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.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Gear Incident at Maun

I mentioned that there had been an incident in the same type of plane that I was flying a week or so before my own landing gear problems. I've found the story buried in a few places, most of them non-english websites. The local newspaper, The Ngami Times, was the only english one I found...unfortunately their website is a bit of a mess. If you go here, though, you should be able to read the story. Or you can go here and scroll down to find the story and some sharper pictures. The headline was "LEATHERMAN SAVES PILOTS."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Maun Medical

It has been a long time since I’ve done much night flying because pretty much all of the Maun flying is daytime VFR stuff, so it was a bit unusual for me to find myself winging across the country in the dark last week. Both of our King Airs in Gaborone were down for maintenance (one for a scheduled inspection and the other with overheating engine troubles) and two hospitals called Flying Mission with patients for medical flights on the same day. Since the only other option available in Botswana or South Africa was a prohibitively expensive Hawker jet, Mark called me up in Maun and asked if I could do the flights in the Cessna 210 that I had flown down from Zambia just a few days before. The call from Mark came in the early afternoon and the two flights would be a total of over 6 hours of flying so I found myself doing the last two legs of the day at night.
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

Friends of all kinds

In the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed a significant infusion of new friends in my life. So, without further ado:

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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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Monday, August 11, 2008

First of all, I must apologize for my abysmal blogging record of late. It’s been partly due to being very busy, partly due to laziness, and largely influenced by the lack of new and different things that have been happening of late.

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

Sunrises and things

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 Johannesburg to pick it up and bring it back to Maun. Since then, we’ve been quite busy and I think I’ve had more than my share of early morning flights. The other day I had to leave before sunrise to pick up some passengers at a small airstrip near Maun (the directors of Flying Mission and some of their family, incidentally) and found myself grumpily flying along, after rebelling against my alarm clock a bit too long and then rushing through breakfast to leave in time for the flight. It was a beautiful morning, though, (as is every winter morning here, without fail) and as I watched the sun peak up over the green waterways of the delta from 500 ft I couldn’t stop a wide grin from spreading across my face and sticking there. And I was once again reminded how lucky I am to be in this place. But I know that it’s not just this place – you can find moments of beauty like that one wherever you are, provided you look for them. I often find myself forgetting that and becoming so used to a place that I don’t remember to look for beauty or newness anymore, and that’s a trap that I want to keep myself from falling into. Life is so much richer if you take time to appreciate it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Windhoek in Review

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 Namibia and one in Botswana, with him riding along as copilot on those trips. Some highlights from the week:

  • Scrambling to get everything ready for dad’s arrival because of a last-minute change of their arrival airport in Windhoek
  • Flying over the immense stretch of sand dunes in the Sossousvlei area of Namibia, near the camp to which I flew the passengers
  • Extremely hurried day road trip from Windhoek to the sand dunes
  • 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 Moremi National Park with dad and another pilot from his company
  • 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 (Germany) lost.

Now that the week is over, however, it’s soon back to business as usual in Maun. For the moment, I’m in Gaborone waiting for our Maun airplane to finish an inspection in South Africa. I don’t really have any idea how long I will be here…probably anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. I’m not complaining, though, because being here gives me a chance to spend some more time with my friends here (some of whom are leaving very soon) and also may give me a chance to do some more King Air flying. I’ll enjoy it while I’m here, anyway.

Friday, June 27, 2008


In a few short hours, I'm off to Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. If all goes well, once I get to Windhoek, I'll see my father once again (for the fourth time in the year that I'm here!). This time, though, it's business for both of us. My dad is a corporate pilot in the US, and it just so happens that he's bringing some passengers over to Southern Africa, where they'll stay at safari camps in Namibia and Botswana. However, since the aircraft that he flies is too large to go into the dirt airstrips that service the camps, he arranged for his company to contract with Flying Mission to take his passengers from the main airports to the camps. So I will fly up to Namibia, meet him and his passengers, and fly them from Windhoek to their camp where we will drop them for a few nights. I'll then take the passengers from the camp back to Windhoek, where they'll jump on my dad's plane and fly to Maun. I'll then meet them in Maun and fly them from Maun to a camp in the delta for a few nights and afterwards pick them up again. It's pretty exciting to be able to do this flight, not least because dad will be riding along as a second pilot on the flights in Namibia. So it will be the first time that I'll be captain with my dad as my first officer! Nice, huh? The trip will be in the King Air, which is also fun and will be a nice change from the small Cessna that I have been flying for the last few months in Maun. After this trip though (which ends on July 4th) it will be back to business as usual in Maun. I'm hoping that I'll soon have internet at my house there and will be able to update this site more regularly, although it has been a terribly long and somewhat painful process trying to get that set up. We shall see what time brings.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Word on the Delta

