an extra 100 miles to our trip.  They kept up over water until we were well past Mumbai and then the weather took over.  We kept deviating until almost close to Goa, when we found a hole in the weather and slipped thru it.  The good news was that our strike finder was helping us in finding were the lightning strikes were and which clouds to avoid.  By the time we got done, after a bunch of anxious moments, we were well on our way.  One of the peculiarities of the Indian air traffic control systems was that the civil ATC does not have very good radar coverage, therefore, they require people to fly the airways (highways in the sky) and report distances to and from specific waypoints/fixes with the appropriate radials.  At times they require position reporting every 10 miles to determine if the radio contact is still intact and at the last minute they try to relay the VHF frequency for the next sector.  This technique left Haris and I in limbo several times so much so that at three instances, a local airliner flying in our sector had to give us the frequency for the next sector.  Despite this challenge, the controllers were very professional and easy to get along.  We finally came to Madurai VOR and started tracking 165 radial outbound for our exit from the Indian airspace and entry into the Sri Lankan airspace.  The Indian Ocean looked pretty rough below.  we spotted a single container ship on its way to deliver its heavy load to some far away port and continued on our way towards Colombo.

karachi4The weather at Colombo was overcast at 1600 feet.  By this time we had been in the air for about 9 hours and we were given the ILS22 into Columbo.  The Columbo airspace is quite interesting.  The approach controller either sends you to a hold or gives your a new frequency to contact the “Director”.  The director’s job is to sequence the inbound flights to alleviate congestion in the Colombo airspace.  By the way, Colombo has only one runway, so the director has to be on top of his game.  Haris hand flew the ILS approach to perfection and a great landing.  We met out handler, the Sri Lankan Airlines and they requested fuel for us.  It took the fuel guys about 3 hours to bring the fuel to our plane.  By the time we got done and headed to our hotel, it was almost 9:00 PM local time and we had not eaten anything since 6:00 AM.  The customs people found some irregularities with our paperwork….at the next opportunity I must fill out at least two GenDec (General Declaration forms in accordance with the ICAO-annex for chapter 9)…lesson learned.  The drive to the airport was spooky to say the least.  Our courtesy car driver took us into what looked like a dark alley and then turned into a darker one still.  He parked in front of a large gate that opened and we entered the hotel compound.  To our surprise, this was a gem of a hotel with immaculate rooms and great service.

 

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The name of the hotel was quite unassuming as it was called : Airport City Hub.  Our initial skepticism was replaced by serious admiration, once again Eddie Gold, our program manager and dispatcher hit gold.  The restaurant in the hotel has a limited menu but everything is cooked to perfection.  During the night the phone started ringing and the call seemed to be from Pakistan.  I finally got connected and the young man introduced himself as Umer Akmal, a Pakistani cricketer.  He was very complimentary and wanted to talk with Haris.  I informed him that Haris was fast asleep and so was I being that it was 12:45 AM in Colombo.  He offered to help us in any way he could and wanted to just be in contact with us as he appreciated what we were doing.  The next morning, we did not have our landing permit for Kuala Lumpur, so we decided to stay an extra day and go sight seeing.  Upon our request the hotel arranged for a cab with the driver for the whole day for Rs 7500, which translated to $58.  We jumped at the opportunity and with the local driver, went to town to see Colombo and Nogambo beach.

Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean

Our first stop was the famous Budhist temple.  The whole temple was quite an amazing sight with huge amounts of Ivory everywhere.  They even had a live elephant in the temple.  There were some expensive cars and an assortment of jewelry, probably things donated by ardent followers of their faith.  Gave a little feel for the alms giving that goes on at Data Darbar in Lahore….similar principle – different religion.  By the way, before entering the temple one is required to remove their shoes prior to entering .

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After visiting the temple we decided to see the beaches, where the Indian Ocean was a little rough and the surf was coming in at an almost regular and rhythmic pace.  For some reason, Haris and I thought that the water of the Atlantic was a little cleaner than that of the Indian Ocean.  It could have been a consequence of the rough seas whereby a lot of dirt and debris had been dredged up giving it a dirty hue.  Next we drove to the town of Nogambo, where a lagoon was lined up for miles with resorts.  We found out that a lot of Australians and Europeans come for vacations.  Certain parts of town seemed to be run over by fair skinned tourists.

Finally we decided that all the fun and frolic must come to an end and we returned to our hotel.  We plan to depart Sri Lanka for Kuala lumpur by 8:00 AM which means we must be up and about before 6:00 AM and be at the airport no later than 7:00 AM…..

Back To Karachi….

