Adventures: The trip north
FEBRUARY 16 2003
THEY MADE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
THEY MADE IT!!!!!!!!!!!! THEY MADE IT!!!!!!!!!! THE STEMME TEAM
HAS CIRCLED THE HORN!!!!!!!! AND THE FLIGHT WAS SPECTACULAR!!!!!!!!!
Just got off
the phone with Thierry and I must admit I dont think Ive
ever heard such glee in his voice. Such ebullience most likely stems
and absolute joy in having reached their southernmost destination
on such a beautiful day. Before I recount the rounding of the horn,
I want to say a bit about the previous day as it was one of the
most harrowing days of flying these two pilots have ever encountered.
the fields of Coihaique, the delicious Pisco&CocaColas and the
gracious hospitality of Don Carlos Leon and his wife Kuci (pronounced
Cookie and spelled differently Im sure), Thierry and Al began
their flight southwards at the crack of dawn. Despite the forecast
for fine weather, a storm started to build out of nowhere and they
were forced to climb higher and higher to 17,000 feet. Trapped in
the clouds, they decided to head east, over the pampas, and into
uncharted territory hoping for clearer weather.
At this point,
the Stemme began to take on ice. The wings grew heavy and the entire
canopy and pitot tube became encased. With no pitot tube, the air
speed indicator stopped working. The logger went out and then the
dashboard GPSs gave up the ghost. Undaunted, Thierry and Al encouraged
the tough little ice-ship through the storm, blindly battling the
headwinds. Hoping to shed some of the ice burden, they slowly started
to lower their altitude. Lower, lower and lower till at last, at
4000 feet, the ice on the canopy began to melt. By 3000 feet, chunks
started to slip off the windows but the clouds remained thick. Down,
down, down they continued till they broke free of the clouds---but
the altitude indicator was wrong!! Instead of 1000 feet, they were
barely 150 feet from the ground!!!!
under that low ceiling, searching for a ranch runway upon which
to land but to no avail. At length, they spotted a road heading
off in the right direction of Rio Gallegos. Tracking it southwards,
they swept past herds of wild guanacos, and wild horses who Im
sure have never gotten such an up close and personal look at a Stemme
. The land gave way to the sea and the port town of Rio Gallegos
appeared in the distance. The pair landed safely. Just 10 hours
earlier, a Piper Decota had crashed near that airport killing all
three aboardan unfortunate accident officials blamed on the
the night in Rio Gallegos, the team continued on to Rio Grande where
they were met by another saint named Martin Ratier. Martin, who
I like to call Saint Martin in the Fields, is the aeroclub manager
in Rio Grande. He brought Thierry and Al into town, fed them dinner
and helped them with their flight plan for the next day. Martin
put them in touch with Juan Alvarez--head of air traffic control
in Punta Arenas and another angel in the land of fire. Juan gave
the team a squawk code, some sage advice and off they went.
The winds were
fierce but fortunately they pushed the team right over the horn.
Thierry was at a loss for words describing the beauty of this place.
The scenery was staggering, the glacial fields, the high mountains
gracing the Beagle Straightssimply breathtaking. He took lots
of digital stills that I will post once I receive them. As they
turned the Stemme north to head back, the winds were raging over
90 miles an hour. Making barely 40 knots over the ground, they were
fearful theyd run out of fuel before making it back to Punta
Arenas Then suddenly, they stumbled into an area of lenticular lift
a silky stream that swept them along for 200 miles. Wow! What
a day! What a flight!! What a team!!! They send their love to everyone
and are toasting to the joys of life on the wind tonight in Punta
Arenas All your good wishes paid off!!!!
Cape Horn from
FEBRUARY 15 2003
The team has reached TIERRA DEL FUEGO!! Very excitingthey
are almost at the most southern reach of their odyssey. Battling
a 40 knot headwind, the Stemme duo made it to Rio Gallegos and they
hope to round Cabo de Hornos today if not manana-- weather permitting.
Two of the GPSs (global positioning system) stopped working so they
are down to using their handhelds. Ah the importance of redundant
systems! Send good wishes to Thierry and Altheyre in
for some bumpy, blustery hours ahead.
