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.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I was reminded again how much I enjoy night flying. There are few things more peaceful and settling to me than cruising in glass-smooth, cool night air under the bright shine of a full moon. The radio is quiet, with only the occasional overnight flight from Johannesburg to Europe breaking the silence on the airwaves. Even in the bright moonlight, a few of the brighter stars manage to push their way through. The luminescent white expanse of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans dominates the landscape for almost a third of the 1.5 hour trip home to Maun from Francistown. The feeling of solitude is strengthened by the knowledge that I am passing over a vast expanse of land virtually devoid of human habitation, save for the odd scattered cattle post (and not even that over the massive salt pans)…and this isolation feeds the only distraction from my sense of peace: the knowledge that I’m counting on one (fallible) piece of engineering to keep me aloft above this dry, desolate expanse. At night, my normal scan of the engine instruments becomes almost obsessive and borders on the paranoid. I reassure myself (half-successfully) by remembering that I know this stretch of desert intimately (I fly directly over Jack’s Camp, so the last half of the route is the same route that I fly from Maun to Jack’s an average of at least once a day). I know exactly where the nearest road is (there is only one paved road in the area after all), where the nearest groups of people are located, where the suitable landing strips are, where the trees start to take over the grassland and make any emergency landings more painful…and on top of that, the full moon would enable me to easily find and land on any of the airstrips on the route. So even my paranoia doesn’t detract too much from the experience.
The beauty and serenity of the flight was kept intact up until the very last minutes, when I innocently selected the gear down and patiently waited for the landing gear to extend and lock in the down position. And waited. And waited. And finally, after some long seconds, grudgingly came to the uncomfortable conclusion that the hydraulic pump meant to pump down the gear was not pumping. This conclusion was made even more uncomfortable by the memory of an incident that had occurred with this same type of airplane at Maun just a few days ago, in which the landing gear didn’t come down (it was an amazing story, actually, which you can read about here and here and here). I told the tower about my problem and asked to circle to the east of the field while I tried to take care of the problem. Cycling the gear selector did nothing, and all circuit breakers were in, so I pumped the gear down using the manual hand pump provided for exactly this situation, and the gear came down just fine. I then made a normal landing and headed for home, relieved that nothing more complicated came of the incident and relieved to finally be heading for bed (by this time it was 9:59 pm…I landed just before the airport closing time of 10). A long, but worthwhile, day. It feels good to be available to help out on flights like those, providing valuable access to needed medical care and even helping to save lives sometimes.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Koko (or the phonetically-equivalent “Cocoa” for the English-inclined) joined me on my flight from Gaborone back to Maun after my week of doing maintenance on the airplane in South Africa, and is a now a permanent resident of my Maun house. Debbie found her abandoned along the roadside near the female short-termers house in Gaborone, and since Nicola and Debbie are both leaving in a few weeks they needed to find a home for her. She now enjoys a reign of terror in my house, where she eats ravenously and indiscriminately, fearlessly climbs any and all panted legs, and will stalk and attack any moving object with abandon. She also does her best to chew off any proffered fingers.
Christoph is a much more transient visitor. Hailing from Germany, he spent a year working with Flying Mission as a short-termer about 3 years ago, and is just coming back to spend a few months here helping out where he can. He has been working with Baptist missionaries here in Maun, and I have greatly enjoyed spending time with Christoph and getting to know him. One of the highlights: Christoph found a neighbor of his that has a boat and convinced him to let us rent it for the day. The catch…it didn’t come with a motor. So we spent the day learning how to pole up and down the river, with varying degrees of success. It was hard work and lots of fun, but I unfortunately forgot to take my camera along.
The new Flying Mission couple has also arrived in Maun, as mentioned before. Here Julie enjoys a nap with Koko in one of her quieter moments. The Browns are staying with me in my house until about the second week of September, when they plan on moving into a house of their own. They’ve already signed the lease and it looks like things are falling into place for that arrangement. They are a very warm-hearted couple and it has been a lot of fun living with them and getting to know them in the last week or two.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
The Maun flight department in its entirety. Unfortunately, right now Colin isn’t able to do any flying on his own because our only aircraft at the moment is registered in South Africa and Colin only has his Botswana license. Flying Mission is working on getting a Bots-registered airplane down from our department in Zambia for him to fly, so hopefully that will all come together in the next weeks. It will be a great help to have Colin flying as well and giving me a bit of a break from time to time. I’m looking forward to working here more as a team rather than all on my own, so it’s exciting to finally have the Browns with me.
