Flying and Travels

Category: Africa Page 1 of 2

Namib desert

Onguma was the end of the first half of trip, where the focus was on animals. We were now starting the second half, where the landscape was playing the major role and the first leg was a flight to Hartmann Valley with a refueling stop in Ondawanga. Landing at a dirt strip in the middle of nowhere, in a desert, with imposing mountains around was surrealistic – the airstrip had a toilet with running water, soap and the guide who greeted us already had cold drinks and some snacks ready for us.

Hartmann Valley airstrip

We drove for an hour to Serra Cafema lodge, which is located at the Kunane river, a border between Angola and Namibia.

This was the farthest we were from departure and the most remote. The lodge has eight bungalows over the river with a large bedroom and a living space.

As elsewhere, the staff is incredibly attentive, and since everything is included, if you ask for something and they have it, you will get it. When you arrive, you are always greeted by all the staff singing welcome, cold towels, and a refreshment drink. When you leave, there is an a cappella goodbye song.

In the afternoon, we went for a boat ride on the river. The blue mountains on the Angola side, yellow and gold of the desert and the green vegetation along the river create an incredible contrast. Our sundowner was actually on the Angola side of the river, I suppose it was an illegal entry without immigration control!

Next morning, we boarded ATVs for some fun driving over the dunes and climbed up to see incredible views over the Kunanu river, which is flowing down in a deep canyon.

In the afternoon, we visited a nearby village of Himba people. The Himba have clung to their traditions; the women are noted for their intricate hairstyles which and traditional jewelry, and men and woman wear few clothes apart from a loin cloth or goat skinned mini skirt, they rub their bodies with red ochre and fat to protect themselves from the sun which also gives their appearance a rich red color.

I would love to stay one more day in Serra Cafema, this would be an ideal place for a 3-night stay in the middle of the trip. However, we had to follow our itinerary and the next morning we departed for an hour drive back to the airplanes, take off and low-level overflight of the river and the lodge towards the ocean. We followed the coast at a few hundred feet southbound. At that altitude, we could see thousands of seals sunbathing on the beach and I was struck by the realization that we are hundreds of miles from any civilization. Yes, we had PLBs and satellite messengers to send distress messages in case of problems, but it was far for certain that anybody would come to our rescue in that remote part of the world if we had any problems. This was Skeleton Coast.

Bushmen of the Namibian interior called the region “The Land God Made in Anger”, while Portuguese sailors once referred to it as “The Gates of Hell”. On the coast, the upwelling of the cold Benguela current gives rise to dense ocean fog for much of the year. The winds blow from land to sea, and rainfall rarely exceeds 0.4 inches annually. In the days before engine-powered ships and boats, it was possible to get ashore through the surf, but impossible to launch from the shore. The only way out was by going through a marsh hundreds of miles long and only accessible via a hot and arid desert.

Finally, we reached Hoanib River dry bed, and we followed it inland towards Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, which we overflew before continuing towards the airstrip. I did a low-level pass to check the strip and winds and was relieved to see cars and people waiting for us. Half an hour later, the camp staff welcomed us with a song, cold towels, and drinks. After lunch, we retired for a siesta to wait out the worst of the heat.

I was thinking why somebody would build a camp in a place like that, and it occurred to me that the answer was the river. With a desert all around, animals are naturally confined to the river and while at that time of the year it was dry, we could still see lions, elephants, and giraffes. A sundowner at the top of a hill offered us an unspoiled 360° view around.

Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp illustrates why the prices at such lodges are so high. There is more staff than guests, the place is so remote that it takes full day for a supply truck to drive dirt roads from Windhoek once a week with supplies, before continuing for another two days drive to Serra Cafema and everything needs to be brought in.

While the camp had fuel in drums, we already had a pre-arranged drum waiting for us in Twyfelfontaine, an airstrip 95 miles to southeast. We launched there two days later, flying a low pass over the camp first. Landing at FYTF we found a similar situation as in Shindi, the airstrip was there, but nothing much more. In fact, there was a road nearby and after a while a car passed, then another, which stopped to ask us if we needed anything. We explained that we were supposed to get fuel there and he called the guy who had fuel, who showed fifteen minutes later. He said he didn’t know anything about pre-arranged fuel, but luckily, he did have a drum of avgas and he would bring it. I have no doubts that Andrew from Bushpilots did order the fuel, but again, this is Africa. Our mistake was not to call the fuel people before departing from Hoanib, we didn’t even have the number. In Africa, you should always call the next stop to advise about arrival and inquire about fuel. Half an hour later the guy showed up again with a drum on a truck and a manual pump, but no metering device. We used dipsticks to split it more or less equally between three airplanes, each taking 66 liters from a 200-liter drum, or little more than 17 gallons.

This was enough to get us to Swakopmund 140 miles south. I was a bit embarrassed approaching FYSM, two miles out I still couldn’t make the runway. It is simply delineated by white markers but otherwise has the same color as the surrounding desert, so it wasn’t obvious to see. We quickly topped off and continued southbound to follow the coast.

Abeam the Tsauchab River dry bed we turned inland towards the Kulala Lodge airstrip. It was hot and bumpy, we were tired, so we flew there directly planning to do sightseeing overflight on our way back. A guide waited for us at the strip with cold drinks, which was a godsend given the temperature and we embarked on a fifteen minutes’ drive to the lodge.