While the average rainfall of Botswana is generally higher than most definitions of a “desert” require, most of the country is extremely arid and desert-like. This is partially due to the irregularity of the rainfall and to extremely high evaporation rates (almost 6 feet over the course of a year from standing water!). Nowhere in Botswana does annual rainfall exceed the rate of evaporation, so bodies of water are extremely rare and the only permanent ones (other than man-made reservoirs) are the Chobe river along the northern border and the Okavango Delta in the northwest. This makes the delta an amazing and unique area. It is the world’s largest inland delta, dumping the waters collected by the Okavango River in Angola into the deep, dry sands of the Kalahari region and creating a massive green oasis of winding channels and lagoons in the midst of an extremely harsh, arid environment. This contrast is very striking, and can be seen quite starkly in pictures from space. As a permanent source of water, the delta sustains huge amounts of wildlife and birdlife and is one of the jewels of Africa.

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 Africa (and probably in the world) to see such an amazing diversity of wildlife and habitat in the midst of vast areas of (relatively) unspoiled wilderness. I count myself blessed to be here.

The Okavango Delta from space (the fan-shaped area just left of center).
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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Great Outdoors

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed most about being in Maun has been the amount of time I’ve been able to spend outdoors. And not just outdoors anywhere, but in some of the most beautiful, wildlife-rich, well-preserved areas of wilderness left on this world. Granted, most of my experiences of those areas are quick in-and-out ones, with the rest of it being from the air above, but it’s still an amazing privilege. The exception to this is my stays at Jack’s Camp. Since we do a lot of flights for Jack’s Camp, it often makes sense to stay overnight when the schedule is busy rather than having an empty evening leg to Maun and another one back in the morning. So I’ve spent, on average, at least one night a week there over the last two months. Jack’s Camp is in the center of the country on the edge of the Makgadigkadi Salt Pans, which are the massive remains of what was once a huge inland lake (it’s hard to believe that such a dry area once contained so much water). This area is part of a larger area known as the Kalahari, which, while not a desert by all definitions of desert, is a very arid area and has all the appearance of a desert. The nearest village is a two-hour drive on rough 4x4 roads, and after that you’ve got to drive another few hours on tar roads to get to a village with anything other than very basic supplies. I’ve very much enjoyed my stays at Jack’s for the opportunity to get outdoors and spend some time in the bush. Some of the highlights:
  • 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
  • Reading through some of the guide training materials and satisfying my dork biology self
  • 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 village of Maun is much more out-of-doors than my life in Gaborone was. A two-minute walk from my front door brings me to the banks of the river that flows through Maun (well, right now it’s doing a lot more sitting than flowing, but it’s soon going to be swelled by the flood waters arriving in their annual cycle from the rains that fell earlier in the year in Angola). I’ve been trying to go for a short run most mornings, and it’s wonderful to be able to do that on a path along the river rather than on the city streets of Gabs.

The "pilot tent" where I spend most of my nights at Jack's. It's got it's own little shower and bathroom out the back and newly installed DC lights so I can read after the generator goes out at night.
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A palm tree island on the vast grasslands surrounding Jack's Camp.
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The airplane on the ground at Deception Valley airstrip, on the edge of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Waiting for passengers.
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The river behind my house.
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Friday, May 23, 2008

Photo highlights from the last weeks/months

Some of the habituated meerkats at a colony near Jack's Camp. They're standing at attention next to their burrow watching a snake eagle hovering far away.

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Our gimpy plane sitting in South Africa waiting for a nose gear fork.
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The view from the front of one of the guest tents at Jack's Camp. I was lucky enough to get a guest tent for two nights because the staff side was full.