Finally (lest this post get too long for you to suffer through), our gardener brought his family along one evening last week and we invited them in for dinner. Lesh, his wife Gaone, and their child Warona, came in and enjoyed some food and conversation before heading back home for the night. During the day, Lesh is a maintenance worker at Love Botswana, a large church/school complex just down the road from us.
Alright, that’s it for the new friends of the moment. More to come later.
Monday, August 11, 2008
At the moment I’m coming to the end of a long weekend spent in South Africa at Mercy Air once again, having an inspection done on the airplane. The goal was to have the inspection finished within two days, but unfortunately we fell just a few hours short of that goal on Saturday evening meaning that we had to wait until today (Monday) to finish up the last bits of work. It was okay for me though, because I was very happy to have Sunday off after a long week of flying and then working on the airplane. The last month’s schedule has been for the most part a continuous loop of 7 days of flying with one day off in between, which gets pretty tiring after a while. In that month, I’ve flown about 95 hours, which is just short of the maximum of 100 hours per month allowable by law in Botswana. So needless to say I’ve been pretty busy.
The other big news is that a new Flying Mission couple has moved up to Maun to join me. Colin and Julie Brown have lived in Alaska (where Colin had his own flying business and Julie was an elementary teacher) for the past 30 years and are making a major transition I their lives by coming to Botswana. They were staying with me in my house for a few days before I left to come down here, and they will be living with me until they find a place of their own to settle in to. More about them later, but now I need to run along and help finish up the work on the airplane. And then back to the grind.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
It’s been business as usual in Maun for the last week or so. The aircraft finally got out of the maintenance and paperwork muddle that it had been mired in down south, and last Thursday I airlined down to
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
The last week has been fantastic. As I said in my last post, I got to do a charter trip for my dad’s company. So I flew his passengers on our Flying Mission King Air into and out of a camp in
- Scrambling to get everything ready for dad’s arrival because of a last-minute change of their arrival airport in
- Flying over the immense stretch of sand dunes in the Sossousvlei area of
, near the camp to which I flew the passengers Namibia
- Extremely hurried day road trip from
to the sand dunes Windhoek
- Being able to tell my dad what to do because he was the copilot
- Riding jumpseat in the Gulfstream V my dad flies on a 10-min repositioning flight
- Two-day trip to
with dad and another pilot from his company Moremi National Park
- Seeing hundreds of vultures and a massive male lion feasting on a kudu kill
The worst part of the week was undoubtedly watching the last few minutes of the European Cup Soccer final with increasing despair as my team (
Now that the week is over, however, it’s soon back to business as usual in Maun. For the moment, I’m in
Friday, June 27, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
While the average rainfall of
At regular intervals as I fly around this area of the country, I am struck with awe at the beauty and diversity of the life and environment around me. And I’m deeply appreciative that I get to experience this place in such an intimate way. In any one flight over the delta, I invariably see elephants (often in large herds), lechwe (reddish antelope that are well-adapted to life in the water), zebra, and giraffe, with the occasional massive herd of buffalo. The birdlife is equally diverse and beautiful (although also slightly more threatening to the safety of flight). This area of the country is one best places in
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
- Massive herds of zebra, congregating around some of the few remaining water holes
- Seeing a habituated meerkat colony up close
- Amazing night skies that you can hardly find anywhere in the states anymore
- Encounters with the diminutive gennet cats that run through the camp at night
through some of the guide training materials and satisfying my dork biology self Reading
- Going for a morning run around the pan at the edge of camp
- The evening sun that brings out beautiful, vibrant colors in the grasslands around the camp
- Experiencing two nights in the guest side of camp (normally a $1,000/night experience, scot-free)
Even my experience in the
Friday, May 23, 2008
Monday, May 19, 2008
I was taking three passengers to Xaxanaka, an airstrip on the northern edge of Moremi National Park in the Okavango Delta, and was to pick up four from there to take to Jack’s Camp. I had already gotten a late start because of a mix-up with the flight plan, so was trying to make up some time (or at least keep from getting later). There were three of us approaching the airstrip around the same time, so as we got close I was busy talking on the radio and trying to see the other airplanes so we could sequence ourselves to come in for landing. While all that was going on, an airplane was trying to depart the strip but had to wait for vehicles to clear some elephants off the runway. When they finally had it cleared, he started his takeoff run only to have another elephant step out in front of him determined to cross the runway, and the pilot had to abort the takeoff, turn around, and taxi the whole way back for another go. This made the three of us trying to land have to circle and wait for him to get off. Finally, the airplane on the ground managed to take off, and I ended up number three to land behind the other aircraft. They both landed uneventfully, but as I was coming in on short final behind the second plane, a big herd of impala scampered out right in front of me. I had no choice but to add power and go around for another try, buzzing low over the impala to scare them off the runway. Finally on the next attempt I was able to land, by this time probably a good 30 minutes behind schedule. From there, all went normally and I was able to pick up my next passengers and hurry away to Jack’s Camp.