Posted: July 10, 2014 in Adventure

The monsoons had been stalled over Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal, which made us re-think our route of flying from Lahore to Chittagong.  Eddie, Ahmed and I conferred and decided that it may be best to avoid the whole thing and just proceed to Columbo, Sri Lanka and then go across the Indian Ocean to Kuala Lumpur.  Ahmed also advised us to avoid the Indonesian air space as an over fly permit could take upto two weeks to get.  With these decision made, Eddie and Ahmed, who by now had started growing cob webs waiting for us to re-start our trip (Eddie’s words), set about to getting our over-fly permits, landing permits, handling arrangements, fuel availability and other logistics in place.  Meanwhile, Tipu- Haris’s cousins husband, who is a doctor, was busy poking a hole in Haris’s arm to get an IV going so Haris could be nursed back to health.  While the good doctor was setting the IV up, Haris was making a video with his iPhone !  These kids…..

Another day of rest meant that we got invited to another iftaar and that meant another opportunity to get sick.  I know that is a cynical view, but after getting sick with food, that is the only way Haris and I started thinking.  One of my school time friends called and was insisting that we go to the famous Lahori food court and that their food was absolutely safe.  I had to quite forcefully tell him that we are no longer discussing food options – however, we could discuss starving options because that is what Haris and I must start doing so we can get back on track with our trip around the globe.  Towards the end of the day, Haris felt pretty good so I filed our flight plan for the next morning to retrace our steps and go back to Karachi so we could launch for Sri Lanka.

We had planned to depart for Karachi at 8:00 AM, but after calculating our fuel requirements, we decided to take on some extra fuel to plan for the next leg from Karachi to Columbo.  The reason for this decision was that we could only buy barrel-ful of Avgas in Karachi, so I had to plan for fuel in 200 liter increments.  However, in Lahore, we paid for the fuel buy the liter.  Therefore, we bought enough fuel in Lahore that would allow us to buy two barrels of fuel in Karachi and still have enough to reach Columbo.  With the extra fuel, we managed to depart Lahore around 8:45 AM.

Immediately on departure we were cleared once again for 11,000 feet and vectored towards our destination.  The reason we always seem to be flying at 11,000 feet is that we have run out of oxygen and we would need oxygen at or above 12,500 feet.  So, Haris and I decided that we may be OK flying at 11,000.  So far, this has worked well for us and we will keep trying to get a refill as we travel along.  Maybe, by Australia we can get the oxygen tank filled…..

The day turned out to be quite hot.  At 11,000 feet the outside air temperature was 65 degrees F.  As we flew over Multan and Bahawalpur areas, the temperatures jumped another 5 degrees.  This reminds me of the time when we were growing up.  During the summers parents would send their kids to hill stations, where the air was crisp, clear and cold.  But since my cousins lived in Multan, we were sent to Multan where the temps could top out around 120 degrees, but for some reason, as kids we never felt the true impact of those temperatures.  It is only now that I have started thinking about temperature in those terms.  Due to high temperatures, the visibility was poor and the pictures I took with my iPhone while Haris was busy with fuel management, were of quite a poor quality.  From Multan, all the way down to Nawabshah, the terrain below looked inhospitable, barren and very uninviting.  But as is customary, Haris and I kept looking for and discussing a place for an emergency landing.  As we neared Karachi, we were cleared for a descent to 6000 feet.  The temperature at that altitude was 85 degrees and the vents were throwing out hot air.  We had to restrict the ram-air flow from these vents to reduce the misery.  The controller initially gave us instructions to get established on the localizer for an ILS approach into 25L at Karachi, but then changed his mind when a faster plane came up behind us.  We were forced to do a 360 degree turn to allow faster traffic to go and so we had to get established once again on the ILS 25L.  Haris likes to hand fly the ILS approaches and does an excellent job of it.  This approach was no different and he disconnected the auto pilot at the initial approach fix and hand flew it down to the runway.  After a very good landing, we headed to the refueling and parking areas.  Once Haris had shut down, we set about the task of requesting fuel for an early departure the next morning.  Two barrels of Avgas were delivered and it took us another hour to get all of that fuel hand-pumped into the four wing and one cabin tanks.  After the fuel fiasco in Al Ain, we have decided to refuel on arrival and not wait until departure, that way we may have better control of our departure time and consequently a little better idea of our ETA and slot times at destination airports.

As we departed Karachi and Pakistan, upon reflection, it was a tremendous feeling.  But, my biggest disappointment and regret remains not being able to visit my alma mater.  Lots of Sargodhians have rationalized it by posting their comments and some have been more loyal to the king than the king himself in their rationalizations and justifications, but the fact remains, I – could – not – visit – the – school – I – so – dearly – wanted – to – visit.  Having travelled half way around the world and remaining unfulfilled – no amount of rationalizing or creative reasoning will white wash this feeling of extreme disappointment……and no, I will never get over it as this was a once in a life time opportunity that has been lost for ever !  Since we all have a perspective, I do too and NO ONE knows the true emotional value I had attached to the trip to Sargodha…..

