JAN 26 – 08 MARCH 2014

'Relax, you're in Africa man!'

Our Friday started with leaving our great lodge at Sao Tomé de Principe. Unfortunately our schedule does not allow us to stay on this island any longer.

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It took us quite some time to get all the paperwork done and the aircraft re-fueled. It all went in the fashion and manner we have come to get used to over the last weeks. Today we would fly to Pointe-Noire, in Congo.

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Enroute we witnessed some spectacular thunderstorms and rainshowers before reaching the coast of Gabon. As we flew along the astonishing beaches of Gabon for hours we saw only one small village. The rest of the coast was completely deserted, with the rainforest starting a few meters from the shoreline. Seeing the coastline at a the height of a few hundred feet at the highest point happened to be quite spectaculair.

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We arrived at Pointe-Noire at around 14.00 o’clock. Our aircraft had proven itself a trustworthy travel platform once again, and it had gotten us thorough cleanup in the process, thanks to the rainshowers we encountered enroute. All Sahara desert dust was completely removed from the aircraft, which made it look like we arrived in a factory-fresh airplane at Pointe-Noire.

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As we taxied in, one large Airbus passenger-jet got pushed from the gate by a pushback truck. To our amazement the enthusiastic truck driver pushed the aircraft all the way to ánd on the active runway. The captain of the Airbus asked over the radio what they thought they were doing. His somewhat sarcastic “I never got pushed onto an active runway before” was replied to with a calm and happy voice from the tower: “Relax, you’re in Africa man!

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Categories: Flying in Africa

Climbing Mount Café

Our day at Sao Tomé de Principe started with some scuba diving. Being this close to the equator, 30 feet under water the temperature was still a sweetening 29 degrees Celsius. The scenery was spectacular however, and we spotted our first octopus.

We had lunch at our lodge, after which we decided to climb the mountain of Sao Tomé Island. With a Jeep of course. Enroute to the 9000ft-high summit we met some very nice people.

Our attention was first drawn by the sign saying ‘Mount Café.’ With Sjoerd Jan being a barista (link!) we took particular interest in this, and it appeared to be a coffee plantation.
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We met with the friendly owners and employees, and a delicious cup of coffee was prepared for us on the spot.

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No fancy cups and chrome coffee makers here: just a natural, pure Arabica coffee melange.

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We had to leave the plantation again to further climb the mountain. Down the road we were greeted by some of the local school children.

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All in all, we loved Sao Tomé. The people are relaxed and friendly, the coffee fantastic and the beaches great. However: time to leave again, back to mainland Africa: Congo.

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Categories: Flying in Africa

Arriving In The Tropics

We love the tropics! Yesterday we arrived from Accra, Ghana in Sao Tomé de Principe. More about our journey there later in this post, but lets start with the fact that Lex smiled again upon our arrival at our Lodge. Sao Tomé isn’t really a wealthy place, but it allows for some good relaxation on western standards, and again some great underwater scenery for scuba diving!

Last Tuesday we flew from Bamako to Accra. The flight took us about five hours in total.  Gradually the ground below turned green again and while flying over some small villages at 800 feet, locals were staring up and waving at us.
What amazed us, was that fires and large smoke plumes were taking away our visibility. Apparently the locals burn acres of wood to the ground to create fertile soil for crops. From time to time the smoke got so thick, we had to increase our altitude to keep a clear horizon.

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At Bobo-Dioulasso we made a stop. Imagine a fully equipped large airport with only two scheduled flights every day.

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Arriving in Accra around 16:00 we were parked amongst Boeings and Airbuses. See how we were refuelled in the local fashion:

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At Accra we found this Dutch-registered Fuji. We have no clue about its history and how it got here. You are welcome to share your information here!

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Yesterdaymorning we left Accra for a direct flight to Sao Tome. Blue up and below, until we had the large island in sight.

Today we will spend the day scuba diving and enjoying everything our luxury lodge has to offer. Tomorrow we will fly to Africa’s mainland again: Congo!

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Sjoerd Jan ter Welle and Lex Versteeg are flying from The Netherlands to South Africa and back in a small Piper aircraft. Read more about the team >here<

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Categories: Flying in Africa

Nothing but sand

Yesterday we left Atar, Mauritania for the next country on our list: Mali.

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We flew from Atar direct to Bamako, the capital city with several million people living there. While enroute there was nothing to see but sand, sand, and even more sand. The flight took over six hours. Other than the occasional tent camps there was nothing to see while enroute.

So we were happy when we approached Bamako, where the radio came to life again.
Because of the current political situation in Mali, the United Nations are omnipresent in Mali and its airspace. There even were a couple of Dutch pilots manning those UN planes. We switched our radio frequency to 123.45 to have a chat in our native language. Most of our fellow flying Dutchmen could not believe their ears at first, when they heard our registration.

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After landing at Bamako we met Erik from Special Air Services Mali. SAS Mali is a large turboprop operator in West-Africa, flying personell to the mines throughout the Western Sahara. Erik had a lot of interesting stories to tell about operating in this fascinating region.

Bamako is a large and busy city, but we have found our little oasis in a small bed and breakfast in the middle of town. From there we went to explore the city by one of the many bright yellow cabs that drive around. They are in very bad shape, and once you experience how they are driven, you understand why. The roads are total chaos.

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We then decided to explore the city from a more convenient platform, as we took a boatride along the Niger river through the city.

