Katamarino's Africa Flight

Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by Katamarino, Oct 25, 2018.

  1. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    Edit: Balls, I thought I'd put this in Flight Following. Mods, stick it wherever you want it (woof woof).

    I'm in need of something to punctuate my days in the office, and to assist my day-dreaming before the next big adventure kicks off next year. So, I figured I'd write up my 2013 African flight for the forum, as I did with the recent Alaska trip. Hopefully people will find it of some interest!

    So, without further ado, here we go.

    =========================================

    [​IMG]

    In early 2013, I heard through the grapevine that a British Obstetric Surgeon was intending to fly through Africa in a light aircraft, and offer medical training and supplies in countries along the route. Having always been fascinated with the idea of a long flight through Africa, I got in touch to find out more, and see if there was any way I could help with my experience of flying in Africa to date.

    Dr Sophia Webster and I ended up getting on well, and discussing the trip in more and more detail - before long, I was asked if I would come along as an experienced pilot to deal with the aviation side of things. While Dr Webster held a Private Pilot's Licence, she had only about 100 hours flight time; more importantly she'd need to be devoting most of her time to the medical mission rather than flight planning.

    Once I had agreed that yes, I would like to go (which was not a difficult thing to convince me of) things started coming together remarkably quickly. Within the space of a few weeks the aircraft lease was organised, vaccinations acquired, flight to Europe booked, and visa and flight clearance process well under way.

    My area of expertise is aviation rather than medicine, but before long I found myself learning a lot more than I ever expected to about maternal mortality in child-birth. The death of the mother during pregnancy and delivery is incredibly rare in the developed world, but still sadly common in much of the developing world including much of Sub-Saharan Africa. As an obstetric surgeon with a keen interest in Africa, Dr Webster planned to travel through those countries in Africa with the highest rates of maternal mortality to offer training and equipment to combat the problem.

    [​IMG]

    Unsurprisingly, there are significant challenges when planning this kind of flight. The first is the choice of aircraft; the limited availability of AVGAS cuts out 99% of the piston general aviation fleet. We ended up leasing a C182 that had been converted to an aero-diesel engine produced by SMA - this runs on jet fuel, which is available anywhere. It comes with the added advantage of better fuel economy leading directly to increased range.

    Our diesel 182:
    [​IMG]

    The number of different countries to be visited also presented a challenge. In total, ~25 different African countries would be visited over a three month period; each of this countries has different entry requirements for aircraft and crew. Mike Gray, of White Rose Aviation, was employed to organise overflight and landing clearances along the entire route. As well as permits, visas for myself and Sophia had to be organised. Some countries make visas available on entry, but others had to be organised in advance; thankfully, Sophia and her family were able to take the time in London to visit a number of embassies and organise visas in advance. Despite advice that we would not be able to get visas without having commercial airline tickets, we found that this was not the case and the required visas could be procured.

    [​IMG]

    The route was primarily chosen with Sophia's medical contacts in mind. As a result, at the majority of stops we already knew people on the ground who would be able to help out with accommodation, transport, and safety advice for the locations we were visiting.

    Other varied tasks included procurement of charts; VFR charts were not available for the majority of the route. We acquired IFR en-route charts, and approach plates, for the entirety of Africa from Jeppesen; these came in three thick 2" binders. It was amazing to think that we had full details for every airport on an entire continent in our hands!

    Our approach plate collection for the whole of Africa:
    [​IMG]

    VFR charts for Africa were mostly not available; the majority of navigation was through IFR charts, VFR data on my Aera 500, and Skyvector!
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2018
  2. Jumpmaster

    Jumpmaster Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Come on - there’s got to be more!! Good start
     
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  3. Cooter

    Cooter Pattern Altitude

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    How’d you get started flying in Africa? I’m hoping this is the first of a series, I guess I missed the Alaska post.
     
  4. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    My first flight to Africa was in 2010, from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Tunisia. Initially I wanted to go to Iceland, but couldn't as I didn't have a European instrument rating (I only had an FAA one, and the airplane was PH reg). We then decided to take our club, diesel DA40 to the south of France. Looking at the map, we saw that Corsica was not much further so decided to go there. Then we looked at Sardinia, not much further, and decided to go there. Then we looked and saw that the Mediterranean wasn't too wide there...so wouldn't it be cool to go to Africa!

    Here's the Alaska/Arctic Canada trip: https://www.pilotsofamerica.com/community/threads/katamarinos-alaska-flight.111832/
     
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  5. Anymouse

    Anymouse En-Route

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    Looks like one of your stops may have been in Adre, Chad. That's the location of my infamous goat incident.
     
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  6. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    The airplane we leased was located in Belgium, so I flew directly there from the US to collect it and ferry it to the UK, the starting point for our adventure. The delivery of the airplane was delayed a couple of days, so I ended up visiting the town of Ghent with my friend Keiko to pass the time.

    Ghent:
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    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    The aircraft was meant to be delivered at 3pm; in the end it did not show up until after 8pm and I was airborne at 9pm. This, combined with a 30kt headwind, would have me arriving well after closing time at my planned destination of Biggin Hill.

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    In the USA, an airport is seen as similar to a road; a part of the nation's infrastructure. As a result, all airfields tend to be available 24 hours a day. Even at night, lights can be operated easily by the pilot over the radio. In much of the rest of the world, including Europe, unnecessary regulation coupled with the effects of those people who buy houses next to airports and then complain that they can hear aircraft have led to a ban on radio-controlled lighting, and short operating hours for most airports. As it was, the only open airport by the time I got to the UK was Southend, a long way from home, but at least in the right country. My family collected me, and the next day was spent in London going round embassies to pick up a few extra visas.

    Thursday morning was bright and sunny with barely a cloud in the sky; perfect conditions for flying. I was dropped off at Southend along with my mother, who would be flying with me for the day. We cleared security quickly and, kitted out in our mandatory high-visibility vests, strolled across the tarmac to the aircraft. I pre-flighted especially carefully, as this was the first time I'd had the aircraft to myself without being rushed, and I wanted to ensure I became fully familiar with it. In addition, I had to carefully inspect for any pre-existing damage so that we would not be charged for something we didn't do! By 11am we were ready to depart, and took off on runway 06 headed for Peterborough Sibson Airfield.

    [​IMG]

    Just before departure from Southend
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    The slightly strangely instrumented panel of the Diesel 182.
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    We flew on a direct course for Sibson at 2000ft; the air was not too bumpy, and the visibility perfect. Our course took us towards Stansted, and after a short conversation with Essex radar we were given clearance to pass directly overhead, between two landing Ryanair 737s. From there we flew past many of my old haunts; Duxford, Cambridge, and RAF Wyton where the Cambridge University Air Squadron is based. Sibson was quiet, and we landed on runway 15; just 500m of grass, which concentrates the mind when one has been flying from at least 750m of tarmac for the last year or more!

    Passing overhead Stansted:
    [​IMG]

    Final approach into Sibson:
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    Sophia and I placing the decals on the airplane at Sibson:
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    Sibson is a picturesque field, with a small flying school and a parachute centre. We sat in the lounge and I worked on further flight planning using the conveniently provided wifi while we waited for Sophia and her mother Pauline to arrive. We'd be flying from Sibson down to Cranfield, just a 30 mile trip, but it was important that Sophia arrive by air as the primary sponsors, ClearBlue had arranged to have a reception party including photographers to meet us as we taxied in. We loaded up the mothers; a nice touch to make the first flight of "Flight for Every Mother" with them on board; and set off for the short and uneventful hop to Cranfield. As we turned off the runway we found that they'd managed to persuade the airport to take them out to near the threshold and get some video of our arrival; thankfully I made a fairly good landing!

    [​IMG]

    We parked up, and spent a few moments having photographs taken and answering questions. While Sophia carried on talking with the greeters from ClearBlue I chatted with the airport representative, who informed me that Cranfield had very kindly arranged for our landing and parking fees to be waived in aid of the charity trip. We thanked them, and after securing the aircraft were driven to the offices of ClearBlue. Most of the employees had turned out for a reception, with a banner welcoming Sophia and even cupcakes with "Flight for Every Mother" logos on them! Group photos, speeches, and on-camera interviews followed before we headed for the hotel.

    Good luck Sophia! But where's the love for the pilot? :D
    [​IMG]

    Nice branded cupcakes at the send-off event:
    [​IMG]

    That evening we took the chance to catch our breath at the Embankment Hotel in Bedford. They were very kind and donated a night's free stay to both Sophia and I in support of the project. A colleague of Sophia's showed up to deliver her malaria medication, and after some time sat by the river getting to know each other's families we turned in.
     
  7. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    I think we need to hear about this. In fact I think we might need an "Anymouse's flying adventures" thread, I think you've done rather wilder stuff than I have!
     
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  8. Anymouse

    Anymouse En-Route

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  9. gkainz

    gkainz Final Approach

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    well crap ... thanks, Any. I haven't been to the Purple board in so long, I can't recall my password over there. :D
    ...
    so now I get my password reset, get logged in to refresh my memory of the goat story, only to see a PB swan song post from yesterday?

    Sorry for the thread squirrel chasing ...
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2018
  10. Anymouse

    Anymouse En-Route

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    I'm sure someone will pick it up and keep it going.
     
  11. Jumpmaster

    Jumpmaster Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Nice second installment! Keep it up - it is wonderful reading and the pictures are great.
     