The next morning, we departed for the main visit, in fact the main reason we came back to Sossusvlei. In 2017, after completion of our flying tour of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, we flew commercial to Windhoek, rented a car, and drove to Sossusvlei. A local outfit was offering a scenic overflight of the area, which we did, and this is when I promised myself that we would return to the area, this time flying ourselves. That promise was fulfilled 6 years later.

Formed 55 million years ago, the Namib Desert is the oldest desert on the planet. The dry bed of the Tsauchab River is surrounded by orange and red sand dunes, the highest of which, the Big Daddy dune, is 325 meters (1,070 feet) high, and this is what we planned to climb the next morning. There is a 66 km road from Sessreim gate to a Sossusvlei area, but the last 6 km is open only to 4 WD vehicles. We stopped closest to Big Daddy and walked about a mile to the start of the climb. As soon as we started climbing, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to go all the way up. You are climbing a sand path and for each step up, you slide half a step down. After the first half an hour, I gave up and decided to walk back to the parking lot.

If you do decide to climb Big Daddy, you should start early in the morning, leaving the camp before sunrise, be in excellent physical shape and bring plenty of water. The three other people in our group continued the climb and got to about ¾ to the summit. You go up following the ridge of the dune, in fact I doubt it would even be possible to climb the face, but the descent consists of sliding down the face, all the way to Deadvlei, a white clay pan with dead camel thorn trees. The trees have been dead for 800 years, but the extremely dry climate prevents decomposition. I walked around the dunes to Deadvlei to snap few pictures of the very famous landscape.

The next morning it was time to start flight back.  Sossusvlei was our last 2-nights stop and it was a long 1,000 miles flight back to Wonderboom. The first leg was the most spectacular, flying low over the valley, below the dune summits, we could admire the landscape from 200’ AGL. I couldn’t climb Big Daddy, but I did overfly it, which was certainly easier. We continued towards the ocean, hoping to see the spectacular coast I remembered from the last visit. The sand drops about 100-200’ feet with a steep incline to the ocean and if you had a misfortune to wreck a ship in the area, you could swim to the tiny beach at low tide, but you could never climb up the incline. Unfortunately, that day, the coast was covered with low level clouds and we couldn’t see it. We continued southbound towards Luderitz asking ourselves a question how the weather was there. Flying an approach wasn’t really an option given airplane instrumentation and the closest alternates were too far given our fuel. Dropping through the clouds over the ocean would be putting excessive faith in the QNH (altimeter) setting. We ended with a much less stressful option, simply calling Windhoek Information, and asking about the weather in Luderitz, which was severe clear. Even at low altitude, radio coverage over Namibia is very good.

We topped it off in Luderitz, but we had a little trouble calling to file a flight plan, which was mandatory given we were crossing back to South Africa. Very nice people in the operation office escorted me to the tower, where I could meet the controller and file our flight plans. The long flight to Upington was uneventful and uninteresting. After landing, we quickly topped off, completed immigration and customs formalities without having to remove bags from the airplane and flew another 50 miles to Dundi lodge for an overnight. The lodge is next to Augrabies Falls, so we drove there to have a look. It was OK, but nothing that would demand a detour. The last segment of the trip included a stop in Kuruman to refuel and a repeat of past scenarios. A deserted airport and no cell phone service. Luckily, a car showed up curious what that noise was about and he called the person responsible for fuel, who showed up half an hour later. Credit card machine was out of service, and we paid cash in USD. The other two Cessnas climbed to 9,500 on the 280 miles last leg back to Wonderboom, but ours steadily refused to pass 7,500. Finally, after few updrafts we got there also and enjoyed smooth 130 knots sailing back.

Landing at FAWB was uneventful and we completed our 3,000 miles, 32 hours flight time tour around Botswana and Namibia. It felt as if we left Wonderboom just yesterday, the time passes very quickly with so many things to do. It was a wonderful trip, a wonderful group of people and we didn’t have any unpleasant surprises.

Few lessons learned if you are thinking about doing a trip like that.

  1. Cessna 182 is an ideal aircraft for flying in Africa. If you are used to a Cirrus with all automation, autopilot, and speed you will need to reset your expectations.
  2. On the flip side, our trip was about 1/3 of the price of a Cirrus trip organized by Flight Academy, which was shorter (4 stops vs 7), and we stayed in top notch luxury lodges.
  3. Navigation is mainly direct-to on GPS, with panel mounted portable GPS receivers and iPad with Skydemon.
  4. Always call ahead to the next stop to advise about ETA and ask about fuel at each refueling stop.
  5. You should know how to file a paper flight plan, including everything in the Remarks section for border crossing.
  6. Outside Johannesburg, radio is simple. At Wonderboom, you need a detailed briefing to know what to expect.
  7. Botswana doesn’t require permits, but Namibia does and you need to arrange that ahead of time.
  8. Cell phone reception may be variable, a satellite phone would be convenient.
  9. Travelling in a group, even if small, is much more fun. It is lonely up there in the middle of the sky hundreds of miles from any civilization.
  10. It is hot in November. Lodges are slightly less expensive, but the temperature is much higher than in winter.

