Friday, December 26, 2008

One Day-Many Ways

My afternoon of rainbows (see previous post) turned into an evening of airplane maintenance. I was anxious to change the oil on the 182. There was about 90 hours on the oil and 70 on the filter. We usually try to change the oil every 50 hours but the 182 has been so busy there was no chance before. I dropped the oil and put on a new filter while Chichito worked on putting on the new rocker box cover gasket I had bought in Santa Cruz for Cylinder #1. He was convinced he could solve the oil leak that has been plaguing us ever since I met the airplane. Much to my amazement the filter was the cleanest Ive ever seen when I cut it open. Thanks to God because this engine had been given trouble with metal shavings and low oil pressure a year or two ago. Chichito notified me that he had been in contact with the village of Ingave by shortwave radio and we were scheduled for a trip there the next day. Also he comunicated with Spanish and motions that there was a woman at a nearby ranch who needed to be flown to Guayara for a C-section early the next morning. He suggested that I return by 6 in the morning so we could go get her as soon as possible. I agreed and went home to the school for a short nights rest under my mosquito net.
Early the next morning, when it was still quite dark, God woke me up and I spent some time with Him before I went looking for a motorcycle and breakfast. Breakfast was easy, a couple more hardy multigrain poncitas that I had brought from Santa Cruz. The motorcycle was not so easy. It was still pre-6am and I had to wake somebody up to get a key. To make a long story short I woke almost everybody in the effort to find one motorcycle, with a key, without twisted handle bars, that had gas....Finally I was off to town in a hurry to what I thought was an emergency. As it turned out, it wasnt really and I was really early by Bolivian time. Chichito and I waited at least an hour before the guys who riding on the trip out showed up. For once I think we would have found our destination without the GPS. The man on board was a pilot too and we had a heading to follow and him to recognize landmarks. After an hour we arrived at a little ranch with an airstrip. I made Chichito make two low passes to make sure the strip was safe for the little tires on 38F. We picked up the pregnant lady and her little family and headed back to GY. When we arrived the crew from the school was ready to go to Ingave. I taxied over to the gas pumps and found out that someone had cut the electrical wire when cutting a tree and there was no gas. Somehow within 30 min. we had gas, God is good at testing us.

It was almost noon before we landed at the village. This time there were not so many people with complaints, but there was a man who had been bit by a poisoness snake and a 14 year-old girl who had just given birth two days before. The nurses were busy for several hours and even enlisted our help. I had the hard task of getting some hot water for a epsom salts foot bath for the bitten man. After that was done (his wife did it mostly while I supervised) I sat and kept him and his monkey company. We were all quite impressed with the tigre (jaguar) that he had kill many years ago. Cornelio the gardener and husband of one of the nurses is holding it in the picture. It must have been a fairly big one.

When the foot soak was all done I went looking for something to do and learned where Brazil nuts come from. The young men were hauling big sacks down towards the river so I asked what was in them. They said Alemendras but that didnt mean anything so they showed me, we call them Brazil nuts. They grow on tall jungle trees. The young men tramp around the jungle in December and pick up the coconut size husks. Each one has about a dozen nuts inside. They put them in sacks and haul them out of the jungle on their backs to sell. At Ingave the local river trade boat was visiting that day and buying all their nuts. A few minutes later Cornelio called us all together for a quick powwow. He had contracted the trade launch to take us down the river 30 min to the village of the indigenous people. This was the village where the boy and his father were from that Dr. Kim evacuated to Riberalta a couple weeks earlier. We decided to go even though there was barely enough time before sunset. So if you are counting, this was my third method of transportation that day. Riding the boat was really fun, especially going downriver. When we reached the villages bank we disembarked and walked about half a mile into the jungle were the village was built on the top of a little hill. Cornelio told the villagers that we had medicines and only 30 min to give them out so come quickly. They did. It was all I could do to pull the nurses away when our time was up. Thankfully I had the boat pilot to help me, he was leaving whether we got on or not. Eventually I had to grab the big bag of medical stuff and start down the trail, finally Cornelio and the nurses tore themselves loose with promises to return and came with me. On the ride back up the river I calculated the time we had left with a theoretical 630pm sunset and I figured we could just make it home flying fast, none of my usual fuel saving 100knot flying. I gave the missionaries a three minute deadline from the time the boat touched the bank to when they had to be in the airplane. We did pretty well but we had headwinds. I usually have a 20 or 30 min buffer with sundown but I let myself get stuck in this situation. It was a good lesson for me. Thankfully I had an out. About halfway home we would pass right by Riberalta and I could land there. The missionaries could take the bus home from there and I could fly to GY the next morning. As we approached Riberalta I called for a sunset time and they told me 637pm. The GPS said we would make it and I knew I would pick up a couple minutes in the decent with higher speeds so we kept on going. We landed with only 7 minutes till sundown left. Praise God!
So why am I writing all this rather self incriminating material. Well, I know that it was a miracle that we made it because later I discovered it wasnt the airplane that God needed back in GY that night, it was the nurses. One of the women at the school had a Gal-bladder attack shortly after we got back. The nurses recognized it right away and rushed her to the hospital. God always knows best, I was glad to ride in on the coattails of that miracle. By the way, the ride home in the truck and walking into the jungle village completed my list of Bolivian modes of transportation. Dirtbike, airplane, walking, truck....I guess they do ride taxis and busses a lot too. But this is not what was important about the day.
We saw a lot, we learned a bit, and we helped a little. It is so important to trust God that His will is best and be flexible if our plans dont match His. We have plans to go back and spend more time with the indigenous people but pray that it will be in His power and His WAY.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A land of rivers and rainbows.

