Not having received the permit to overfly the North of Sudan and land in Kharthoum, we were now flying towards Yemen and Saudi Ariabia to get to our destination in Egypt. We were not sure what to expect from Yemen. Normally it is not at all easy to get into Yemen and we were not even sure we would be able to get fuel. AVGAS would definitely not be available, but if the handler at Aden Airport in Yemen would help us get fuel from the fuel station was uncertain to us. We had decided not to ask ahead of time, with the risk of getting no for an answer, but to just fly out to Yemen and confront the handler there with our ‘fuel problem’.
After landing we were greeted by our handler and welcomed to Yemen. He was personally going to take care of us and would guarantee our stay to the local security police and officials. Our passports had to be handed in and we could not easily move without him on our side.
Close to the harbor we went looking for fuel jerrycans and ended up in the poor part of Aden. Have a look at the picture above. Do you recognize the feet of someone sleeping in the hut?
Eventually we bought 9 jerrycans and headed to the local fuel station to fill them up with gasoline.
Juba felt armed, but here in Yemen lots of people were carrying guns and the army was present everywhere on the streets.
After filling up our Piper with the fuel we bought in the harbour at the local fuel station, our guide took us around the city of Aden en finally took us out for diner in the centre.
Above is our guide posing on the beach somewhere just outside of Aden.
The restaurant was a local one and quite an experience. Only men were in the restaurant as the women were not allowed to join. Families have their own restaurants, but in all cases it was only the men that we were dealing with and the women were either under their burkas on the streets or at home.
In the end our guide even took us to his home for a tea. His wife had to go immediately to the kitchen and we never saw her. However, we did meet their 3 children.
Our handler drinking a Coca Cola with Arabic text on the bottle. No alcohol was served anywhere except in one hotel (not ours).
Even our hotel was highly secured. Entering the hotel compound was only allowed after the car of our handler was checked and after passing road blocks and fences and armed guards.
In each bedroom we had the Koran ready and available as well as a plaid to use for prayer.
The next morning we left Aden in Yemen for a direct flight to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Where we had in mind to fly over fast flat desserts, we actually had to climb and pass over the mountains. Have a good look at the mountains as you will note the houses there on the top and along the ridges.
The runway elevation at Addis Abeba was almost 8000 feet and we were full with fuel including a ferry tank and an extra jerrycan. The runway was quite long, but would we succeed to climb out with the outside air temperature reaching almost 30 degrees? Sure, the temperature was much better than in Juba with its 43 degrees Celsius in the shade, but the high altitude had an effect on the aircraft performance.
After takeoff we had trouble climbing out and it took us all effort to lean the engine and configure the aircraft to get over the mountains which were ahead of us enroute to Djibouti.
The day before we landed at Addis Abeba International airport. We were relieved that we were out of Juba and arrived at a well equipped and modern airport.
The airport is the home of Ethiopian Airlines. A big lineup of Boeing Triple 7 and other modern aircraft were a strange view after our trip through Africa. We still had a view from years ago of the hunger in Ethiopia and now had to adjust our view, at least of the airport. Later we found out that also the rest of Addis Abeba was relatively modern compared to what we had seen before in Africa.
We had ordered a barrel of AVGAS and it was time again to use the handpump to fill up the aircraft. Thanks to the help of the Ethiopian guys from Ethiopian Airlines it was done in no time.
Now it was time for a small party. We were out of Juba and took the time to visit the nightlife of Addis Abeba, visiting first the Jolly Bar and then with new friends we made there we ended the evening in the H2O club.
The last few days we have been waiting in a hotel in Juba, South Sudan for our overflight/landing permit to fly over Sudan/Khartoum to arrive. At the same time we worked out an alternative route via Addis Abeba in Ethiopia, over Djibouti to Aden in Yemen, then onwards via Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to Aswan in Egypt. As we kept waiting for the approval from Khartoum we got our alternative ready and approved and decided to fly towards Yemen instead.
Being bored and having to stay in the hotel, I got my shoes polished for 2 US$. The guy made all effort to make my shoes look new. However, with all the desert sand around us it was short lived as my shoes looked dirty again the same afternoon.