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  12. bflynn

    bflynn En-Route

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    Excellent!

    One thing I would love to do is take a month or two off and fly through Africa for vacation. At the same time, the instability and weak aviation infrastructure seems to make that a huge challenge, so I am eager to read about your experiences.
     
  13. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    With participants and families gathered in Bedford, we spent an hour in the morning at ClearBlue, planning what still needed to be done. I split off together with my father, and shopped for last minute items (tie down ropes for the aircraft, and so on) before heading out to the aircraft. We met up with Steve and Lucy (Sophia´s father and sister) and spent some time planning how we´d load the aircraft, as well as organising fuel. Steve and Lucy took some time to painstakingly adhere the website address to the aircraft.

    Weighing the various contents of the aircraft - lots of medical supplies would be carried to be distributed!
    [​IMG]

    Later in the evening, back at the hotel, I sat down with the charts for the UK, France, and Spain and planned our flight for the next day. It would be a straight shot South past London, along the French coast, and finally a right turn into Bilbao. A total of 588nm should mean a flight time of a little less than 6 hours.

    At 8pm my sister arrived from London, and the eight of us sat down for a goodbye dinner. The disco from the wedding that was taking place in the hotel thankfully shut down at a reasonable hour and we went to bed early, ready for the official departure to Africa the next day.

    ============================================================

    We arrived at the airfield a little before it opened, but the staff were already around and let us in to load the aircraft. We weighed the gear one last time and found that we had 150kg of supplies in total. Carefully distributed within the aircraft, we were still within our weight and balance limits. The time came, at last, to say goodbye; a few group photos later and Sophia and I started up the aircraft and headed for the runway.

    Quite a lot of gear, as it turns out. If I was doing this again today I'd know to pack much lighter! Most is medical gear, however. The big red bag is our first aid kit! It's reassuring to travel with an accomplished surgeon.
    [​IMG]

    A final group photo before departure.
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    It turns out that the families had not taken into account the time to queue for takeoff behind a couple of other aircraft, and were not fully acquainted with light aircraft identification. They waved wildy, shared emotional hugs, and took countless photos of the departing Cessna; which was unfortunately not us. As they were walking back to their cars a very kind man from the control tower ran after them, to point out that we'd not actually taken off yet, so they rushed back just in time to do it all over again. Apparently, it was much less emotional the second time around.

    Sophia piloting us over the Isle of Wight
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We set course South at 2000ft to remain below the airspace around Luton and Heathrow. Being a beautiful Saturday morning, there was quite a large amount of other traffic buzzing around, including plenty of gliders; we weaved a course around a number of locations to keep clear of the launching winches that power the gliders up to 1000ft or more. As we tracked further South towards Southampton the coastline came into view, and we accepted a radar service from Solent Radar as we climbed up to 6,500ft over the Isle of Wight before crossing the Channel. Even as we passed over St Catherine's Point, the coastline of France was just visible in the distance.

    Coasting in over the French coast.
    [​IMG]

    The French Air Traffic Controllers gave excellent service as we passed down the entire Western side of the country. We were handed off from controller to controller, with seamless clearance through the various sections of airspace we passed through, as well as a traffic service to alert us of any other aircraft nearby. Around 90 minutes from Bilbao, our relaxed cruise came to an end; the "Low Voltage" warning light had illuminated. A quick assessment of the situation suggested an issue with the alternator; although, trouble shooting quickly demonstrated that the alternator itself was still operating. Whatever the reason, the battery was no longer receiving a charge, and that meant that our electrical systems were at risk of shutting down.

    Shutting down all non-essential systems such as aircraft lights brought the drain on the battery down to a minimum. The SMA aerodiesel engine fitted to our aircraft has an electrically powered Engine Control Unit, which we bypassed by switching to the mechanical back-up; the engine will stop running if the ECU shuts down, so switching to mechanical back-up is a sensible precaution and also removes further load from the battery. Running in mechanical back-up mode limits the available power, so we continued our flight in good conditions at a slightly reduced speed.

    Mont Saint-Michel, off the coast of Normandy:
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    The seafront at Biarritz:
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    The coastline North of Bilbao:
    [​IMG]


    An hour later, we approached Bilbao under a scattered layer of cloud. We flew a slow downwind leg to allow a Lufthansa flight to land ahead of us, before touching down well down the runway to avoid his wake turbulence. A "follow-me" car led us to a parking spot more commonly used for mid-size regional jets, and the handling agents from Servisair met us as we shut down. We had to wait some time for fuel, as they were dealing with several airliners before turning their attention to us. The first fuel truck they brought was too large, and they had to go away and locate a smaller one that would have a hose that was not too big to fit into our filler port. Even then, they insisted on being shown the part of the aircraft handbook that specified Jet-A as the fuel; they'd never encountered something this small that didn't run on AVGAS.

    Refuelling at Bilbao:
    [​IMG]

    To investigate the electrical issue would first require a look under the cowling to spot any obvious issues such as loose wiring; but here we ran into a problem. The tool we needed to remove the cowling, a simple screwdriver, was the one thing we'd forgotten to bring with us in the rush of departure. Servisair, who were proving themselves extremely helpful and professional, came to the rescue and collected us from our hotel to take us to the supermarket so we could buy the tools we need. We ate at the hotel, and didn't sleep until late after working through all of the required planning for the next day, and other issues that always come up in preparation for stops down-route.



     
  14. Anymouse

    Anymouse En-Route

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    The fuel thing at Bilboa is funny. I stopped there for gas in the CASA. They refused to put fuel into the tanks because it didn't say what kind of fuel was needed at the filler caps. So I climbed on top of the wing and scrawled "Jet A" next to each of the caps with a Sharpee. They were good to go then.

    BTW... This shot was taken just after breaking out on the ILS...

    IMG_0671.JPG
     
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  15. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    An overcast sky in the morning stopped us feeling too bad about being earth-bound for the time being. Clutching our newly purchased tools we took the shuttle bus back to the airport. Servisair met us once again and led us through to security, where we hit the first problem of the day.

    The men at security were adamant that our dangerous tools would not be allowed through security unless we were licensed mechanics; which we, of course, were not. Arguments that pilots are permitted to carry out some of their own maintenance fell on deaf ears. Avoiding the temptation to point out that we had a folding knife in the aircraft already, so we'd hardly be trying to smuggle a pair of pliers through to perform nefarious deeds, we eventually negotiated a truce whereby we gave up our hammer, security saved face, and we could still proceed with our precious screwdriver. I was reasonably confident that we wouldn't need a hammer anyway; it had come as part of the tool kit.

    In retrospect, we could probably have predicted that attempting to carry a hammer through airport security might have caused a few raised eyebrows.

    The lonely Cessna, awaiting repair:
    [​IMG]

    On arrival at the aircraft I set about removing the cowling. Having taken the top half away, we performed a careful inspection of every wire we could see. It turned out that one of the cables attaching to the alternator had come snapped at the bracket where it joined the alternator itself; so, although the alternator was working fine, the battery was not receiving any current. We were pleased to discover that it was a seemingly easy fix; but less pleased to discover that on a Sunday, absolutely nowhere to procure the replacement part or have it fitted would be open. A mechanic from Iberia came to offer assistance, but could not find the exact part needed, and so we returned to the Servisair desk to consider our options.

    Removing the cowl to get at the alternator:
    [​IMG]

    The offending wire:
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    It turned out that one of the Servisair representatives was learning to fly at the flying club across the airfield. While there was no light aircraft maintenance facility at Bilbao, he did know that a mechanic was coming the following day to work on the club aircraft. He managed to get through by phone, and we described the problem to the mechanic who asked us to taxi across the field and meet him at 9am the following day. At last, the problem was in the hands of a professional!

    Playing tourist in Bilbao:
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    [​IMG]

    The next morning departed the hotel early to get to the airport for 8am. After arriving at the aircraft we loaded the cowlings into the Servisair van; there was no point in re-installing them just for the taxi across the field to the aero club. The van, with Sophia and the cowlings, sped off as I called for clearance to start the engine, and tried to fire up. The engine would turn over, but not catch. I informed tower of the problem and shut the systems down again.

    It's not easy to fit a Sophia and a C182 engine cowling into the same van:
    [​IMG]

    After 45 minutes or so, the Servisair van returned; this time with two mechanics on board. They poked and prodded around the engine and declared that the alternator cable was a very easy fix. The battery, however, would need a two hour charge. A phonecall to the mechanics in Holland who look after the aircraft confirmed that a charge should fix our problems; when the battery is too low the Engine Control Unit will not allow the engine to receive fuel as it thinks there is an electrical problem, even though the starter will turn the engine over. Another symptom was that the alternator became very hot after just a few seconds of turning the engine over, even though it was turned off; the mechanics were unclear about this issue so we'll charge the battery and see how we go.

    The connection to the alternator was soon repaired, and the engine fired up as normal with the freshly charged battery. However, this revealed the major problem: the alternator was dead, probably as a result of a short circuit while the loose end of the broken cable waved around and contacted the alternator housing. We re-fitted the cowlings, and fired up again under battery power to taxi Quebec Romeo over to the other side of the airport to wait for a new part to arrive direct from the manufacturer.

