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Crossing the Pond: Before we can really get into the meat of the day 1 adventure to Mexico, I have to back up and start with the planning part. We had originally scheduled this trip for June but had the landing gear issue which made us postpone the trip until now. We were a bit more apprehensive about August as the hurricanes can come fast and furious this time of year and we all know that early in the season in June, we have not hit the building storms and the chances of hurricanes are less. We got lucky with being between storms so we caught our first break there.

We came to a little island called Holbox Island to swim with the whale sharks. There is an airstrip here which is basically private, owned by AeroSaab. Having “Aero” anything in the name would normally lead me to believe that this is an airline. It is, of sorts, but very small with a fleet of planes which are kin-folk to Wild Mama. The capacity of this runway at Holbox is 5 aircraft. The internet site stated GPS coordinates which we had not even questioned as being correct . . . Until we purchased our charts and plotted the coordinates and found ourselves about 60 miles west of where we thought we should be. We took a wild stab at the fact the 88 degrees should have been 87 degrees to give ourselves the second set of coordinates for the island. Not feeling too warm and fuzzy, we e-mailed the hotel where were had our reservations at the airport and asked for a fresh set of coordinates. The next day, all fresh, we received a third set of coordinates. Still not hitting our comfort zone, we logged on to the free version of Google Earth to see of we could get a satellite image somewhat resembling the photos on the web site, feeling confident that AT LEAST the photos were correct.. Lo and behold we found a photo AND could identify the runway. We set our pointer over the runway to come up with our fourth set of coordinates for our intended destination. We also printed out a photo being confident that the low tech method of flying the coastline and using our eyeballs would work at least as well as all our high tech gadgetry.

Having narrowed down our intended destination, we began the process of actually planning the trip. I had contacted AOPA and they advised me to hit the MYDIA intersection to remain clear of Cuban Airspace. We had gotten and actually studied the DOD charts, ONC J-25, the Jeppesen Mexico trip kit and we have the Americas in the 430 and worldwide navigation in the MX 20. We had read the information from the Baja Adventures about crossing the border and printed excerpts from the Manual of Tourist Entry from the Mexican Customs; the Flying to Mexico Guide; the AOPA guide to Mexican flight rules; and the Guidelines for Entrance to Mexico of Foreign Aircraft. We had lots of confidence in our magic carpet making the crossing of “Big Blue” but we were less confident in the paperwork portion of our program. We located Asur FBO and e-mailed them to assist us with the arrival, customs and flight plans in Mexico. Now we felt a little better about the paperwork.

We made our plan carefully both directions taking consideration of the amount of fuel we carried and knowing that could be an issue if we had a normal head winds in both directions trip. The trip direct from LaBelle would take us about 3-½ hours. Perfect. Our return will necessitate a stop for customs in Key West - 3:09 by our calculations. Since it was just over 1-½ hours X14 to KEYW it was definitely best to go straight and avoid the second fuel stop and climb out. So the night before we filed the flight plan IFR from X14 to MYDIA - ROBIN - MMUN. We checked the weather forecasts; loaded and fuel Wild Mama and planned for departure at 1200 z.

We were wheels up right on schedule. We planned to climb out to 10,000’ by the time we hit the coastline. We radioed Fort Myers approach and got “Cleared as Filed”. Music to our ears. ATC held us at 4,000’ to get by the RSW airspace, then directed us to climb to 9,000 and fly heading of 180 . . . to Key West. Seems they had a route change for us: X14 - EYW - CANOA - MYDIA - ROBIN - MMUN. This made our flight now over 4-½ hours leaving us less than 1 hour of fuel reserve. We advised ATC that we desired a shorter route whereupon they redirected us through what we though was Cuban Air space. Our eyes grew larger. We questioned ATC and found of that the Cuban Extended Airspace is NOT the prohibited Cuban airspace but basically space where you will be talking to Habana Center, and perfectly lawful to fly though without the necessity of permission from Fidel. The routing from CANOA was VINKA - NOSAT - MEDUX. This gave us an anticipated flight time of 3:20; but it put our time crossing into Mexican Airspace 25 minutes past what we had put in the flight plan. It was amended accordingly.

So here we are flying along . . . nothing but blue: beautiful blue skies; crystal clear blue waters; chilling blue screens on the MX20 and 430. We remained out of the sight of land for nearly 3 hours which gave us the time we needed to check on those silly little brown triangles at CANOA and other intersections. Here is where that Florida training has reared its ugly head again. For those who fly out west in the land of class G, compulsory reporting points are probably a daily routine. Not in Florida. We dusted off our “King” trained brain cells to recall the requirements for the compulsory reports. Then back to the blue.