This fine December day found N3538F and I journeying north to her duties at Guayaramerin after an important trip to Santa Cruz. News had reached us about a week earlier about an unfortunate forced landing in Nicaragua that Jeff made in the Piper Malibu when he lost oil pressure at night over the ocean. Everybody on board survived the night landing near an unlit runway and we praised God for sparing their lives. Several of the people on board needed to stay in the hospital for a while so Jeff was still in Nicaragua a week later with no hope of immidiate return. He also had to deal with the insurance and salvaging the wreckage. His wife was anxious to see him so I planned a flight to Santa Cruz with her, the kids and the school director who was going home for the holidays. From Santa Cruz they could get flights out of the country. When we arrived at the airport a cell phone rang and the news put a totally different feeling over us. A volunteer family in Santa Cruz had just lost a 2.5 year old adopted son in a tragic accident. We made it to Santa Cruz just in time for the funeral.
I had a bit to think about on the flight home a few days later. I checked the airplane more carefully than before and thought about the shortness and uncertainty of life. The six people in the plane crash would have been dead had there been one spark as the left wing ripped off and 40 gallons of gasoline sprayed all around the airplane, or a moment later when the right wing hit a tree and stopped the plane releasing its own 40 gallons onto the ground near the emergency exit. There is no way but a miracle that there was no fire, even gas fumes reaching the red hot turbos could have ignited. God wanted these people alive and working for Him. And then on the other hand, why not a happy little Bolivian boy with a cleft pallette who loved to pray. Gods wisdom often seems like foolishness to us. Whether it be the best man who ever lived being murdered or the murderers living on to kill other innocent people, it all seems rediculous. But we must remember in the happy times that there is a big plan that is often beyond our comprehension, put into place by one who loves us more than we can imagine. And in the sad times...cry the tears that come as part of our citizenship in this twisted world. Think of God crying rivers over the history of this world and crying with you right now in the pain of seperation from one you love. Then through your tears look up and taste the bits of heaven that shine through like rainbows on a cloudy day.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

