Breaking out above the clouds on an overcast day enroute to Tampico
I filed for 7000' but was cleared to 6000' and flew at that altitude toward Brownsville. We spent 1/2 hour in the clouds and the rest of the time above an overcast. When I transferred to Valley Approach, they had me climb to 9000' 50 NM north of Brownsville at the request of Matamoros Tower. The minimum enroute altitude between Matamoros and Tampico is 9000'. This is probably because the distance between Matamoros and Tampico is 210 nautical miles and there are no navigational radios between the airports. The route follows the coastline and there is no terrain along the route. I climbed to 9000' and was transferred to Matamoros Tower just before crossing the border.
Matamoros Tower does not have radar, so they asked my position, asked for cloud tops information, and then asked me to report 50 NM south of Matamoros. At that point I was released from the frequency and told to contact Tampico Tower when able.
I was still above an overcast and it was looking like I would be flying an instrument approach into Tampico. Tampico has a precision approach, ILS Rwy 13, and I was expecting to be given that approach. I contacted Tampico Tower 60 NM north and they began to step me down to lower altitudes. Tampico Tower does not have radar either and relied on my position reports (plus the fact that I was the only airplane in the sky) to keep me separated from other traffic. Instead of the ILS approach I was given the VOR DME-1 Rwy 13 approach. I don't think I've flown an approach exactly like this one. It has you fly outbound from the VOR radio on one radial and then reverse course and fly inbound on another radial. VOR stands for VHF Omnidirectional Range and is a type of radio that lets the pilot know on which radial (compass direction) he is located with respect to the station. In Mexico the VORs are almost always located on the airport, which is helpful. In the US, they are somewhat randomly located. DME is another radio that is co-located with the VOR radio and tells the pilot how far he is from the station. The combination of the two radios can be used to determine the position of the airplane. As I descended to 3000', the airport came into view through the clouds so I was able to skip the instrument approach and make a visual approach to the airport, landing on runway 13.
There is a video of the landing on youtube.
At the Tampico Airport (MMTM)
I taxied to the customs area, which I was familiar with from our last visit, and parked behind the other airplane that was there. We were met by a Federale, who asked for the usual information: pilot's name, license number, aircraft type, and point of departure. Then customs had us unload some, not all, of our bags. They picked out a few for us to bring inside and had us reload the remainder. We went inside the general aviation part of the terminal. At the customs section, we filled out declarations and pushed a button getting the green pase light so the bags were not searched. The rest of the process is confusing because there is so much moving from office to office but I'll try to relate as closely as possible. There are several offices grouped (thankfully) together and they are: Commandante, Operaciones, Imigración, Sanidad, and Customs.
I think we filled out the Close Flight Plan form first at Operaciones. Then we went to Imigración to get visas. I was not given a visa and did not have to pay the US$19 visa fee because I am the pilot. I got a different form instead. This was a surprise because last time I did get a visa. However, that time we entered at Matamoros and the imigración office was far away from the other offices and perhaps he was not aware that I was the pilot and I was not aware that it mattered.
Next we went to the Comandante where we got the papers granting permission to bring the airplane into Mexico. I must remember to take a photo of this document next time because I have to surrender it upon leaving so I don't have a copy now. I have to present the airplane registration and airworthiness certificate, and proof of Mexican insurance. I get the insurance from MacAfee and Edwards and it cost me $77.66 for a 9-day period. I have been told that I also need to present a notarized letter granting me permission to bring the airplane into Mexico since it is not registered in my name. But on the two trips I have made into Mexico, I have not been asked for it. While with the Comandante, the cold front that we crossed on our way down blows into Tampico with a vengeance. Winds are very strong and it becomes quite cold, one of the coldest days of the year for Tampico.
There are four copies of the airplane entrance form and I now circulate through all of the offices to get the forms stamped and lastly return to the office of the Comandante. Various offices take away copies and I am left with one copy and I'm done. This sounds like a lot of trouble but all of the people are very nice, most speak English, and it really doesn't take too long.
With all the paperwork taken care of, I returned to the airplane and taxied over to the Combustibles area for fuel. At Tampico, aviation fuel is dispensed from a fuel truck that remains parked at the Combustibles area, which is about 80' from Customs. Their office is located at the fueling area and they do accept credit cards. I filled the tanks and then pulled the airplane over to the adjacent parking area and tied down. Bring your own ropes.
The general aviation area of the Tampico airport is very well laid out. The offices mentioned above, the Combustibles area, airplane parking, and hangers are all grouped together and are adjacent but separate from the commercial aviation area. All are within easy walking distance of each other. All personnel are friendly and helpful and some are English-speaking. The main runway, 13/31 is 8366' long and there are two additional runways, 18/36 and 09/27 approximately 4000' long. Tampico is an excellent airport of entry into Mexico.
Overnight in Tampico
The Bonitto has a small restaurante which was closed to the public this evening because they were hosting a private birthday party. We walked a block south to a seafood restaurant. The restaurant had a buffet even though there were no other customers besides us. We ordered a la carte. It took a long time to prepare the food but it was worth the wait and very economical.
The Bonitto has wireless internet available in the lobby as well as a computer you can use. The wireless doesn't carry to the rooms because everything is made of concrete.