Lahore….

Posted: July 9, 2014 in Adventure

The night before our departure from Islamabad, Haris and I selected our route to Lahore, which was pretty straight forward.  Since electronic flight plans can not be filed in Pakistan, we must give our departure/destination airports and way points to our handling agents who would then file the flight plan.  We were also admonished by Khursheed Anwar, my Sargodhian course mate and dear friend, to arrive ON-TIME in Lahore and not to keep everyone waiting.  We did our level best to depart exactly at 9:00 AM, but were firstly given an engine start time of 9:10…. then we were told to standby for clearance for another 10 minutes.  I told Haris that he would have to burn some extra gas to try to make up for lost time…..we finally received our departure clearance with the departure procedure and were told to line up and wait.  Haris had already done the mag check and run up and we were ready.  On our next leg, I think it is time to introduce Haris to LOP mag check…

Upon departure we initially climbed to 4500 feet and crossed the designated point and headed in the direction of Lahore.  Haris elected to fly Lean of Peak (LOP) and lost about 6-8 Kts in cruise, which was fine by me.  By now Khursheed must have had a captive audience in Lahore and they would probably wait another few minutes for our arrival.  Haris declared that Walton airport was not in the Garmin GNS530W GPS.  I flipped open Jeppesen FD on the iPad and sure enough, it was not on iPad either.  I recommended to Haris to call the controllers and see if they could either give us a near by intersection, another nav aid or the latitude and longitude of the airport.  When Haris asked for this information, it must have sounded like Greek to the controllers….they came back with : Controllers in Lahore will coordinate and vector you to the airport.  Haris and I were both a little concerned and apprehensive and ever since we left our home drone, I have been harping on Haris that an instrument pilot always flies with precision, always maintains the center line while taxiing, landing and take-off, never busts the assigned altitudes (more on this later) and is always way ahead of the plane.  Not knowing the exact location of the Walton airpot was rather unsettling.  Our planning spreadsheet has the latitudes and longitudes of all airfields and alternates for our entire flight around the world.  I looked back and saw the bag with that vital piece of information sitting all the way back past the bladder tank…..OK, note to self – transfer that info to the iPad upon landing for use in the future !

Screenshot 2014-07-07 18.56.29As we came near Lahore, the haze was quite thick and heavy but I wanted to take pictures.  I saw Minar e Pakistan and Badshahi Mosque and took a picture of both in one frame with my iPhone.  The controller informed us that Walton was 7 miles ahead and runway 32 was in use.  As we came closer the controller told us to do a 360 on the approach end of runway 32 for a VVIP movement.  We were then given a second 360 as the VVIP had not stopped having his (bowel) movement on the tarmac at Walton.  We heard controllers asking if all cars had cleared the runway and Haris and I could only stew as temperatures and tempers were both rising.  There seemed to be a lot of “movement” towards a turbine powered helicopter that undoubtedly had some VVIP.  We were curious as heck to find out who it was that had kept us in suspended animation….. we were finally cleared for visual approach into runway 32 at Walton.  I told Haris that he had better make a very good landing as a lot of ex-Pakistan Air Force pilots would be watching and critiquing his technique….other than that, no pressure.  Haris did a wonderful job of landing and as we taxied back, we saw yet more “movement” towards the helicopter.  We were told to slow down to allow the VVIP and their entourage to clear the taxiways before proceeding to the tarmac/ramp.  Upon arrival we found out that the VVIP was some one from the Shareef clan….. the VIP culture at its best !

As Haris parked and shut down the plane, we saw about 10 different camera crews descending on the plane.  I decided to get out of the way quickly to allow the TV people to talk to the Pilot in Command (PIC), but was told that I could not make such a quick exit and had to go back and emerge from the plane a little more slowly.  I had to comply.  By this time my sister in law and quite a few youngsters had gathered and were throwing rose petals on the plane, inside the plane and on both Haris and I.

plaqueAs I exited the plane I was greeted by AVM (Retd) Sajid Habib, the current principal of PAF College Sargodha.  He presented me with a plaque commemorating our arrival in Lahore and our effort at circumnavigating the globe.  Right on his heels was Anas bhai, the life time Secretary of Sargodhian Old Boys Association and with him were several other Sargodhians, some my seniors and others were my course mates.  The TCF school children presented Haris with bouquets and cards they had made.  We also had a lot of family all around and then we got smothered by media who all wanted to talk with Haris to learn about the whole trip and why we were doing it.  After that they all turned their attention on me and I had to answer the same questions they had already asked Haris and I kept repeating the same answers.  The heat on the tarmac was quite unbearable for both Haris and I and we paid the price for it later.  Once the photo sessions were over, we proceeded to a local TCF school to see how the TCF schools were run.  From the moment we set eyes on the purpose built school building till the time we left, I was in awe of what TCF had achieved.  We met the administrators, the principal and the teachers.  They briefed us on the various aspects of the school and then took us into a pilot project that was being done at five of the TCF schools to see how effective it would be if it was rolled out all across the TCF schools.  This initiative involved teaching the high school girls how to design and complete very complicated, intricate and beautiful embroidery pieces.  Having recently attended five weddings last December, I was keenly aware of what it takes to get those embroidered clothes ready, but I was very impressed with the results.  This is a real life skill that is being taught to these girls and they can instantly turn this into a livelihood upon graduating even if they decided not to go on with their studies.  My only suggestion to the school administrators was to also include a Management 101 class for these girls that would teach them how to price their products and how to market them.  The TCF school presented us with a crochet piece that we absolutely loved.