This was our third trip. I would love to come back, but we have still so many other places to fly in the world. If I burned Jet-A, I would plan an Africa circumnavigation, but it is a bit complicated with avgas.

Enjoy this compilation video from Namibia

Botswana and game rides

We arrived to Johannesburg on Wednesday evening to meet with our friends, who will be flying with us that epic adventure. It has been a tradition since previous trips to start the afternoons with a gin and tonic and we immediately resumed that activity, when we met at Opikopi Guest House.

The next morning, we drove to Wonderboom airport for airplane checkout and a refresher on local procedures. South Africa has a vibrant GA community and Wonderboom is a very busy airport. Local procedures and phraseology are different than in the US and it took me some time to recall how to do and say things from four years ago. For example, on the first call to ATC all you say is: Wonderboom  ground, ZSPWC, good morning and you wait for the call back ZSPWC Wonderboom, good day, go ahead to say your request: ZSPWC is a Cessna 182, 2 crew, 5 hours of fuel, parked at south hangars, request taxi instruction for a flight to Pretoria general flying area 1, elapsed time 1.5 hours.  You first get departure instructions PWC runway 29 in use, QNH 1020, after departure right turn route 2 miles west of the power station. You read it back and get taxi instructions Taxi foxtrot, enter 06, turn right up bay 29, report ready for departure. When you tell them you are ready after runup, they tell you to taxi on bravo, report at holding point runway 29 and then switch you to the tower. Finally!

Coupled with South African accent, the unfamiliar phraseology is initially intimidating, but the controllers are nice and helpful.

When you fly from a controlled airport to a controlled airport, you need a flight plan. Our first leg on Friday was from Wonderboom to Polokwane, which is an Airport of Entry, to clear immigration and customs. South Africa has a website, where theoretically you can file flight plans. Half of the time, you can’t log in to that website, the other it times out when you try to file anything. It is truly completely useless. By a stroke of incredible luck, we managed to file flight plans to Polokwane, but this was the only time during the whole trip when it worked.

The chart above is from SkyDemon, a very nice EFB that we were using to fly in Africa. It has good VFR charts, although user interface is very different from Foreflight I am used to.

We were told that we needed to take all the bags from the airplane in Polokwane to clear customs. We did, but if I had to do it again, I would just take one light bag. We entered the terminal, paid landing fees, and went through security including the X-ray machine and emptying the pockets to be able to exit it back to our airplanes.

After trying to file our flight plans online, I finally called their equivalent of FSS by phone and filed it that way. It was necessary since this was an international flight to Limpopo Valley in Botswana.

FBLV is located right after the border, there is a small open area for arrivals, we paid our landing fees, got the passports stamped with a smile by a very bored immigration officer and boarded a Landcruiser for an hour drive to Mashatu Euphoria lodge. It was incredibly hot, likely about 45° (113°F) and it literally hurt when the hot air was hitting your face during the drive in an open car.

Euphoria Villas is a high-end lodge with 8 luxury villas. When I posted on COPA forums about our experience, somebody asked me if it is a good as “Four Seasons”. The huge difference is that you have only a few people in the lodge, the first night it was only us, and the staff that are going out of their way to make sure that we have anything we want. It is all inclusive, lodging, meals, drinks and game drives and it is incredibly beautiful, situated over the Mali river. At this time of the year, the river is dry, but as we went on game drives, we saw an incredible number of animals. Elephants, giraffes, impalas, lions, leopards, cheetah, ostrich, we stopped the car every five minutes and all you could hear was the click-click of cameras. This was our third trip to Africa, and except for Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania, this was the most incredible game sighting we ever had. The next day, we had two more game drives and I started to be concerned that I only had one SD card in my camera.

The typical day at a lodge starts with a wakeup call at 4:30 am. You come over for coffee and a light breakfast at 5:00 am and leave the lodge for a game drive, while it is not yet incredibly hot. You stop somewhere during the drive, for a coffee and a snack and come back around 11:00 am for lunch and siesta time during the hottest time of the day. At 4:30 pm, you have the “tea time”, which in our case should really be called “gin and tonic time” and board the cars for the afternoon drive. When the sun sets down around 7 pm, you have “sundowner” drinks in a spot with incredible views before returning to the lodge for dinner.

Sundowner drink

It cools down after sunset and it is an incredible experience to have dinner outside under stars with very little light around.

The following day we launched for our second leg. We first did a low-level overflight of Limpopo River, which is the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe. I flew at about 100’ AGL over the river dry bed, knowing there is exactly zero risk of any power lines or bridges crossing the river.

Limpopo River dry bed

We continued to Matante airport to refuel. This was fast, we filed a paper flight plan in the office, but the landing fee office was closed on weekend, so we just left our information for invoicing. The next leg had us flying to Shinde lodge airstrip, which is in Okavango delta, a vast inland delta formed where Okavango River flows into a tectonic trough, which prevents it from continuing toward a sea. All the water reaching the delta evaporates or transpires.

