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Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by Katamarino, Oct 25, 2018.
All time currently being spent creating my new website! Will be back at this in a few days hopefully.
Here's the next few days! On the new website there'll be rather more pictures.
Betty had done a superb job of putting together a program of activities for our visit. Our first stop was a local girl's secondary school, where summer school was in session. The students, 150 or so girls from age 10 to around 13, were assembled around a large open air stage in the school yard and Sophia was presented with a megaphone to deliver a motivational speech about the project, and the importance of female education. A cameraman from the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Company (SLBC) was also in attendance to record the visits. After the speech, the girls were invited to ask questions; the majority of the questions at first were about being a pilot, rather than anything to do with being a doctor! While most of the girl had probably met a doctor before, a pilot was someone new and exciting. The conversation did turn onto female health after a while, and Sophia's advice seemed to be well received and sparked another round of questions and comments.
Presenting at the school
After the talk, Sophia presented a "Flight for Every Mother" poster which was swiftly hung up on the wall of the school. As we were leaving, one of the younger girls was trailing us, but too shy to start a conversation. I chatted to her, and asked her what she liked most about school; she didn't answer the question directly, but pointed to Sophia and said to me "I want to be like that lady".
Our next stop was the Ministry of Health, where the Sierra Leone Health Minister had agreed to meet with us. The Ministry was housed in a large municipal building along with several other departments such as land, business and agriculture. The minister, a relatively young lady who was obviously passionate about her work, listened with interest to Sophia's explanation of the project before explaining to us some of the main challenges they face, and programs set up to combat these issues. Maternal health, and female education, were both high on the list. She expressed her appreciation of the work being done and the importance of support from other nations, and invited us back for a longer period whenever we could come!
With the health minister
That afternoon we were dropped at a small cafe within walking distance of our accommodation; the Oasis cafe. This seemed to be something of an expat hangout, not that Freetown has many expats as far as we could tell; there were maybe four or five other people around. The food was excellent, continuing a theme set the previous night; meals in Freetown turned out to be the best that we'd had so far. Sophia had been in the city a few years before, not long after the civil war, and apparently the difference in all areas of life, food included, was quite pronounced.
First on the agenda for Friday was a visit to the SLBC studios. Sophia was due to appear on the country's most popular morning radio show, "Tea Time". She was being interviewed along with a Muslim leader who was talking about the pilgrimage to Mecca, and a local health advocate who was talking about the problem of cheap alcohol in the community. The collection of speakers was a slightly strange mix, but still interesting, and over the hour long program there were a great deal of positive reactions from people calling in.
Radio show time
From the studio, we headed to the hospital where LSTM had arranged for Sophia to give a teaching session to a group of midwives. We were accompanied again by the cameraman from SLBC. This was the first time we'd actually been able to run a full training session and it was well attended by 15 or so hospital staff, with the department chief dropping in from time to time. The session was started off with a short lecture on causes of maternal collapse, followed by instruction on the resuscitation of newborns. To conclude, some practical training was carried out using the "Mama Natalie" birthing simulator to practice dealing with complicated births.
Birthing simulator, and local nurses
Our work at the hospital completed, we headed out to one of the local clinics in the city; this one was at "Ross Road". These centers were of course much smaller and more poorly equipped than the main hospital that we had been to visit in the morning. They dealt with all health issues here, preventative as well as curative, but also had two small rooms dedicated to maternity. Here more than anywhere they were particularly grateful for the equipment donations; although simple, the gear would clearly make a big difference to the help that they could offer to pregnant women.
That afternoon we once again found ourselves in the Oasis cafe. All the same people from the previous day were there again, including two girls who were in a state because they'd been kicked out of their rental accommodation and were frantically trying to find somewhere to stay. Apparently their only option so far had a landlord who disliked Brits, so they were working up a story about being from the Yemen; it was not yet entirely convincing.
The weekend, and it was time for a day off. Perusal of the Lonely Planet guide book to Sierra Leone the day before had identified plenty of interesting tourist activities to occupy ourselves with. My first choice of the chimpanzee sanctuary was shot down; perhaps due to uneasiness with the reported chimpanzee escape and murder spree that had happened there some years before. We settled instead on the apparently beautiful beaches at the evocatively named "River Number 2". A taxi driver was hired for the day and the three of us (we had been joined by Mel, the new project director for HPA) set off along the coast. It was, of course, raining.
