Friday, July 10, 2009
A lot has happened since I left Botswana mid-May, most of it in a whirlwhind of hellos/goodbyes, catching up, driving, camping, driving, hiking, and driving some more. From Pennsylvania to Alaska, I covered just over 6,000 miles, with stops along the way in: Goshen, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, CO Springs, Denver, Yellowstone, and Montana. From Montana it was a straight shot up through Banff and Jasper Parks in Canada to pick up the Alcan Highway a bit west of Edmonton. Four days after leaving Montana, we arrived in Anchorage, and despite the beauty and fun of the trip up, it felt good to get out of the car and to be at the final destination.
Since arriving in Anchorage, there’s been a lot going on, including, thank goodness, the acquisition of a job. Probably the most fun and challenging thing that I’ve done so far though, is to get a floatplane rating added to my pilot’s license. Yesterday I took (and passed!) my floatplane checkride and afterwards had the opportunity to take a beautiful flight up a valley south of Anchorage to a lake with a lodge on it for some delicious ice cream. So…I’m not getting bored yet. I’m also still in the process of a lot less fun things, like finding an apartment, getting a driver’s license, registering my car, etc. For the moment I’m crashed on the friend of a friend’s sofa, which is fine as far as it goes, but it will be nice to find a place and get settled in.
Check out some pictures, if you so desire, that I’ve put up on google. And of course write me emails when you get the urge.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Friday, May 8, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Last week, we received a call from the clinic in Seronga, a village at the top of the delta where the Okavango River begins to fan out. They had a patient that urgently needed to be transferred to the hospital in the nearby village of Gumare. The flight from Seronga to Gumare is only 15 minutes, but the only alternatives are a 4-hour boat ride or a grueling, bumpy gravel road to the nearest ferry crossing (1.5 hours) followed by a 2 hour paved road trip. On average, we move about 2 patients a month along this route.
I headed for Seronga as quickly as I could, and was soon kicking myself for not bringing my camera. The upper regions of the delta are always the most beautiful because they always have more water than the rest, but this time it was spectacular. The water at the top of the delta was higher than I have ever seen it, and areas that have clearly not had water for a long time were completely flooded. Every rainy season, heavy rains in Angola funnel into several large river systems, one of which is the Okavango that feeds the Okavango Delta. When the water from these rains (the yearly “flood”) makes its way down to Botswana about 3-4 months later, the delta fills up once again and provides the moisture that sustains huge amounts of plants and wildlife. By all accounts, this is an amazing year for water in the delta. The rains over the delta itself coupled with heavy rains in Angola have brought water levels that haven’t been seen here since 1963, and the main part of the flood hasn’t even arrived yet! While this is causing some problems for a few villages (if you’re fast you might catch the article about it in the Ngami Times), for the most part it is a huge boon for wildlife in the area. This flood should rejuvenate groundwater levels after many dry years as well as provide water much further downstream to areas that have been dry for a long time (here is an informative article for anybody interested).
Flying to Seronga and Gumare gave me a chance to see this record flood firsthand and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Just for fun, I’ll link to a pretty picture of the delta from space and a cute article about the “Babes of Botswana.” Enjoy, and keep well.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Monday, February 2, 2009
On the way back from my vacation in the states, I stopped in Europe to spend a week with some former Flying Mission friends in London and Switzerland. I flew into London and spent a long and hurried day seeing the sights there before flying with two friends down to Zurich, Switzerland. In Zurich, we met with two other friends and drove down into a small town in the Alps, where we stayed at wonderful little cabin right at the bottom of a ski slope (it’s nice to have friends with connections!). There we enjoyed an amazing weekend of downhill skiing, sledding, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and fantastic company (I’ve posted some pictures from this Swiss weekend on my google photos). I then flew back to London and very reluctantly boarded the plane to Johannesburg, eventually making my way back to Botswana. So I’ve now been back in Botswana for several day…almost completely re-adjusted to the heat, and back in the pilot’s seat loving my job.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
430 am: Wonder how it could be morning already, roll out of bed, rub the eyes, splash some water on the face and wolf down some cornflakes.
5 am: Meet with the ZAWA teams, climb in the pickup bed and ride to the airport squinting into the sunrise and the cool morning air.