FEBRUARY 13 2003
Hola. I got
a little more information from Thierry about their flight from Puerto
Montt down to Coihaique. Enroute, they passed a remarkable mountain
at lat 43 09 long 72 49. and will send pictures. They think the
mountain is called Corcovado-Ill double check. After landing,
the team met up with some more gracious hosts--Francisco and Miguel
both young pilots for a mysterious character called Don Carlos.
They arranged for a car, gasoline and then took them into town.
Don Carlos, evidently has been a pilot in these parts since 1962.
He flew the C-46 Curtis Commando--the same plane that flew the "Hump"
from Burma to China in WW11. He also owns a hotel and the best restaurant
in town--lucky for the Stemme twosome. Sadly, the Sony Video seems
to have given up the ghost so Brett and I will be sending a replacement
FEBRUARY 12 2003
Got a quick email from Thierry. He is 600 km south
of Puerto Montt in Coyhaique which he states is one of the most
spectacular places hes ever seenand hes seen alot.
Glaciers, lakes, mountainsbreathtaking!!! They hope to round
the Horn in the next few days. Wish them luckthe Horn is an
extremely windy, scary place. Thierry also mentioned that Frost
(his nephew) took the team to the airport in Puerto Montt so those
world-traveling Prioleaus must have made it down there from Santiago.
Puerto Montt Harbor, Chile
Puerto Montt, Chile
FEBRUARY 11 2003
Just got a message from Thierry. The boys are in the lakes region,
Puerto Montt to be exact. The ceiling was extremely low when they
came in but the weather looks to be clearing. Tomorrow they plan
to fly to Punto Arenas either by staying in Chile or crossing over
into Argentina and flying down. They adore Chile and reiterated
how gracious their new friends, the Rios, have been. Too bad the
Stemme only has two seatsIm sure Jorge and Jessica would
have liked to have accompanied the team down to the Horn. Puerto
Montt is a gorgeous town, renowned for its delectable seafood, awe-inspiring
mountain scenery, cascading waterfalls and aquamarine lakes located
just minutes outside towna little seaside paradise.
A few facts on Chile. Chile gained independence from Spain on September
18 in 1810. In 1973, the country was taken over by a dictatorial
military regime led by Augusto Pinochet . Pinochet ousted President
Salvador Allende and ruled until a freely elected president was
installed in 1990. The current president is Ricardo Lagos Escobar.
Chile has a
little over 15 million people and is about twice the size of Montana
although it is very long. Bolivia continues to demand a sovereign
corridor to the South Pacific Ocean since the northern Atacama region
was lost to Chile in 1884. A territorial claim in Antarctica (Chilean
Antarctic Territory) partially overlaps Argentine and British claims
there is an ongoing dispute with Peru over the economic zone delimited
by the maritime boundary. Amazing to think that the countries
boundaries down there are still hotly disputed.
Chile has produced
some sensational authors, one of the finest being Pablo Neruda,
winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1971. His acceptance
speech is at http://www.nobel.se/literature/laureates/1971/neruda-lecture.html.
A lovely movie entitled Il Postino portrays a time in Nerudas
life when he was in exile from Chile due to his feelings for communism.
When Salvador Allende was elected president, he appointed Neruda
as Chile's ambassador to France (1970-72). Neruda died of leukemia
in Santiago on 23 September in 1973--his death probably accelerated
FEBRUARY 8 2003
Thierry and Al are in Santiago tonight. They flew past the highest
point in South America todayCerro Aconcaguaa mountain
22,834 tall! When they left Pisco two days ago and flew over
the Nazca lines, they were flying at about 3000 and it was
rather overcast so they arent sure their photos will be very
Early this morning, they left Arica and flew down the coast which
Thierry said is truly spectacular a Nevada-esque landscape
that runs all the way sea. But instead of beaches, there is just
a sheer vertical drop of about 2500 feet into the sea. As they flew
down the coast at 9500, they could see over to the Andes and
noted that cumulus clouds start developing around 11:00 AM . And
we all know that where there be cumulus clouds theres bound
to be lift. Something theyll be checking out on their way
The team landed twice to fuel along the wayfirst in Antofagasta
and then in La Serena at La Florida airport. When they took off
from La Serena, they knew they had just enough daylight to reach
Santiagosunset being around 9:00 pm this time of year. But
right after they landed (at 9:08) they were informed that the airport
was closed. Not a soul was in sight and it was absolutely dark.