The remainder of the flight was really, well, completely uneventful. It was interesting to talk to Habana and listen to ATC rattle off instructions in both English and Spanish. We had no trouble at all with the accents as the controllers were extremely well versed in English. We crossed into Mexican Airspace and the crossing was, well, very uneventful. We landed in Cancun and were directed to the customs area at Asur where we were greeted by the Asur personnel who were expecting us. Our Mexican arrival was not the boogie-man we had feared, but was, well, very uneventful. They checked our paperwork, passports, luggage (please leave YOUR bananas at home or eat them before you land) and joked around with my husband, Mario. We paid our landing fees of $50 US in cash. We then paid our FBO fees and fueled up with about 50 gallons; paid the immigration fees and ramp fee with our American Express and the bill was about $278 US. We were pleased. The FBO assisted us and filed the flight plan to Holbox, carted our luggage back to the plane and bid us “hasta luego” until our Monday morning return. We made a very uneventful departure to Holbox, although it was quite fun being sandwiched between commercial jumbo jets and being told to “line up on the runway and wait” instead of the “taxi to position and hold” as we are accustomed to hearing.

We flew out toward to coastline and over the city of Cancun at 1500’ watching the sea of multicolored houses lined up block after block. We skirted the coast to the north and found that our picture of Holbox was accurate as were the coordinates of 21 degrees 30’ 52” N and 87 degrees 23’ 04” W as given to us by the pilot were correct. We made a landing on runway 3, being careful not to mistake the road for the runway as the road was a bit bigger and in better condition. Hurricane Wilma passed through this area last October and made quite a mess of things but the area is coming back very strong. The main terminal building and passenger waiting area have not quite been fully restored, but the fact that no more than 5 people can arrive at any one time will certainly not overwhelm the terminal.

We were greeted by Victor Saab (remember AeroSaab). His hospitality was overwhelming. We chatted up a storm while the military guard stood by collecting information on our arrival and intended departure. Our bags were swiftly delivered to our rooms and we hit the beach for some relaxation.

The hotel is right at the airport - Hotel Puerto Holbox. We have a view of the beach out one side and the airplane out the other which is very comforting to us. We have heard the many horror stories about the strange disappearance of aircraft in the Mexican Triangle so we came armed with a prop lock, throttle lock, special non-Cessna standard door and baggage locks, our cockpit cover and a blanket covering our panel of toys. We also came equipped with our own tie-downs as neither wheel chocks nor tie downs are standard equipment on the island.

After our swim we headed off to town for dinner. Victor offered to call us a cab but we figured that the walk would be good. One could cover the whole town in about a day here. The streets are all dirt and there is nary a car in sight. The cabs are golf carts, as are most of the other forms of private transportation. Victor recommended Edelyn’s for dinner down next to the town center which was completely destroyed by the storm and in the process of being rebuilt. Mario and Vern had the Mexican version of a Cuban sandwich - very large and filling - and I had a grilled chicken salad. We had lemonade and sodas and ice cream for dessert and the bill was $20.

We finished out the day wandering about the streets and just taking in the sights. Most of the hotels here are thatched roofs and quite small. I think we have one of the few hotels with air conditioning. The people of the island are very friendly and hard working. There is still much work to be done after the storm but all give a friendly hello as we pass by. Tomorrow is my day to see whale sharks. I have tried on many occasions but I feel that the chances of success here are all but guaranteed as every place we pass we see signs for the whale shark tours. Tonight, however, we rest, relieved that the boogie-man is no more.

Breaking the Coastline over Fort Myers Beach, FL

First Sight of Land - WHEW!!!

We were "David" Surrounded by "Goliaths"

Cancun, Mexico

Holbox Island - Can you spot the Runway???

Gear Down, Flaps Down, Cleared to Land

Holbox Terminal

Hotel Puerto Holbox

The Hotel was Next to the Airport

"Lawn Mower" hard at Work!

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Whale Sharks:  The plan for today had nothing to do with airplanes but everything to do with fun. I have been trying to see and swim with whale sharks in the wild for several years and today the “all but guaranteed” was guaranteed. Success!!!

Victor had delivered to our room a basic but more than satisfying continental breakfast to get us going. The tour operator came following behind to collect us in the golf cart to carry us down to the other end of town to catch the boat for the whale shark tour. There were probably a dozen or so boats each sporting a captain and guide/mate; and each carrying about 6 - 10 whale shark watchers.

We motored out about 1-½ hours toward the feeding grounds for the whale sharks. Along the way, our captain by-passed the close to shore route in favor of the sea side route to favor us with an array of dancing dolphins which we passed on the way. The Captain would holler out and point then clap and whistle as if he were applauding the aerobatic maneuvers of these graceful animals. Most of the dolphins just surfaced for air but some leapt out of the water in a spinning, twisting dance. They would play for a few brief moments then swim on, like street entertainers looking for their next passing audience.