    So, we settled in again for another 2 nights in Bilbao. Being a little tired of the Holiday Inn, we used expedia.com to book a hotel in the city centre. We selected on of their deals where you are given a significant discount, but not told what hotel you'll be in until after you book; you're initially just given a run-down of the approximate location, facilities, and star rating. Imagine our delight when we booked, and found that we'd be spending the next two nights in the other Holiday Inn. On the plus side, at least it is not too far from the city centre!

    Appropriate entertainment available at the local cinema:
    [​IMG]
     
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  16. Skyrys62

    Skyrys62 Pattern Altitude PoA Supporter

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    Adventures within adventures!
     
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  17. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    The new alternator had been shipped on Tuesday, and I had spent much of the evening refreshing the DHL tracking page to see how it was doing. Waking up on Wednesday I was pleased to see that it had made its way through Paris to Brussels, and was reported as having just arrived in a city only an hour from Bilbao. Of course, my vision of it being rushed to a van and delivered straight to us did not materialise, and it was a further three hours before it arrived at FlyBai a little before noon.

    The alternator arrives:
    [​IMG]

    Jose and his crew took just 30 minutes to get the new alternator installed. In trepidation, I fired the engine up and flicked the alternator on. Success! The battery showed charging, and all warning lights were extinguished. After running the engine for a while to charge the battery, I shut down and we reinstalled the cowlings. Sophia was happy to hear the good news, and we immediately called our friends at Servisair to take us over to the terminal where we filed our flight plans and paid the considerable bill. Finally we passed through immigration, which consisted of a policeman taking a cursory look at our passport and saying in Spanish "Seems ok".

    Final repairs
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    We arrived back at FlyBai ready to load up and say our goodbyes. This plan hit a snag when we discovered that everyone had gone for lunch and left most of the school locked. We decided that we could at least load the aircraft, and made several trips to and fro to carry all the gear that had been removed during maintenance to access the tail section where the battery is located. This done, we twiddled our thumbs (and delayed the flight plan) to ensure that we could say a proper goodbye to our friends. They wandered in a little while later and very gallantly refused our attempts to pay them for their work and hospitality. With the FlyBai crew waving us off, we started up and departed runway 28 headed South to Rabat.

    Goodbye, FlyBAI!
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    Meandering around clouds south of Bilbao
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    Flying over Madrid
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    A Spanish solar farm
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    There were towering cumulus clouds and rain showers all around the airport and extending South, so we were careful to steer around them and stay visual with the rising terrain. We leveled off at 8,500ft for the long cruise across Spain. The tower at Vitoria airport accepted our handoff from Bilbao approach and gave us weather and traffic information as we tracked towards Madrid, and were cleared through their airspace and onwards. Suddenly, though, disaster - an angry red light on the instrument panel announcing "Alternator Failure". We couldn't believe it. At least this time we knew exactly what to do, and before too long we were running with minimum electrical load and mechanical back-up mode for the engine control.

    [​IMG]

    With the reduced speed in mechanical back-up mode, Rabat was no longer an option; we would not arrive before sunset, which is the end of legal VFR flight in Morocco. Even without this consideration, I was not at all confident in the light aircraft maintenance support that we might find south of the Mediterranean. Not far off of our route, however, was the airport of Jerez in Southern Spain where I knew a very large international flight school was based. If anywhere was going to have a decent engineering department it was there, so I announced our situation to ATC and they cleared us directly in. The tower was very considerate and gave us priority into Jerez, with school traffic being instructed to hold clear of the airport to allow us a direct approach. They even had the airport fire trucks scrambled and standing by at the side of the runway as we landed.

    The landing was uneventful, even given the engine's propensity for shutting itself down when the throttle is reduced close to idle in mechanical mode. We followed the "follow-me" car to the apron near Flight Training Europe, and wandered over to see if anyone was around. It was 8pm by this stage, but given the number of flight school call-signs that we'd heard on the radio we knew that there had to be some kind of activity still going on at the school.

    The ramp in Jerez
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    As it turned out, we had landed on our feet once again. We were greeted by Mike and Navid, from England and Switzerland respectively, who were both instructors at the flight school. They immediately sprang into action to help us out, organising accommodation at the home of a ground school instructor, and then driving us there. They also arranged for me to be driven back in the morning to see the head of engineering, who Mike emailed to let know I'd be coming. They couldn't have been more friendly and helpful!

    Roger, the ground school instructor, and his wife Honor owned a huge villa in the centre of Jerez. They had a number of apartments set up for visitors, of which we were given one for our stay. Honor pointed us in the right direction, and before long we were drinking beers and sangria and enjoying tapas, wary about the potential electrical issues to be sorted out but relieved to be surrounded by such supportive people.

    Tapas in Jerez
    [​IMG]

    I caught a lift to the flight school with Roger on his way into work at 8am. Security, who had been remarkably unhelpful the night before (they refused to let us leave the flight school, instead walking all the way across the airport to leave via a gate near the terminal) were much more accommodating this time; I still had to wander all over the terminal, visit 4 different offices, and pay 14 Euros for Menzies Handling to drive me 300 metres though.

    Before long I bumped into Mike, and we eventually tracked down the head of maintenance, Carlos. FTE is a very large commercial school, and as such, they went to great lengths to ensure that everything would be done in accordance with the proper rules and regulations. They took the view that they could not officially work on our aircraft, but that one of their mechanics would be perfectly free to work on it on his own time, using their tools and facilities. This seemed like a very reasonable approach to us and we happily accepted. A phone call to Aeroskill in Holland to describe the symptoms had led to a preliminary diagnosis, and so I settled down to wait until 3pm, the time at which the mechanic and facilities would become available.

    I was waiting in the hangar at the prescribed 3pm, and Carlos and his mechanic were right on time. We headed out to the aircraft with a ground power unit to get her started. Taxiing the 200 metres to the hangar was as much of an ordeal as getting through the terminal, with the requirement to follow a "follow me" car, and about 10 minutes discussion between me, the tower, and parties unknown about where I was taxiing and how they could organise it. Eventually, though, the airport authorities were convinced that FTE really had invited me to take my aircraft over, and moments later I was parked at the FTE maintenance hangar with the cowlings stripped. The problem was immediately obvious, and exactly as Aeroskill had predicted; the alternator auxiliary lead had snapped, probably as a result of being left under slightly too much tension after the alternator replacement. It was a quick 5 minute fix, and a ground run demonstrated that all symptoms of the problem had been eliminated. The same hassle with the "follow me" car occurred to return to parking, but at least this time my battery was charging while I waited.

    When I returned I found that Sophia had had a productive day with planning, contacting people down route, and so on. She'd even been to the shops and prepared a dinner of meats, cheeses and salads to enjoy on our balcony that evening! With the aircraft repaired it was easy to relax and look forward to being on our way in the morning; finally, Africa was at hand.

    Dinner in Jerez, celebrating a repaired aircraft
    [​IMG]

    We'd made it to the southern tip of Europe; but the real challenges were about to begin...
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2018
  18. SCCutler

    SCCutler Administrator Management Council Member

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    Spike Cutler
    Appetite, whetted!
     
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  19. Jumpmaster

    Jumpmaster Pre-takeoff checklist

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    AbnJag
    Love this story!
     
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  20. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    Katamarino
    After finally overcoming our electrical troubles in Spain, it was time to set foot on the African continent, albeit a week behind schedule. This meant that the visits in Morocco and Western Sahara would be somewhat curtailed, and flying days would be long, as we rushed to make up time through the Sahara Desert.

    Filing our flight plan before departure
    [​IMG]

    Roger gave us a lift once again to the main terminal. This time I knew where to go, so it didn't take quite so long to pay our airport fees and then make our way through immigration and security; Menzies aviation were extremely helpful and reasonably priced for handling! They dropped us off at the aircraft where we loaded our bags, by now a fairly well practiced procedure, and then headed into FTE to say our goodbyes. We were permitted to taxi to the runway without the help of a "follow-me" car today, and before long were airborne and headed South.

    Departing Jerez
    [​IMG]

    Coasting out over Gibraltar
    [​IMG]

    Goodbye Europe!
    [​IMG]

    After just a few minutes, the Southern coast of Spain came into view. We coasted out somewhat to the West of Gibraltar, which was unfortunately hidden behind clouds, and could already see the Moroccan coastline ahead in the distance. We were handed over to Moroccan air traffic control a few miles out over the water, and this is where the fun began. Morocco has a series of VFR routes between airports, with reporting points that were not on any of the charts that we had on board. Searching online reveals no availability of Moroccan VFR charts, or information about these routes. We asked for, and were given, the GPS coordinates of the points for our first leg; there was some initial confusion until we realised they were giving us degrees, minutes, seconds while we though we were being given decimal degrees. Nonetheless, in the end the right coordinates were input for our arrival into Rabat.

    [​IMG]

    Coasting in over the Moroccan coast
    [​IMG]

    Another quirk of Moroccan ATC (and, it turns out, a lot of ATC further south) is a constant demand for estimated times at reporting points. It's a good idea to have these points in your GPS so you can quickly and easily call up your estimated time to each! We were handed over to Rabat tower some 50 miles or so out, and stayed with them all the way into our parking spot; there is not much use of different frequencies for approach, tower, and ground; probably because there is not very much traffic around. In addition, the use of ATIS frequencies seems to be very sparse south of the Med, with tower generally just reading the weather to you over the radio on request.

