Flying over the rainforest can be dangerous: the pilot can get lost, you can suddenly hit bad weather, the plane can have mechanical failure… So you need an experienced pilot. I like to fly with older pilots, who have 20 years or more of experience flying to placer gold or diamond mines, which can be distant in the forest, and have short dirt airstrips, often irregular or muddy, and surrounded by trees. If after 20 years or more of this kind of flying a pilot is still alive, he must be good… Planes going to placer mines are often poorly maintained, overloaded, and younger pilots may get lost and run out of fuel or think they can get through bad weather.
I did not choose my first bush pilot; Tex Palmer, he had been hired by an anthropologist with whom I was traveling to an Indian tribe in Venezuela.
Tex Palmer, being Texan was a real cowboy bush pilot, working the diamond mines in the rainforest. He was the only one who could land at a small mine airstrip between mountains in cloudy weather. Others tried and killed themselves. I did only one flight with him, going from Caicara (where he lived) to San Juan de Manapiare with an anthropologist and his wife. For such classy passengers he put back the safety belts and did a complete check-up of his plane. After leaving us in San Juan de Manapiare he did some acrobatics over the small town, to the enjoyment of the local people. A few years later I was told that during his annual checkup it was found that he had high blood pressure, and he was prohibited to fly. I visited him once in the small town on the Orinoco River where he lived a simple life. I didn´t hear about him for several years, but I learned later that he had died.
Quite a character…
Photo courtesy of his son, © Jack Palmer. He was much younger than when I met him.