The military in Juba even came into our hotels and at night we had to stay in the hotel and could not go out. It was not safe with rebels infiltrating the city of Juba.
This is how building, houses and hotels were protected. Thick walls, wired fences and armed security inside.
Back at the hotel we passed these UN helicopters. Then we hit a military convoy of young South Sudan soldiers on open trucks. We even had to move out of the way. According to the handler they were young and could do anything they want including torture or capturing you, so when they waved at us to move to the side, we immediately did so.
On arrival in Juba we parked our Piper Archer next to a Cessna Caravan of Flying Doctors. Now that aircraft was gone and replaced with another Caravan from Flying Doctors.
We quickly passed by the tower and aviation office to check if all the paperwork was in order and set out to our aircraft.
Taxiing out to the holding point for the runway we past some locals that were there to say goodbye to an important official, then we passed some helicopters from the United Nations before hitting the tanks at the holding point from the Ugandese army, which were there to help protect the airport and the South Sudanese army.
The tanks were aiming their gun at short final, so that they were able to shoot down any aircraft on approach.
Once airborn, we were on our way to Addis Abeba in Ethiopia. Finally we were released from the warzone and on our way again.
South-Sudan would not be the first destination I would pick out for a vacation. However, in order to reach the North of Africa, we have to cross the North-Eastern part of Africa. There are a few options to do that. The route we prefer is from Juba to Khartoum and onwards to Egypt. Another option is to fly over Ethiopia to Djibouti, then cross over to Yemen, Saudi-Arabia into Egypt. Once you fly over Ethiopia, you can not cross Eritrea. Eritrea and Ethiopia are not best friends at the moment. There are other fuel hindrances to fly in the direction of Djibouti, so we are currently waiting for the permit to overfly Sudan to arrive.
At this very moment, there is severe fighting going on in the North of South-Sudan around the city of Malakal. This city has been largely destroyed over the last few days with rebels and government troops fighting each other. Malakal is also more or less on our route from Juba to Khartoum. From inside information from UN officials and pilots flying here, we have heard that it should be safe to overfly the war zone at 6000 feet or higher. “The higher we can fly the better,” was the slogan.
We arrived yesterday at 11 o’clock local time at the Juba airport. The only radio communication with the tower operator (also having the role of approach controller at the same time) was with United Nations aircraft in approach, landing or take-off.
While in approach we spotted the first military and UN base camps underneath our wings. The whole airport seems to be taken over by military units and here we come with our small Piper Archer to land and park it right in between.
Only after the landing it became clear that this airport is really taken over by the UN. Blue helmets everywhere and here and there another aircraft from humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross or Flying Doctors and of course our own Piper.
We were greeted right after landing by the local MAF staff who agreed to sell us their remaining AVGAS fuel. The MAF base in Uganda arranged this for us and even informed them of our Estimated Time of Arrival. After the refueling we took off to the tower to pay the landing fees and to contact the Operations Desk of AeroPlus in The Netherlands. Seemingly the overland and landing clearances for Sudan/Khartoum did not arrive yet and we had to stay and wait in South-Sudan/Juba for these documents to arrive.
At first we were hoping for the the clearances to arrive within a few hours, so we waited on the apron underneath the wings of a Cessna Caravan of Flying Doctors. We found passenger seats in the grass right behind the tarmac and dragged them to the shading area that the high wings of the Caravan provided to us. Seemingly pilots just drop their passenger seats in the grass when they have to carry cargo instead of passengers. They would then pick the chairs up again later when returning to the airport. We just borrowed some and watched all the UN aircraft passing by on the taxiway. Nobody cared that we were just sitting there and greeted us while taxiing by.
One other thing. In quite a few places in Africa we had to rely on satellite communication to stay in contact with our operations centre in The Netherlands. Also here in Juba, we were not getting any GSM signal. Seemingly T-Mobile doesn’t have roaming agreements with all the countries in Africa other than those that are considered popular tourist destinations. I wouldn’t call Juba a tourist destination, so also here we had to rely on our Thuraya Satsleeve phone.
The temperatures got up so high here while sitting outside that after spending some hours underneath the wings of the Caravan, we could not cope with the heat anymore. Even enroute in the air we would sometimes hit outside air temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius. Right now, we are waiting in a local hotel in Juba. Waiting for our permit to arrive.