Before leaving Mashatu, we called Shinde camp to update our ETA to 2 pm. We landed a bit early, at 1:30 pm and there was nobody on the strip to meet us. At 2:00 pm, there still was nobody and we started to formulate backup plans. You must remember, this is Africa, and you just do not start randomly walking through the grass, a pride of lions might enjoy you for dinner. We thought we would take one airplane, take off, look for the lodge and buzz it to alert them about our arrival. The backup to backup was to walk a dirt road which seemed to lead to some human structures. Of course, there was no cell phone reception, I sent text messages by satellite to the Bushpilot office in Pretoria so that they could call the camp, but I didn’t get any reply. Finally, as I was walking to the airplane, a car arrived. It turns out that they forgot about our arrival. It is Africa after all.

Waiting at Shinde airstrip

Shinde is a tented camp located on an island in the northern part of Okavango delta. Of course, “tent” is a misnomer, while the structure is wooden with fabric walls, the interior is luxurious with a large bedroom, in-suite bathroom with indoor and outdoor showers.

Shindi tented camp

That same afternoon we went for a game drive, and while we saw less animals than in Mashatu, the scenery was much different – it was more like savannah, with tall green grass and trees.

The next morning, we were awakened at 5 am by the delicious smell of fresh coffee brought to our tent. After light breakfast we launched to visit the delta in a makaro, a wooden boat traditionally made from a tree trunk, although now fiberglass is more common. It is pushed by a wooden stick because the water is never deep.

Boating in makaro

The routine was similar as in Mashatu, early wake up, light breakfast, morning ride with coffee and biscuits stop, return to camp, lunch, siesta, afternoon “tea” followed by another ride ending by a “sundowner” drinks, return to camp and dinner. During our afternoon ride in a power boat, we saw hippos soaking in the water. While hippos are herbivores, they don’t hesitate to attack when threatened and they can run at 20 km/h in the water and over 40 km/h on land.

The next day we had a long day of flying, first a short hop to Maun, to clear customs and immigration since we were leaving Botswana followed by a 3-hour flight to Rundu to enter Namibia, followed by a 1.5-hour flight to our destination, Onguma the Fort in the Onguma game reserve. We took one medium suitcase with us out of the airplane to customs, to show good faith, but I have an impression that nobody really cared. We filed a flight plan on paper in the office, since we were crossing the border and took fuel. While it was not strictly necessary to refuel both in Maun and in Rundu, the general rule of flying in Africa is that if there is fuel, you top it off. As much as Maun customs didn’t really care about suitcases, they did ask us to bring all of them to the office in Rundu. I had an impression that people there were embarrassed to have to ask us to haul our stuff inside, but they were told by their supervisors this was mandatory. They helped us carry suitcases and the inspection was purely for the show, simply sending luggage through an X-ray machine. Since we were flying domestic in Namibia and to uncontrolled field, no flight plan was necessary.

In the afternoon, it was time for a game drive in Onguma reserve followed by the traditional “sundowner”. Within a few minutes of leaving the lodge, we saw a pride of lions resting in shade, then giraffes and elephants.

The following day, we went for a morning game ride to Etosha National Reserve but decided to stay in the lodge in the afternoon to rest. Our general plan was half a day of flying, and one and a half days in a lodge, with two nights at each location. This is an intense schedule and if I were to do it again, it would throw in one or two 3-night stays to have more rest.

Onguma Fort

Onguma the Fort is a rather weird lodge, it looks more like a hotel in Morocco, but the suites were exceptional. We left airplanes at the strip in an open hangar with cement floor, so we couldn’t tie them down, we only put in chokes. That night, we had a splendid thunderstorm show with associated high winds and I was somewhat concerned about airplanes being blown out.

The following morning, we launched for a flight to Hartmann Valley with a refueling stop in Ondawanga. This was the end of the first half of the trip, where the main focus were the animals and game drives, and the beginning of the second half, where the scenery of Namib desert was taking the prime spot.

Africa, three times a charm

There is no question that I fell in love with Africa, perhaps more specifically with flying in Africa. During our first trip in 2017, we flew a Cessna 182 from South Africa to Zimbabwe and Botswana back to Johannesburg. We wanted to continue to Namibia, but originally it was supposed to be in a 172 and the limited range made it too sketchy, so we decided to hop over to Windhoek commercial, rent a car there, and drive. I of course managed to find an outfit offering scenic overflights of incredible dunes in Sossusvlei, and the views we’ve seen made me promise myself we would return.

We flew again in 2019 from South Africa, through Mozambique and Tanzania to Kenya, which was truly a trip of a lifetime and that just reinforced the idea that we have to come back.

So here we are again, impatient to fly back. Johannesburg is at UTC+2, in other words, 10 hours ahead of us in San Francisco, I thought it would be prudent to arrive a few days early to acclimate and we wanted to see Cape Town again, so we are flying there from the US and staying 3 days in a wonderful Cellars-Hohenort hotel in the Cape Town wine country, before taking commercial flight to Johannesburg. Together with 2 nights in Opikopi Guest Lodge in Pretoria, we will have a full five days to adapt. Click on the map below to see more details.

Our itinerary will take us from Johannesburg, Wonderboom airport to Mashatu game reserve in Botswana. We have to stop in Polokwane to exit South Africa, luckily Limpopo Valley airport in Botswana is an Airport of Entry. Our plan is to fly for half day, and spend 1.5 days, 2 nights in each lodge. The first stop is Mashatu Euphoria lodge. After that, we are flying to Okawango delta, with a fuel stop at Matante airport. We stay two nights in Shindi camp. The next flying day has us exiting Botswana, so we have to stop in Maun and enter Namibia in Rundu, before continuing to Etosha National Park, where we stay in Onguma Fort. Etosha is the end of the first half of the trip, where the focus is animals, we now be watching incredible views of Namib desert.