Quite a change from the hordes of folks that usually greet the Stemme.
Fortunately, a nice couple, Jorge and Jessica Rios, had just landed
in a Cessna and came to their rescue. The Rios sound like an interesting
pair--they paraglide in their spare time. They decided to take our
far-away motorglider team under their wing, so to speak. They brought
Thierry and Al into town, set them up in a lovely hotel with a big
discount and are going to meet them for breakfast in the morning.
Ah the kindness of strangers!
FEBRUARY 7 2003
Just got a satellite telephone call from Thierry
this morning. They are leaving Picso airport this morning which
they said was a lovely place- military-based I believe-with very
friendly people who didnt charge them anything at the airport.
(As opposed to the extremely steep fees incurred with the Guayaquil
handlersthey must be used to the streams of well-off Galapagos
tourists.) I wished the team well and said Everyone sends
you lots of love and hopes for safe flying but the phone was
cutting in and out so I think the only thing Thierry actually heard
was, Everyone sends you lots of . . flying--words that
Im sure he will find utterly moving and inspirational on his
flight today. The weather is presently overcast down there but its
due to clear when they hit the Nazca Lines. Send sunny wishes southward.
FEBRUARY 6th 2003 8:00
Just got a call from Thierry via the satellite phone!
They are are in Pisco, Peru at the Regidor Hotel, having spent the
last two nights in Chiclayo. Thierry sounded in good spirits literally
and figuratively he'd certainly had more than one Pisco sour this
evening! As it turns out, Al has a friend with an extensive mango
farm in Chiclayo, so the team decided to take an extra day there
to tour the farm. On their way out of town this morn, the
landing gear came down again shortly after take-off. Argh! So they
pulled an about-face, landed and fixed the darned problem once-and-for-all
with a trusty hammer. With that annoyance finally licked, they flew
They plan to leave early in the morning and head to Arica, Chile.
Tomorrow's flight will be a beauty as they1ll be passing over an
extremely interesting placethe famous Nazca Lines! Check out
for some more
info. Here's a wee bit of info on them. The Nazca Lines are one
of humanity's mysteries. They are the most outstanding group of
geoglyphs in the world. Etched in the surface of the desert pampa
sand about 300 hundred figures made of straight lines, geometric
shapes and pictures of animals and birds - and their patterns are
only clearly visible from the air. In 1969, Erich von Daniken book
"Chariots of the Gods," theorized that
the Nazca lines might have served as landing strips for extraterrestrial
craft. Ooo my! Intrigued? Check out the websites.
Thierry has no access to email right now and limited
time on the satellite phone, which incidentally, he says, does not
work in cities. Once he reaches Arica, I'm sure he'll
answer the wonderful questions that Mary Jane Kidder's fifth grade
class at the Stead Elementary school sent the other day. Thanks
heaps for sending them!
FEBRUARY 6th 2003 7:00
Well my fine friends, the dynamic duo have been rather
recalcitrant as of late. You may have been thinking, I was just
lollygagging about, belting bonbons and opting not to keep y1all
abreast of the latest and greatest, but I assure you, I have not
heard nary a peep from that twosome since Monday the 3rd. Now when
this amount of time transpires without a blip , a number of dastardly
thoughts do start dancing through the heads of the ground crew.
We start wondering if perhaps some Ecuadorian sirens wooed the boys
into an untimely transformation of the exotic amphibian kind and
in so doing affected their pilotage skills so immensely as to render
them incapable flight. Hence their understandable delay in correspondence
. Or perhaps, our beloved Stemme team members decided that they
really had to become completely bilingual before reaching Peru and
enrolled in an intensive Spanish school--so intensive in fact that
they ve been shackled to their tape recorders and headsets
without pan or agua for three entire days. Or perhaps they are simply
AWOL and my next email will be to summon up a posse to track them
down. Anyone feel like blowing the dust of this country from their
heels and heading south of the border? Diplomatic Spanish-speakers
preferred but not required.
FEBRUARY 3 2003
Thierry and Al are still in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Peru is presenting
a number hurdles (e.g. proof of insurance, pilot license faxes etc)
before they will grant the team their flight authorization number
for entry. No other country has required such things.