A new highway along the coast was being installed, although work had been put on hold for the rainy season. In some locations the road was accessible, and we cruised at good speed along the smooth, albeit still dirt-topped, highway. In locations where work was not so advanced we were forced off onto the existing local roads, which had to be slowly and carefully negotiated by our driver, for fear of the deep rain-washed gullies and other obstacles giving the aging Nissan Sunny more of a beating than it could handle. Along the side of the road at irregular intervals were large stockpiles of boulders. It seemed that these were intended to become gravel for the new roadway, but instead of being mechanically ground down the occasional man, woman, or child was passed, chipping away at the rocks with sledgehammers.
Welcome to sunny River Number 2
The side road down to "River Number 2 Beach" was now more of a torrent, seeming to be the preferred drainage route for the highway. Much of the road was washed away and there were times, with the Sunny's wheels spinning and slipping, that I was fairly sure we'd be walking the rest of the way. However, we managed to get through and arrived at the gate where the local collective who run the beach as a tourist operation charged us each $1 for entry. Moments later were were settled at a table in the restaurant, watching the rain beat down on the empty beach and surrounded by stray dogs (or, as a local salesman informed us, dogs that were "raised under the free-range method").
Free range dogs
As we sat down we were taken through the menu ("We have chicken or fish, with rice or chips") and ordered our meals; after no breakfast we were quite peckish. Three hours later, having talked at great length, bought a few things from the beach salesmen, and been for a walk up to see the river in the gaps between rainstorms, we were getting really very hungry and wondering if perhaps the fish had to be caught first, or they had simply forgotten our order. Even the dogs waiting by our table for scraps were starting to look bored. Never fear, upon returning from a stroll on the beach Mel and I were informed by Sophia that lunch had arrived! In keeping with the meals in Sierra Leone so far, the food was in fact exceptionally good; as one would hope after all the attention that must have been lavished on it.
After lunch we set off on the canoe trip that we had been persuaded to invest in, to see the waterfall "and the crocodiles". In retrospect this seems a little strange, but we completely glossed over the issue of the crocodiles and asked instead about the weather; surely, we thought, we shall be drenched? "No poblem", came the reply; "the tide is going out now, so it won't rain". When challenged as to why he was carrying an umbrella, he did admit that this method of predicting weather was not entirely foolproof.
The river was, due to the season, flowing fast and high. The first section of the river was run by the "Captain" (as he called himself) wading in front of the canoe pulling it. Eventually the river was a little deep for this, and the flow slightly slower, and we set off at a crawl up-river. The scenery was very reminiscent of the Florida everglades with mangrove trees lining both banks; the way that new limbs will occasionally plummet into the water and become new roots, instead of sprouting leaves, is fascinating. Eventually the roar of tumbling water could be made out, loudly enough that we were grateful to be travelling upstream, and not down.
An Englishman abroad
The waterfall was flowing freely with the constant rain. No crocodiles were in sight, thankfully, as we stepped out of the canoe and set off up the waterfall, guided by our Captain. As a true Englishman I elected to take the umbrella which turned out to be a very handy aid for clambering over wet and slippery rocks. Things nearly went sour when Sophia slipped and went into the water; there was no danger to her but she had the camera around her neck! With impressive reflexes, even before she was half way down she had lifted the camera above her head and signaled for me to save it (through a kind of "Whueeerg!" sound). The journey back down the river was much quicker, and after a final drink on the sand to enjoy the brief moment of sunshine that had appeared we headed back to the city in our faithful Nissan.
The sun came out at last
An absolutely FASCINATING recounting of your adventure!! Thanks so much for sharing. More to come, I hope??
We woke up early on Sunday morning, ready for a 6:30am departure from the accommodation, and a 7:30 water taxi across to the airport. It was, of course, raining hard. We had a little trouble leaving the building as the front door was locked from the outside and the night watchman had evidently forgotten that we were leaving early and was still asleep. Eventually we realised that the back door, from the kitchen, was open and that we could leave that way and walk around to the front. One hopes that we'd have worked this out a little faster in the event of a fire. On entering the taxi I was pleased to discover the sunglasses that I had lost the day before; not that it looked like I'd be needing them any time soon.