We will stop in Ondawanga, before continuing to Hartmann Valley airstrip and a short drive to Serra Cafema lodge, located on the Kunane river, which is the border between Namibia and Angola. From there, we will follow first the river and then Atlantic coast to Hoanib Skeleton Coast camp and then to Kulala Lodge in Sossusvlei. It will be now time to head back to South Africa, we will first stay at Dundi Lodge to see Augrabies Falls and then make a long flight back to Johannesburg.

In total, that will be close to 3,000 nm and probably around 30 hors of flight time. The itinerary is set up so that we spend one day flying and one day at the location, two nights at each lodge. We are flying in a small group of three airplanes, all Cessna 182, which is a perfect airplane for flying in Africa. We will be landing at many dirt strips and a Cirrus, while more comfortable, would be certainly less practical.

We are using the same company as before, Bushpilot Adventures to lease the airplane, arrange permits and make reservations. Experience has shown that it is very important to have somebody in the “back office” to follow the flight and be ready to help in case of any mechanical problems, which we had during our previous trip.

Cape Town

Cape Town culinary landscape rivals the best of them. Our first night, we were tired after 24 hours door-to-door trip and stayed in the Cellars-Hohenort hotel, un upscale lodging part of Small Luxury Hotels.

Beautifully appointed room with a terrace and views on the garden.

It was rainy and windy next day, we drove to the spectacular Cape of Good Hope, which was crowded and there was a line to take a picture in front of the panel with the name. We did that 4 years ago, so we skipped the line. In the evening we had reservation at the La Colombe restaurant. It wasn’t easy to get, because all online reservations required four people and nobody was picking up the phone. We finally left a message and the next morning at 2 am (that’s noon in Cape Town!) somebody called back. The reservation battle was definitely worth waging, the food was extraordinary.

Stellenbosch area is known for excellent wineries and we couldn’t skip a wine tasting drive the following morning.

We finished the day in the Potluck Club, remembering fantastic dinner we had at Test Kitchen 6 years ago. Test Kitchen doesn’t exist anymore, but the chef, Luke Dale Roberts opened other restaurants in Cape Town and Johannesburg, you should definitely visit them if you are there.

This was the end of lazy vacation time in Cape Town, the next day we are boarding a flight to Johannesburg, where our adventure begins.

Flying in Africa – tips and tricks

Airports where I landed

I flew in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya. This isn’t perhaps a terribly vast experience, but if you contemplate flying there, you might find the following observations useful.

  1. It is vast, it is beautiful and it is remote. Africa total area represents 20% of Earth landmass but only 16% of Earth population and you could fit there US three times over. You have to plan flights accordingly with respect to fuel and survival equipment.
  2. General aviation is incredibly bureaucratic and you need permits for each country, sometimes for individual airports. You should plan to secure those permits well ahead of time, preferably using local resources.
  3. It is very useful to have somebody in a “back office” tracking your progress and being able to help with permits, flight plans, aircraft parts while located in a place with good internet and good access to parts, mechanics and information.
  4. Plan for minimum of two hours for each stop at each airport. You may get lucky, but this is a reasonable estimate to file flight plans, pay landing fees and any other required fees, pass security checks or, if required, immigration and customs.
  5. You will get frustrated and perhaps angry at the absurdity and slowness of the processing at different airports, at having to haul you luggage thru x-ray machines, at having to file paper flight plans, at the interminable waits. Plan for that and don’t let it spoil the adventure.
  6. Don’t sweat about ATC, airspaces, prohibited, military or restricted areas. If you manage to talk to ATC, great, but if not, that’s fine too. Different airspaces exist on paper, but with the exception of few really large international commercial airports, nobody will pay any attention if you fly through them.
  7. Always call ahead to the next airport to verify they have fuel and how much. If there is fuel, top it off and top off you jerrycans if you have them. You never know when you will need it.
  8. Bring cash in US dollars, I take $300/airport. Credit cards machines are often “broken” and you will need to pay for fuel and for the fees in cash.
    Make sure you have survival equipment, PLB, satellite messenger or phone. While cell phone coverage at airports is usually quite good, you can’t count on that.
  9. Print sufficient number of copies of general declaration with your basic data, so you only need to fill departure and destination. At many airports they don’t have blank copies, but they still require that you give them gendecs.
  10. Know how to fill ICAO flight, including your equipment codes, how to put permit numbers, search and rescue requirements and estimates to FIR boundaries in remarks.
  11. Keep the duct tape and basic tools handy.

Above all, be ready to adapt your plans as the circumstances change, keep your cool and you will have the most incredible flying adventure of the whole life. I was lucky to fly there twice, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Hakuna matata.

Great Apes in Uganda and Tanzania

This is the third part of our trip, we flew from South Africa, through Mozambique to Zanzibar and traversed Tanzania East to West. This part is about close encounters with mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, also flying without fuel cap and fuel exhaustion. We were a group of friends flying in four Cessna 182 and 206 airplanes.