    The view from final approach into Rabat
    [​IMG]

    On arrival in Rabat it turned out that because of the delays, our handling agents had given up and headed back to their base; they did not, as we had thought, have any permanent presence in Rabat. They instead arranged for a member of the airport authority to assist us; while helpful, he did not quite know the proper procedures for getting flight crew through the airport. Instead of arranging for us to pass through the crew channel at immigration, we ended up waiting for quite some time in the immigration queue with an entire Airbus full of passengers who'd arrived at the same time, and were left very short of time once we finally got through; there was a lot to do here before heading on South to Essaouira later that afternoon.

    First steps on African soil
    [​IMG]

    Sophia's friend Sanae collected us from the airport. Barriers had been set up 30m or so from the terminal building, and people waiting for arriving passengers were being held back here; they weren't even allowed into the terminal. Apparently this was a new development, and Sanae was unsure what had caused it. After a few false turns (it was more than a year since Sanae had been to the airport, and the city was very badly signposted) we headed into Rabat.

    The plan was first to find somewhere to eat. Unfortunately, we failed completely at this because it happened to be the celebration at the end of Ramadan, when absolutely everything was shut down. We managed to find a cafe that was only serving drinks, and then moved onto the most important task, a hospital visit. Sanae took us to the hospital she worked at, which hosted a "Level 3" Ob/Gyn department, which delivered more that 16,000 babies a year. I was presented with a white coat and told to tag along as we toured the department. I really didn't know what to expect, but the rather tired and grimy appearance of the hallways before we even got to the department gave a taster of what was to come.

    The grounds at the hospital
    [​IMG]

    My first thought was how lucky we are in the more developed world. The situation was no doubt worsened by most of the staff being off to celebrate the end of Ramadan, but conditions in the delivery area came across to my untrained eyes as very poor. In the pre-delivery area we saw where women are taken to wait when labour has started, but they are still less than 3cm dilated. Cubicles down each side of the ward each held two single beds, and occasionally up to four women. With a lack of staff around, I got the impression that women who were there for their second or third baby were taking the lead in supporting those who were having their first.

    The actual delivery area was a similar ward, with cubicles with a single bed in each running down each side. Many of them had ladies in who had evidently just delivered, but had been left lying exposed without even any attempt to clean them up and make them comfortable. Many beds and floors were soaked through with body fluids from delivery. In one corner a lady was on a stretcher, evidently in great distress; there was no-one looking after her, and it was explained that she was waiting for an emergency operation but the operating theaters were not ready. She reached for our hands as we passed, but no-one gave her a second glance; when working in such an environment one must have to detach ones emotions to be able to work most efficiently and help the most people.

    Sophia and Sanae at the hospital
    [​IMG]

    The visit over, we sped back to the airport for our next flight. With people still being kept far back from the airport by the military and police we were concerned about gaining access again, but in the end we were waved through without a moment's hesitation. After a short wait our handling assistant collected us and took us to pay our airport fees, and then put us into a van that took us across the airport to the military side. Here we received our departure briefing, with instruction given on the waypoints we had to follow leaving Rabat; a great big circle around to the North was mandated to avoid restricted areas such as the Royal Palace. We had elected to fly out to Essaouira, a couple of hours down the coast, so that the following day we could make Dakhla in a single hop; the problem this gave was that Essaouira was not listed on our permit. After some umming and ahhing the military briefer declared that this would be no problem and we were free to go. They were unable to make contact with Essaouira to let them know we were coming, but decided that we should just head that way anyway and divert to Agadir (a large 24 hour airport) if we couldn't contact Essaouira.

    In-flight catering courtesy of Sanae
    [​IMG]

    At last, our flight plan was filed and we were on our way. We had been given the GPS coordinates of the approved VFR route South by the military, so there was no trouble this time with knowing where to go. Once again we were constantly hassled for our estimates for various reporting points, and even ended up at one point in concurrent contact with two different controllers who were asking for different, but similar, things. Once we were further South from Rabat, however, things became quieter and we were handed off to Essaouira tower, who turned out to be open, an hour before we got there.

    The countryside south of Rabat
    [​IMG]

    Crossing a brand new highway as we approach Essaouira
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    Villas outside of Essaouira
    [​IMG]

    The airport was open, but devoid of passengers; we breezed through security and immigration, and into a taxi. We were taken to a hotel in the center of the town, which had turned out to be something of a Moroccan version of Blackpool. After a hot, sunny arrival at the airport it was strange to find the town just a few miles away to be cold, windy and foggy; being a few miles closer to the coast can make all the difference. The hotel was fantastic, and just what we needed after such a long day; we ate Moroccan tagine there and worked on our plans for the following day.

    The hotel we found in Essaouira
    [​IMG]

    The dining room, home of amazing tagine
    [​IMG]

    At last, we were inching our way down the African continent!
    [​IMG]
     
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  21. OkieFlyer

    OkieFlyer En-Route

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    Awesome! Can't wait for the next episode.
     
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  22. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    Essaouira in the morning was remarkably different to Essaouira at night. The end-of-Ramadan party over, the streets were deserted apart from litter and a horde of stray cats picking over the remains. We had arranged for the taxi driver to meet us at 7 to return to the airport, but he never showed; luckily it proved remarkably simple to organise another one and we were soon on our way. Sophia handled the refueling of the aircraft while I went to the tower to organise the flight plan and receive a briefing. Once again, I was shown the VFR route; this time down to Dakhla, consisting of about 20 different points. None of them were on the charts or in the GPS, and this time they could not even provide the GPS coordinates. I took a photo with my smartphone with the plan to use the GPS and the roadmap of North Africa that we had on board to figure it out as we went.

    The seafront in the morning at Essaouira
    [​IMG]

    A fearsome local beast
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    The airport building in Essaouira
    [​IMG]

    We had something of a delay from the fact that Essaouira had no record of our flight permit. This was not entirely surprising seeing as Essaouira was not covered by said permit, but a few phonecalls to the central body that coordinates these things soon established that we did indeed have permission to fly to our next stop, Dakhla, and we were given permission to go. Today's flight, at 5.5 hours or so, would be one of our longest so we were heavy with full fuel, and slowly climbed to our cruising altitude of 8,500ft where the air was slightly cooler. It turned out that ATC were not too fussy about the reporting points; they were requesting estimated times of arrival at many of them as usual, but didn't seem to have radar to see if we actually ended up directly at them or not. With the hand-drawn chart from the Essaouira briefing office I was able to plot the points on my GPS with sufficient accuracy to keep everyone happy.

    The VFR route briefing chart
    [​IMG]

    Topping up the oil before departure
    [​IMG]

    The route south basically hugged the coast the entire way. The further south we went, the dustier it became, and after a couple of hours air traffic control reported that conditions at Dakhla were IFR with just 3km visibility in blowing dust. We acknowledged that both aircraft and pilot were equipped and rated for flight in IMC ("Instrument Meteorological Conditions") and that even in the poor visibility we'd be able to fly the instrument approach and land, and they were happy to have us continue. Crossing into Western Sahara, we were handed off to the Canary Islands ATC who seem to control this part of the shore from their position off the coast. In fact, for quite some time airports in the Canary islands were showing as some of the closest to our position on the GPS; the mainland in this area has little in the way of places to land.

    Empty desert in Western Sahara
    [​IMG]

    As we came closer to Dakhla, the visibility became progressively worse. Before too long we were flying on instruments, although from time to time the ground could just about be made out through the dust below. We were handed over to Dakhla tower when still 100 miles out, and told to report when 20 minutes away. Some time later a Moroccan Air Force call sign came on frequency and was informed that he'd be number two to the preceding Cessna 182. Excellent.

    A village on the Western Sahara coastline
    [​IMG]

    A lighthouse near Dakhla, visible through the dust
    [​IMG]

    It soon became apparent that we'd be arriving at about the same time; our estimates for arriving over the VOR navigation beacon were identical. ATC took care to keep track of our altitudes and ranges, as we were both coming in from the same direction, and ensure that the Air Force aircraft was kept safely above us. He overtook us with about 5 miles to go, but was told to remain in the holding pattern and wait for us to land before he continued. As we passed overhead the airport to turn around to the south and fly the VOR approach inbound, I caught sight of the airport below us and let tower know that we could change to a tight visual circuit to speed things up; he liked this idea and just a couple of minutes later we were on the ground and taxiing to parking. As we parked up we caught sight of the military C130 appear out of the dust and touch down behind us.

    We were greeted with the most thorough arrival inspection we'd had to date. A very smartly dressed military representative was the first to arrive, who took down all of our information on one of the many forms that we seemed to be forever filling out. Shortly afterwards his colleague from customs arrived with a sniffer dog and gave our baggage a thorough going over looking for drugs. Next came the refuellers, in a Jet-A truck with a rickety looking trailer towed behind holding a couple of drums of AVGAS and a hand pump. With the fueling taken care of, and the aircraft covered up to protect it from the dust, we were processed through immigration and then summoned to the tower.

    Jet-A and AVGAS, both available!
    [​IMG]

    The tower controller was friendly, and clutched in his hand yet another form, ready for our arrival. He carefully inspected all the aircraft documents such as Certificate of Airworthiness and Insurance, as well as our pilot qualifications. One fly in the ointment was that fact that we had no bi-annual "Airworthiness Review Certificate"; the required inspection was carried out only the week before departure, and the paperwork had not been processed and returned. A call to the owner informed us that the review of work done in the aircraft log book would suffice until the proper certificate arrived. This was, after some argument, accepted.

