A friend Mark that also has a Cessna 210 invited me to fly a mission for the Flying Samaritans, a group of doctors that run free clinics in Mexico. The chapter closest to me, the Mother Lode Chapter, runs a clinic in San Quintin, about 1/3 of the way down the baja peninsula. The first mission you fly has to be with a pilot that has done it before, so Mark offered to be my copilot which was great as we had some catching up do on our personal lives.
We took off from Placerville, CA at a comfortable time Friday morning in order to miss any morning fog along the coast in Baja California. We landed at Ensenada and immediately ran into customs problems. The Docs had some expired dermatology creams that were out of date and the Mexican officials were pretty upset about it. I had heard before that the expiration date on most meds are extremely conservative (e.g. lose 1% of their efficacy per year, or don’t lose it all), so I was surprised the officials would make such a big deal out of this. It was also pointed out to me that the airport commandant was wearing eye glasses that were prescribed and provided free by Joe, one of the guys with us! What the hell? Give the docs a break!
The next day I understood a little better what was going on. A second plane went through, and one of the customs officials explained to them, “The last group had expired meds. My mom lives in San Quintin and I don’t want her getting any of those bad drugs”. OK, I guess if they think they are dangerous drugs I can understand.
We spent hours in Ensenada dealing with this issue and we started to get nervous as it got later, and we knew a night landing on the San Quintin dirt airstrip was out of the question. Finally they let us go after Joe cataloged all the meds that they confiscated (skin creams, mind you).
We flew down the coast until we hit the San Quintin bay, the docs pointed out the airstrip and we made an uneventful landing, the best kind. We were met by a group of soldiers who had more paperwork for us, then those soldiers camped next to the plane while we were there. The docs said sometimes the soliders are there, and sometimes not. So I didn’t know if we were safer they were there, or perhaps they were there because they knew something we didn’t…..
The clinic work was satisfying. The other plane had mechanical issues (bad alternator) and didn’t show up until mid day Saturday. So Mark and I were recruited to take blood sugar levels, blood pressure, temps and help with the eye clinic. And go get fish tacos for everyone at lunch. My wife was surprised I could prick fingers and handle the blood, but I reminded her this was far different from the time I helped her at her vet clinic and a lacerated dog ear spurted blood all over me and I almost passed out.
Not surprisingly, it turns out part of the trip is not only providing medical help to whoever shows up, it is also about enjoying fresh Mexican seafood, fresh lime margaritas and lively conversation about flying, politics and Joes’s romantic life.
The most impressive aspect of the clinic is the commitment some of these guys have. Unbelievable, really. Joe is down almost every month to prescribe eyeglasses, then deliver them (free) the next month to the patients. And I think he is paying for the eyeglasses. Bruce and Bill have been coming down for 19 years. That is a hell of a lot of patients, margaritas and fish tacos.
I was a little nervous about the trip back, because after 9/11 there are new security procedures for flying back into the country (eAPIS manifest filings and accurate timing of flight plans) and if you screw up they will hit you with a big fine. Having Mark was a comfort because if I got into trouble I was going to try to blame it all on him.