We left Mbali Mbali Soroi lodge when it was still dark and witnessed sunrise while driving to the Seronera airstrip.

Serengeti at sunrise

After a short flight Mwanza, refueling, customs and immigration, this time without taking suitcases out of airplanes, we launched for Kisoro in Uganda. There are quite high mountains on the direct line, up to 14,000 feet and we decided to fly around them to the North, which was a fortunate decision, because about half an hour after departure we got into an area of low ceilings and rain with reduced visibility. Let’s just say it was marginal VFR, although I usually call something like that “African VFR”. At one point we seriously considered turning around, but Chris who was flying first called with an update that weather was improving further north and we continued.

Flight from Mwanza to Kisor

The solid red you see above, this is terrain higher than 7,000 feet. The African VFR happened about half way, so over relatively low terrain.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Flying over Bwindi Impenetrable Park we could see the mountains we were to explore the next day. Landing in Kisoro was refreshingly simple, there was an immigration officer already waiting for us, he efficiently stamped our passport, we didn’t have to pay anything extra in spite of the fact that Kisoro is definitely not an Airport of Entry. There was no customs, so nobody checked our luggage. We boarded vans for an hour ride to Mutanda Lake Resort.

Lake Mutanda

Mutanda Lake is beautiful, with little islands sparkling in water and mountains around. The resort not so much, it is one of those places where internet photos are heavily photo-shopped. The next day we drove another hour to enter the park for the gorilla trekking. After a briefing about what to do when in close proximity to gorillas, we got an option to hire porters. I had just a backpack, so we thought one porter would be sufficient, but we hired two to support the village. This turned out to be the best decision of the day. The trek involved descending and climbing over very steep slopes in the jungle, lasted six hours and at the end, we were all beyond exhausted.

This snapshot from iPhone Health app says it all. Porters helped us not only with the backpack, but by literally pulling us uphill and holding us during the descents. If you ever do this trek, make sure you have one porter per person. We did manage though to get very close to the apes, within 3-5 feet and we could observe them for about an hour. They didn’t pay much attention to us and kept eating leaves. The alpha-male silverback was impressively large, even when seated. The effort spent to get that close to them made the whole experience even more precious.

Close encounter – no zoom used in with this photo

We could barely walk next day, I was feeling muscles I didn’t even know I had, descending steep inclines makes you more sore next day than climbing, but we boarded the van again for a ride back to Kisoro airstrip. This time, customs was there and insisted on inspecting every piece of luggage, which was really driving me nuts. The field is at 6,200 feet and has a terrain rising to the south. We had between 10 and 15 knots of wind coming from the south, so we decided to takeoff in that direction, which turned out to be somewhat challenging. At Vx, I had an impression that the airplane is not climbing and that we will settle in the trees. Finally, we cleared the hills and flew back over the lake for some last-minute pictures. In hindsight, it would have been preferable to take off with tailwind. The flight to Kigali, capital of Rwanda was beautiful, in spite of strong headwinds.

Refueling from drums in Kigali

On arrival the approach controller was querying us in flight about our permit numbers, upset that we were coming from Kisoro and not from Mwanza, as if that was important, told us first to turn to a heading which would send us into a hill (unable), then told us to fly a DME arc (unable, we were VFR), then told us to hold and finally switched us to tower, who cleared Robert to land while an airliner was taxing onto the runway for takeoff in the opposite direction. Clearly, Kigali is not used to VFR and light airplanes and indeed they have no avgas. We refueled from drums, which we had shipped there ahead of time and this is when I found that my left wing fuel cap was gone, again.

Remember departure from Wonderboom and losing the same fuel cap? I will never know if I was distracted and angry by the ridiculous luggage inspection in Kisoro and didn’t properly secure the cap after checking fuel level or if the cap had a problem, since it was the same one we lost in FAWB. I decided to turn this into a positive event, by promising myself I will never allow myself to become excited and emotional prior to takeoff. A mental trick I use now is to visualize that fuel cap whenever I feel I might lose focus. Lack of fuel cap presented us with two problems. How to secure the left tank and how to get from Kigali to Tabora, our next refueling point? We were supposed to fly to Kigoma (180 nm), then to Mahale (84 nm) and only then to Tabora (194 nm), total distance of 460 nm with three takeoffs, too far on only the right tank.

Universal airplane repair tools

We resolved the first issue by the universal airplane repair tool: duct tape. While I wasn’t sure it would actually prevent fuel from leaking, there was only about 8 gallons left in the left tank and I was planning to only use the right tank. As to the second issue, when we were in Mwanza, we applied another universal rule for flying in Africa: when you see fuel, you take fuel and we filled four 20 liters jerrycans, just in case, without knowing it would become so useful so quickly. Twenty gallons in jerrycans combined with forty gallons in the right tank gave me an endurance of five hours, which was cutting it a bit too close with less than 30 minutes reserve. That problem was in turn resolved by stopping at a gas station in Kigoma and filling another twenty liter jerrycan with mogas. The 206 had a STC for mogas, but Marcus warned us to use the minimum necessary – in this case, we were only mixing 8 gallons of mogas with 40 gallons of avgas so I felt this was reasonable.

