For most Canadians, especially residents of rural Saskatchewan, seeing the humid, leafy jungles and warm, shiny beaches of Central and South America would be a dream or retirement goal. However, one Midale area farmer spent several days a long ways from home earlier in February taking in just such sights from above.
Colin Rosengren was recently minted as a private pilot. For many who take on such a challenge, the time following is spent building the time and experience in the air slowly, but not in this case. Rosengren participated in the Give Hope Wings initiative, a lengthy flying adventure taken on by 4 Canadian pilots that essentially is a trip of a lifetime. They raised funds for Hope Air, a charity organization that helps provide free transportation for medical patients.
"Initially, they had 4 guys that were going to fly two small planes from Kelowna (BC), all down the west coast of North and South America, around the tip, and back up the other side," he explained.
However, one was unable to participate due to other commitments. This left a spot in one of the aircraft open, and the group decided to divide that into 8 legs, and offer those up to guests and fellow pilots to tag along, for a good sized donation.
"My wife, Leigh, knew Harold Fast from the swine industry, and he was heavily involved in the organizing and fundraising behind this. I guess he knew that I was getting a pilot's license, so he was pushing us to get involved and be part of it."
Rosengren's part of the journey included travelling from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. He estimated that the route was around 1,400 miles, split up into approximately 3 flying days, and entailed several stops along the way.
"It was a very nice, unique landscape. We went to the Iguazu Falls and flew over them, that was really breathtaking. Over some of the areas of the rain forest, as well as over lots of miles of beach and islands. There was some farmland we crossed over that was really nice, rolling hills, pastureland. Uruguay was really nice countryside, I really liked that part. As well, the air traffic control in Uruguay was pretty free so we were able to do some low flight and scenic flying, we didn't have to stick to airways quite as much through there, so that was a really nice part of the journey."
"I'm kind of a farm guy, so I enjoyed getting out of the cities when we were in sort of the more rural areas. Flying over the countryside in Uruguay was really beautiful, for sure."
While the lead pilots in the affair had their plans laid out and set, Rosengren was able to get a glimpse into the process and work involved in such a venture, splitting his time riding in both aircraft and with all three pilots (Dave McElroy of B.C, Russ Airey of Ontario, and Harold Fast from Spiritwood, Sask).
"It certainly opens your eyes to the possibilities. Those are just the same, single engine, single prop planes, so there's no reason why the whole world isn't open to travel to, it's definitely doable. You just have to put some time in and learn on the planning and that type of stuff."
The aviators flew a Vans Rv-6 and RV-9 for the adventure, both of which are experimental homebuilt aircraft.
"They're kind of like a little two seater sports car, essentially. Very nice, fun planes to fly," said Rosengren.
The Give Hope Wings crew also surpassed their fundraising goal of $500,000 towards Hope Air during his period with them.
"It's a great cause. It's always nice to see a charity that's that effective and efficient, in that the amount of dollars used in administration and marketing are very low. The money raised is highly leveraged to help Canadians that need to travel for medical care. It's always rewarding to be involved in that, and certainly help out people from rural and isolated areas that need to travel to treatment in Canada."
The organization occasionally utilizes the services of casual pilots such as Rosengren to provide services, and he expressed that, if the opportunity arose, he would be interested in helping out in the future.
That said, if you were to assume that the hours spent preparing for time in the air over a landscape that, no matter how breathtaking, includes parts with some rather unsavoury consequences if one goes down, or perhaps the planning and coordination that goes into such a venture, would be the hardest part...think again.
"The commercial flights down there and back were a long journey, I guess. It's a fairly long trip down to Buenos Aires on commercial airlines, and the same coming home. Once I was down there, our flights were very reasonable. That was the part that wasn't as enjoyable, the grueling 24 hour trip to get there and back," Rosengren stated.
How does one return from such an adventure, and what comes next for a southeast Saskatchewan farmer-turned-South American-jungle-pilot?
"I don't know, I guess it's just back to work on the farm, and we're trying to figure out some journeys to begin to use our plane here, figure out somewhere we want to go and travel to. Nothing major in the plans, but we'll try and get somewhere this summer."
All photos courtesy of Colin Rosengren.