To be continued …
Arua Airfeld is a non-radio dirt strip in the far north of Uganda. Before crossing the border of Uganda into South-Sudan we had to clear immigration/customs at either this airstrip at the Ugandese-Sudanese border or we would have to fly from Kajjansi airfield to Entebbe airport and clear customs here before flying to South-Sudan.
We left Kajjansi early in the morning just after sunrise. We were topped up with fuel but had no problems climbing out in the early morning relatively cool temperatures.
We climbed out over the swamps right there on the extended centerline of the runway. We had read the warning poster in the hangar informing us of the Cobra snakes in the swamps and the thought of having to ditch there did look too appetizing to us.
While climbing out over Lake Victoria en before flying out towards Arua we were treated with a beautiful sunrise. It wasn’t for long that the sun broke through completely starting its work to heat up the air.
The typical African dirt strip was well maintained and the landing was a non-event. Just before turning final we had to watch out for several antennas and the airfield chart provided by MAF to us noted that we should not overfly the central market square of Arua.
The door to the Meteo “department” was closed and the table with the sign to pay was outside under a veranda to provide some shade. After all the reason for landing here was just to clear immigration and leave Uganda for our trip into South-Sudan. This time everything was quite efficient and we were airborne again within half an hour.
In Bamako, Mali we paid a visit to Sahel Aviation. We now were welcomed by the staff of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in Kajjansi, Uganda. Kajjansi airfield is an airstrip about a 10 minute flight from Entebbe airport (HUEN) and owned by MAF.
From the Kajjansi airstrip a team of pilots and support staff provide their aviation services to missionaries, NGO organizations and the local community. The old view of mission pilots flying to remote dirt strips to support missionary posts is outdated. MAF is still flying out to mission posts, but also supporting NGOs and other non-profit aid organizations with their flight operations.
Rembrand, a Dutch pilot flying with MAF in Uganda, walks us around the passenger terminal. He arrived 9 months ago with his family and is now flying the Cessna 206. He arrived with just over 500 hours of flying time and when he reaches the 1000 hours pilot-in-command time Rembrand will be eligible to migrate to the larger PT6 engine based Cessna Caravans.
Kees, also from The Netherlands just like Rembrand, is head of MAF maintenance. They are taking care of several Cessna Caravans, 206’s and several other aircraft.
At another location in the city and about 20 minutes away by car from the Kajjansi airstrip is the MAF Uganda headquarters. Here we met a team of very motivated professionals.
Steve, in charge of MAF Uganda, explains and demonstrates to me how they operate and administer their operations.
All the aircraft are constantly tracked through a sat-link. In addition, the aircraft are all equipped with HF radio for direct communication.
Together with Rembrand and Margreet from MAF Uganda, we took off from Kajjansi for a flight to Kisoro airfield. Kisoro airfield is hidden in the Western part of the Ugandese mountains and in the border zone of Uganda with Rwanda and the Demoncratic Republic of Congo. We dropped all our luggage and gear at the MAF hangar at Kajjansi airfield and were enroute with the 4 of us to track mountain gorillas.
Just off the Kisoro airfield we hit our first refugee camp with refugees from Rwanda and Congo.
After flying for 2 hours and a drive in a 4-wheel Jeep we arrived at our lodge. The lodge had a great view on the Virunga mountains and was about 2 hours away from the Gorilla tracking base camp.
From the lodge we had a great view on the lake. The next morning we left the lodge at 5.30 to drive with a Toyota Landcruiser for 2 hours through the thick subtropical rainforest to go to the base camp and report for the tracking.
Here we are still smiling as we took off on the hike not knowing what to expect. To be honest, my (Sjoerd Jan) personal fitness was not great at all and I hired two porters to help me carry my bag and support me on the difficult climbs.
After hiking several hours through the thick subtropical rainforest, we hit a group of mountain gorillas. This was really an unprecedented event never experienced before. Here we were eye-to-eye within a few meters distance from these gorillas.