The flight from Kigali to Kigoma made us overfly Burundi. While we had overfly permits, we never managed to talk to Bujumbura Approach. Half over the country is covered by a TMA, so it was theoretically required, although it didn’t bother me at all we couldn’t. When arriving to Kigoma, I was trying to raise Kigoma tower on the radio. After landing, somebody finally replied asking why we didn’t call tower. I said we did, many times, on 118.4, frequency listed on Skydemon and Jeppesen charts, to which he replied “ah yes, we recently changed it 133.5”. Flying in Africa.

We stayed one night in Kigoma Hilltop Hotel, a comfortable but uninspiring hotel on the shore of Lake Tanganyika and after another security checks, launched for Mahale, one of the most stunning parks in Tanzania, with sand beaches, behind which rises a range of imposing mountains, clad in verdant tropical vegetation.

Resting and thinking

Mahale National Park is home to around 1,000 chimpanzees. Most significantly, one group of Mahale chimps – the Mimikire clan – has been habituated by researchers since 1965. Currently led by an impressive alpha male, Alofu, the M-group, as they are commonly known, has around 56 chimps. They go where they want and when they want but are relaxed near people, so it’s possible to track and observe them from very close quarters. For the good of the chimps’ health, all human visitors on chimpanzee safaris are required to wear surgical masks.


We stayed in Mbali Mbali Mahale, an idyllic lodge with luxurious bungalows, great food and very attentive staff. The next day we went to see the chimpanzees and I could still feel my legs after the gorilla visit. This was however incomparably less strenuous and we got chimpanzees passing couple of feet from us – not paying much attention to what we were doing, which was really just taking as many pictures as possible. In the afternoon, part of the group went for fishing and caught our dinner, but we stayed at the lodge, just relaxing.

Our last day started very early, with breakfast at 6 am and departure from the hotel at 7 am for 1.5 hour boat ride to the airstrip and 2 hours flight to Tabora. My fuel consumption was as planned and we arrived with comfortable margin. This time, I filled both tanks, but failed to follow the universal Africa fuel rule: when you see fuel, you take fuel – we didn’t fill the jerrycans. I put a little square of hard plastic made from plastic water bottle over the opening in an attempt to isolate the duct tape from the fuel and covered it with tape. We went thru usual hassles of immigration, customs, paying the fees and filing the flight plans and launched for the 4 hours flight to Mombasa. I was the first and immediately after the takeoff we noticed fuel streaming from the left tank.

Applying duct tape with staff watching and the end result
Aircraft “inspection”

I returned back to the airport and we attempted to put more duct tape over the wing. When satisfied with the result, we wanted to launch again, but the whole airport staff and a fire truck was there – the airport manager said he couldn’t let me go because the airplane was not safe. What followed was a ten minutes discussion, we were explaining that a Cessna 206 has two fuel selector position, left and right and even if we lost all fuel from the left tank, we still had enough to fly to our alternate, Arusha. Finally, he made me write and sign a release and agreed to let us go.

We couldn’t see fuel streaming on the second takeoff, so I hoped the tape would hold and it seemed it did for a while. Fuel gauge on the left tank was moving towards zero too fast, but then it stopped moving at a quarter tank. I set myself a limit – I was flying on the left tank and if I could delay switching to the right tank until 300 nm from the destination (about 3 hours with headwind we had), I would continue to Mombasa, otherwise I would divert to Arusha. Things were going on nicely, but then at 330 miles, engine stopped. That’s always an unpleasant event, but particularly when you are over middle of Tanzania with nothing but low brush below – lions and leopards are much less cute when observed from a crashed airplane. I was obviously spring-loaded for that situation, immediately switched to the right tank, fuel pump, and the engine restarted few very long seconds later. I now had dilemma – continue to the destination and land with couple gallons of fuel or divert to Arusha. In any normal country, it would be a simple call, but in Tanzania we already exited the country, Arusha is a domestic-only airport and I recalled experience of my friend John who declared emergency over Medellin, Colombia and was stuck there for four days resolving paperwork. I thought about it for couple of minutes, redid fuel calculations and announced on our air-to-air frequency that we were diverting to Arusha. My calculations showed that if reduce power and lean brutally, I most likely would made it to Mombasa, but with less than half an hour reserve and “most likely” together with “less than half an hour reserves” didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t have fuel totalizer. fuel flow indication was an analog gauge and I wasn’t 100% sure how accurate it was. I recalled another experience in Bogota, Colombia when I broke my one hour fuel reserve landing with 45 minutes and how I promised myself I would never do it again. Well, here I was again, what’s the point of making yourself promises and setting up limits before departure if you are not prepared to respect them?

All the others continued to Mombasa, they couldn’t help us in Arusha and in fact would have made the situation worse by having four, instead of one aircraft in an irregular situation. Approaching Arusha, I called Kilimanjaro Approach and explained that I had a fuel leak, I was diverting to Arusha to make a technical stop. After being cleared to land, we taxied to fuel and took 42 liters (11 gallons) into the right tank. I most likely would have made it to Mombasa, but most likely was not good enough. I went to the tower and explained the situation there, hoping they would let me leave on my existing flight plan. After few phone calls it became clear that they had no clue what to do with me, so finally they found a solution allowing them to get rid of the problem altogether. “This is a domestic airport, you are flying to Kenya, you need to receive the clearance from Kilimanjaro Approach”. Whatever was getting me back in the air was fine by me, so we back-taxied and took off. We called Kili Approach, who thought we were coming for landing at Kilimanjaro International, but I explained we were on the fight plan to Mombasa and they just requested we stayed at or below 5,500 when in the control zone.