Upon leaving the TCF school we headed back to the Walton Airport as we had to change the oil in the plane.  We have scheduled all of our oil changes around 35 hours of flying time and this was the second oil change.  We had brought the oil and filters for the first two oil changes with us, while the third one would be in Darwin, Australia and the oil has already been staged and delivered there for us.  We plan to do another oil change, the last of this trip, in Honolulu, Hawaii.   By the time we got done with the oil change, Haris and I were once again drenched and wanted to get to a shower.  Since we sweated so much all day, we promptly felt sick …..

In the evening we were invited to an Iftaar by the Sargodhians Old Boys Assoiation of Lahore.  We got to meet some of our seniors that I met for the first time and several of my course mates also showed up.  We swapped old stories and had a lot of fun….. once we got back we started to feel the impact of the time we had spent out in the sun talking to the media and then doing the oil change…..  We decided to take it easy the next day and to catch up on some rest.  I did recover up to a point, but Haris was not that lucky and took the full brunt of it.  By night time we knew that our departure for Karachi the next morning was in jeopardy.  One of the family doctors advised us to put Haris on intravenous medication and we complied.  We could not proceed until both of us were firing on all cylinders….In the final analysis, I think Haris’s affinity for samosas caused this problem…he consumed them during iftaar in Islamabad….now I have asked Haris to clear with me before consuming any food….I can not afford my PIC to be sick…..

 

Islamabad…

Posted: July 6, 2014 in Adventure

After departure from Karachi, we climbed to 11,000 and followed the departure procedure for our Northerly route.  We carried a little extra fuel for this trip, just in case we encounter head winds, which we did.  We landed at Chaklala airport 4+ hours later.  While Haris was busy shooting the ILS approach, I took pictures and took the scenery in.  The margalla hills loomed large in the background and gave a kind of a surreal look to our arrival.  Haris squeaked the landing in, he seems to be getting a hang of landing the Bo.  We requested parking at the Rawalpindi Flying club area and as Haris shut down the engines we saw the Students of TCF welcoming us.  Along with them were my younger sister, Poonam, her husband Javaid and three of my school time friends : Akbar Sher Babar, Ather Ansari and Tanweer Ansari.  It was a most heart warming sight.  We got off the plane and met everyone and there was a brief photo session that everyone enjoyed.  One thing I have started to realize with the children of TCF is that they relate and warm up to Haris very quickly.  I saw them chatting away, while I was worried about the logistics of our arrival etc….you know the fatherly things :).

After a few fueling fiascos in our prior stops, we decided that we will always refuel the plane on arrival and not on departure.  It saves a lot of time and misery.  We requested a refuel and being at a flying club we were in good hands.  We met Captain Haris, a flight instructor with the Rawalpindi flying club who made our arrival, stay and departure a pure joy.  Between Haris (S-my son) and Haris (C-CFI), I knew I was in good hands !  Haris (C) also introduced us to all the other students and flight instructors at the flying club.  In talking with these youngsters, Haris (S) made the comment that it was a whole heck of a lot easier to fly in the US than it is in Pakistan.  There are also more opportunities in the US than in Pakistan.  Hats off to the aviators of Pakistan who are braving serious odds and flying for the pure joy of flying !

We have read some negative comments to the blog and in some newspapers about the trip Haris and I have undertaken.  Mostly, people form opinions without having all the facts or even bothering to verify things before posting negative comments.  In the western vernacular these types are called Negative Nellies.  It seems to be a case of being negative for the sake of being negative.  So, here is the rationale for WHY the heck we wanted to do it  and I will start by posing a few questions: 1) Why did Edmund Hillary Climb Mt Everest.  2) Why did Christopher Columbus discover America. 3) Why did Marco Polo travel to China. 4) Why did Ibn-e-Batuta travel all over the globe 5) Why did Zaheer ud din Babar conquer and take back his kingdom from his Uncle at the ripe young age of 13 ? 6) Why are we doing it if you (proverbial) don’t personally like us doing it…..should I go on ?

