When I travel, whether by car, Cub, or Super Cub, I get it done. Wake up. Eat. Travel. Eat. Sleep. There is no other way to cross entire countries or continents using slow travel than to attack it with a vengeance. For some reason, however, when I share my travel exploits by small aircraft, I usually get a slew of suggestions about museums, castles, high end restaurants, and so forth. If I was retired, it is conceivable that I could visit attractions along the way, though even then, the reality that weather is usually only good for a few days at a time would kick in, and I’d be back at it, performing religious penance flying from sunrise to sunset. If my grandfather is any indication, he continued to engage in penitential road tripping to and from Florida until his death a few years shy of 90.
I therefore merely expected to place my posterior into a French taxi in Biarritz, drag myself into the hotel room, eat French food while working on my laptop (one gets curious looks doing this in France), and go to sleep, only to wake up, eat, and get back in the airplane.
My wife serves as a travel agent, waiting for the “all clear” to book a hotel room, when I know I will make a certain airport for the night. She found a great room at a cozy pseudo-British hotel one block from the beach at the old section of the city. When I got out of the taxi, the air was electrifying, with the sound of powerful Atlantic swells smashing against the rocks, and a California-style salt in the cool air. I spent some time watching the waves, which were illuminated by streetlamps given that it was already night.
The next day, the temptation to fall into sin materialized. I had contemplated a) just barreling into central Spain and “sorting out the bad weather once I get there” thus forgetting my coastal ambitions or b) parking my rear in France for a few days. It was just too pretty, and I was feeling too lazy. It is so much work to walk to a taxi, ride to the airport, drag suitcases to the plane, preflight, and get in it (much less actually pilot it all day). I thought it over many times, looked at the weather, and realized that the original plan was holding true perfectly. It was only sunny in Spain along the north coast. What was more, there was a strong tailwind….the entire way to Portugal, curving around Galicia and changing direction with my intended flight path. I had to remind myself that a) I always wanted to see this section of the coast and b) I will probably never have a chance like this again, with the heavens bestowing its glorious light and wind, whilst no other option works.
Like a slow walk to the gallows, I dragged my tired self and pile of belongings out to the tarmac, almost snarling how I’d rather not be exerting so much effort. 20 minutes later, when I turned downwind to depart to the west, I saw the turquoise waters of the Atlantic, and my gallows drudgery changed to immense satisfaction.
Part of the problem was that I wasn’t sure where I would end up for the night. I was plunging into Spain and Portugal, in sections largely manned by AENA, the hideous (as far as GA is concerned) state airport operator. More than likely, the day was going to end up with some kind of nonsensical and expensive cluster, followed by crappy weather the next day.
After flying for about an hour, I overcame my hesitance of flying over water with such steep coastal terrain….I think I stopped caring as it was too pretty. Then with consistent blazing tailwinds, followed by updated calculations where I would only have to fuel once before landing in Portgual for the night, I realized that my plan was going to work. The wildcard had been removed. My mood switched to transcendence.
The coast was positively stunning, especially when the snow-capped Picos de Europa came into view, which are a sub range within the Cantabrian Mountains. The whole experience was illustrious.
I cut the corner over Galicia, with angry tailwinds over what looked like Spanish Pennsylvania. Then I arrived at the Spanish west coast, where the Föhn wind coming off the Galician highlands made it so warm that I flew with the window open and coat off, for the first time in the Super Cub. After a disproportionate amount of time over water far from land, I reconnected with a coastline devoid of rias, which looked like Big Sur.
Upon arrival in Portugal, the tailwind switched to a headwind, and the sun went away. I landed for the night near Porto, happy as a clam.
The next day, the weather was a solid headwind, cloudy, with showers and Saharan dust. I got the snot beaten out of me as winds roared off the Portuguese hills towards the coast. Instead of flying along the beach, I pointed straight to a fuel stop in Évora, then direct to Trebujena in southern Spain. At one point, I almost had to turn back due to visibility and then things suddenly cleared as I approached the Atlantic. Thunderstorms over Seville meant a slightly longer route along the Atlantic before, of all things, flying straight into a dust storm on long final.
When it was all said and done, 16 hours were put on the tach in three days. I had landings on the Mediterranean and north and south coasts of Atlantic Spain. The trip covered five countries, four languages, the highest peak of the Alps, highest peak of the Pyrenees, and a trip along the Cantabrian Mountains as well as my longest coastal run to date.
I am not in the mood to exert the effort to identify exactly where this is. Its pretty though, and I was enjoying it immensely. Never mind…found it by chance. “Isla de los Conejos” on the right. Rabbits Island.
When I texted a friend the above photo, he asked “are you going to eat pulpo a la gallega?” I had no clue what it is (octopus…) and did not respond. My next photo was the below, taken at the mouth of the Ria de Arousa. His reply was “that is where they catch them.” It was redeeming that, should the engine have quit, I could have climbed onto one of those and hung out, instead of getting blown out to sea in the ferocious east wind.
And the haboob on long final. The airport lady made a point to clarify that Spaniards call it a “calima” and not a haboob, though the Arabic term is a bit more amusing. It was much less menacing once I was flying inside it.