The office at the water taxi was heaving with people, and after a long wait we secured tickets number 41 and 42. Several boats were being prepared, and we didn't have to wait long before crew members with umbrellas hustled us down the ramps and on board. Despite being much more heavily loaded than on the trip into the city, the engines seemed to be working properly this team and the sea was calm, leading to a much smoother and faster crossing. We were discharged onto the jetty on the other side and packed tightly into a waiting bus that took us to the terminal where we were reunited with our luggage, and settled in to wait for Franklin and his handling team. Outside the rain continued to beat down and we started to wonder if we'd be leaving today...
Posing with the fuelers from Total
Once Franklin arrived he escorted me up to the tower to check out the weather situation. Good news! The rain was already subsiding, and the satellite picture showed that the bad weather was part of a large weather system parked over the coast; once we flew a few miles in land we'd be, relatively speaking, in the clear. Wanting to take advantage of the break in the weather I headed through security to get to the aircraft and prepare for fueling while Sophia went to pay the fees. One of Franklin's less experienced assistants accompanied me, and we ended up stuck in a long queue with British Airways and Arik Air passengers; I later found out that Franklin had taken Sophia through a different route with no waiting at all. My bottle of water caused great consternation as a prohibited item, but as soon as it was explained that we were headed to a private flight then we were waved through without any hassle.
Before starting the aircraft up to taxi for fueling, I emptied the luggage compartment and removed the rear bulkhead. With the leak that had been causing the rear carpet to become soaked, and the non-stop rain, I was concerned about water getting behind the rear bulkhead and affecting the electrical equipment mounted there such as the battery and inverters. To my relief, everything was much drier than before, and the electrical area held no water at all. The leak seemed to have mysteriously fixed itself...
Sophia had had to pay for half of the airport fees in dollars, and so we were running a little low. Given that the fuelers would accept dollars only, we were forced to compromise on fuel and only load 60 litres. This was still enough to get us to Yamoussoukro with a safe margin, but was a little less than I'd hoped to take on board. The fuelers generously gave us an extra 10 litres free before posing with the aircraft for photos; they had not fueled something so small before. As we took the pictures, an ear-splitting roar came from behind us and we turned to see the British Airways flight becoming airbourne just a few 10s of metres from us, London bound. It made us both a little homesick! After another round of photos with Franklin, who had very generously waived his handling fee, we started up and taxied for departure.
Freetown visible on the far shore.
The weather was typical, with rain showers and cumulus clouds all around but no thunderstorms or other hazardous weather to worry about. As usual we were being asked for our ETAs at reporting points along the entire route almost as soon as our wheels had left the ground. There was not too much in the way of other traffic around, although we did listen in to a long conversation with a military aircraft who had departed from Saudi Arabia and was on his way to Ascension Island; ATC were very keen to take down the name, address, and phone number of the operating company. We presumed that this was something to do with sending a bill for their services. It took a good 5 or 6 tries before they were able to read back the spelling of "Riyadh" correctly.
Cloud-scape east of Freetown
Raging rapids in eastern Sierra Leone
Rivers in eastern Sierra Leone
Yamoussoukro is the political, although not the economic, capital of Cote D'Ivoire. We approached the airport from the northwest, crossing a large lake before turning onto finals. Out the left-hand window could be seen the city's most impressive building, the tallest basilica in the world. Tower directed us to park about halfway down the large apron, which was empty apart from an old 737 which had evidently been parked there for a number of years now. The only people around at ground level were the fire brigade, who marshaled us into our parking spot and informed us that we were the only flight of the day. Despite being an international airport, it seemed that the immigration police were not present, and we were told that we should simply accompany the firemen around the end of the terminal building and down the road to try and find a taxi.
The complete lack of flights caused a corresponding lack of taxis. We waited at a crossroads for a while with two of the firemen until finally a taxi came past. It was full, but this didn't stop our friends. One of them managed to squeeze into the vehicle and accompanied it to its drop-off point, to ensure that the driver came back for us! Some time later they re-appeared and we loaded our gear before heading into the town. This city was bu far the most developed we had been to so far in West Africa, with good tarmac roads, very little litter, and a spacious, well designed layout. A problem soon became apparent in that the taxi driver had no idea where our hotel was, but after a couple of phone calls and a little bit of aimless driving around the correct location was identified and we checked in.
