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.