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Bamako is a fascinating place. People are dressed in bright coloured clothing, and everything seems just a bit more friendly than in Atar. However, a lot of things kept reminding us of the political situation in Northern Mali. The French embassy was heavily fortified, and the United Nations had taken the largest hotel of the city all for themselves. We regularly met European soldiers and policemen, involved in various missions.

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We enjoyed our short stay in this country, but we will have to leave again tomorrow. We will fly via Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina Faso to Accra in Ghana. Stay tuned!

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Categories: Flying in Africa

Back in Africa

We have left Europe, and this time, we won’t be back anytime soon. As we flew from the Canary Islands to Atar in Mauritania, all we did see below us was sand, and an occasional herd of wild camels.

After a while the scenery became more diverse, with large rock formations and vast canyons. We flew as low as 300 feet over all this beauty, to enjoy it as much as possible. But then the sand came. It went straight through our fuselage, and reduced visibility quite a bit. We decided to climb to see if we could get above it. We had to climb to 7000 feet to regain normal visibility again.

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After landing we had some stressful conversations with local authorities, as they tried to explain to us we were not allowed to land on the airport.
Thanks to the assistance of some local Dutchmen we were soon allowed entrance to Mauritania nevertheless. The Dutch took us with their SUV to a fantastic oasis where we spent the rest of the day relaxing.

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Today, we visited the market in Atar, an old mining city, and enjoyed some local food and culture. This afternoon we will fly with some of our hosts around a spectacular crater, about 70 miles from where we are now. After that, we are promised some barrels of Avgas to fill up our airplane for the flight to Bamako tomorrow. We will be bound for Mali in the early morning!

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Back to Europe

But only for a few days. We left Fés in Morocco yesterday around 1100 in the morning, bound for Tenerife-Norte (Los Rodeos) where we would have to pass immigration back into Spain. It was a long flight over the Atlantic ocean, and it took several hours before we first saw land again (Lanzarote).

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We arrived at Tenerife at around 16.00 local time, knowing we had to leave for El Hierro as fast as we could, as the airport of El Hierro would close at 18.00.

But Murphy’s law started to wag its tail. The first delay happened because of a royal visit – the son of the King of Spain came in with his Dassault Falcon, and that grounded us for a significant amount of time. Then, when we were allowed to leave for El Hierro, the cloud ceiling had dropped to below 500 feet. Because of that, ATC no longer allowed us to depart under VFR.

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Our OPS-team back in the Netherlands quickly came in to help and prepared an IFR-flightplan which was approved and active within minutes, so off we went. We tried to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Canary Islands during the sunset, while we flew to El Hierro as fast as our Piper would allow us to. We touched down at El Hierro at 17.58, just minutes before closing.

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Now came the driving part, and that would prove to be more tricky than flying. We had to drive to our hotel, but because of the recent volcanic activity on the island many main roads were closed. We had to drive during the night, over small and curved mountain roads. Visibility gradually dropped to 50 meters or less. It took us two hours, before we arrived at the hotel.

Today we relaxed at our hotel, enjoyed the mild temperatures of 20+ Celcius and had some fantastic scubadiving experiences. We will upload some videos as soon as we can. So stay tuned!

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Tomorrow we will head for Africa again: Atar, Mauritania. We’ll be doing some trainspotting there!

The Fés Medina

We wanted to share some more information on our short stay in Fés, Morocco a few days ago. We visited the old Medina, the town center dating back to before medieval times. It is said not having changed a lot since then. At night, going in without a guide will get you lost within minutes because of the incredible darkness.

With daylight however, it is not much better. The system of small streets, lanes and alleys is insanely complicated, even for those with an extremely accurate sense of direction. So we took a guide, who led us through this fascinating first part of Africa!

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We found a great, short youtube video for you about this fascinating city here!

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Categories: Flying in Africa

First arrival in Africa

Yesterday we left Valencia for Fés in Morocco around 10AM in the morning. Our initial plan was to fly via Gibraltar. However headwinds made us change our minds, and we flew south, along the Spanish coast. We crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Almeriá straight to Morocco, flying at 1000 feet altitude. The sea was quite crowded with ships heading to or from the funnel that is Gibraltar. A spectacular sight!

We crossed the Moroccan coastline somewhere west of Nador, from where we overflew the spectacular Atlas mountain range. We arrived in Fés at about 16.00 hours, where we were welcomed graciously by a very kind customs official. We spend our evening enjoying everything the old Medina of this historic city has to offer with its food, culture and hospitality.

Today we will leave Africa again for a short while, flying from Fés to El Hierro via Tenerifé. We really look forward to do some scuba diving there!

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Categories: Flying in Africa

Day 1: Valencia!

Today we departed for our ambitious journey from Teuge in the Netherlands. Families and friends had come out of their beds very early on this cold and wet sunday morning, to wave us goodbye.

We left EHTE around 0900 local time in the morning, flying to Béziers at the French Côte d’Azur. We left Béziers only an hour after arriving, to continue on our last leg of this long flying day: Valencia!

We arrived in Valencia shortly after 19.00 in the evening, and witnessed a spectacular sunset during our arrival. For now, it’s off to bed early to prepare for tomorrow, when we start the next part of our next journey, flying to the Canary Islands via Gibraltar and Morocco! (You can follow our progress live here!)

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Aircraft arrived at Teuge

Today we flew our aircraft to our point of departure Teuge, where we will further prepare it for the departure coming sunday. Some proper maintenance was done in preparation of the 130 flying hours it will do in the next six weeks! We will continue tomorrow starting to pack the airplane and install some additional navigation and satellite communication equipment. To be continued!

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