First day in Governador Valadares. The main reason why most pilots come to Brazil is to fly here and to fly far (the second location is Quixada to the distant northeast, though only select few can and do fly there).
The launch is on the lone mountain in the region, Ibituruna. At 1100 meters and surrounded by a near endless expanse of rolling hills to the south – it is the perfect place for the intermediate pilot to start building upon their flatland flying skill set.
For the solo pilot not booked into a tour, retrieve is simply a matter of catching the blue/red/white Rio Doce bus that runs up and down BR116 every hour or two – though many a local will stop and offer rides with little to no expectation of repayment (though this is starting to change so I hear – word is spreading that visiting pilots are a lucrative cash cow). Rides up the mountain can be found at the main LZ near the river – having some knowledge of Portuguese will help immensely in this regard (otherwise it is a pricey cab ride up the hill).
This being the first day in GV, Dean wants to limit the ambition level of the task. An out and return to Engenheiro Caldas is the plan.
I kit up quickly and launch with the first third of the group, including Dean. Putting to use lessons learned from flying here last year, I immediately fly to the lip of the Cauldron hoping to catch some lift that is being pushed up the slope by the easterly wind.
The climb takes me above launch height, but it is slow going. Over the radio I hear Dean, “Ok lads, let’s get going.”
I need a stronger/faster climb, I need what is boiling on the rock face.
Skirting the Cauldron, I work my way around to the western edge.
Southwards I venture. In the meantime, Dean is now over the hill to the west nicknamed ‘Salvation’ (aka the ‘Crocodile’ due to its shape). Salvation is a common second climb out point for pilots hoping to fly cross country (XC) to the south east (which follows BR116) towards Caratinga, 100 km away.
I still need more height if I am to transition to Salvation and join up with Dean. Not much is found downwind of the Cauldron which means I will need to hug onto the slope and hope to catch a ‘crawler’ thermal, sliding up to a trigger point along one of the many ridges fanning out from the mountain.
A few beats back and forth. Little concern of sinking out – this tactic has worked countless times in the past, simply a matter of being willing to kick tree tops.
Next stop, Salvation.
Dean is still climbing out over this hill, so there is a chance I can still join up with he, Richard, and Simon.
Over the radio I hear, “Ok Mark and Simon, lets go.” Gather Dean figures we have enough altitude to make the next jump. Topping up as needed, we push southwards along the road.
Passing Alpercata, Richard and I sync up. Working the climbs together, we continue onwards south with Dean well in the lead.
Richard and I continue on.
Nearing the half way point towards Engenheiro, Dean pipes on the radio, “I’m not liking the look of those clouds to the south”. Richard replies,”Yes. Looks like Death and Destruction.”.
A few minutes pass, Dean on the radio, “I think we should turn back. It might be ok, but I’d rather not chance it.”
Looking ahead to the south, I am one to agree.
Dean on the radio, “Mark, what are your thoughts?” (aka you are going to do what I suggest, yes?)
“Death and destruction. Cats and dogs living together. Understood. Turning back.”
I begin the return leg and make it back to a hillside between the two gas stations along the road.
Packed up and awaiting retrieve, I look up to see this:
Survived to fly another day. Los Hermanos for dinner.