Granted that this is a risky venture….so is driving to work every day, some drunk driver or swerving truck could take you out.  Should you stop driving ?  No, you mitigate and try to become a more cautious and vigilant driver, but you may still get hit by someone who is not as cautious as you are.  But that is not a reason for you to stop living.  Also, here is something I and my wife very strongly believe in : If its not your time, its not your time, but when it is – no matter how many iron curtains you hide behind the grim reaper will get you.  But if you go supporting a noble cause, you have made a point and achieved your goal.

Haris and I could have easily and quietly gone around the world and satisfied ourselves, but we decided that we wanted to do it for a purpose and a cause !  Having come to America after getting my basic education from Pakistan and getting advanced degrees from the US, I fully realize the true potential of education.  I have stressed that to my three children as well and they know that there is no substitute for education.  As a result, Haris and I decided to support the charity that we were introduced to by my dear friend Azher Khan of Indianapolis, Indiana, and we were supporting for the past 7 years, the Citizens’ Foundation (TCF).  The rationale behind the support for TCF was to celebrate the success of creating 1000 standardized, purpose built schools in Pakistan and to promote this success to take this program further.  When we travel the various cities in Pakistan, we see schools open in private residences in deplorable conditions.  But if you take the time to visit a TCF school, you will be struck by the standards they maintain.  To maintain those standards, the administrators of the schools are working tirelessly and the results are most gratifying and speak for themselves.  The children in the TCF schools come from very humble and under privileged backgrounds but they want to excel in school.  From being supporters, Haris and I have become believers in the mission of the TCF.  But to publicize these successes, according to Marketing 101, people need to know and recognize what TCF has accomplished and what is possible even in the kind of conditions that exist in Pakistan today.   There is also this small matter relating to the fact that if TCF schools had not picked up these kids, they would have never seen a school in their life time.  Therefore, to promote TCF, we took on the banner of TCF and took off with it….

Here are some other irrelevant facts to consider about this flight – in case you have not read the previous blogs : 1. Haris is an Instrument Rated Pilot in the US. 2. His PPL and Instrument check rides took 11 hours as the FAA examiner wanted to be absolutely sure.  3. Haris and I took the aircraft ditching and survival courses from US Survival Systems, the same outfit that trains the US military. 4. We carry an EPIRB, 406 MHz ELT and one PLB each (if you don’t know what those are, please refrain from commenting on this item). 5. Read the previous blog entries to realize how we got the plane ready and what all was overhauled. 6. We have one of the best dispatchers in the industry helping us make all the decisions (Eddie Gould and Ahmed Hassan). 7.  We have Star Navigation of Canada monitoring our flight in real time and they monitor our speed, altitude and Lat/Long to pin point our exact location at all times.  We have real time two way texting also available thru Star Navigation 8.  We carry Delorme’s InReach that puts a ping on the world map every 10 minutes and is available on the web along with real time two way texting.  9.  We have a 4 person ocean going raft equipped with a desalination kit and emergency supplies. 10. We have 3 weeks of rations in our survival bag.  11. We carry a satellite phone and solar charging panels for our electronics.  12. We have about 19 hours of endurance (fuel wise – my bladder limit is much lower). 13.  For all water crossings we wear the full immersion suits.

Now, a casual observer, who had read the blogs would have been able to ascertain these “facts” without me having to go into details on this blog entry.  Here is my request : Until we land back in Indiana, please hold your negativity in check and after that we can have a discussion – I know it won’t be as much fun at that point, but what the heck ….. This flight is NOT about records, it is about a MISSION !  By the way, Haris will be the youngest Pilot in Command (PIC) to accomplish a trip around the world in a single engine plane.  Jack Weigand was the previous record holder of youngest solo pilot flying around the world and he has helped us a heck of a lot in our preparation.  Matt Guthmiller is flying solo at the age of 19 vying for that record now.

Enough of this frivolity, back to our time in Islamabad….. as we arrived in Islamabad my older sister, Nasreen Baji and her husband Abid bhai also arrived from Karachi,  and upon all of these arrivals my cousins and relatives came over to see us.  Meanwhile,  my younger sister had called and invited my friends from the various phases in my life for iftaar and dinner the next day….from primary/high school, PAF College Sargodha entry/coursemates, post PAF College friends, Engineering University friends and those after that time.  We had a lot of fun meeting old friends, some of whom I had not seen for many many years…… Everyone took pictures, that are now posted every where on the web.  While I was busy with “old” people, Haris took off with his cousins to see Islamabad….