Most of the twosomes time has been spent at the airportthey
havent done much sight-seeing. A Robinson R44 did happen to
land next to them and a couple fellows with lots of gold stepped
out escorted by loads of guards. Evidently gold mining is a large
industry down here as is growing bananas.
The team is staying at a hotel near the US embassy and they noticed
that the citys flags are being flown at half-mast to commemorate
the tragic Columbia shuttle disaster. I asked Thierry what folks
in Ecuador and Columbia thought about our imminent war with Iraq.
He said the ones hed talked to were concerned that our military
spending would decrease funds put towards the War against Drugs.
They hope to pass into Peru tomorrow.
FEBRUARY 2nd 2003
The team has crossed the equator and will be staying
the night in Guayaquil, Ecuador! They ran into relatives, Frost
and Martha Prioleau (Thierrys nephew) as they were checking
into their hotel. Rather small world eh? If you are interested in
reading about Guayaquilthe Pearl ofthe Pacificplease
FEBRUARY 'st, 2003
Thierry and Al are still in Cali, Columbia. They hired a handling
agency to help get them through customs etc. in Ecuador, Columbia
and Peru. With the bad weather, theyve had some enforced spare
time so their Columbian handler offered to tour them around. First
on his list were some archeological sites dating back to 3000 B.C.
where whole human bodies were placed into pots. Im sure well
hear more about that place later on. Along the way they also had
the chance to view some copper-gold artifacts from 1000 B.C. made
by the lost wax process of special interest, of course, to
these two expert metallurgists. Thierry also mentioned that all
the women in Cali wear exceptionally tight clothing. Sounds like
more than just the weather is caliente down there.
If the weather clears, the Stemme team hopes to leave for Ecuador
tomorrow. The team did mention that many of the air traffic controllers
do not speak English so that part of the journeys been a bit
challenging. Such an adventure will no doubt give Thierry and Al
added incentive to enhance their language skills.
JANUARY 3'st, 2003
Just got a note from Thierry. Bad weather is keeping the Stemme
team earthbound for two days in Cali, Colombia. Theyre eager
to get to Ecuador and onto Peru. Peru, unlike any of the countries
before, requests a photo stat of their pilot licenses before granting
transit approval. Other than that no real government problems. Send
good weather wishes to Colombia and for their safe departure.
JANUARY 30th 2003
Just got a call from Thierry. He and Al are in a hotel in Cali,
Colombia tonight. Theyll be heading to Ecuador tomorrow. Cali,
the city of eternal spring, was founded in 1536 and is evidently
a lovely place. Boasting two million people, its nestled in
a valley and has a pleasantly warm climate. Coffee, cotton, sugarcane,
and soybeans are shipped through the city; and tires, tobacco products,
textiles, paper, chemicals, and building materials are manufactured
The flight today from Panama City took the Stemme team 50 miles
offshore over the Pacific. (Incidentally, Panamas an easy
place to visit as they use US dollars.) Thierry and Al were going
to deter to Buenaventura, Colombia since clouds capped the 17,000
feet ridge running into Cali but fortunately, they reached the air
traffic controllers in time who safely vectored them through the
clouds to the Cali airstrip.
Speaking of trafficking, Cali first gained notoriety as being home
to some of the most powerful drug cartels in the world plus its
got the second highest murder rate in Latin America--112 per 100,000
people, according to the US Drug Enforcement Agency. With 25,660
recorded homicides in 2000 and an average of 70 killings per day,
Colombia's murder rate is among the highest in the world and Cali
is 8 on a scale of 10.
But all that not-so-friendly stuff aside, Cali does sound like a
beautiful place and remains a hot tourist destination. (Who knows,
it might be the best place to find bullet proof bikinis?)
Thierry and Al are greatly looking forward to tomorrows flight
as they will be flying through the spectacular Andes and directly
over Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Mind you theyll probably
have to be flying fairly high and be on oxygen for a bit of it.