    Tucked up to keep the sand off
    [​IMG]

    We had elected not to book a hotel in advance, given the five wasted hotel nights that we had paid for in Rabat and then not been able to use. Curiously, the two hotels that Sophia had confirmed had availability that morning were fully booked by the time we arrived. The controller found us a room at the "Sahara Regency" which on arrival turned out to be the kind of hotel which was once very smart, but is 20 years past its prime and now the kind of place that you see photos of journalists holing up in when wars break out. Nonetheless, at least we had a room for the night. We left the hotel again and wandered to the sea front in search of a cafe with wifi internet, to catch up on correspondence and check on the weather for the following day.

    The carpark at the Sahara Regency. Frequented by the UN, and pretty much nobody else.
    [​IMG]

    It soon became apparent that the problem with the cafe would be the lack of electrical sockets, and growing interest in what we were up to by the locals whose cafe we had invaded. We decamped to one of the hotels we had originally planned to stay in, which had wifi throughout as well as a pleasant bar and restaurant. Sophia even took the opportunity for a massage in the spa. After dinner at the same hotel, we wandered back to the Sahara Regency, through streets which had gone from dusty and deserted in the afternoon to packed full of lively activity now that it was cooling down after dark. Luckily our room was on a quiet side of the hotel; as fun as it would have been to stay up and explore, the next day's flight was going to be just as long as this ones!

    Decent accommodation at the Sahara Regency!
    [​IMG]

    The view from the hotel
    [​IMG]

    We had almost caught up to our plans!
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2018
  23. Gerhardt

    Gerhardt En-Route

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    Gerhardt
    I've never been so spellbound by a post here before. I originally was going to make a humorous comment but after following this thread it would be in poor taste. I applaud both you and Sophia for your generosity. And I'm glad you both enjoyed your efforts during this trip. You'll remember this the rest of your life. I'm looking forward to the next post.
     
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  24. DesertNomad

    DesertNomad Pattern Altitude

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    DesertNomad
    I've done a bit of flying in Africa and can't wait for the next installment of the story. On our trip an airport in Mozambique insisted on putting a barrel of AvGas through the X-ray machine. Lots of adventures there.

    This is my favorite thread of 2018.
     
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  25. Everskyward

    Everskyward Administrator Management Council Member

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    Everskyward
    What a great adventure! I have been to Africa a couple times and am planning another trip there next year. I've been in a number of small airplanes there, but never flying myself!
     
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  26. Arbiter419

    Arbiter419 Cleared for Takeoff

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    CAucker
    One of the most enjoyable threads I've read through to date! Thanks!
     
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  27. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    Katamarino
    Early morning view from the front of the Sahara Regency
    [​IMG]

    Compared to hotels in the weeks and months to follow, this was serious luxury
    [​IMG]

    Folding the cover for departure.
    [​IMG]

    The following morning the dust had been replaced with mist. Sophia had had a hospital visit lined up for the morning but this ended up falling through at the last minute, so instead we were able to depart a little earlier than planned. We filed for IFR, as Dakhla was currently IMC and apparently Mauritania had entirely closed their airspace to VFR traffic for the day. The day was extremely hot, and to keep the aircraft engine temperature under control we climbed very slowly, and at low power. About half an hour later we eventually reached our cruising altitude of 9,000ft - much to the chagrin of ATC who had been regularly asking "Are you up there yet?".

    Poor visibility climbing out from Dakhla
    [​IMG]

    We settled into the cruise, and for the majority of the next hour were firmly IMC with the ground and horizon obscured with dust. Crossing into Mauritania, the visibility actually improved considerably and we were treated to spectacular views of the desert and coastline. I have never seen anywhere so entirely empty, with not the slightest sign of human impact as far as the eye could see. It was both incredible and intimidating at the same time!

    Not many landing options
    [​IMG]

    As we approached Senegal, cloud started to build, although we were mostly above them and still enjoying great views. In the space of just a few miles the scenery gave way from desert to lush green fields. The border between Mauritania and Senegal is marked by a large river that meets the Atlantic at the city of St Louis. This impressive city seems to have expanded to cover every available piece of land at the river mouth, on both the Senegal and Mauritanian sides. From here it was roughly an hour's flight direct to Dakar, taking us out a little way from the coastline and, once we started our descent, through the slowly building cumulus clouds.

    The coastline of Mauritania
    [​IMG]

    A coastal village in Mauritania
    [​IMG]

    An uncharted airport in the desert of Mauritania
    [​IMG]

    Mauritanian holiday camp?
    [​IMG]

    Nouakchott, capital of Mauritania
    [​IMG]

    The city of Nouadhibou
    [​IMG]

    Once again we got in just ahead of a larger aircraft, and this time it was a Kenya Airways airliner that was instructed to remain in the hold while we flew the VOR approach to runway 18. The pilot seem most disgruntled, and repeatedly questioned whether he was still number two until the controller became fed up and told him in a very firm tone of voice that he'd be staying where he was until the Cessna had landed, and that he should stop asking.

    Final approach into Dakar
    [​IMG]

    The approach into Dakar was one of the most interesting of the trip so far. The end of the runway was right near the water's edge, and views of the city extending along the bay to each side were magnificent. We parked a little way from the terminal, with no marshaller; tower simply let us choose our own parking. Shortly afterwards a ground handler showed up in a fuel truck; we let him know that we wouldn't be fueling (the next flight was just an hour, and we still had at lest four hours fuel on board) but that we needed to somehow get to the terminal. "No problem", said he, and he sped off again while we locked up the aircraft. A few minutes later, an airport bus sped into view and the two of us climbed on board to be ferried to the terminal, and set down at the back of the mob of Kenya Airways passengers approaching immigration.

    Our chariot approaches
    [​IMG]

    Bus ride to the terminal!
    [​IMG]

    It turns out that Senegal had just introduced a requirement for a visa, paid for online in advance, that we had missed. However, we were clearly not the only ones as they had a large and efficient setup dedicated to providing visas to those who had not seen the new requirement in advance. It took all of 10 minutes before we had a smart looking Senegal biometric visa, complete with photo, in our passports and were approaching immigration where the real fun began.

    The man at the desk was clearly not familiar with the concept of a private flight and most upset that we had no flight number listed on our immigration form. Sophia, passing through first, managed to convince him that all was OK and he was just processing my passport the same way when his boss came over to inquire what was up. The boss became most concerned at our lack of flight number and wandered off through the airport with my passport, and me in pursuit. Eventually I managed to get a word in edge-ways through the groups of people he was constantly conversing with, and persuaded him to accept our newly adopted flight number of "C182". He was well pleased with this, and I was free to join Sophia in the bus to the nearby Onomo hotel where we'd spend the next three nights.

    A delicious dinner in the Onomo.
    [​IMG]

    The mad dash south was over. In about 10 days we'd covered almost half the north-south distance of the trip - but, there were still 3 months to go!

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2018
  28. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    Katamarino
    We'd now be spending a few nights in Dakar. Our first day would be given over to medical and logistical activity. The Onomo hotel turned out to modern, air conditioned, clean and a very comfortable place to spend a few nights. After breakfast we met up with the driver that Sophia, through befriending one of the waiters, had organised for the day, and sped off through the morning traffic to our first stop; the Guinean Embassy. One downside of employing an amateur driver soon became clear, as we spent 30 minutes stopping and asking for directions before finally pulling up at the embassy for Guinea Bissau. Close, but not quite. The entire charade repeated itself and this time we arrived at the place we wanted to be. Smaller embassies, away from the big cities such as London, are rather easier to navigate. It took just 15 minutes before we were on our way again with a promise that the visas would be ready the following day.

    Cruising around Dakar
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Our next stop was the offices of AMREF, one of the charities that Sophia was hoping to direct donations to from people who followed the trip and wanted to contribute. This time the driver spoke to the secretaty in advance by phone, and we managed to make it straight there without stopping for directions. We were received by the projects director who spent an hour explaining about how they work in this new office in Senegal; it opened two years ago and was the first in Western Africa. A lot of their energy was spent on simple, sustainable programs such as education of school children about proper hygiene, and providing the facilities needed for the same.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    On the way back to the hotel, Sophia asked the driver to take us for a traditional Senegalese meal. She did not quite bargain on how seriously he would take this task, and we ended up in a small wooden shack near a beach, with a few tables inside, a sand floor, and plenty of locals around. The meal was served out of large vats lined up on a table on one side, which were evidently very popular with the local fly population. It looked a lot like the "what not to do" in terms of travel food advice! I managed to duck out of eating (the heat really robs me of my appetite, you know...) as although I did want to try local cuisine, I was not in a hurry for food poisoning. Sophia ate a large enough portion to be polite, reasoning that she could always dose up on prophylactic antibiotics back at the hotel.

    Restaurant row (and some kind of odd wooden tower)
    [​IMG]

    An authentic local meal
    [​IMG]

    With the meal finished, our driver took us for a quick walk down the beach to see his house. The beach was an interesting mix of beautiful expensive villas at one end, and real shanty town at the other. We followed through narrow alleyways until entering a courtyard, off of which was the single room where he lived with his wife and two young daughters. 75% of the floor space was taken up by the one double bed. His sister and her family lived in the identical room next door; and this was a man who in Senegalese terms was not badly off, owning his own car.