Our original plan was to fly to Chittagong from Lahore, but the Monsoons seem to be stalled in the Bay of Bengal and over Bangladesh.  We have already lost 3 days and did not want to sit around and wait for that weather system to start moving.  We got in touch with our dispatchers to see if we could re-route and go back to Karachi and go on to Columbo and from there go to Kuala Lumpur and onto Bali instead of Bangladesh and Thailand.  But this kind of re-routing is not a trivial matter for both the crew and the dispatchers.  Now the over fly permits, landing rights and fuel availability have to be verified before we can launch.  This may cause another delay, but such is the nature of circumnavigation….at times, you just have to go with the flow and enjoy whatever is at hand….. but we must re-do our flight planning worksheets to do time/fuel and W&B (M&B for Europeans) calculations.  Haris and I have a protocol that was developed for us  by an airline trainer, who also happens to be Haris’s instrument instructor, Tom Jeffries.  Under this protocol, we fly and flight plan like a two pilot crew.  Everything is done, visually verified and confirmed by the second in command (that would be me).  This includes fuel management, heading changes, frequency changes, flight plan changes….in short, anything and everything is performed by the PIC and verified using the check list by the SIC.  We also do two independent pre-flights before departure with the hope that what one misses, the second would catch.  All of this activity keeps me a little preoccupied otherwise I would be bored to tears just sitting in the right seat with nothing to do !

On a more mundane level, my younger sister also took care of our laundry needs as Haris and i packed a little light for this trip so we could maximize on fuel….we are now ready to resume our travels……

 

Pakistan – Here we come….

Posted: July 4, 2014 in Adventure

Departure from Al Ain was a little less than inspiring, but Haris quickly got into the groove of things to aviate-navigate and communicate.  The waters of the Persian Gulf were calm as we climbed to 11,000 feet; we are now restricted to stay below 12,000 feet as we no longer have any oxygen left and I did not want to further complicate our life in Al Ain by asking for anything more than just the gasoline….  As we rounded out the Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian sea seemed more tumultuous and the wave action was producing a lot of foam that I initially mistook for boats but Haris, being young and with better eye sight, corrected me and informed me that the winds had kicked up causing wave action and foam formation.

The Omani air traffic controllers handed us off to the Pakistani controllers who requested that we advise them of our ETA and also let them know when we were 50 miles out.  The anticipation had now started to build quite a bit for me as I was anxious to see the Pakistani coastline.  I had left Pakistan in 1984 and have visited it often, but this time it was different.  We were arriving on our own and it meant a whole lot to me.  I felt a surge of emotion as I pointed out the outline of the coastline to Haris.  I don’t think Haris realized my true state of mind at that point and I did not want to encumber him with it either as he had to shoot an approach in to the Jinnah Airport at Karachi.  I wanted to look at everything that was passing beneath us to remember it for years to come….what a sight….. it felt like coming home !

The controllers then started vectoring us around and gave us a lower altitude to allow for a landing.  At 50 miles out, we had already informed the Karachi approach control of our ETA.  By the time Haris was established on the ILS approach, we could see the runway and he contacted the tower and made an uneventful landing.  A follow me car was waiting for us that took us to where all of our friends, family and TCF school children were waiting.  What a welcome, it was truly amazing and the children of TCF who were there made it all worth it.  A special thank you also goes out to IBAAS organizers Dr Wali Mughni and Prof Shamshad who had put this all together and made it possible for us.  Our handling agents in Karachi Executive Air International’s Saad Zaki and Urooj have been fantastic and efficient.  The students of IBAAS and TCF accorded Haris and I a welcome that I can not forget…..

According to plan, the next day we attended an iftaar with the Sargodhians’ Old Boys Association, Karachi Chapter.  We had a very good time talking with the seniors and juniors from our time at the great and esteemed institution that PAF College was.  We also raised funds for TCF during this event….

While all of this was going on, we were informed that our clearance to land at PAF Base Sargodha and been changed and we would be landing at an alternate field because the PAF can not provide night time security to the plane.  This is the most incredible, bordering on ridiculous, thing I have ever heard.  The PAF can not provide night time security INSIDE a base that is so secure that even birds can not over fly it.  The main charm for going to Sargodha for me was to fly into the PAF Base and visit our esteemed school and being that it was a once in a life time opportunity, this was a total waste !  Am I frustrated and upset about it ?  Yes, I truly am !  I had been telling Haris for six months how great the arrival and visit at Sargodha was going to be….. if there is one disappointment that will stand out more than anything else on this trip, it will be the trip to Sargodha !  And no, I will never get over it !  Sajid Habib bhai, the Principal of PAF College tried to convince me to look past this fiasco, but I can and will not !

The next morning we departed for Islamabad with a heavy heart……

Why Oh Why Al Ain, UAE….