So that’s a day in the Maun life. There definitely hasn’t been a shortage of excitement since I came up here, between the airplane’s brand-new alternator dying on me twice in a week, taking passengers to the wrong airstrip because someone messed up their itinerary (meaning rushing them to the right place and being late the rest of the day), doing last-minute flights for one of the other charter companies here, racing against sunset to get passengers delayed by Air Botswana to an unlit airport before dark, etc. Luckily this week has slowed down a bit…most days I only have one flight, and no nasty surprises have popped up as yet. And that’s good, because too many weeks like the last two might have had me booking an early ticket home :)
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
I thought you might enjoy this sign. Stefan came across it while on the way to Kgale Hill, the most prominent Gaborone landmark just southwest of the city. I like the resignation that the sign implies…people are going to litter, so they might as well do it in a convenient place for clean-up. There were of course a few pieces of trash right under the sign, thankfully on the right side of the fence. Littering is a real problem here, and I guess it would probably be a lot worse if the population was higher than it is. I saw a billboard the other day saying something to the effect of “a proud nation doesn’t litter to provide job security,” although I don’t remember the exact wording. Such efforts haven’t deterred everybody though. On my way to Maun, I stopped to pick up a hitchhiker who was walking (under a rather oppressive sun) towards the next village about 5 km down the road. I offered him the last of the crackers that I had been snacking on along the way, which he gladly accepted. He finished off the last two and casually chucked the plastic wrapper out the window. I seriously considered slamming the car to a halt, lecturing him on the evils of dirtying up his beautiful country, and going back to find the trash but quickly thought better of it. I decided it’s much more his country than it is mine, not to mention that his English wasn’t all that good and my Setswana is a heck of a lot worse so I probably couldn’t have communicated too much anyway.
Monday, March 31, 2008
I decided to take two days to drive up to Maun, and it turned out to be a good decision. I knew I still had some problems with the Land Rover, but I didn’t know that it would take me quite as long as it did to make the journey. To keep the pressure from building too much in the cooling system and pushing water out of the pressure cap, I had to drive at speeds of 70-80 km/hr most of the way (that’s about 45-50 mph). I left Wednesday afternoon and made it 50 km past Serowe, or a bit over a third of the way, where I drove a few hundred meters off the road into the bush and slept in the rooftop tent. Trying to take advantage of the cool early morning, I got up at 4am Thursday and hit the road. By mid-morning I had been making good time, so I was happy to stop and help a pair of Motswana who were broken down by the side of the road. They had a flat tire, and since their spare was also flat (pretty much a given with most cars here), they needed a ride into the nearest village to get a tire repaired. The small hydraulic jack they had also didn’t fit under the chassis since the flat tire made it too low, so I dug out my hi-lift jack to give them a hand. While we were working, a semi-truck pulled up and the driver asked if I might have a “floating spanner” (which I accurately deduced to mean “adjustable wrench”) that he could borrow to adjust his clutch (I did). I felt like a rolling toolshed. Anyway, after dropping the fellow off at a little tin shack in the village that purported to be a tyre shop, I continued on my way. Then, as I passed by the village of Rakops, on the edge of the Kalahari, I impulsively decided to stop by and see John Walters. John is a missionary who I had met once in Gabs as he passed through. The german short-termers also spent 3 weeks with him doing a village live-in, so I had heard a lot about him. I didn’t intend to stay long, but, as seems to always be the case in Botswana, a “short” visit turned into a long-winded tour of the town complete with stories about all kinds of different things. John Walters is a pretty amazing guy who has accomplished some wonderful things in that village, and my visit there deserves a whole story of its own. But suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time there and ended up getting to Maun quite a bit later than I expected. After that, though, it was smooth sailing, and I arrived at the Flying Mission house where I was greeted by Tim, our chief pilot. So, finally, my vehicle has, through thick and thin, made it the whole way here. Now I just have to get it fixed…