    The beach near our driver's home
    [​IMG]
     
  29. Hippike

    Hippike Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Hippike
    Awesome story!
    I can't wait for the next episode.
     
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  30. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    Katamarino
    We started Tuesday with a little tourist activity. Our previous day's driver was not available, so his cousin stepped in to take us around.

    The early morning commute in Dakar
    [​IMG]

    We took the ferry out to Gorée island, in the bay near Dakar. It is from this island, and a few other locations in Africa like it, that the vast majority of the African slaves were shipped off of the continent. We visited one of the slave houses where these people were kept; firstly segregated into rooms for men, women, and children. Men were weighed, and only shipped out if over a certain weight. If too light, they would be fed to bring their weight up, and if this didn't work then they would simply be sold for local slavery; the use of slaves was not purely by the West. Women were assessed based on breast size; if over a certain size they counted as women, rather than children. Children were assessed on the basis of their teeth. It was eerie to think that the majority of one entire segment of the worlds population outside of Africa could trace their history back to places like this.

    Slave houses on Gorée island
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    Fortifications on the island
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    A slave pen on Gorée island
    [​IMG]

    Looking out over the island
    [​IMG]

    Before the ferry departed back to the mainland, we were shown around a little more of the island's history. It had been fortified heavily in World War Two, and a number of the huge gun emplacements were still present. Still intact too were the network of bunkers built into the island, now taken over by people to use as homes. Apparently the movie "The Guns of Navarone" had been filmed there in the 50s. Since then, the place had rather gone downhill - the piles of litter in every part of the island were a real shame.

    Souvenirs for sale
    [​IMG]

    Leftover WWII fortifications
    [​IMG]

    A family gazes out at the shore of Dakar
    [​IMG]

    All aboard the BEER boat
    [​IMG]

    Back on the mainland we went through further shenanigans to try and track down the Guinean Embassy again. Apparently the cousins had not briefed on the location. We were at least able to clarify that we didn't want to go to Guinea Bissau this time. It was surprisingly easy to collect the visas; we walked straight in, up to the office, and the lady passed us our passports and change without ever even getting off of her mobile phone.

    The old station, maybe?
    [​IMG]

    Colourful local transport
    [​IMG]

    After a brief rest at the hotel, the real fun began. The hotel waiter and I were dropped off at the airport to try and track down where we were supposed to pay the fees and file flight plans. The hectic nature of the airport the previous day had convinced us that scouting it out prior to departure would be a good idea. Scouting in advance turned out to have been a very good idea. No-one really had any idea what to do about a private flight, and we were shunted between 5 or 6 different offices in different locations around the airport. After the 3rd or 4th, just to make things a little more interesting, a torrential thunderstorm rolled over the airport. This made the task of shuttling between various far flung offices in different buildings ever more entertaining, particularly once enough water build up to overwhelm the poor drainage systems and turn the roads into rivers that were ankle deep or more.

    The statue near the airport
    [​IMG]

    The river (originally, road) outside Dakar airport
    [​IMG]

    In tomorrow's episode: Kat gets detained on suspicion of drug smuggling.
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2018
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  31. Anymouse

    Anymouse En-Route

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    Total Stud Bush Pilot
    This statue is really imposing when you're landing at Dakar the first time. If you want an idea of the size, check out the white dots. Those are people that have crawled up the side of it.
     
  32. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    Dakar, Senegal to Banjul, The Gambia

    Our return to the airport was, as expected, not entirely smooth. We'd been told to go back to the flight planning office in the "Bloc Technique" but found that the airport police would not even let us into the car park. Eventually we persuaded them to let me in, while Sophia stayed outside with the baggage, and as soon as I saw someone inside that I knew from the day before he told the police to let us through, bags and all. One of the first things we were faced with was a request from the director of the airport. He needed to travel to Banjul too, but the next scheduled flight was still 8 hours away; could we help? As much as we'd have loved to take him, it sadly just wasn't practical with the equipment loaded in the aircraft taking up all the space that a third person on board would have needed. He understood, and accepted the decision graciously.

    Getting to the aircraft was not a simple process. We first were taken by bus back to arrivals, from the air side. They processed us into the country once again, and we then went through customs and straight back into departures. Here were yet more forms to deal with, and more confusion about our private flight status, although we had by now learnt that "C182" worked nicely as a flight number. Slowly, we made our way out to a departure gate and then finally on another bus ride to the aircraft, which we found the large local birds had been using as a perch to dismember their prey, and defecate on. Lovely.

    Taxiing for departure from Dakar
    [​IMG]

    We were held waiting on the shorter runway 21 for some time to wait for traffic approaching from the south, before being cleared for the one hour flight down to Banjul. We were IFR again, but although there was plenty of cumulus cloud around we were mostly in the clear.

    Climbing out from Dakar
    [​IMG]

    Marine works south of Dakar
    [​IMG]

    We decided to see if a "real pilot shirt" would assist with transit through the airport
    http://www.katamarino.co.uk/photos/africa2013/2013_08_14_3.jpg

    The flight was over water until the last few miles, so scenery was limited to the occasional boat. For the third time in a row were were given the VOR approach to the active runway, and while the descent was in plenty of cloud, we broke out into the clear well in advance of the runway. We'd arrived just in time, as a rain storm could be seen already starting to slowly encroach on the far end of the runway. Touchdown was straightforward, with a 10 knot crosswind, and just a short taxi into the apron where after waiting for a departing airliner we were marshaled to a parking space between the President's 727 and his Ilyushin.

    Traffic waiting on us to taxi in
    [​IMG]

    We were getting used to the large crowds of people who would come out to greet us. We met the head of handling, the chief marshaler, and a few other members of the airport leadership. Passports and licences were examined, and the aircraft paperwork given a cursory and fairly disinterested glance. The rain had now set in and 7 or 8 people were sheltering under the wing; helpfully, they summoned a bus to take us to the terminal and avoid the weather. My New Zealand passport was, wrongly, rejected by immigration; The Gambia offers visa-less entry to citizens of the Commonwealth but I was not in the mood to argue and so simply swapped in my British one instead. This was apparently fine.

    Things were going reasonably smoothly until we hit customs. Sophia's training mannequin, "Baby Anne", had already passed through Senegal customs with no raised eyebrows. Gambian customs was a different story. They were highly excited by Baby Anne, as well as my supply of the anti-marial drug Malarone, and things began to look a little like a scene from National Geographic's "Locked Up Abroad". Symbols were chalked onto Baby Anne's case, and my bag, and we were led off by an excited group of Gambian customs staff to a small room behind the scenes. One of the guys sat down with me to search through my bag; Malarone was pulled out, along with some vitamin pills and ibuprofen, and it quickly became apparent that there was nothing illicit here. He took the results with good grace, and even carefully packed everything back into my bag for me.

    The story with Sophia and Baby Anne was rather different. Before long Anne's head had been removed from her shoulders and dismantled, and the problem being starkly apparent. Inside Baby Anne's head was a highly suspicious, tightly wrapped clear plastic package of a powdery substance that, to be fair to the Gambian customs guys, looked pretty shady. I briefly started to wonder about this doctor that I was travelling with, before dismissing the idea as being a pretty weird way to smuggle drugs; and who would smuggle drugs from Europe, to the Gambia? Nonetheless, what was this package all about, could it have been slipped in somewhere without our knowledge? Hopefully, as the unsuspecting pilot, my sentence would be short...

    Uhoh...
    [​IMG]

    The package was duly pierced, and samples spread out on some white paper. As this was going on, the head customs chap came across to me, and whispered into my ear. "You know what this is, this is very serious. If you tell me everything, we can help you, but otherwise you are going straight to jail. Turn in this lady, help yourself." To his chagrin, I had to simply answer with the truth; I know nothing abou the mannequin, and certainly not about anything inside its head! Meanwhile, the samples on the desk are being closely examined, rolled around between people's fingers, and for a while it even looked like someone was going to try tasting it. It had become fairly apparent by now that the package inside the head was, on a mannequin designed to be taken to the developing world for training, a supremely misguided way of weighting the baby's head properly by using sand. A chemical test showed, of course, no reaction, and Baby Anne was put together again in a fairly half-hearted fashion by a group of men clearly disappointed at missing out on their major drugs bust. They apologised for the inconvenience and sent us on our way.

    We were staying at the Senegambia hotel. It was the rainy season, which is the low season for tourists, so everywhere was relatively quiet. Sophia had explained to me that The Gambia is quite well known for sex tourism of a different kind; middle aged European women coming to have fun with young Gambian guys. And so it was; even before arriving at the hotel we were passing these ladies walking arm in arm with their young local friends. Sophia hopped into a taxi and made her way fairly quickly to the hospital; it would be a public holiday the next day and she wanted to make sure she met with her contacts in advance of their day off. She also managed a stop at the Sierra Leone embassy who processed our visas while she waited.

    Fellow hotel residents
    [​IMG]

    While Sophia was out I decided to go for a walk and see what was around the hotel. The answer turned out to be, sadly, a few run down tourist streets of nondescript bars and nightclubs, and a great many locals hassling for money through the guise of being friendly and wanting to show you around. This was rather a shame, as it makes you automatically guarded and suspicious even against those locals that you meet who are genuinely friendly and interested in meeting their foreign visitors. On Sophia's return we elected to take a walk along the beach instead which was much quieter, the majority of people we saw being young Gambian guys working out; perhaps to pass the time, or get in shape for their middle-aged European female visitors. They were perfectly friendly and chatty without wanting anything from us, which made a nice change from the other side of the hotel.

