Thursday, October 19, 2006

 

Mario vertelt verder ...

Hi Hans

Got an email from Bas (Bas is de gedoodverfde opvolger van Mario in de C.A.R. en hij doet op dit moment een stage bij FMS – Flying Medical Service - vanuit Arusha, Tanzania, zie de link van FMS) today. He is in Tanzania and is enjoying it thoroughly.
I loved Tanzania as well. I checked my logbook and found that I did 22 flights, a total of 46:20 hrs, between the 12th of October and the 2nd of November 2004. I went to 15 different airfields (Mario heeft – als piloot - met National Geographic het hele Afrikaanse continent doorkruist op zoek naar de effecten die de mens op de Afrikaanse natuur heeft, zie ook de link van National Geographic).
I remember the one in the Serengeti very well because it was a very short runway. When we landed it had rained before and the runway was still wet. In fact the runway was so slippery that I could not apply brakes until the speed had come down to almost walking speed. It was scary at times.
I did two flights from this airfield over the Serengeti. I remember taking off with full tanks and 3 persons on board. The other pilot and his wife were at the other end of the runway to take pictures and a video. I remember them running to the side because I needed practically all the runway for take off. Talk about high density/high altitude. But it was certainly one of the most amazing places. We saw hundreds and hundreds of wildebeests (gnus), zebras, elephants and antelopes of all kind. I remember once flying so low that we could make out an ostrich egg on the ground. Not to worry, it was for scientific reasons and we had a permit for low flying in the park. We also did a game drive and we saw two herds of elephants merging, they must have been 500 in total.
The airfield was right next to an awesome tourist camp. It was a tented camp but with all the luxury you can imagine. They even had wireless internet. My tent was almost as big as a bungalow with a huge bed. The shower had no roof so you could see the stars in the evening while having a relaxing shower. You know what the sky is like in Africa. With no artificial lights around you can see thousands and thousands of stars (I think I read once that the naked eye can see about 6000). Connected to my sleeping tent was a library tent. I would be woken up in the morning with a wake up call like that: “Good Morning Mr. Mario. Your coffee is in the library tent.”
I would come from the bathroom, dressed in one of the softest bathrobes I have ever worn and have a nice hot coffee before getting dressed and then going to the dining area where the big breakfast was waiting. After that I was ready for the next flight, bouncing around in the heat at 300 to 500 feet AGL for about 4 hours. Unfortunately we spent only three days there. I could have spent the rest of my life doing that.
But the rest of Tanzania was just as amazing. In the Ruaha Park I also did a game drive. I found a herd of buffalo, I would say about 300. They were gathered at the almost dried out river bed of the Ruaha river. Then I noticed some lions sneaking around, trying to separate a young or weak buffalo from the rest. They did not manage that time. I know it sounds strange but I would have liked to see the lions killing a buffalo. But then again it is not that strange since that is the way nature works.
I left the buffaloes and lions alone for a while but came back about an hour later. The lions were resting in the shade of a big acacia tree. There were 18 lionesses and one male lion. He was sleeping under another tree a little further up the hill. Of course I had to tease the three women who were with me that this is what it should be like for me as well. Anyway, that was the biggest pride of lions I have ever seen.
We also stopped over at Mahale at the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika. The camp there was right at the beach of the lake. It was like being on the beach in Italy except that it is sweet water and there are crocodiles and hippos and you could just make out the shore on the other side of the lake and behind you was the tropical forest. The shore on the other side is the Democratic Republic of Congo. But the most fantastic thing about this place are the chimpanzees. We walked into the forest for about 1 hour. All of a sudden there are these chimpanzees all around you. You are supposed to kneel down so that you do not frighten them. I was told though that they are very strong and can easily kill a human. It is still interesting how they walk just past you, almost ignoring that you are there. There are so many more interesting places to see in Tanzania, like the Kilimanjaro or the Ngorongoro crater or Lake Natron. These are fantastic views from the plane.

Anyway, I am also enjoying the flying here. I went to Kembe and Bangassou the other day. It was a “heavy” load since I had the bishops of Bangassou and Alindao and the accountant of Bangassou on board. We got into Kembe just before the thunderstorms came in from the east. I had them already on the weather radar and knew that it was going to be tight. We got in ok and the rain started about ten minutes afterwards. So we spent an hour with the sisters having some coffee and cookies before we continued on to Bangassou. The following day I went back to Bangui via Mobaye. I had one passenger from Bangassou and some packages for Mobaye. Helmut told me on the radio that the weather was ok in Mobaye. So we took off in Bangassou and entered the low stratus after about 2 minutes which would make it about 600 feet AGL. Coming out on top I noticed that this stratus was everywhere, as far as the eye could see. So the passenger asked me whether it would be like that all the way to Bangui. I said that I did not know but it certainly looks like it. He was wondering how we would be able to land in Mobaye. I said that I was wondering myself but if we would not be able to land we can just continue to Bangui. In the meantime I heard another pilot on the HF who had taken off in Bangui and I asked him what the weather was like. He said that it was overcast at about 600 feet, so not a problem to get in. All the way to Mobaye I did not see a single hole in the clouds. I was willing to fly the “GPS-approach” down to about 2000 feet (boven zeeniveau, dat is daar ongeveer 600 voet boven de grond) and see whether I would break cloud or not and continue to Bangui. I was finally over the river just south of the aerodrome when I saw a nice hole in the clouds just above the river. So I circled down through it and got out aligned with the runway. After flying over the runway we landed without problems. The cloud base was also at about 500 feet. By the time we got to Bangui the sun had already broken the stratus into cumulus clouds and I landed visually.
The winds have changed considerably now. Even at 3500 feet you will have a headwind going to the east. But coming back towards the west is a pleasure. Even at 6000 feet the groundspeed goes up to 150 knots. Next time I have to check what it is like at 8000 or 10000 feet.

Hope that you also enjoyed the story about Tanzania.
Till next time.
Mario

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