We seemed to be the last boat to arrive at the feeding grounds. Apparently, the rule is one boat per shark; so if you see another boat near the whale shark you must back off. The other rules are fairly basic as well: only the guide and 2 snorkelers in the water with the whale shark; keep a distance of 2 meters and do not touch. The captain called for the first 2 swimmers and I was ready with camera in hand. We had earlier passed by a smaller “baby” - only about 20-25’. This one was quite large by comparison, closer to 40’ and right at the surface with his huge mouth skimming the water for krill and plankton. The mouth is probably a good 2-½ to 3’ wide although it does not open very much considering the width. The Captain put me in next to this magnificent creature and I swam parallel to him as hard as I could just to fall farther and farther behind. The movement of this creature was so smooth and effortless with one long swish of his mighty tail, he would propel himself in a graceful glide through the water at the surface. Soon, I saw nothing but tail. I came up and paused, waiting for his return. This elusive interplay continued for a couple of hours until all the divers had been on a first round to see the whale sharks, then those who wished a second encounter were permitted again, two by two. I jumped in with Mario and immediately came face to face with another whale shark. I grabbed Mario by the hand and dragged him over to the shark as it opened his mouth for another gulp of breakfast. In a minute or so Mario had his fill of the sharks and returned to the boat and I continued on with a fresh swimmer in the water. We had 2 sharks coming by and I was determined to keep up with one. I chose the big one next to me and fined like mad to maintain my pace, snapping photos in the blind as I tried to match speed and maintain my distance. As I was no match, I tried to out maneuver the shark on his turn for another gulp and caught up with him again only to be left in his wake after a few minutes. But I was happy. My pursuit had paid off and I smiled for the swim back to the boat. Mission accomplished.

On the journey back we encountered more dancing dolphins and a school of yellow stingrays. I had never seen so many like that swimming in a school - usually I have seen them solo in the Keys while I have been diving. We arrived back at the dock safe and sound and very content.

An early dinner was now in order. We showered up and departed for the Refugio de los Piratas or the Pirate’s Refuge. We had found this place after we ate yesterday and the hostess was quite interesting. She is from New Zealand and came to Holbox about 4 months ago to run the restaurant and is planning on making the Island her permanent home. We enjoyed burger tacos, grilled chicken and salads and strawberry ice cream. We elected to eat up on the second floor which was a covered rooftop with a wonderful breeze to keep us cool. I have to say the breeze was more refreshing than our cold drinks at that point.

By the time we finished dinner it was nearly 5 p.m.. We wanted to check out the internet cafe to see if we could get some information on the weather as we wanted to make a little flight over the island the next morning. We called up the Weather Channel to see that Ernesto is in the Caribbean and headed generally in our direction. Hmmmm. According with the forecast, the eye should be crossing the channel between Yucatan Peninsula and the Keys “Monday p.m.”. We are not so sure we like to be that close to a storm and with a Monday morning departure, we started talking that it might be best to depart tomorrow and well out ahead of the storm as we have to make the stop in Key West for customs. We check a few more weather web sites and made the decision to leave. A friend left his plane in Marathon due to inclement weather last week and asked that we pick it up on the way home; and we wanted to stop in Tavernier for lunch at Calypso’s and to check on the house so the day will be a long one; and the day early will give us the opportunity to accomplish what we want and give us some cushion for the Hurricane and afternoon storms which always blow up over south Florida. We can spend the night in the Keys and still come back on a short day Monday morning still ahead of the storm if need be.

We make a beeline back to the hotel to locate Victor. He is the local airport authority and had already gotten us permission for the flight seeing for Sunday morning. We asked him to make arrangements for us to depart after our flight over the island so we could go back to Cancun for customs then on to Key West. He will take care of the arrangements. We stayed on to chat with Victor for a moment about the differences of flying in Mexico and in the United States. We really do not realize how wonderful it is to wake up in the morning, cast our eyes upon the sky, declare it to be a good day to fly and take off with little more planning than that to wherever the tail wind takes us for the day. We have no flight plans to file; no permission to seek. Our only limits are ourselves. Mexican general aviation is not so fortunate. There are few planes who come to the Island here and the traffic all over is light. Shame on us for not taking full advantage of the freedoms we have to explore our world with little to no effort at all.

We concluded with Victor by exchanging some pleasantries and business cards. He welcomes fellow Burger Hunters to come to the paradise of Mexico and will gladly fly you in to Holbox if the 2100’ dirt strip is not for you. We retired to the rooms to nap and pack for the morning flight out.

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Whale Shark feeding

my Close Encounter

Holbox Transportation

Nothing But Blue

Yucatan Peninsula Coastline

Home Too Soon:   Well, I guess to say that Holbox was a place to relax for us is an understatement. Seems that I was the last one to sleep last night at about 6:00 p.m. local time. Mario woke me up in the middle of the night to get his medications and we both crashed quite promptly after that. It was a very peaceful place and with the contentment of having been swimming with my whale sharks, life could not be better.