Posted: July 2, 2014 in Adventure

The only reason I had insisted on stoping in Al Ain was that some dear friends were based there and they thought it would be a good place to stop and rest.  The problem is they are not Eddie Gould and Ahmed Hassan – who can spot trouble before it shows up.  They asked me why I wanted to go there and I explained with a lot of confidence that I had friends in high places in Al Ain and life would be good.  Note to Eddie – don’t mistake my confidence about things like this for any knowledge of what lies ahead for us – in other words, I don’t know what I am talking about.  One of my old cohorts from PAF College days, Javed Iqbal, was at the airport to receive us even past mid night.  He took us home, we met his wonderful family, had dinner, talked for a while and then went to bed.  By the way, his daughter makes the best tea in Al Ain.  The next morning Javed graciously drove us 1.5 hours to Dubai where we planned to stay with my niece and her family.  My niece Neetu and her husband Faisal have nerves of steel; as evidenced by the pandemonium and chaos created by their three children, but they were both cool as cucumbers and once in a while they would raise a warning flag of dire consequences, which the kids had gotten used to ignoring all the time.  Haris was having a very good time with the three musketeers and I was amazed at how quiet their home was once the kids were asleep……

Haris and I had “run out” of iPhone 5/iPad Air cables, so we had to get some spares just in case.  Haris’s theory is that I buy cheap knockoffs that last five days and that is why we “run out” of cables-he may be right, but you don’t want to admit to being wrong on too many things with your kids – bad for one-up-man-ship.  We also wanted to stock up on water, so we requested a trip to the local market to pick up those items.  Dubai is an amazing place where one can find anything from any part of the world – all in one place; a perfect mix of east and west.  But all of that glitz and glamour has this strangely synthetic look that you don’t get in Cairo or Rome, where everything has history and a story to tell.  In the evening we were invited to an iftaar/dinner by the UAE chapter of TCF; an organization that is the main reason for why we are flying around the world.  The ladies and gentlemen of TCF-UAE were awesome hosts and we had a great couple of hours of talk and discussion about the past, present and future of TCF world wide.  After all, Haris and I are fully vested in TCF and want to see it succeed.  Since we were running out of time, one of our old friends Hassan and Bashaer Nasralla who were our neighbors in Indiana and now live in Dubai; their  sons was Haris’s friends came to see us.  Unfortunately, their sons Hashim and Ahmed had to go to Iraq a day before our arrival and we missed them……

The next morning, Mr Ishaq Noor of TCF-UAE, whom I am grateful to for his kindness, had offered to have us dropped off at the Al Ain airport, we took him up on the offer and woke up around 2:30 AM to get to Al Ain for a 6:00 AM departure as weather forecast at Karachi called for very stiff winds (speed of 25 knots gusting to 30 knots) and a cloud cover.  Since the winds were forecast for being right in alignment with the runway, Haris and I discussed and we were not worried, but the low ceilings meant that Haris would have to execute an ILS approach.  Upon getting to the Al Ain airport we took care of paying our handling charges, exit stamps put on the passports and then went to the plane.  There was a Jet-A fuel truck parked right next to the plane and I pointedly explained to the fueler that my plane was strictly Avgas or 100 LL.  Then began a four hour odyssey of lies, excuses, inept behavior and total incompetence.  The temperature was rising and it rises a whole lot faster when you are on an apron/tarmac parked on concrete.  Several people came to talk to us and always told us that the fuel would be there in the next 20 minutes.  Finally, after four hours they showed up with 2 barrels of 100 LL – avgas.  Haris was amazed at the incompetence of the fuel company, which I explained to him, was doing this for a profit – at our expense.  He commented several times that in the US, a few people would have been fired for this 4 hour delay in getting fuel and I agreed, but I also told him that these are the lessons one learns on a trip of this size and magnitude.  As the fuel had arrived, I closely supervised fueling and after fueling the two tanks on one side, the fuel pump broke !  A senior mechanic was called, who showed up without any tools.  He sent his side-kick back to the shop three times and that side-kick would only bring one tool at a time.  Finally, he figured out that the pump had vapor locked and bleeding/priming it solved the problem.  Haris had already diagnosed the problem the moment the pump had broken….he is s smart kid, must take after his Dad !  We then fueled up the turtle pack, our tank inside the cabin, with all the fuel that was left over in the barrels.  In the meantime, the Al Ain tower had extended our departure slot four time and I was afraid they would cancel our clearance and we would have to file our flight plan again and request a fly over permit over Oman, which in itself is a royal pain.  Luckily, the controllers granted us permission to start and depart at the allotted slot time.  By this time, Haris and I had had enough of Al Ain and UAE, we could have avoided all of this if we had listened to Eddie Gould who was low key in suggesting alternates seeing we were so gung ho about the enthusiasm of my friends at Al Ain….. Eddie, we will listen to you way more closely from here on out.  We don’t have pictures of this ordeal as we did not want to get shot taking pictures of anything at the airport……

We departed Al Ain as a dust storm was starking to kick up.  The winds at Al Ain had picked up also and were 17 knots gusting to 25 knots, but they were right down the runway, Haris took care of it…..and we departed for Karachi over the persian gulf……

Cairo Experience….