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A big herd of zebra congregate at one of the last pans around Jack's Camp left with water in it. There have been some amazing herds of these animals, who will soon be migrating in their masses towards the Boteti River as the dry season gets into full swing.
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Monday, May 19, 2008

Day in the Life: Maun

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


An update is long due, but for now I don't really have the time to do it. This week has been quite crazy and I'm about ready for a break. Luckily, that's just what i'm getting at the end of the parents are here to visit and we're going to have a long weekend to go on a bit of a trip. The plan is to spend a few days in Moremi National Park camping, which would be a wonderful and much-needed break from the crazy schedule I've been keeping. Hopefully after that things will slow down a bit and I may even have regular internet if those two things happen, well, I'll let you know a bit of what I've been doing. Until then...keep well!

Monday, April 28, 2008


You wouldn’t think it would feel so good to be “home” when you’ve only lived there for a bit more than a week, but right now it feels pretty nice. When I left Maun 2 ½ weeks ago, I expected to be back in less than a week, but it was not to be. Since I left, I’ve been living out of my backpack and moving around quite a bit. The last few days in particular have been pretty taxing and quite busy, starting Saturday with the first of my flights after the airplane’s inspection in South Africa. I started out with a bang, shuttling people mostly between Jack’s Camp and Maun all day from 9am to 5pm without a break, and ended the day up in Jack’s Camp. I stayed the night in Jack’s Camp expecting to transfer some passengers to another camp in the delta come morning. Shortly before I was due to leave with the passengers, I got a call from Mark Spicer telling me that there was a patient in Kasane who urgently needed transport to Francistown for emergency surgery after a bad car accident (the patient was not a citizen so couldn’t be transferred under our contract with the Ministry of Health, meaning that Flying Mission would very likely not see any payment for the flight). After considering our options and figuring out how to juggle around the passengers I was supposed to be flying out, we elected to put the passengers on a later flight out of Jack’s while I started on my way to Kasane to pick up the patient (it was a bit of a hassle for the passengers, who were very gracious in shifting their schedules so we could take the patient). I arrived in Kasane around midday and met the patient, an Indian woman, at the airport. After shuffling around and removing some seats, we were able to fit the stretcher in one side of the 207 while the two nurses accompanying the patient sat beside her. Two hours later we had her on the ground in Francistown, where she was whisked away in an ambulance to the operating theater. Finally, on the last of three two-hour legs, I returned by myself to Maun and came back to my house for the first time in nearly three weeks. So here I am at last, once again with a bed and a kitchen and a desk to call my own. Life is good.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


So as I said last time, I brought the Cessna 207 that I've been flying in Maun down to South Africa to have an inspection done on it, fully expecting that the inspection would take, at the very longest, a week. Shoulda known better. The inspection itself was finished by Wednesday (in three days, that is), but on Wednesday morning, as we were putting the plane back together and finishing up a few little details that needed attention, one of the mechanics here found a crack in the nosewheel fork. The fork is the part that comes down over top of the wheel on both sides and holds the axle, much like a bicycle fork. Closer inspection revealed that the crack was pretty serious and extended through one of the bolt holes. Since then it's been sort of a comedy of errors in getting the replacement part make a long story short, the couriers who were to bring the part messed up at least 3 different times and when the part finally arrived days later, it was the wrong part. So currently we're scrambling to see if one part that a shop in a nearby town has is the right one, which is our last chance to get the part from somewhere in South Africa. If that doesn't work out, we're back to square one and have to order the part from the US, and that would take at least 10 days to get here and be horridly expensive. The long and short of it is that I've been sitting at Mercy Air in South Africa (granted, not the worst place in the world to be stuck...I've met some really neat people here) for much longer than I would wish. But hey, you just gotta roll with the punches. One of these days I'll actually make it back to Maun and start being a real pilot instead of sitting on my rear for weeks on end.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Update to come....