All over Bolivia

One of the most visible difficulties in Bolivia is the transportation. Roads are bad most of the year and impassable during the rainy season`s peak from January to April. Some towns in the central lowlands are reduced to islands with airplanes being the only secure link with outside world. Jeff has used his Mooney to overcome this rather significant difficulty. In one of my many hour long truck rides to town over the 30km of muddy road between the school and the town of Guayaramerin I calculated the mpg of the Mooney and a Toyota Landcruiser. Surprisingly they are nearly identical and the Mooney travels at 145mph at an economy cruise.
One of my tasks has been transporting people around the northeastern half of Bolivia. The day before Thanksgiving I made two round trips from Guayaramerin, Santa Ana, Trinidad and back with and extra stop on the last trip at San Joaquin to drop off a passenger. The goals were to transport the cook`s family from the school to their home in Santa Ana for the summer vacation to take a student home to San Joaquin and to drop the school director off in Trinidad on the first trip and pick him up on the second so he could do paperwork for the coming school year. The Mooney is a pilots airplane....At first I was cautious and apprehensive taking off with a full load and only 30 min of Mooney time in my logbook. Soon I was thoroughly enjoying the airplane in its element. I was pushing it and not trying for maximum economy because time was the limiting factor on the day. There are no lights at our home base and no landings are allowed at unlit strips after dark in Bolivia. I had fun watching the Mooney race the sun, and I also had some fun getting it slowed down. The controlers here are used to the C206 and the way the Bolivian pilots fly them so they usually don´t give a decent until ten miles out. I was flying twice as high as the Bolivians do and a Mooney doesn´t come down like a 206. Thankfully the gear speed is 150mph. Several times I droped the gear 15 miles out in order to make the field and not go zooming over. By the end of the day I had learned to start working on the decent from 40 miles out.
On the last leg of the day I was flying light with only the school director and myself, racing the sundown home. We were looking at all the 206 strips in the open grasslands near San Joaquin and noticing that they grew more scarce as we flew into the more jungle-like parts of northern Bolivia. 70 miles from home the engine started running rough and the plane acted like one cylinder was misfiring. We tried switching tanks, cooling the engine, warming the engine, rich, lean, left mag, right mag, boost pump on, climb, decend, nothing seemed to make a noticable distance. It would smooth out for no apparent reason and start again just as mysteriously. The Mooney has a good engine monitor and we noticed cylinder 4 was hotter than normal but no other signs of distress. To add to the trouble, one of the two oil temp gauges had been giving us trouble and now the fuel pressure gauge joined it and pegged out on the high end of the scale. The oil pressure gauge had always given Jeff a little trouble and was acting funny too. We were not sure we would make it home. Ruan flew while I played with stuff, trying to troubleshoot. He started a slow climb and we anxiously watched the GPS for the magic numbers that would allow us to make the rest of the trip as a glider if neccessary. The engine kept running and we arrived over Guayarmerin with thousands of feet to spare but we never figure out what was wrong. The engine was running better by the time we landed and mechanical investigation has been fruitless so far. I have checked the fuel injectors, sparkplugs, magnetos, and done the best I could to check compression with no gauge. The oil temp, oil pressure, and fuel pressure are all electric gauges and they seem fine now with only the fuel pressure acting up here and there. There are no facilities here and I left a lot of the airplane tools we have in Santa Cruz. This week I`ve been chasing down other problems I`ve discovered in my digging but nothing that points directly to engine roughness. Gas is suspect but the fuel screens are clean and when the engine went rough I switched to a tank that had been providing good gas all morning and problem did not change. It is still a mystery. Pray that either it doesn`t happen again or that God shows us the problem on the ground when we don`t have to practice gliding.

Adventures in the jungle

A lot has happened since I left Santa Cruz Bolivia and flew up to the northeastern corner where GMI has their school in Guayaramerin. These pictures are taken at the village of Ingave, about 100 air miles from Guayaramerin. Dr. Kim and I went flying with the director of the school here to get acclimated to the flying conditions and oportunities and to see if there were places where Dr. Kim could provide dental care and possibly medivac services in the future. We landed at this community and the people were very welcoming and eager for us to come back. They are about a three day boat trip from the closest town and the only medical service is the ADRA boat launch that comes every three months. A week later, on Thanksgiving day we were back in force with a medical team and a dental team. The weather was bad but we made two trips with the 182 to bring everyone in. By the time the generator was working and Dr. Kim got to work on people`s teeth it was getting close to the time when the first trip back would have to leave. Rather than cut things off short the medical team choose to stay the night so there would only be one trip back. Dr. Kim went out and picked them up the next morning only to find that a father had walked 6 hours from a nearby village to bring his baby son to the airplane. The baby was running a very high fever and nearly dead. The nurse got the fever down a little and they flew the two of them out to Riberalta where there is a hospital of sorts. The nurse and her family went to visit a couple days later and the boy was doing much better. On the flying end of things the airplane has been performing great. All the airstrips here are built for the Cessna 206 so the 182 handles them fine. This particular one is about 500 meters but about 200 of that is overgrown and narrow so we are using the approximately 1000ft that are left. Even with a full load the 182 has no problem getting in and out provided the approach is made at less than 70mph. Dr. Kim has flown a 182RG a bit and he is shocked at the way this 182 performs, he is sure that his does not perform the same and maybe it doesn`t but I`m willing to bet he uses much faster speeds for approach and climb out than we are using here. I have to say I am impressed too. The 182 seems like a well balanced machine, using about the same runway for takeoff and landing.
We also went into several other comminities, one with a beautiful strip 600meters long and on the crest of the hill, and another quite marginal uphill, washed out, narrow and short. We decided to focus our efforts on Ingave and learn what we can offer these villages using this one as a model. Some are simply logging camps, some are fairly well provided for except medical services and some have very little. Most have an HF radio so medivacs are a possibility.
Dr. Kim has gone back to the states to sell his practice but we have plans to go back to Ingave the second week in December with the medical team and do some more work.