530 am: Do a thorough preflight of the airplane, pile the crew into their seats, and take off into the prevailing easterly winds with a blinding sun in the face and hope nothing is crossing the runway at the time. Head for the morning survey area, sometimes up to 45 min flight from the base airport. Follow little lines on the GPS for 4 hours straight while trying to maintain 300 feet above the ground and 85 knots airspeed, avoiding mountains and hills, and trying to keep the ornery airplane engine from overheating. Look for wildlife in any spare time.
10 am: Return from the survey saddle-sore and with legs aching from being in the same position all morning. Try to avoid colliding with any of the many people or vehicles crossing the runway. Hand-pump fuel into the airplane in preparation for the afternoon flight under the close watch of crowds of locals who flock to see what all the action is about.
1130 am: Get to the hotel/guesthouse, grab a quick bite for lunch and crash in the room for as long as possible. Get up in time to enter GPS waypoints for the afternoon surveys, a process that might take as long as an hour.
2 pm: Meet again for the afternoon flight and truck back out to the airport.
230 pm: Quick check of the airplane and we’re off again, this time battling high temperatures and reduced aircraft performance in the afternoon, barely clearing the trees at the end of some of the shorter strips. Weigh the advantages of taking off uphill and into the wind or vice versa. Survey for 3 hours, dodging rain showers and thunderstorms. Time the return to the airport to allow for a flight to another airstrip before dark if the home airport is under a storm.
530 pm: Back home again and pump fuel for the morning flight. Secure the airplanes and leave them in the care of the ZAWA sentry, armed with a rickety rifle of some sort.
630 pm: Get back, talk over the plans for the next day, and start entering more GPS waypoints for the morning flight. Eat a meal scraped together by Tracy, the wife of one of the pilots, from canned food and bread and whatever else can be found in the village (most of the places we stayed served traditional food, which we stomached for a while, but after a while pretty much anything is better than fried village chicken and mealie-meal. Not bad for a bit, but the menu is very repetitious and greasy.)
830 pm: If state of fatigue allows it, have a quick shower. Tuck in the mosquito net and roll into bed, aware that it all starts over again in less than 8 hours.
After almost 4 weeks of this schedule, with just a few days off scattered in there, I’m pretty much destroyed. It’s been a lot of fun and a great experience, but I’m very ready to be heading back to my house in Maun and to the flying there. I’ve posted some pictures from the last few weeks on my picasaweb page
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The first raindrops of the year on my car's roof. Pretty lame picture, you might say. I guess. But maybe after my last week's post you might understand why I'm so excited about a few raindrops. We just caught the edge and a few drops out of what looked like a pretty big storm off to the south. This car roof hasn't seen raindrops in about 8 months.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
It’s also the height of vomit season for the passengers in the delta. The combination of sweltering heat, massive updrafts, downdrafts and turbulence caused by the sun beating on the earth’s surface, and strong winds is a volatile mix, and countless poor tourists lose their lunches to sick sacs. “The flight was good, but very emotional,” “I would be lying if I said I was a bit terrified – I was completely terrified,” and “I’ve never flown in a golf cart with wings before” were all comments from some of my passengers in the last few weeks. They don’t all appreciate the fun that a few bumps can bring.
Maun is a dusty town to start with, but the extreme dryness and the high winds of the season make it at times almost unbearably dusty. By about 10am I already feel like I’m coated in a thick layer of caked-on sweat and dust. I’ve given up on washing much of anything (car, etc.) because within a day of washing all exposed surfaces will be once again covered in a thick layer of fine white dust. While I was driving in to the airport the other day, a stretch of the road a few kilometers long was enveloped in a dust storm so thick that I turned my lights on and was afraid of coming up on someone too quickly from behind. It was like driving in a thick fog.
So it’s a hard time of year, but despite all that, it has it’s perks. Many trees are budding and speckling the landscape with patches of green in preparation for the rains. For a month or so now, various flowers have been blooming and turning gardens and roadsides flush with beautiful colors. And, while it’s a pretty brutal time of year, the rains are right around the corner and everybody is looking forward to their arrival. It can’t come soon enough for me.