We awoke a little later than planned on Monday due to a problem with the alarm and a complete lack of natural light in the hotel room. As it turned out, the taxi that we had arranged to collect us never showed up, so we didn't need to rush. The morning was spent fielding emails and plans for the next few stops, as well as re-planning the following day. Sophia had been invited to meet with the World Health Organisation (WHO) whose offices were in Abidjan, a good three to four hour drive away. It was, however, just over an hour's flight. Some research turned up a flying club at Abidjan airport; an initial telephone call failed due to insufficient French language skills, but a follow up email secured contact details for a senior pilot who spoke good English, leading to an invitation to go and visit them the next day.
Later in the afternoon we decided to head to Yamoussoukro's top tourist attraction, the Basilica. This was constructed in the late 80s by the then-President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, at a cost of around $300 million. Clearly money that could not have been spent anywhere better, in a West African nation. The dimensions are astonishing; 158m tall, with the cross at the top being 9m in height by itself. The area is paved with 7 hectares of imported European marble, and the stained glass windows were imported from France. The basilica will seat 7,000, with room for another 11,000 standing. Flanking the main building are two large villas; one is the rectory, and the other a papal villa which has only ever been used once when the Pope came to consecrate the building in 1990.
Courtyard of the Basilica, with me for scale.
The Basilica, with Sophia for scale.
Included in our entry fee was the services of a local guide, who spoke good English despite his modest protestations to the contrary. He took us first to the main building, explaining that photographs were not permitted inside. However, as soon as we stepped inside the main entrance he suggested we take some photos, and this practice continued throughout the visit. The Basilica was empty save for a handful of cleaning staff, and one or two other small groups of tourists. We were told all about the large columns that ringed the perimeter; apparently these were not structural but instead contained stairs, elevators, or rainwater drainage from the roof. We entered one of the columns, and took an unusual cylindrical elevator up to the gallery which offered a superb view of the interior and dome. A side room at this level contained a model of the Basilica along with photographs of the construction and comparisons of the building with cathedrals in France, and the Basilica in the Vatican.
Views of the Basilica
Having already exhausted the dubious menu in the hotel restaurant, we decided to walk to the Hotel President, only a kilometer from our own lodgings. This hotel was clearly a grand old place in the 70s or 80s and was now a little tired, but still showed signs of its glory days. The restaurant was a circular construction perched at the very top, on the 14th floor, and was surprisingly good quality, with excellent food and drink. We enjoyed treating ourselves a little, still at a much lower price than we'd pay in Europe, before strolling back to our room. Seeing people walking down the road in that area was clearly a little unusual; every taxi that passed hooted their horn at us in an attempt to pick us up.
Dinner at the Hotel President
The Hotel President
Tuesday morning Sophia and I split up for efficiency. We took a taxi from the hotel that first dropped her at the hospital with the equipment to be donated to local hospitals. From there, it took me and the baggage to the airport to organise payment, flight plan, and fuel. Given how easy things were when arriving at the airport, I was not expecting much bureaucracy when leaving, and thankfully I was proved right. On arrival I was taken straight to the airport office where I paid our total fees of $10, and filed the flight plan. I was then allowed to wander out to the aircraft and wait for the fuel truck (or, as it turned out, fuel tractor), with no security or other hassle. Questions about finally having our passports stamped as officially entering the country were waved aside, with a vague "Maybe in Abidjan".
I had originally planned to fuel fully, and avoid the need for fuel in Abidjan. However, it turned out that fuel for flights in-country was 30% more expensive, and additionally our tires were looking rather low on air; I did not want to add more weight than I had to. So, we put in enough fuel to get us to Abidjan where we could air up the tires and take our fill of cheap, export-ready Jet-A. We had been informed that we were, yet again, the only flight of the day at Yamoussoukro and we took our time starting up, taxiing, and doing the engine checks before departure. As luck would have it, the departure instructions that we were given took us right over the city, putting us in the perfect position for views of the Basilica and other interesting buildings that the city has to offer.
The real Yamoussoukro, a stark contrast to the flashy public buildings
Shortly after overflying Yamoussoukro, we were into the clouds for our slow climb up to 11,000ft. This altitude tended to keep us above the majority of the clouds, which led to a smoother and less tiring ride. It also slightly improved the range at which we could send and receive on the radio; in this part of Africa we often found ourselves out of radio contact for quite some time between control centres due to the distances involved. The flight down to Abidjan was not long, and shortly after takeoff we were given clearance "direct to Abidjan", eliminating a dogleg in the route to get onto the standard airway routes and cutting a few minutes from the flight.
A short hop south.