The next leg was from the falls to Entebbe in Uganda. In Uganda we would pay a visit to the MAF, Mission Aviation Fellowship, and go into the mountains near border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda to search for the mountain gorillas. In Mali we already visited Sahel Aviation, which was a commercial operator flying to the mines in the Sahel area. Now we would visit the Mission pilots and hear from them how they operate in this part of Africa.
First we had to fly through Zambia and clear customs before starting on our long flight through Tanzania over remote bush lands.
After passing customs, immigration and refueling we took off to fly to Tabora in Tanzania to stay the night. We did not manage to book any hotel in Tabora and had to land before sunset as the airfield was not open anymore after that time.
Flying over Tanzania we hit some isolated rain showers, but we managed to circumvent them and arrive in time in Tabora.
We were taken by a local taxi to a very simple (really simple) hotel in town. It is here that I even encountered cockroaches on my breakfast table next to a simple breakfast of bread and soup.
Enroute to the local hotel.
The Tabora airfield. The runway was paved, but the rest was not. The next morning we paid a short visit to the local weather station which was manned 24 hours a day and 7 days per week. We asked for a weather update. The observer was surprised that we asked and walked outside, lookup up in the sky and said “it is good weather to fly”.
Lex in the left seat flying through the rift valley and over the African nature in Tanzania.
Some rain falling down.
Forests until the horizon and this for hours and hours. We did wander what would happen if the engine would fail and our aircraft would disappear under the treetops. After all, there was no radio contact as well for hours until just about 15 minutes before arriving at our destination.
Just before arriving at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, we flew for about 2 hours over Lake Victoria. The weather there was not great with threatening weather and buildups of dark clouds.
Finally we arrived at the Entebbe airport. Again, just like in Bamako, the airport was full with United Nations aircraft, soldiers and UN staff.
After a delay of 4 hours at the Lanseria business airport just outside of Johannesburg in South Africa, we took off towards the Victoria Falls. We arrived at Lanseria before 7 in the morning and passed customs and immigration services, had our bags checked and paid our landing fee. Our aircraft was still at the maintenance shop, so we were taken to the maintenance shop with a golf car. After packing the aircraft and filling it up with AVGAS fuel at the fuel station we headed down to the holding point for the runway. While taxiing out we were delegated to the main terminal building again to pass customs again. Seemingly, the officials that cleared us already were off duty now and the new staff had no idea that we already cleared customs and had all taken care off at 7 in the morning.
For fun we typed in Teuge Airfield (EHTE) as our destination to find out that we still had 4785 Nautical Miles to fly, which is 8862 kilometers. We were now on our way back north with a route through the eastern part of Africa, the Middle, East, Cyprus, Greece, the Balkan and then back home to Teuge.
Enroute we passed some interesting coloured fields. Up to now, we still have no idea where that red colour comes from.
After a flight of more than 5 hours we landed at Livingstone Airport. To be honest, I had to ask the fuel guy in which country we just landed. Was it Zambia or Zimbabwe? It was Zambia. Due to the delay we had to work as efficient as possible to get to the falls. On the way inbound to the airport, we already got permission to overfly the waterfalls. It was very, very impressive and the waterspray could be seen already from miles away.
After landing we hurried to our hotel and took a taxi to go to the border. The Zambian-Zimbabwian border is near the bridge in front of the waterfalls and to see the falls from the ground well, you have to go to the Zimbabwe side. We arrived at the other side of the border at 5.30 in the afternoon to hear that we could only see the falls until 6. We agreed, bought the necessary ticket and took the below shots and enjoyed the sheer force of nature and magnificent view.
We were glad we made it and felt privileged to have seen the falls from above and the ground just in time. The evening we spend enjoying diner right on top of the waterfalls on the Zambian side while going over the last details of our route and flights for the next day.
Just delivered my speech in front of 1300 business people from 25 countries at the Sandton Convention in Johannesburg, South Africa. I will be sharing the stage with people such as Steve Wozniak, JT Foxx and many others.
Above you see me with JT Foxx, the number one business coach in the world. It is amazing to network and meet so many new friends from around the world. We are already setting up business deals.
On Monday we will be off again to the Victoria Falls on our return flight from South Africa back to The Netherlands. After Zambia we will be flying through the Rift Valley, Tanzania inbound to Uganda.