Posted: July 1, 2014 in Adventure

When we arrived in Cairo from Mersa Matruh we were both quite unhappy at having lost a day, and both of us were very keen on seeing the Pyramids and learning about the history. We met Eddie Gould who came out of the follow me car and greeted us and for a little while we forgot about the heat and misery of the mid day in the warmth that Eddie exuded. After taking care of the formalities we went to General Badran’s hangar where he graciously hosted us to my favorite tea and snacks. General Badran has a hangar full of an assortment of planes that we enjoyed watching and he is also a good friend and supporter of general aviation/GASE in Egypt. Once the mid day passed, we proceeded to the city of Cairo from 6th of October. The hotel Fairmont, where Eddie had booked us, was a sprawling, lavish affair. After shower and quick change of clothes we got together with Eddie by the pool side at, now all of our, favorite spot for dinner. Everything about this hotel was impressive. Late that night we went to bed with a lot of anticipation about seeing the pyramids….. an item that has been on my bucket list for ever….

Early next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, and of course my favorite tea, we met Eddie Gould again and left for a sight seeing tour of Cairo. Eddie gave us a historical perspective of the places we drove thru, thus making this trip truly amazing. We were in for a little bit of a shock when we found the current city of Cairo extending right up to the pyramids of Giza. Eddie took us to all the important vantage points and kept talking about this camel called Charlie Brown who apparently loves Eddie. After a historical tour of the main pyramids, we went to meet Charlie Brown. Now this was the most amazing thing we saw, that camel recognized Eddie right away and muzzled up to him and started kissing his face. I have not seen such affection coming from an animal except in the case of dogs that worship their owners. Haris and I then went on a camel back ride of the pyramids. A truly amazing perspective. The camel drivers spoke English and constantly briefed us on all the various things we saw. Upon our return from the camel ride, our next stop was the Sphinx. That also turned out to be an excellent trip, and we met these two pint sized Egyptian girls, one 9 and the other 14, who spoke pretty good English. They told us to cross a barrier where a policeman was trying to keep people out, but these two young ladies told the policeman in Arabic to stop bothering us and he did…..I was impressed. These girls then took us on a tour of the sphinx and were instructing me on how best to take Haris’s pictures and apparently I was not getting it right, so she took the camera from me and snapped up a few pictures and then turns to me and says : “that’s how you take a picture of the sphinx”. She showed me alright. By now the desert heat had started taking its toll on all three of us. We barely dragged ourselves into the waiting cab and located Abdullah, the driver, who then asked us what we wanted to do next.

Haris wanted to visit Khan Khalili, the narrow, winding market with thousands of small shops for the souvenir hunters. We found out that during the last visit Eddie had gotten arrested along with another pilot he had taken there. It was not truly an arrest but rather detention and release some distance away. The crime – taking too many pictures and not buying enough stuff from the shops. Well, we decided to do away with that reason right off the bat and went into a shop and picked up the souvenirs that Haris wanted. Eddie also kept us away from the area where we could have gotten arrested. We also went and had tea at the Al Shaway Café, one that has been owned by the same family and according to an account, has never closed for the last 250 years. Now that is impressive. I was treated to mint tea while Haris and Eddie opted for cold Kirkedee drinks.

Next up we took a driving tour of the city and also got to see Jamia Al Azher, an old University and center of teaching and learning in Islamic Jurisprudence. That evening, we decided to again meet at Eddie’s favorite haunt, the poolside café in the Fairmont Hotel. Eddie’s wife Anthea and Ahmed the magnificent also joined us. I am truly impressed with Ahmed, with his extensive knowledge of the entire world’s flight planning, routing and dispatch system. He carries an iPod with him and can whip out a flight plan across political divides in a matter of seconds. With Eddie’s extensive training and education at the school of hard knocks and Ahmeds knowledge of the airway system, it is the perfect compliment of handling and dispatch that I have ever seen. At this point, Eddie and Ahmed recommended some changes to our flight plan. Having had the recent experience with Eddie and Ahmed and their extensive knowledge of the International Air Traffic control system, we readily accepted. We reluctantly had to call it a day as the next morning we planned to depart for Aswan, load up with fuel, get our Exit stamps on the passports and depart for Al Ain, UAE…… Eddie, Ahmed and Anthea more than made up for the day we had lost at Mersa Matruh….we feel we have made awesome friends for life…. Eddie, Anthea and Ahmed….Thank you for a most memorable trip to the city of Cairo…. I will try to get my better half to accompany me on a “vacation” to really enjoy everything Cairo and Egypt has to offer…… including a cruise on the Nile !