3E1DX DXped. 1997
"DEMASIADO SI" or my first DX-pedition
by Jelka Samec, S57NW
After the CQ WW RTTY contest in September my ears needed a rest after 48-hour diddling. And what could be more pleasant than good old Morse telegraphy? Then there was CQ WW SSB. I wasn't too keen on participating from my home QTH. Working conditions with TS-450S & Windom atenna realy aren't suitable for serious work. Well, it's important to participate! On Sunday I joined M/M 9A1A for a few hours & worked on 20 & 160m. Fine, but SSB isn't my mode. I kept thinking where to go for the CQ WW CW, which is (beside WAE) the greatest challenge for every telegraphist as more than 30,000 stations all over the world participate. "The craziest" HAM try to get to places as difficult to achieve as possible in order to work from rare & desirable DXCC. So where to go & how? When I faced the fact that I'd stay at home that unexpected e-mail question by Stefan, DL5XX, known contester, telegraphist & my acquaintance from Ham-Radio 1997 in Friedrichshafen, who was planning to go to Panama again. "Would you like to come with?" appeared. What a question - of course I'd like to come with! All I had to do was arrange a few "minor" things, i.e. two weeks off from work, a plane ticket, an entry visa. Everything wentsmoothly, I even got the ticket at a reasonable price.
But it turned out to be the ticket for Panama City in Florida!. Fortunately I discovered the mistake and soon got the ticket for Panama City in Panama. It took a little longer to get the visa at the Panamanian embassy in Vienna. But the clerks were very kind & willing to help so I could arrange everithing through the phone, fax & e-mail. On 23 November 1997 my "adventure"began. My father, S51WO took me to the Venetian airport from where I flew across the Atlantic via Amsterdam. After a peaceful, almost twelve-hour-long flight we landed at the airport Tokumen in Panama at 4 p.m. local time. Before the landing I saw a beautiful rainbow. I knew everything would be OK.
I hurried to the Customs control because I had to be in Panama City as soon as possible to catch the plane for Contadora. The customs officer who stamped passports hesitated when he picket up mine, inspected it thoroughly, found the visa, read it carefully, stamped it at least and I thought I was through. But he put my passport aside. The procedure of looking for autorisation for my visa from three piles of paper followed. Then I collected my luggage & left the airport.
My host Guenter, HP1XVH waited for me. When we left the building the heat & vapour puffed into us. Oh, gosh... But I knew I'd have to get used to it" In the next fifteen days the temperature won't be below 30 C. As I'd been delayed at the airport it was clear to me that I wouldn't be able to catch the 17.15 plane so I slept in Panama City. My first encounter with roads was shocking and the traffic can be described with one word: chaos. Not using indicator lights seemed the most natural thing. No wonder you can hardly see a car not damaged one way or the other. At least we got to the rich neighbourhood Paitilla, where I spent my first night in Panama. Of course I got in touch with Stefan, DL5XX & Swen, DL2BAY who had already been at the location. Then I called OT Camilo, HP1AC whom I brought a gift from SCC (Slovenia Contest Club). We went in the evening at the nearly BY restaurant and after a long chat I went to seep. That day was six hours longer & rather tiring yet I couldn't sleep. "Im I really here?" I asked myself.
Finally I fell asleep but I woke up early, at dawn. I waited for the sunrise and than drowsed till seven o'clock when I had to go to the airport & catch the plane for Contadora island, my final destination. Contadora is one of 101 small islands that form archipelago Las Perlas in the Pacific. The distance between the mainland & the island is approximately 50 km which means a seventeen-minute flight by small plane for twenty passengers. Already at the airport I came across the attitude of the Panamanian people towards everything - the answer is always "no". THis seems to be the simplest thing to do. Well, they can't be blamed, it's too hot to think. At 9.00 we took off. Paniramic view over Panama City, ships waiting to enter the Panama canal and then only the sea. I couldn't wait to see islands but before I rea?ized we landed. While I was waiting for the luggage I saw Stefan waving to me and then Swen & G?nter's XYL Susanne behind him. So I was there!We went towards Casa Colonia, my home for a fortnight & contest location at the same time, changed into paradise by Guenter.