    Gambian sunset
    [​IMG]
     
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  33. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    With Thursday being a national holiday in The Gambia, we made the most of it and had something of a lie-in. Around 10am I made my way to the hotel lobby (the only place with internet access, which was unfortunately not air conditioned) and made myself comfortable at one of the tables. Moments later, I feel a tap on my shoulder, and a voice says "Hello, remember me?". This being a favourite tactic of the hasslers in the street, I was surprised to find that I did in fact recognise him; he was the chief handler from the airport. He explained that he had come to fetch me because they needed to move our aircraft. We'd been left parked between the President's 727 and Ilyushin, and the President had now decided he wanted to go on a trip. Unfortunately, his airplanes were blocked in by a Cessna 182!

    Blocking in the President
    [​IMG]

    A few minutes later I was squeezed into a small battered hatchback on my way to the airport. Along with the chief handler, the chief marshaler had come along to collect me, and we chatted about their work at the airport. Apparently the President rarely went away, but when he did it tended to be with little notice. This was by no means the first time they had been dispatched to hotels to find flight crew to move aircraft for them. Passing through the airport with the help of these guys couldn't have been easier, and before too long we were riding a baggage loading truck (there were apparently no vans) to the aircraft. It was the work of a few moments to push it to it's new parking space, tucked tightly under the nose of the 727 so that the Ilyushin could depart, and back we went to the hotel. My companions promised that they'd be there Saturday morning to collect us and help us through the airport once again, which would speed things up nicely!

    Riding the baggage loader back to the terminal
    [​IMG]

    The next day, Sophia vanished early to spend the day at Banjul's main hospital. I would have liked to have gone, but had made commitments to work that needed to be kept, so I spent much of the day in the hotel lobby catching up on emails. Luckily, for the civil engineering work that I do, it was a low time of year with much of the work for the year's remaining projects already carried out, and an excellent group of colleagues to help back me up while I was working remotely.

    Another hotel resident
    [​IMG]

    As it turned out, the vast majority of the day was taken up by torrential rain; not a good day for sightseeing even if I had wanted to. The main entertainment came from a small pack of monkeys squabbling and playing in the trees around the building, and occasionally landing on the roof with an almighty "thud". Sophia returned from the hospital pleased with how the day had gone; the training and donations had been very well received. She was also happy that her high-vis jacket, previously comically huge on her, had been neatly tailored by the local clothes shop and even had pockets added and "Flight for Every Mother" printed on the back.

    A local monkey
    [​IMG]

    I think I'll stay inside for now
    [​IMG]

    The hospital
    [​IMG]

    The alteration of the high-vis
    [​IMG]

    Saturday was the day to move on to our next country. Our friends from the airport showed up just 30 minutes late. While waiting I was treated to the spectacle of a retired English gentlemen being berated by his young Gambian "companion"; apparently he was leaving, and she did not consider that she had been adequately compensated for her companionship. Sophia, meanwhile, was being accused of food theft by the lady guarding the breakfast buffet for having the temerity to try and carry her coffee and slice of toast into the lobby to wait with me.

    Saying goodbye to Baby Anne, who we would not miss after the drugs false alarm.
    [​IMG]

    Entertainment over, the car arrived and we sped back to the airport, secure in the knowledge that we'd be helped through security and so on with far fewer hold-ups than in Dakar!

    Saying goodbye to the team in Banjul
    [​IMG]

    In the terminal building, we were presented with two plastic chairs in the middle of the departures hall and told to wait while Lamin and Mr Ajatt prepared whatever things needed to be prepared. This was primarily the bill, which ended up being the second highest of the trip so far; the majority of this being a $250 "Navigation fee". An airport bus took me and Lamin to the tower to file the flight plan (which we managed to do after the security guard managed to track down the guy who does such things), while Sophia and Mr Ajatt went straight to load the aircraft and organise fuel. While in the tower, Lamin rather sheepishly presented me with another 250 euro bill, this time for handling, but before I could even reply told me that if I wanted I could talk to his boss to "make a deal". This we immediately did, and in no time at all they had caved completely on the idea of a handling charge and withdrew it, much to our delight. Lamin and Mr Ajatt earned themselves a generous tip.

    [​IMG]

    Who's this on the runway?
    [​IMG]

    We climbed slowly as usual to keep engine temperatures well within the acceptable range. We were in and out of cloud as we made our way up to 7,000ft, much of the time enjoying a spectacular view of the countryside below. The landscape was lush and green, as was to be expected in the rainy season, and fairly unpopulated. 40 miles or so south of Banjul we were handed over to Bissau, where the real fun began. We were informed that the clearance number we had listed was the same as that for another flight coming in the following day from Nigeria, and that they would therefore not allow us to enter their airspace. We spent some time arguing the point, all the more so because we suspected that they simply could not understand numbers; half the time when reading back our permit number he was saying "528" instead of "258" leading me to believe that the problem was likely to be a lack of numeracy in the tower.

    Inbound to land at Ziguinchor
    [​IMG]

    The closest airport was Ziguinchor, in southern Senegal. They very quickly gave us permission to land, after explaining the situation, so that we could sort the matter out on the ground. Much friendlier controllers than Guinea Bissau! Within a matter of minutes we were on the ground and parked in what actually appeared to be a GA parking spot; most unusual to find things directed at small General Aviation around here. We were greeted at the aircraft, and guided to the tower where the friendly controller promised that he and the airport manager would help us get things sorted out. I also spoke to Mike Gray, of White Rose Aviation who had arranged the clearance; he promised to investigate and get right back to me.

    The problem turned out to be as expected. Mike phoned back within 15 minutes, having spoken to the agents in Bissau and confirmed with the CAA Officer who issued the clearance that it was correct and valid. The Officer promised to call Bissau tower and inform them to let us in, and we followed up with a call via the tower at Ziguinchor to confirm that all was in order before we took off. Just as we were relaxing, of course, another problem showed up; despite being told by tower that they were not needed (as we were not leaving the airport), customs showed up and decided they needed to throw their weight around. They insisted on the entire aircraft being unloaded and all the baggage carefully inspected, before we were finally allowed to repack and go on our way. Thankfully, "Baby Anne" who had given us such trouble in The Gambia was no longer on board, after being donated to a hospital in Banjul.

    Final approach into Bissau
    [​IMG]

    The remainder of the flight to Bissau was smooth, with ATC proving to be very accommodating this time. The airport was small, with a single terminal building and parking for perhaps one airliner; evidently things were not going to be busy, as we were given a parking space right in front of the arrivals hall. This would be the first place that we had arrived in without a visa (and with "visa on arrival" not possible; but, we'd been informed that as pilots, an aircrew visa could be issued easily on arrival. This turned out to be true, and we made it through the airport in record time with Guinea Bissau stamps in our passports; it really could not have been easier. The bus from Hotel Azalai collected us and took us to check in; this hotel was an old army base, converted into visitor's accommodation, near the centre of town. That evening we decided to take a taxi and go on a tour of the town, so that we could at least say we had seen some of it. This started well, with interesting landmarks such as the Presidential palace, continued through a number of different country's embassies, and by the time it came to "and here is another petrol station" we decided it was probably time to call it a night.

    Downtown Bissau
    [​IMG]

    Street market in Bissau
    [​IMG]
     
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  34. ircphoenix

    ircphoenix Pattern Altitude

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    *bump*

    Sent from my Pixel 3 using Tapatalk
     
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  35. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    Oh ok then! I have been busy getting my website created, to hold all of my write-ups and so on.

    =====================================

    The next day, Sunday, was to have been the day we flew onward to Conakry, in Guinea. However, as the day dawned, things were not looking good. Mike Gray of White Rose had reported the previous day that permits were still not in hand, but that he was hopeful of getting them on the Sunday morning. We waited hopefully, but news came through that while overflight permits were being granted, landing clearances were not available. This was apparently a general issue, not specific to us, due to a "situation" in Conakry; no other information above and beyond that was forthcoming. We resigned ourselves to another night in Guinea Bissau.

    The hotel in Bissau, apparently owned by Colonel Qaddafi before his demise.
    [​IMG]

    Having been cooped up in the hotel for most of the day, we decided to try and eat in town. We had very little local money, but the hotel front desk assured us that it would be no problem to pay with dollars. The hotel shuttle dropped us at the restaurant, which turned out to be an Italian place; slightly incongruous but it came recommended as pretty much the only restaurant around. It turned out that dollars would not in fact be usable (and credit cards are pretty much unheard of in Bissau); the boss was away, and without being able to ask him, no-one was willing to go out on a limb. So, after a fruitless trip to an ATM machine (which accepted Guinea Bissau cards only) we returned to the hotel, where after some investigation we found a way to change money at a very poor exchange rate. Second time lucky; we returned to Papa Loca and had what turned out to be, happily, a pretty nice Italian meal.

