On the fly

I have early memories of going to the Masai Mara for picnics.  We’d step onto the hot tarmac apron at the bustling Wilson Airport, covering our ears against the roar of small aircraft lifting unsteadily into the dusty air.  I remember being lifted up to walk along the narrow roughened “safe bit” that ran along the wing near the body of the little plane and the smell of over-heated plastic in the cramped cabin.  In the tail-dragger you were always tilted back in your seat while on the ground, as if ready to be slung like a catapult. As we sat at the end of the runway with the brakes on and the engine straining, Dad would conduct a series of rapid-fire communications with himself (flaps, check...rudder, check...) and then with the tower to request permission to take off.  At that point, we’d be thrust back in our seats, hearts in our mouths, while the white lines raced beneath us as we shot down the runway. Wilson borders Nairobi National Park and we would sometimes spot rhino or giraffe as we gained height above the trees.  There were always little white scatterings of bones to testify to some lion’s leftovers.  Then we’d be heading over the Ngong Hills across the arid floor of the Great Rift Valley towards the Mara’s grassy plains. Since those early picnics, I’ve been privileged to travel many times in small planes across Africa and it is always just the most intense and liberating experience.  Admittedly there has been the odd bumpy ride where the pilot gets more entertainment out of the rapidly greening faces behind him than the passengers but for the most part it’s just amazing. Just imagine the Namibian Skeleton Coast from a few hundred feet up.  Or the Okavango Delta fanning out green against the sands of the Kalahari.  Or the turquoise archipelago off Vilanculos in Mozambique, Victoria Falls from the “Flight of Angels”.... Rather like that eerie picture of the earth taken from space, they take on a rather surreal a giant piece of art. The reason I got thinking about this is that I recently met the luckiest man on earth whose job it is to guide and pilot flying safaris across southern Africa – from Namibia to Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and even Angola.  With his few lucky travellers, he glides across some of the most spectacular sights on this earth.  In between small camps and lodges where you can explore with your feet firmly on the ground, you can get the bird’s eye view of some of the wildest and most breathtaking places in the world. Much is written about the quality of game drives, walks and game viewing by boat but flying adds a whole new dimension to Africa.  Click here to know more.

Posted by: Amanda Mitchell

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