Entry 7: Island of Principe
"It's Africa". How many times have we heard this from both locals in many counties and Ex-pats from all around the globe? A continent of beauty and diversity beyond expectation. From lions, the true leaders of the animal kingdom eating Cape Buffalo, to interesting customs invented to enhance ‘local’ income!
Basking on a beach overlooking a sandy bay, on the windward side of a narrow peninsular, on the magnificent Island of Principe we were reflecting on our trip up the west coast of Africa. "It's Africa" springs readily to mind.
Another early morning departure from Stellenbosch, heading into Namibia via Uppington, an 800 mile trip. The other two aircraft ask the air traffic controller if they can fly around the Cape Bay Area to view Cape Town from the air. He readily agrees, however he also reports that the area is shrouded in an early morning sea fog. The sea temperature is 15 degrees and morning mists are very common. So we all set off on a direct course for Uppington to refuel and clear custom before flying along the Skeleton Coast of Namibia to Walvis Bay, our first real stop on the northbound leg. Following the rectification in Johannesburg of our earlier technical difficulties, everything is crossed for a safe onward journey.
Arriving at Uppington, refuelling and clearing customs we take off for the Skeleton Coast and its amazing sand dunes.
All is going well until red crosses and alarms start to sound out, the autopilot won't disengage and we are heading south not north. Trying to analyse the situation, and with autopilot on, we ‘quietly’ fly onto Namibia. Eventually the autopilot disengages, but will not re engage, so instead we decide that hand flying all the way back to the UK would be a good experience.
From about 50 nautical miles from the coast we see what appears to be large areas of red clouds. As we get closer, it becomes apparent what we can see is the sand dunes of the Skeleton Coast, some as high as 1,500 feet. We fly onto Walvis Bay where a second surprise awaits us. After landing we stop the engine and run an electronics diagnostic. All is working fine. It's Africa, it's the temperature, it's the southern hemisphere, just some of the many reasons put forward as to why things work and then don't. They are working for now, so we decide to carry on and see what’s next in store!
A warm “Welcome” from a friendly (and efficient!) group of local Customs and Immigration officials. Most of us are all travelling on airline crew passes and therefore do not need visas for each country we visit. However the Polish government and the Namibians had a conflict recently, the outcome being our internationally agreed airline crew visa granting free travel did not extend to Polish members of our group. Geatano, our group leader, spent the next 2 hours or so trying to sort this out. Unfortunately the lovely lady immigration official was not in agreement and the group left the airport minus 3 polish friends who subsequently spent the night at the airport before departing for Botswana the following morning. The rest of the group departed for the arranged hotel, where towels, pillows, mattresses, pizzas, and the all-important cold beers where requisitioned. Gaetano set off for the very small hot airport terminal to refresh Greg and his friends.
In the morning we met up with the rest of the group for a quick and efficient departure to Mokito (only a 2 hour delay!) whilst Greg and his friends headed off to Botswana. Our new challenge as we travelled through Angola has now become fuel supplies. We need to use Avgas, which is a high octane aviation fuel. There is none in Angola. However pre-arranged for us was 2 drums to be used in Ongangwa, Angola. Only, upon arrival the fuel drums were nowhere to be found. After much pleading with the local ‘Mr Fixit’ we achieved one drum to load. The need for fuel is paramount in our planned itinerary therefore it’s back to the drawing board for planning the rest of our trip. We still have another 600 miles to go before our next fuel stop in Luanda.
Lubanga, Sumbe, and Luanda all prove to be full of beautiful sights and the local people could not be more helpful. Even the airport official, of which there are many, were still smiling after 4 hours of paperwork. Geatano (our tour leader) is doing an amazing job running from one office to another attempting to keep everyone happy. Although all this peacekeeping did cost me my new hat to one customs official who then proceeded to dance the Waltz on her way back to her office! We are all back together again on the Island of Principe, 150 miles off the coast of Gabon. This is a small island paradise with fantastic white beaches, warm seas, cool breeze, air conditioned rooms and cold beer. Tomorrow we start heading further north, we have just crossed back over the equator, into Cameroon. Next we’re heading onto Chad, Algeria and finally France.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of adventures… It's Africa after all.