Threading through clouds on the way to Abidjan
We were directed to fly the ILS approach into Abidjan, although with only scattered clouds around we had no need of flight on instruments. After landing we were directed down to the far end of the airport, past the fairly busy commercial ramp to the flying club apron. We squeezed in between two hangars, one of which was full of light aircraft, and Sophia jumped out of the aircraft to find someone who could tell us where to park; moments later we were shutting down and introducing ourselves to the aero club staff.
Approaching Abidjan airport
The staff and members at Abidjan aero club could not have been more helpful. It turned out that Abidjan had the strictest and most impractical security procedures of any airport we had visited so far. We were warned that once we left the aircraft there would be no way to return to it until the following morning, so ensured we had all our luggage with us and bundled into the club car. 5 minutes later, having passed through several gates and checkpoints, we were in the aero club office; a full 10 metres from the aircraft, but the other side of the all-important fence.
After some more introductions we were taken to the main terminal to apply for security badges so that we could get back to the aircraft the following day, and then headed to look for a taxi. After 10 fruitless minutes, our guide from the Aeroclub slapped his forehead. He had just remembered that the taxis were on strike today! Fantastic. We had just over an hour to get to the other side of Abidjan for a meeting with the World Health Organisation. Ever resourceful, our helpful friend drove us a little way down the road to some sort of taxi depot, and negotiated us a seat on a car that was headed to another depot in town. We had by now become thoroughly confused with what taxis worked, what taxis didn't, where they went, and so on; there were several different colours with different rules applying to them. It seemed that while none were available that would take us directly to our destination, the inter-depot taxi could take us to somewhere that cars were running normally.
Thus followed a long, hot and cramped ride packed into a full taxi with other passengers and a lot of luggage. At $1 for a 30 minute ride, we couldn't complain. At the next depot our driver showed us which, differently coloured taxi to get into and made sure it would take us to the proper destination. We were dropped off, luckily before the other two passengers, at the WHO 5 minutes before our meeting time.
After passing through security, who held onto our passports for safekeeping, we were escorted upstairs to a meeting room. We were expecting an informal meeting with the doctor that Sophia had been emailing, so it came as something of a surprise to find ourselves in a large boardroom with about 8 smartly suited men and women from different organisations, all looking forward to a high powered working session - in French. Suddenly the job of pilot, rather than project medical lead, felt all the more attractive. Sophia applied herself bravely to the task, and did an admirable job of presenting the project to the French-speaking audience.
At the offices of the WHO
Meeting completed, we were invited to join some of the attendees back at the offices of their charity, "Sauvons 2 Vies" (Saving two lives). As the name suggests, this was a maternal health charity who were heavily involved in the training of midwives, amongst other activities. They told us a little about how their charity works, and the lady in charge was then kind enough to perform a video interview for us to contribute to Sophia's next video diary for the sponsors of the project. Finally, they were even kind enough to drive us to a nearby hotel which they recommended highly, and arranged to come and collect us the following morning for the drive out to the airport. No more trying to negotiate the bizarre Abidjan taxi system in the middle of a strike, thank goodness!
The Manhatten Suites hotel was not far from the office. There were only three other cars in the car park when our little convoy turned up. Our hosts escorted us inside to organise rooms, which were very reasonably priced compared to the large chain hotels, and did not leave us until they'd inspected the rooms we were assigned to ensure they were up to standard. As we were checking in, an Ivorian gentlemen introduced himself in perfect English as the hotel owner; it turned out that he lived in New York, and travelled back to Abidjan a few times a year to check on his hotel, otherwise running it from afar alongside his American IT business. Happy to hear about the project, and to be able to speak English for a while, he invited us to join him at the restaurant later that evening where he would treat us to a specially prepared meal.
The aftermath of dinner for three
Quite a spread was put on for dinner, with a wide variety of local dishes laid out buffet style for us. The hotel owner, Ibza, was quite the conversationalist. Topics ranged from his past relationships to his proposed solar panel business ventures, through personal fitness and West African and international politics. As well as his IT business and hotel, he was an instructor and salesman for a piece of American designed exercise equipment, which he had his staff bring out after dinner to give us a demonstration. Sophia let slip that she had run marathons in the past, and was roped into a 6am exercise session the following morning, much to her delight.
This is the most epic trip Ive ever seen. Keep up the hard work.