The island is 1.2 km2 large, covered with exotic plants and there are beautiful beaches located all around the island. There is a hotel, a shop, a disco, a duty free shop, there are bars and restaurants. The roads are not bad in some areas but like cart tracks in others and the cars are even more damaged tham those I'd seen on the mainland. When we got to the house I was shown my room and I could finally put my summer clothes on. But even those were too much to wear. Then it was time for coffe & a chat & to find out what the boys had already done & prepared, what remained to be done & how. And to see the shack at last! I could see straight to the Pacific through the window. In frons ot the housetrehe are two abt. 20m high towers, on the first one there is KLM 4 el. Yagi for 40m & on the second one Hy Gain TH11 & dipoles for 80 & 160m. And the most important thing, the equipment: Kenwood TS 870 DSP, Alpha 87A amplifier & brand new IBM computer with CT log programme. My fingers were eager to work but I felt too nervous. However, let's try.
I listened to instructions how to operate Alpha 87A, unknown to me until then, which was a pleasure to work on. You choose the band & the antenna & you're ready to work - that's a luxury. I hadn't been too familiar with the CT programm but it went fine. Now let's see what's going on on 20m. I scaned the band, nothing special, I found a clear frequency & called the first CQ. After the first call there was a response from a station & I gave only 599. "QRZ 3E1DX" & I was called by a host of stations. I can't pick out a Callsign - I paniced - shall I switch it off? No, of course not. So I pulled myself together and started to pick up Callsigns from the pile up slowly. That's crazy,you appear on the frequency & pile up. At the beginning I worked two stations a minute. "That isn't a good rate!" I said to myself, maybe I should work split. Yes, that's much better. One of the first stations that calles me was P40E-Jose, CT1BOH who was geting ready for the contest on Aruba. He thought he'd called Stefan but I had to "disappoint" him. That was followed by HB8N-Trey, N5KO, 6Y4A, etc. It was strange to be called by stations for which I usually wait in a pile up and now they "queeued" for me, which flet really good. My rate grew. I wasn't nerouse any longer because there was no time for it, I worked & enjoyed. I only realized how time flew when I was called for lunch. In the late afternoon when it wasn't so hot anymore we went to the beach. I was fascinated - white sand, palm trees, soft waves. It was like in a film. The water was warm & very clean. I ran & jumped into the water. Wonderful. After diiving in company of fish of different sizes & colours we returned home, had dinner and then worked on the station. I was eager to hear any S5's but I didn't have any lick that evening.
I couldn't sleep the first two nights because I wasn't used to the heat. So I got up & went to the air-conditioned shack. I killed two birds with one stone - I could breath normally & I worked on the station. It was getting brighter & I saw my first sunrise over the Pacific. It was a magnificent moment. Then I went on working and other inhabitants of the house started to wake up. After breakfast we decided to put a multiplier station in the empty house near by for the contest (Stefan & I would work as M/S) because the stations would interfere with each other too much on the same location. A Windom antenna for all bands had to be made first & then we put it in to the hihest tree around. SWR on all bands was satisfactory afterminor changes being done. We called CQ & we caused a pile up in spite of barefoot Kenwood TS 450S. We went back to the main station, where we worked alternately: Swen (only SSB), Stefan (only CW & I (only CQ if I don't count some 300 QSO in SSB). We hadn't known each other before out expedition but we got on surprisingly well & became good friends & had a great time. Fortunately we had no communication problems because I speak German fairly well & the the social life was one of the nicest things of 3E1DX expedition.
I caught a cold (probably because of air-conditioning) that lasted throughout the contest. Sneezing & caughing in the tropics! Fortunately it was over after a few days.Before the contest we found out that the antenna for 40m didn't rotate. Obviously it was stuck. Someone had to go to the tower & help the rotator. I volunteered for the job because I have plenty of experiences with 40m antennas from Slivnica, S50L, where I often had to climb to fix the machanical brake. So I climbed to the tower. There was a wonderful view, the only problem was the hot sun & no wind that would make breathing easier. With force & the help of the rotator I managed to let loose the antenna, which started to rotate as it should. My task was completed.