We woke up before the sun (imagine that), grabbed our breakfast, loaded Wild Mama and set off for Cancun. As we had already arranged for our little flight seeing, we figured it would be a waste not to take advantage. Departeing runway 3 - having back taxied to be sure the “local lawn mowers” were no longer grazing on the runway - we headed out about 45 degrees for 20 miles to the location where we had been swimming with the whale sharks the day before. We crossed over Mosquito Point and a large marshy area which comprises most of the island and went screaming past the boats who graciously pointed us in the proper direction to locate the whale sharks. We spied the school of yellow stingrays which we had passed on the way back to port yesterday and saw many schools of dolphin still hard at play.

Right on schedule, and thanks to the early boat tours, we arrived at the whale shark feeding grounds and suddenly realized why they were there. The feeding ground is at the junction of where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Yucatan Channel. The two water bodies sport two distinctive colors which create a line of demarcation where they meet and, apparently, a convergence of food for the whale sharks. From 1000’, one could see the eerie black silhouettes of these mammoth creatures dwarfing the boats and the swimmers next to them. After circling for a few minutes, we re-joined the 316 radial of Cancun at AMITA intersection and inbound for Cancun and customs clearance.

Cancun approach control was our first point of contact. We gave our position report and responded to his inquiry of the origin of our flight. Apparently, the island of Holbox is properly pronounced hol-bosh; and not hol-box as we had been accustomed to saying. ATC could not determine the origin of our flight at first, but upon our proper pronunciation, he realized our flight originated in Mexico and not the US as he had previously thought. Ambiguities resolved, he handed us off to the tower and we landed and headed off to Asur and customs without delay.

Asur again readily greeted us at the aircraft even though our arrival today was not expected. They ushered us to the passport control, flight planning and weather department, and FBO services desk. All of our paperwork was handled efficiently, Wild Mama was refueled, new IFR plan was filed, we made our call to Key West Customs to announce our anticipated arrival and we were ready to depart. A note about the routing out of Cancun: We had requested the same route by which we arrived and were advised that was an inbound only route. The outbound route “which everyone takes” took us through the inner ADIZ of Cuba and we refused the route. We opted for a departure on B 881 to the north to ROBIN intersection, then on B 646 through CANOA and on to Key West. This route was approved for our IFR plan.

So here we are, packed and sitting on the ramp at Customs in Cancun. We call Cancun ground for our clearance and get something like “Cleared to ROBIN by B881, 12A Departure, maintain 7,000, expect 9,000 then direct to Key West” . . . I did the read back as I had heard and got a “read-back correct”. Well, what the heck is the 12A departure??? We consulted our Jeppesen Mexico trip kit and found three _____ 2 Alpha departures. We called back for clarification and got the Samed 2 Alpha departure. Well I never had one of those before. OK - straight out 124 degrees for 8 DME to 7,000’, then left turn to join the 11 DME arc to the assigned radial. Hmmmm. . . Let’s see if it is in the GPS because that one will be fun to fly. Got it. Programmed it. “Cancun Ground: 4 Whisky Mike ready to taxi”.

Once again we were sandwiched in between 2 very large aircraft; and once again we were told to “line up on the runway and wait”. Off we went. Almost immediately, we received an instruction, “left turn”. We complied and heard nothing else. We apparently lost radio contact and, I can only imagine, the big jet behind us was left to the Samed 2 Alpha departure without having to run over top of us. With no other directions, we turned on course and kept trying to raise departure without success.

On the inbound trip, we had taken the time to write all the frequencies we had been assigned, figuring it might help in the event of lost communication over the water. Boy did that come in handy. We dialed in the frequency we had used for Merida Center on the inbound and there was ATC “radar contact”. Music to our ears.

We made the remainder of the trip in the same manner as the trip south - extremely uneventfully. We chuckled to ourselves listening to even the professional pilots struggle with some of the ATC instructions from the controllers with accents. We did not feel so bad that we had asked for a couple of repeat instructions over the course of our journey.


We arrived at Key West and pulled into the Customs parking box at the exact moment we had advised: 1750 z. The agents greeted us and had us empty the luggage compartment and checked over all our bags. I had previously prepared all the necessary forms to file with customs - we had picked up extras on our trip to the Bahamas. They ushered us inside, chit-chatted for a few minutes, offered us a copy of the US Customs book and we departed within 2 or 3 minutes. That was fast! We departed Key West for Tavernaero and a visit to our favorite restaurant, Calypso’s in Key Largo.


After our favorite meal (coconut crusted butter pecan snapper with fired corn on the cob), we dashed off to the house for hurricane preparations for the remainder of the day. Tomorrow we will make an early departure to Marathon where we will fetch Eli’s plane to ferry back to LaBelle for safe keeping during the storm; then for us, off to Tennessee!