I joined Sophia and the owner, Ibza, for breakfast after their exercise session. Our friends from Sauvons 2 Vies turned up a little later, and in a change of plans it was decided that Ibza would drive us to the airport as the others did not speak very much English, and our French still left a little to be desired for casual conversation. The route to the airport went the long way around the city's lagoon, but Ibza explained that when the new bridge was built, by the end of 2014, the trip from airport to his hotel would be cut from 30 minutes to less than 10. He was looking forward to this a great deal, but bemoaned the disruption that the construction was causing in the meantime.
Second breakfast at the aero-club.
We had a second breakfast of croissants at the aero club, before our helper from the previous day came to pick us up. First stop was the security office to collect our one-day temporary passes, and then the airport office to pay the fees and file the flight plan. It seemed that we had turned up when the new guys were on shift; it took them more than an hour to simply produce the bill and enter the flight plan into the system. One guy even managed to lose the flight plan form somewhere in the three metre gap between the counter and his computer terminal. We chatted to a local pilot who was in there a the same time, and he mentioned that this kind of performance was unfortunately standard for Abidjan. Eventually, after delaying our filed takeoff time to take account of the incompetence in the office, we were taken back to the security gate near the flying club and after a thorough inspection were allowed through. Fuel came remarkably quickly, and before long we were departing south over the coast before turning on course.
Heading north this time, into Burkina Faso
The flight up to Burkina Faso took a little over three hours. Air traffic control at Abidjan tower were busy and flustered, so we were pleased to be handed over to departure control and cleared to proceed directly on route. The flight was uneventful; we were by now adept at guessing which reporting points we'd be asked to provide estimate for, and having them ready. Occasionally we'd even pass them before they asked, which seemed to speed things up.
We followed the airways northwest, before leaving them to head due north to the Burkina Faso border and cut off a large dog leg that would otherwise have been required. This plan had been approved and we'd been cleared to fly the route, but shortly after leaving the airway we were told that we had to rejoin it, and take the long way around. I asked why and was told that it was because the crossing point we had selected required a higher altitude than our 11,000 feet; 14,000 feet higher, to be precise. This was obviously not going to happen so we reluctantly turned west again, only to be told a few minutes later that we were cleared direct from our present position to destination with no climb required. Strange, but we weren't going to argue!
Runway 24 was in use, but we were cleared for the ILS runway 6 approach. When querying tower to confirm that we were expected to circle to land on 24, it became apparent that he'd forgotten that the wind favoured 24, and just gave us the approach that was lined up with the direction we were coming from. He agreed that yes, a circle to land would work nicely, and that we should do that please; the weather was fine, and we flew a visual circuit to landing and parked near the terminal, once again the only aircraft around.
Our first, and as it turned out only, visitors were a pair of policemen. They had different uniforms so I assume they were from different branches of government, but both had forms asking for exactly the same information. They were friendly, helpful and welcoming; one of them led us into the private aircraft arrivals hall, which we were surprised to find existed. It was brand new, plush, and air conditioned, more reminiscent of a top jet centre in the US - perfect! We settled onto the leather sofas to fill in our arrival cards and the same policeman took care of the immigration formalities and then led us to the car park where several members of the local medical community were waiting to welcome us to Bobo Dioulasso, and drive us to the hotel that they had arranged.
Our hosts could not have been kinder. They stayed to ensure that we were settled into the room satisfactorily, and then spent time with Sophia to talk through the activities for the next two days. They then left us to rest, as they were sure we'd be tired after our flight; they were right! A couple of hours later, the chief doctor returned and drove us to a local restaurant for dinner; he even offered to come back to collect us afterwards, but given the short distance we protested that we'd walk. We almost wished we hadn't, as it turned out; even on the short walk back to the hotel we were accosted by people hassling us for money. One of the street traders, who at least did have merchandise to sell, besieged the hotel for the next couple of days and even came in a few times to harass Sophia at the dinner table another night!
The next day, Sophia spent the day teaching at the main hospital while I remained at the hotel to catch up on work. In the evening we discovered that there was a very well stocked wine shop directly opposite the hotel! Sophia wasted no time in acquiring a bottle, and even two glasses to go with it, and it added to an enjoyable and relaxing evening meal at the hotel.
Sophia was delighted to find a wine shop.
Fabulous narrative. Can’t wait for each new part of this incredible adventure.
Very well done and super interesting!