The next day was Friday & the contest started at 19.00 local time. Stefan, supported (morally) by G?nter, who was also in charge of the statistics, goodwill & optimism, began on the running station. I worked on the multi station (morally supported by Swen). It was no problem to find & work multipliers, the conditions were good. But after a while we got hungry so I "jumped" home, ate something & then replaced Stefan for a while so that he could take a break as well. Then I hurried back to the multi station & carried on working. On Saturday morning the conditions got worse. There were less & less multipliers & DX stations, but more QRN & static crackles. I gave up in the late evening & went to bed. Stefan woke me up in the middle of the night & we changed QTHs - I went to the station & he to bed. I worked fairly well on 40m for a while, but then a thunderstorm apprroached. Almost no stations on 20m and on lower bands there was nothing but QRN. I switched the station off when the ground trembled because of the thunderbolt. When everything calmed down I switched it on again. The next few hours were the worst part of the contest because the conditions were extremely bad. I somehow "survived" till morning when Stefan replaced me & I went back to the multi station but couldn't work anything new that day. I couldn't hear Europe while Asia & Africa are problematic from from the Pacific anyway. At 19.00 local time I switched off the station since the great spactacle for that year was over.
We made around 5.700 QSOs. We discussed the contest & were quite satisfied. Stefan said he had never slept so much & that M/S wasn't such a bad thing after all. It was clear to us, of course, that we couldn't be at the top in this category because two operators are not enough & the multi stations wasn't too good eeither. It turned out during the contest that it can't, not even for a short time, take the role of the running station & that's why it was necessary to "run" to the main station all the time, which was not only annoying but also tiring in that heat.
With the end of the contest the first half of my living in "paradise" ended. We were quite familiar with the island by then so we were considering of going somewhere else for a couple of days. The idea of going to Columbia was tempting but I should probably need a visa & I didn't feel like going one place to another in order to get all the required documents. "You guys go ahead but I really don't feel like it." We finally decided to go to Panama City for a few days. So we took off on Tuesday afternoon & booked rooms in the Caesar Park Hotel, which was decorated for Christmas. Europeans are used to white Christmas so I found it rather funny.
The officual currency in Panaama is balboa, but it's rarely used. You can pay with American dollars everywhere. The exchange rate balboa:dollar is 1:1! We went to the KLM airline company. Swen & Stefan were to fly back home on 7 December & I on 9 December. But we thought it would be nice to travel together. Fortunately is was possible to arrange that & we could relax & be tourists for the rest of the time there. Getting around in Panama City is not a problem. There are taxis everywhere. They're usually in terrible condition & I often wondered how they could get anywhere at all. The price is 2UDS, regardless of the distance. For the price for longer distances you have to bargain. So we got a taxi & asked how much it would cost to take us to Panama canal & back. The driver wanted 50 USD first but we paid 35 USD at the end. On the way back we passed the slums of the city. The difference between the rich & the poor parts is enormous & I realized we (in Slovenia) had nothing to complain about.
We stayed in the capital one more night & we danced in the rhythm of salsa music. Then we went back to Contadora because we wanted to be QRV again. We activated WARC bands as well & set up another antenna for 30m. I was glad to hear some familiar Callsigns. Some of them from Slovenia were very good. I'd like to mention my only S5 in SSB on 40m. Ljubo, S51ST was quite surprised when he heard the answer in Slovene language. In the last moment I managed to make a QSO qith my father, S51WO in 40m. At the weekend Stefan & I participated in the ARRL 160m contest for a while. American stations were very strong in spite of QRN and statics. The more the time of DXpedition was coming to an end the sadder I felt. A fortnight in paradise was about to finish. The last hours of work on the station & we concluded the 3E1DX log with some 13.000 QSOs from which approximately 10.000 were on CW.
Swimming in the Pacific & the last sunset. It was Tuesday & the date on my plane ticket "told" me I had to take leave & go back home, in winter in everydays life. The last seafood dinner & then I left Panama & my first radioamateur adventure with it. Most of the people in the plane fell asleep but I tought about events of the last two weeks. Amazing feeling of pile ups, commendable discipline of the JA operators, impossible behaviour of EU stations, my first work "by numbers", my first contest with so little sleep & so many QSOs, the company of G?nter, Susanne, Stefan & Swen, salsa, sangria, Pacific, palm trees, seashells... Demasiado si (Yes, too much!)
And before I got home the question arose: Where to go next?
My special thanks to Stefan,DL5XX for inviting me to Panama and Guenter & Susanne for their warm hospitality.