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 The old view of mission pilots flying to remote dirt strips to support missionary posts is outdated.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.
We arrived at the Lanseria Business Airport just outside of Johannesburg on Thursday afternoon. We will be staying in Johannesburg for a business event until Monday morning. On Monday we will fly flying inbound again back home through the Eastern part of Africa.
While we are staying in Johannesburg, our Piper Archer III will go into regular maintenance.
We have been very fortunate with the family run maintenance company at Lanseria Airport. They have been working on our aircraft and have not found any issues so far. The oil filter did not show any metal particles and was clean as well.
It was not easy to arrange the maintenance in South Africa to fit into the CAMO schedule at home. During our trip we did the 50 hours check ourselves as owner maintenance and were able to sign that off. Now here at Lanseria, the aircraft will receive a 100 hours maintenance check. On the way back home we will do another 50 hours owner check before reaching Teuge airfield again in the beginning of March.
Hunting for the ‘BIG FIVE’
Our trip started at Teuge airfield in the Netherlands and the outbound destination was Johannesburg for a business meeting there of three days. Just before having to do a presentation on stage in Joburg with Steve Wozniak in front of 1300 business people, we spend some days relaxing at the private game reserve called Sabi Sabi.
The Sabi Sabi Game Reserve consists of several lodges and is set in its own 6500 hectares of grounds. We were staying in the Earth Lodge where the guests stay in their own lodge giving you a feeling you are there by yourself in nature. There are no fences and at night a ranger has to escort you to your own lodge/room to make sure you are not confronted with elephants or lions on your way.
Every morning and evening we got the opportunity to join a “hunt” for the animals in a Toyota Landcruiser together with a ranger driving the jeep and a spotter sitting up front to spot animals and support the ranger. Off we were to hunt for the Big Five: the Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino and the Buffalo. We have been very fortunate to find them all and even more! Normally, finding the leopard is the most difficult. We actually spotted both a female and male leopard. The Lion is normally easier to spot, but was only spotted on the last morning just before flying back from the Sabi Sabi private airstrip to the business airport of Johannesburg: Lanseria.
After looking for animals for several hours it was time for a stop. We would depart the lodge at around 5.30 in the morning as at 9 in the morning the temperature could get up to about 35 degrees Celsius already. Here our ranger Terry is busy poring in the champagne.
The above picture is of a female leopard. It was taken while the leopard was merely a few meters away from the Landcruiser. It was amazing to just see this wild animal on such a short distance.
The safari that starts in the late afternoon runs into the night. At sunset and the short period afterwards a lot of the game was spotted. Here you see our ranger Terry driving the Landcruiser with the spotter all the way in the front.
During the day there was time to relax at the Earth Lodge. The whole Lodge was unfenced and it happened regularly that we would hit into elephants right in front of the lodge or while walking over to our private rooms/lodges. One of the leopards was spotted only 500 meters away from the lodge.
The manager of the Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge standing in from of the lodge with an elephant nearby. The staff did a great job and all was perfectly arranged.
This was my personal lodge, which was set aside from the main facilities about 300 meters into the wild. While sitting outside I spotted elephants right in front of my lodge.
As you can see, the women at the Earth Lodge were making sure that the two pilots were all ok.
After two full days at the lodge it was time to go again. Our ranger Terry took us to the Sabi Sabi runway which was just about a 15 minute drive away from the lodge facilities. He inspected the whole runway to make sure there would be no elephants or lions on the runway. After departure we made a fly-by over the lodge to say goodbye before heading off to Johannesburg for a three-day business meeting where I would share the stage in front of 1300 business people together with Steve Wozniak and others. Our trip to the business airport of Johannesburg (Lanseria airport) took us about an hour and a half. There the Piper would go into regular maintenance before leaving again on Monday on our inbound flight through East Africa back home.
Over the last two days we have covered an extremely long distance. We left Luanda, Angola in the early sunday morning, to fly via Windhoek in Namibia to Keetmanshoop. After five hours of flying we reached Odangwa, where we would fill up the tanks again, which took us about one hour.
From Odangwa we flew to Windhoek. Enroute we encountered the spectacular scenery Namibia is so well known of. We arrived at Windhoek shortly before 16:00 LT, and we still weren’t at our final destination of the day, which was Keetmanshoop.
We left Windhoek after another hour of formalities and refuelling. We arrived at Keetmanshoop around sunset, which was a little later than planned. We had flown 11 hours and covered over 1200 nautical miles, and were exhausted. But we were back on schedule!
The next day we left at 7AM in the morning, to fly to our lodge at the Sabi-Sabi Wildlife Refuge in South Africa. Via Upington we arrived there at around 17:00LT, which was a little later than we hoped for. The strip is actually owned by the resort we will stay in for the coming days, and they made no fuss about it.
Now it is time to have some rest in Sabi Sabi. The scenery and wildlife is spectacular here. We hope to post some more pictures and stories from here in the coming days, as we have a little more time on our hands. Totsiens in Sabi Sabi!
We passed the western part of the continent of Africa and are thrilled by the vast beauty of all the different landscapes, the people who seem so relaxed, and the wildlife in all different shapes and forms. And as we enjoy the flights, we are aware of the three basics for pilots who want to fly in this part of the world. We are happy to share them with you!
Good preparation is the thing. I started reading the Lonely Planet guide for Africa twice from cover to cover to figure out what I would like to see and what to expect. This helped me in preparing for the route planning. I also talked to several (ferry) pilots who had experience flying through Africa, read e-books with accounts of bush flying in Africa and started filling in the details step-by-step. The total preparation took from 2 weeks before Christmas until the day before departure (full time from early morning until late at night).
You need to be flexible to adapt to changes in weather, planning, delays. What helped is that I had the weather, flightplans and routes all preloaded on my iPhone and iPad(s). Filing of the flightplans I did digitally (using our own flightplan app) just about half an hour to 2 hours before departure). If I anticipated that I would not have time on a technical stop for refueling to file, I would file that flightplan ahead of time early in the morning in the hotel or guesthouse. Then, we would cope with what we would come across.
3. SENSE OF HUMOUR
You need to stay relaxed, smile and have a sense of humor. Connect with the locals and definitely do not get frustrated or at least don’t show it on your face.
Mastering these three essentials will make your experience rich and meaningful. Meeting new people, engaging in different cultures and adapting to a slower pace of life give a new perspective.