On Friday morning the plan was to go to a local, field hospital away from the main facilities. I accompanied Sophia as the visit sounded interesting, and I could hopefully help out with photography and general errands! Our drive out to the hospital took us past the old Bobo Dioulasso railway station - apparently these days the line was used exclusively for freight. As we passed, a long goods train was trundling along with a load of containers, bound for who-knows-where.
The hospital was a large, widely scattered collection of buildings with vegetable gardens in between. They told us that they had planned it to this way to allow plenty of room for future expansion, and with high electricity prices it was cheaper to run multiple small buildings due to the greater ease of using natural light to illuminate them. A meeting room had been prepared for Sophia's presentation, and 15 or more mid-wives (and male mid-wives, who they called "maletricians") were in attendance. It's not easy giving a presentation in a foreign language but Sophia coped admirably, delivering instruction on the main causes of maternal collapse with a little translation help from our hosts. This was followed up with a practical session using the simulation mannequin, which was well received.
Training over, we were given a tour of the maternity unit. One stand-alone structure housed the majority of the facilities, with the operating theatres in a second block connected by a covered walkway. While basic, the facilities had evidently had effort put into them to keep them clean, and the patients were treated with much more respect than they seemed to have been in Morocco.
Leaving Bobo Dioulasso airport was just as easy as arriving at it. Our hosts drove us out, arriving a little after 9 in the morning, and we very swiftly passed through security in the once again empty private terminal. While Sophia's medical friends waited in the lounge, we headed for the tower for the formalities. After a few fruitless minutes trying to gain entry into the locked building, someone pointed out that there was a new tower a few hundred meters futher up, just out of site around the corner of the old building. Off we went, and found this one much easier to gain access to. The staff were not quite as quick and efficient as the policeman at the terminal and it took almost an hour before the fees were paid and the flight plan filed. This carried out, it was time to fuel up; we had to taxi across the apron to the fueling point. The Jet A truck is simply a large pump that connects to an underground fuel system, and pumps said fuel into the aircraft.
Fueling in Bobo
Fully fueled, it was time to set off on the 460 nautical mile flight to Accra, on the southern coast of Ghana. The first leg of our IFR flight plan took us on a direct heading for Tamale, the main city in the north of Ghana. After this, the filed route had us turning south directly for Accra. ATC in Burkina Fasa handed us over to Accra North at the border, and after a while we managed to make contact; as usual, flying at low level made it difficult to establish radio communications when far away.
South to Accra
Village in northern Ghana
Over northern Ghana
Once we did get in touch, and Accra North established our position, they asked us if we could accept a routing of "Direct to Accra". This was a direct leg to our destination of a little over 300 nautical miles, which would save a good twenty minutes of flying time; great! For the next few hours we cruised along directly for Accra, finally being given radar vectors to fly an ILS approach down through the broken clouds. As usual we became visual with the airport far out on the approach and were cleared in for a smooth landing. A "follow me" car led us down to the GA parking at the far end of the airport, and our handlers from Aerogem Aviation arrived to meet us as we shut down.
For some reason Aerogem had decided that the best way to transport us would be with a tiny car already packed with several of their staff. We just managed to squeeze ourselves, and our baggage, into the vehicle and rode in cramped fashion to the terminal. We made it through the building very quickly, with no-one terribly interested in examining our paperwork or luggage, and settled in outside arrivals to wait for our host, the mother of a colleague of Sophia's in the UK.
Final approach at Accra
After a while she arrived, and we piled into her black SUV. The drive to her house took about 20 minutes, and ended up in a fairly new but evidently wealthy neighbourhood. The houses were large, and highly fenced with security guards at the gates of each. Our hosts, a doctor and his wife, ran a clinic in a poorer part of town and did well enough out of the business to have sent all their children to private schools and foreign universities, as well as building a lovely home in a good part of town; healthcare is evidently a lucrative business in Ghana when managed well.
We sat and enjoyed fresh fruit juice on the patio, and talked about the journey so far. Mrs Q and Sophia swapped stories about Barbara, the daughter and mutual friend. In the background our conversation was accompanied by a loud soundtrack of modern music; apparently from a sports complex nearby that played it from morning until late at night. As I made my way to bed for an early night after the chef had served a quite excellent chicken dinner, I was thankful that my room was on the far side of the house!
I apologise for the pause in this; I have been spending all my free time completing my new website, and will also be traveling out of Iraq over the next few days. Story to resume soon!