Waking up to a frosty morning, we packed up and made our way back to the shuttle-bus. We arrived back in town to discover that another shuttle-bus was running services to the airport that day; it turned out that the airport was celebrating its 70th anniversary with a fly-in. There were hundreds of people there, with 50 or 60 aircraft having flown in from all over the country. We were asked where we had flown in from, and told them Florida; an hour or so later we were approached by a member of the organising committee and presented with a prize for having flown the furthest to attend!
We departed Mariposa and flew back towards the coast, to land at the airport of Oceano. A badly managed barbecue had set fire to a large area of scrub next to the beach, and water-bombers were operating in the area to try and extinguish it; as a result we were directed well offshore by air traffic control before being turned back towards the coast and coming in to land.
Oceano Airport offers on-field camping, and is situated right on the outskirts of town; the beach is only a few minutes walk away. It is one of the few beaches in the USA where vehicles are allowed to be driven, and as a result is as busy as a freeway and rather scary to try and walk on!
We headed back towards the airport instead, stocking up with food en-route. On our return we discovered that some other fly-in campers had set up their tents. These were Ben and Alejandra, who had flown up the coast for a weekend away. Their aircraft was packed with enough food for a banquet, and once they saw us cooking canned pasta on our camping stove they insisted we join them for a three course dinner, with a selection of wines! We spent a pleasant evening chatting with them, and finally turned in.
That night we were camping inside the airport boundary, surrounded by a chain-link fence, in town, so wild animals were not high on our mind. We indulged in marshmallows in bed, and left them wrapped up under the tent flap. Later that night we were awoken by the sound of a large animal prowling outside. Memories of our previous two night stops came flooding back; a TV show about mountain lions followed by Yosemite, bear country. Convinced that we were about to be eaten, we were relieved when the airport beacon swung round and silhouetted a raccoon against the tent flap. He stuck his face under the flap and looked at us for a moment, before poking in a paw and grasping for the marshmallows. We saved them and locked them away before returning to sleep!
Ben and Alejandra gave us some tips about destinations. We first flew down the coast, overhead Los Angeles International Airport. It is possible to fly overhead this airport at a few thousand feet, perpendicular to the runways, without talking to air traffic control; one merely monitors a frequency and gives occasional position reports for the benefit of other traffic. It was fun to watch airliners landing and taking off below us, and we continued South before turning West and heading offshore towards Catalina Island, and the Airport in the Sky.
The aptly named Airport in the Sky is situated on the flattened top of two mountains, bulldozed together to form a runway. Catalina Island is privately owned, and this was the only airport of the trip where we had to pay a landing fee. However, it was well worth it for the beautiful flight out and back, and we paused there for a lunch of buffalo burgers; a herd of the animals were brought to the island by Walt Disney for a film, and then allowed to run wild.
Early in the afternoon we took off from Santa Catalina, crossed the water once more, and headed to a night of airport camping at Borrego Springs.
We arrived at Borrego Springs after the airport office had closed. We pitched the tent on a small patch of grass, the only irrigated area of the airport, and did a little exploring; the flight guide mentioned that there were no facilities within walking distance of the airport.
One building on the perimeter fence had a door ajar, so I took a look inside and found myself behind the bar of an upmarket Chinese-run Italian restaurant. They were surprised to see me appear behind their bar, but friendly, and we returned later that evening to eat. We sat at a bar next to a local couple, one of whom had already had a few drinks and insisted that we must know her next door neighbours, as they were English too. They were both very friendly and told us that if they’d known we were coming, that have brought their caravan for us to stay in; a generous offer given that we had known them barely an hour!
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