    =====================================

    Another day, another attempt to get to Guinea. We decided that whatever happened, we'd need to visit the aircraft; both to get hold of some clean clothes as we'd only taken enough for one night, and also to acquire some medical equipment; if we were to be stuck here, we might as well make the most of it and visit a hospital to make some donations. The airport was, like when we arrived, completely devoid of passengers; but like many of the airports in Africa, still teeming with guards. They didn't seem terribly interested in us and we were able to wander the wrong way through the arrivals hall and out towards the aircraft. On the way we met a gentleman in a smart suit who told us about the procedures for paying the fees, and also called the fuel truck for us.

    Given the short flight coming up, I decided to take enough fuel to get us to Sierra Leone (just in case the Guinea permit never came). This boiled down to a mere 30 litres in each tank. The order was communicated to the fuel guys, who confirmed the amount, and then set about attempting to put 300 litres in each tank. They realised their error as Jet A started to gush liberally from the filler port in the first wing, and shut things off. Fortunately we were parked on a slope, and they had fueled the higher wing first, so I was able to open the fuel valve and let the excess cross-feed into the other tank. We ended up with rather more fuel than anticipated, but it could have been worse.

    With no news about Guinea, we wandered back to the main road to try and catch a taxi. The usually busy road was suddenly devoid of cars for hire, and we stood for quite some time hoping the rain wouldn't start again and being harassed for money by an ever growing group of people. It is a sad fact in many of these places that if you're white it's automatically assumed you have a lot of cash to dole out; we had barely enough for the taxi to the hospital to donate the equipment. Moments later a 4x4 screeched to a halt alongside us and we were told to "get in the car" - this we did, deciding that the occupants (a middle aged man with crutches, and a bored looking teenage girl) did not look terribly threatening and were certainly preferable to our current companions.

    Our saviours turned out to be just the people we wanted to meet. The driver's sister turned out to work at the main hospital, in the maternity ward, and he drove us straight there and introduced us to her. She in turn took us to see the chief of OB/GYN and some other doctors, who were extremely pleased at the equipment donations which included this time some equipment for the operating theatre. After the donations were completed we were given a tour of the maternity areas of the hospital; while apparently rather more pleasant surroundings than in Rabat, they were still a far cry from what we are used to in the developed world. Tour complete, we were driven the 5 minutes back to the hotel by the chief's driver.

    Donating equipment at the main hospital in Bissau
    [​IMG]

    An esoteric collection of supplies in the storeroom/conference room.
    [​IMG]

    =====================================

    Yet another day in Bissau. Having given up, with regret, on Conakry we tried to see if we could bring our permit for Freetown in Sierra Leone forward by a day and fly there early. Even this was not to be, however; going through standard channels produced no results, and enquiries from our handling agents in country brought the news that the permit could maybe be altered with payment of a $250 bribe. Disheartened by this abuse of position by a government employee (although not surprised, sadly) we told them we were not interested and would simply wait until the following day.

    The evening brought another trip to "Papa Loca". Despite being almost the only restaurant in town, the taxi driver had no idea where it was, although he only made this clear once we were already in his taxi and driving away. Luckily Sophia remembered that the restaurant was close to the Presidential palace, which he did know, and from there we were able to direct him down a couple of side roads. The meal was once again fairly good, and the evening was brightened by the arrival of 6 European nuns, evidently keen for a pizza.

    Italian in restaurant, in Guinea Bissau, so naturally it has a Buddha on the wall?
    [​IMG]

    Sophia insisted on a sneaky photo of the nuns
    [​IMG]
     
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  36. ircphoenix

    ircphoenix Pattern Altitude

    Joined:
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    I figured I gave you over a week for the next episode. You can't crank them out once a day then abruptly stop. I'm readin' here!

    If it's too much effort though, you could make it a weekly episodic thing!

    Sent from my Pixel 3 using Tapatalk
     
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  37. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    If it ends up being weekly we'll be here until about 2021 :p
     
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  38. ircphoenix

    ircphoenix Pattern Altitude

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    Then I have something to look forward to!

    Sent from my Pixel 3 using Tapatalk
     
  39. Katamarino

    Katamarino Cleared for Takeoff

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    At last, the escape from Bissau. We had received overflight permits for Guinea with no trouble, and the landing permission for Freetown had come in for the original day, having not paid the bribe. The hotel shuttle dropped us at the airport and once again we breezed out of the "Arrivals" door, stopping briefly to have our passports stamped on the way through. We wandered up to the tower, which was at a higher level alongside a large apron with more aircraft parking. A Nigerian private jet had been relegated up here, perhaps because a C182 was occupying the prime space next to the terminal. We paid our fees, a total of less than $50 for everything, and filed our flight plan before returning to the aircraft and stowing the baggage, something we were getting fairly competent at by now.

    BIssau airport: "Fitness First" apparently trialing an aggressive new recruitment campaign.
    [​IMG]

    The flight to Freetown, a little over 250 nautical miles in length, was fairly short compared to a lot of the legs we'd been flying. The weather was reasonable, with a great deal of cumulus cloud around at low levels, and varying layers of overcast that we climbed through. Views of the ground were fairly limited; it was becoming apparent that this type of weather was fairly typical for West Africa at this time of year. We had a great view of Conakry as we passed overhead, and briefly regretted that we'd been unable to visit. The occasional inexplicable bureaucratic cock-up is inevitable when travelling through Africa, however!

    Goodbye to cloudy Bissau
    [​IMG]

    Overflying Guinea
    [​IMG]

    Northern Sierra Leone
    [​IMG]

    From Conakry it was less than 70 nautical miles into Freetown. The cloud became thicker as we neared our destination, and we flew the VOR instrument approach to land in light rain. An instrument rating really is invaluable for this kind of trip; we'd have been stuck multiple times already due to weather if we didn't have it. We were told to park in a bay right in front of the main terminal, and moments later (having unloaded our bags) told that we actually needed to park half a kilometer away down the other end of the apron. Sophia elected to head for arrivals while I moved the aircraft; no point in reloading all the bags. Entry into the country was straightforward with no other passengers around and a helpful, if surly, escort from security.

    Final approach into Freetown
    [​IMG]

    Freetown airport is not terribly close to the city of Freetown. Due to a complete lack of flat land, the airport has been constructed north of the city, the other side of an enormous river mouth. There used to be multiple ways of crossing; water taxis, a ferry, a hovercraft, and even helicopters. None were what the West would classify as "safe". The latter two have now shut down, apparently due to lack of maintenance on the vehicles, and one is left with the ferry (a very long way around) or the ~40 minute crossing by water taxi, which is what we plumped for. Franklin, our handling agent, dropped us at the quay and after waiting for the other two passengers to arrive, we set off.

    Ready to brave the water taxi
    [​IMG]

    We had been informed that the water taxi had been shut down until noon that day due to stormy weather making the crossing unsafe. It was clear that conditions had improved only marginally; the rain continued (as it would almost non-stop until we left four days later) and there was a large swell running. The water taxi was a fairly modern, well equipped craft from the USA that had clearly been rather neglected by its new owners; lack of maintenance, once again. At $40 per person, each way, one would have thought they might be able to spend a little to keep the equipment running; especially when the boats could carry well over 20 people each.

    Approaching Freetown
    [​IMG]

    We set off using only one of the two outboard engines, perhaps to save fuel, or perhaps because only one was working. Whatever the reason, the one remaining engine began to make some thoroughly peculiar sounds as we were about half way across, and completely out of sight of any land. The two crew wandered back and forth to peer at the engine, and conversed in a most animated fashion, but nothing was actually done and we limped onwards at half speed; luckily, it held out long enough for us to reach the other side. Our contacts from the charity "Health Poverty Action" were there to meet us and take us to their offices, where they had very kindly offered us free accommodation in their guest rooms.

    Aunty Alison delivering the closing lecture at the LSTM training session
    [​IMG]

    The streets of Freetown were busy, rough, rutted, and soaking wet. The HPA offices were situated in their own gated compound with night watchman to ensure security. The rooms were basic, with a fan but no air conditioning, but clean. The lack of air conditioning and high humidity unfortunately meant that absolutely everything was dam, including all the bedding. There was a single sheet covering the mattress, but nothing else in the way of blankets, so I was glad to have brought my sleeping bag liner to have something to sleep in! There were a couple of bathrooms shared by the guest rooms, but no running water; large vats of water were kept in the room along with a bucket for filling the toilet cistern, and a smaller container for taking a bucket shower with! All in all, the rooms were just fine for a few nights and it was very generous of HPA to put us up; it was nice not to be in a hotel for once, too.

    After dropping off our baggage we went immediately with Betty, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, to a training session that they were conducting. The LSTM were a group that Sophia had often worked with, whose office was hosted by HPA, who provided training courses run by volunteer doctors for local medical staff. The session we attended was for midwives, and was being run by Alison from LSTM. We hung around while the session ended, before joining Alison for dinner at her guest house; she told us all about the work that LSTM were doing, and discussed her experiences with the organisation. Sophia had a lot to add as well, having been involved from the very beginning and seen the organisation grow to its current, multi-country role.

    View from the guesthouse at dinner
    [​IMG]

    Homes are squeezed into any available spot
    [​IMG]
     
    ircphoenix likes this.
  40. flyingcheesehead

    flyingcheesehead Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
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    Display name:
    iMooniac
    And made out of any available materials, it looks like! :eek:

    You were saying that an instrument rating is useful, but it was occurring to me that that's true not only because of weather, but because it sounds like getting new permits to go on a different day could have really taken a long time, and who knows if your new day would have been VFR!
     
    Katamarino likes this.