Life has been a bit crazy for the last few weeks. I moved to Maun (where I don't yet have regular internet access) and got settled in there, doing orientation and such with Tim for a while. Then last week I stayed two nights at Jacks Camp (which is the camp we're doing most of our flying for from Maun), which is in the bush without cell phone or internet connections (at least no internet that was available to me). Right after that, I flew the airplane down to Gabs and will be flying it on to South Africa tomorrow, where it will have an inspection done on it that will probably take most of the week. After which I make the long flight back to Maun. So I'm sort of all over the place these days and haven't had much time or opportunity to sit down and write anything for the blog. All of that to say, once i get settled again, more updates will be forthcoming. For now, though, things are a bit scattered. To hold you over, though, I put up a few more pictures from our trip last month.

Going through one of those Moremi puddles that somehow looks way less impressive from this angle.
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The Landy after a few hours of schlepping through door-deep mud puddles in Moremi.
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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

If you must...

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.
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Monday, March 31, 2008

For your viewing pleasure

This little guy was discovered clambering around my bedroom walls and resisted capture for quite some time. That's my hand...thanks goes to Stefan's picture-taking abilities and sweet camera for the nice shot.
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an epic

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…

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Well I have finally arrived at my new home in Maun. It has been quite a journey...I started out driving on Wednesday afternoon, finally arrived late Thursday, spent one night in the house here and then ended up back in Gabs the next night anyway. But more details on that later. For now i don't have a lot of time. But suffice it to say that I have arrived in Maun to stay. I've done a training flight with our chief pilot, Tim, already, and tomorrow we start on the first of a string of charter flights to safari camps in the Delta. It's nice to finally have made it, although my vehicle troubles are still weighing on my mind. I'll have to start taking care of that early next week, probably on my free day Tuesday.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Into the Wilds

In the last week of February, a friend of mine visited from the states, and since one of the other short-termers (Jess Cosby) had visitors as well, we took a trip together into the wilds of northern Botswana. We met up in Kasane, in the far north-eastern corner of Botswana, and spent one night there before heading into Chobe National Park for two days and a night in the park along the Chobe River. Once Jess’ brother got over his fear of being eaten by lions and we got somewhat used to the huge swarms of insects attracted to our light, we had a good time camping. It’s nearing the end of the rainy season here, so everything was green and the undergrowth had grown quite thick. Because of the thick brush and the water that the rains have made available deep in the park away from the river, the animal life there wasn’t quite as abundant as when my family was there last year. It was still quite ripe with life, though, and we saw most of the large animals along with a vast number of different kinds of birds. We were planning on driving through the Chobe park south to Moremi, another national park on the edge of the Okavango Delta. The attendant at the park gate, however, informed us that the recent abundant rains had made the road impassable. That was a bit of a disappointment, but instead we took the long way around on paved roads, staying a night in Gweta on the way. On the road into Moremi National Park we had what was for me the most exciting wildlife encounter of the trip…as we were driving along, I saw an animal slowly entering the road from the right a few hundred feet ahead. I quickly recognized that it was a cat of some kind, and we stopped to watch it from afar so we wouldn’t scare it away. It crouched down on the edge of the road, looking intently into the bushes on the other side (at an impala, we later discovered). We were pretty far away from it, but looking through binoculars we could see that it was a leopard. It stayed long enough for us to all get a bit of a look in the binoculars and then got up and paced off into the bushes. It was the first leopard that I’ve seen (leopard sightings are quite rare – they’re pretty difficult to spot and don’t hang out in the open as much as lions), and I think it’s my new favorite big cat. From there, we continued into the park and spent two nights there. While the animal life was harder to spot in Moremi, we still were able to see quite a bit. We also took an hour-long boat ride through the fringes of the Okavango Delta, which was a great experience also. Finally, on the way back to Gaborone, we overnighted at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, which has, in addition to a large number of rhinos, many different kinds of antelope, cats, and birds. There we finally sighted the elusive zebra, most of which have retreated to the inland grasslands in the rainy season. It was a wonderful trip, and we had a lot of fun. I’ve posted a few teaser pictures here, and made two new photo albums on my google pictures site here and here.

This is why we couldn't camp at third bridge, our original plan. The rains had flooded a lot of the park, and we had to toil through some pretty deep puddles too drive around. Like up over the bottom door edge of the Land Rover deep.
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Our leopard sighting from afar.
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Our tents survive a flood. Sat the night in inch-deep water at Gweta without leaking a bit.
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