(Technically, the FAA requires that all pilots flying above 12,500
feet for 30 minutes or at 14,000 feet or above during the entire
flight must use supplemental oxygen. And passengers must have supplemental
oxygen available over 15,000 feet). After Quito, theyll head
down to Guayaquil, fuel up and depending on daylight, press on to
I asked about the landing gear problem and it turns out that they
hit terrible turbulence over the Caribbean, 50 miles outside of
Limon, Costa Rica. (It had nothing to do with the funnel, which
I understand has an overflow problem and, as such, is
not being used.) They found a fellow in Limon named Rick Right who
helped them fix the gear. The most tedious chore everyday is clearing
customs in each country which takes about 2.5 hours. Aiyee carumba!
Some highlights of the trip so far include, flying over some impressive
ruins built by the Zapotecs around 600 B.C outside Oaxaca, finding
tremendous lift between Oaxaca and Tegus, skirting over extinct
volcanoes in Guatemala and flying over the Panama canal. More to
JANUARY 28th, 2003
Theres been an exciting bit of traveling these past few hours
for the Stemme twosome. Yesterday an unexpected storm came in as
Thierry and Al were making their way from Tegus to Panama and they
were forced to fly over the open water for about 50 miles. The ceiling
kept dropping, pushing them closer and closer down to the water
till they were flying barely 100 feet off the surface. Quite demanding
bit of piloting there. Thierry made a broken satellite phone call
to Buck and Nina Thys but didnt get in many words before the
phone cut out. He did have enough time to say that the landing gear
had come down and wouldnt go back up. (Why that happened remains
a mystery but perhaps one of the pilots had to relieve himself.
This activity requires the landing gear to be down so the newly
installed funnel to the outside can be used. Ill let you know
the details when I find out.)
At any rate, the pair landed safely in Limon, Costa Rica and will
be spending today there waiting for the rain to pass byand
most importantly fixing the landing gear problem. Tomorrow, weather
permitting, they are off to Panama and will hopefully fly over Colombia
(no immediate plans to stop there) and land in Ecuador the following
JANUARY 27 2003
Thierry and Al
will be departing Tegus today and aiming for Panama City tonight
with high hopes of hitting Colombia manana.
JANUARY 26 2003
Buenos dias todos,
Just heard from the crew. Thierry and Al are currently in Tegucigalpathe
capital of Honduras. Theyll be there tonight as they await
permission to continue southward on their journey. It was a long
flight from Oaxaca to Honduras and I have yet to get details but
will fill you all in when I do.
Tegucigalpa got its tongue twisting name from the ancient Nahuatl
language, and translated means "silver mountain". "Tegus"
as its inhabitants affectionately call it, is a mix of an old colonial
city that has turned into the modern capital of Honduras. It was
one of the most important colonial mining centers in Central America.
Nestled in a valley at about 3000 ft , the city has a rather pleasant
Mexico January 25th
ruins near Oaxaca January 25th
near a Mexican prison south of Chihuahua. Jan 24th
JANUARY 23rd 2003
Just heard from Thierry and Al. Everything is going wellthe
team sounds gooda bit tired but in high spirits. They passed
into Mexico yesterday and had no problem with customs. They did
find a little bit of lift but are pretty much bee-lining it south
to the Andes due to time and weather considerations. Tonight theyre
staying in Aquascaliente. Spent last night in Chihuahua at a pretty
yucky hotel evidently, had a meal that Thierry described as bad
even for Russian standards and not much tastier than shoe-leather--but
at least it squelched the hunger. Every time the Stemme lands hordes
of interested people run up to the planefascinated by the
Thierry and Al have taken some photos of the Sierra Madre and will
be sending them on tomorrow.
In the morning, theyre headed to Oaxaca and hope to reach
Tapachula on the southern border by tomorrow night.
approach in Chihuahua, Mexico. January 22nd
JANUARY 18th 2003
At long last,
the Spine of America team is off and gliding again! After completing
the Alaska leg of the trip this past summer, many retrofits had
to be accomplished. These included adjusting the cameras, installing
a light on the landing gear, implementing a pilot relief funnel,
and upgrading the avionics .
Everything was ready to go in December when the team fired up the
glider and some magic smoke came out of the data logger. Ouch! A
couple more weeks were lost while they waited for repairs but now
Thierry and Al are on their way. First stop is Tucson where theyll
make their final preparations before heading south of the border.
Adventures: Alaska to California