Thursday, November 12, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

New Things

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

One Last Hurrah

It’s down to one last week in Botswana now, but things haven’t gotten boring yet. Friday was my last official day of work with Flying Mission, and on Saturday I left Maun and came down to Gaborone to spend my last days in the country. I had thought I was finished with my flying here, but I turned out to be very wrong. On Monday, I was in at the Flying Mission office catching up with people and finalizing some things, when a call came up for a mercy flight. My dad happened to be on the flight schedule for the day, and one thing led to another, with the end result being that I was given the opportunity to fly one last medical flight in the King Air with, of all people, my father as the captain. It ended up being a long day, with two different medical flights and a total of nearly 8 hours of flying. But I’ll trade some words in for a few pictures...

One last African sunset

Medics made us wear facemasks (for a meningitis patient).

Kgale Hill overlooking Gaborone

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Next Transition

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been in Botswana for nearly two years now. For those of you who don’t know already, my time here is quickly drawing to a close. My last day of work with Flying Mission is the 15th of May and I will be flying home to Pennsylvania a week after that. It’s hard to believe that in a few short weeks I will be leaving this part of my life behind and moving on. For me, it’s as big a transition as finishing college to come to Botswana was, and I’m approaching it with a similar mix of sadness, trepidation, and excitement for what’s to come. So what is to come? Well, for the immediate future, I will be spending a few weeks visiting friends and family while travelling across the country, with the final destination of Alaska. There I will join the growing ranks of job-seekers and hope to find some sort of piloting job. Throughout this next period, I will also be exploring options for further education and hope to go back to school at some point in the next 3 years. Those are my plans in just about full detail…which is to say, I haven’t planned in very much detail…but I trust that the rest will fall into place. This entry isn’t meant to be my last blog from Botswana, but just to let folks know a bit of what is going on in the next few months. Thanks for all your support, and I look forward to seeing some of you very soon!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

High Water

The Chobe river flooding near Kasane
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Floods in the Sands

It goes without saying that it has been far too long since I have written anything here. I have no excuse other than lack of motivation…I’ve started writing about three different posts about Zimbabwe, which has been weighing on my mind a lot recently, but never managed to do the subject justice or work up the patience to finish. So for now I will write about something completely different.

Gratuitous picture of me in my plane (photo credit: J. Ewert)

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.

Seronga-Gumare route in red (practicing my photoshop skills)

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

Home 2

It’s the little things that make me feel like I’m at home, the familiar details that catch my attention again and make me feel comfortable in a place. In the last decade I have called many different places home, and each time I am back in one of those places there are myriad little things that tug at my heart and connect me to the memories that are stored up there. Yesterday evening it was the southern cross, hanging low over the trees in my yard, that stopped me in my tracks as I carried my suitcase into my house. I’m not usually overly sentimental, but my eyes nearly misted over as I watched it for a few long seconds…an old friend welcoming me home. Later, after getting all my bags unloaded and settling in a bit, I went out and lay on the hood of the car for a while, just relaxing in the familiar feel and sounds of night-time Maun: the croaking of hundreds of frogs down by the river, the ceaseless chirping and squeaking of insects, an occasional owl hoot, the sky pricked with innumerable stars piercing through even the light of a full moon. The cool night air, smelling clean and distinctly wild, untouched, broken with the odd sound of civilization: dogs, cars, faint strains of music. I will miss this little corner of Africa, this frontier town on the edge of beautiful, rugged, wilderness. I will miss the strange group of people that gather from all corners of the world in this safari center. But for now, I’m here, back in a place that has started to feel strangely like home. And I’ll enjoy it while I can.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Before December, I had been away from the states for over 18 months. While I know that isn't as long as many long-term missionaries or international students remain away from home, it felt like a pretty long time for me. It's not the places that I missed nearly as much as the people. So I was very excited to have the opportunity in December to return to the U.S. and reconnect with many of my friends and family. While in the states I traveled to Goshen, Philadelphia, Souderton, and Washington D.C. to visit friends and of course spent quite a bit of time with family at home. It was a wonderfully refreshing trip and a great time of renewing relationships and being with people that I love deeply. It was in many ways difficult to leave those things behind once again to come back to Botswana (although I definitely was feeling a flying itch that needed some scratching and was excited to get back to work here with Flying Mission).

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


Unfortunately I have been lacking lately in the blog-writing sphere of things, and I don't have much time right now to do it justice. I'm posting this from the Johannesburg Int'l Airport, where I'm waiting to board the flight that will take me back to the states for the holidays (and taking advantage of the (sadly not free) wireless internet access). This is the first time I'm going home since I've been here in Botswana, so I'm very much looking forward to seeing family and friends again. I will be in the States for 4 (hectic) weeks and then will be spending one week in Europe with some former Flying Mission short-termers before coming back to Botswana to finish my term. Alright, time to head. Internet time is running out.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

All things Zambian

I went to Zambia expecting to be staying for 2 or 3 weeks, but it ended up taking nearly twice as long as I expected. I’m still in Lusaka (the Zambian capital) but will most likely be returning to Maun in two days time. The Zambia survey contract that I wrote about was done for ZAWA (Zambian Wildlife Authority). The main purpose of the survey is to count elephants, but while they’re at it, they’re counting anything that they see. It was an ambitious undertaking, with the intent of doing a comprehensive survey of the entire country’s National Parks and Game Management Areas in three weeks time. The time expectation didn’t end up being at all realistic, but for the amount of planning that had to go into this project in a very short time period, we got quite a bit done. It was exhausting for all involved, and to give you a taste, here’s a typical day’s schedule.

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

Wildlife in the Northern Wilds

Flying Mission Zambia has won a contract to count wildlife across the country. I’m not very sure of the details, but apparently they need more planes and pilots than they’ve got at this point, so FMS in Botswana is loaning me and my plane to Zambia for the next few weeks. The airplane I’ll be flying is in the shop getting a radar altimeter fitted (an altimeter that directly measures the aircraft’s height above ground by radar rather than by air pressure, like most altimeters) and as soon as it comes out I’ll be flying up to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. There I meet some people who will jump in the plane before we head off for a 3-hour flight to Mfuwe to get the survey equipment fitted and calibrated. After that, it’s another 2 hours flying to the place where we will start surveying. There are three different locations I’ll be surveying, and each will take around 5-6 days, so I could be in Zambia for up to three weeks doing this flying. I’m excited for the opportunity to do some flying in a new country and to do this totally different kind of flying. It will be a new challenge for sure, as I’ve never done survey flying before. FM Zambia is arranging accommodation and food for me, but I have no idea what sort of internet access I will have, if at all. So until then, hang loose. Hopefully I’ll come back with some pictures and some stories to boot.

Random Pictures


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.
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Sunrise in front of my tent at Camp Kalahari, near Jack's Camp.
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Dragonfly at Xugana airstrip in the delta.
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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dusty Summer Days

It’s a brutal season here in Botswana. Summer has arrived with a vengeance and the cooling rains are as of yet nowhere in sight. By this time last year, it had been raining for a month already, but then last year was an exceptional rain year. The days are bearable as long as you don’t stand in the sun for longer than a few minutes at a time and don’t do anything too strenuous, but the nights can be miserable. Taking a cold shower just before bed and then lying right underneath my ceiling fan is just enough to let me fall asleep.
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.