When we left the CTR and I switched the frequency, we knew we were going to sleep in Mombasa that night. Soon we entered Kenya airspace and proceeded to the destination. The 30 minutes turnaround in Arusha will most likely remain a record hard to beat for years to come.

It was hard to believe this trip was now over. We flew 3,625 nautical miles in 34.4 hours Hobbs, landed at 19 airports in 6 countries and brought back 120 GBytes of pictures and videos. You can see the map on the right in more details on Google Maps.

Tanzania East to West

This is the second part of our East Africa trip, after flying from South Africa through Mozambique, we now traversed Tanzania from Zanzibar to Lake Victoria. We were a group of friends flying in Cessna 182 and 206 aircrafts.

Dar es Salaam TMA (terminal control area) extends 100 nm around the city, from 1,500 AGL to FL245. TMA is controlled airspace and you should theoretically be in contact with ATC to enter it. Well, good luck raising anybody more than 20 nm from Dar. The CTR (control zone) extends 15 nm from the airport and it is generally frowned, even in Africa, to fly there without clearance. I finally managed to talk to a controller, who tried to send me 20 miles east of the airport, which would 10 miles offshore. After a bit of negotiation, we got that down to 10 nm, which I arbitrarily reduced to 8, on account of unreliable navigation instruments. We still had to fly over water, the island of Zanzibar is 18 nm from the shore, but at least we didn’t spend more time than the minimum necessary. That big red circle on the left side, that’s a prohibited area HTP6(E). We didn’t need to fly through it, but I wouldn’t think twice about it if I had to.

Zanzibar is an interesting place. It used to be an independent country, before it merged with Tanganyika to form Tanzania. There are still very strong feelings on the island against that union, as explained to us by a guide who took us on the walking tour of the Stone Town. It is indeed a mélange, Arab, Black, European, Indian all mix together. The city is falling apart, but you see some nice renovated building and above all, you see a peaceful coexistence of these many different cultures and religions. We stayed at Zanzibar Serena hotel, a colonial building from the time gone, but well preserved. We went to Africa House for sunset cocktails and walked the town narrow street avoiding motorcycles and bicycles. One day was not enough to get a real feeling of the town.

As much as we were happy to arrive to Zanzibar after our magneto and starter problems in Mozambique, departure was a different story. It took over two hours and literally tons of money to pay for the required permits and file flight plan. Tanzania general aviation infrastructure is abysmal, you pay exorbitant fees in cash, because the credit card machines are usually broken, it takes hours to process, computers are down, employees barely move, in summary it is an aviation hell. We finally left to fly towards Moshi and Arusha to see Mount Kilimanjaro, but the visibility was about ten miles and we could hardly see anything. Half way through, we took a decision to fly direct to our destination, Ngorongoro Crater with an airstrip that is at 7,800 feet on the rim of the crater. I cajoled our 206 to climb to 8,000 and later to 9,000, which she did very reluctantly. The approach and landing were spectacular, with the crater caldera below us at 5,000 feet.

Ngorongoro Crater Takeoff
View from the hotel on the caldera and the crater rim

Ngorongoro Serena lodge is about 10 minutes from the airstrip. The hotel has amazing views on the crater, rooms are functional, each with tiny private balcony and the restaurant and bar remind a mountain resort. The next day we boarded safari cars for a game drive in the crater. It is hard to describe the combined effect of thousands of animals grazing around and crater rim looming above.

Ngorongoro caldera

We saw lions, leopards, hyenas, elephants, rhinos, zebras, buffaloes and antelopes. At one point, two hyenas attacked a wildbeest (gnu antelope), which was trying to escape. Hyenas are normally scavengers, but they also attack live animals, they have extremely powerful jaws, second only to crocodiles. They managed to bite the wildbeest on the side, but it looked like that hunt might take a long time, when suddenly we saw two lions coming over. The wildbeest run towards the cars, which at this point were converging from all directions, so that the tourists could witness the killing. It didn’t take lions more than a minute to finish the wildbeest and they started to eat it, with by now about two dozen cars around. While it was fascinating, in perhaps morbid sense to witness the killing in nature, I couldn’t shake the sense of disgust having all of us congregating around to see the spectacle. Don’t watch the video if you don’t want to see a killing.

Lions killing a wildbeest

The next day we visited a Masai village. Masai are usually nomads, but that tribe settled in the current location and allows tourists to visit and photograph their village, in exchange for a fee of course. The huts were extremely primitive, it was hard to imagine people living in such conditions. They had sandals made of used tires and colorful blankets to guard against cold. The village chief was a young 25 old guy, who spoke very good English. At one moment we said something in French and he replied in that language. After the visit, we drove again to the crater for more game watching.

Masai women

On Tuesday, we were planning to fly to Arusha, refuel, fly towards Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Natron for sightseeing, but weather early in the morning was showing 2,000 overcast in Arusha, which soon turned into low level fog. Plan B was to fly directly to our next destination, Seronera airstrip about 60 miles away. We had enough fuel to reach it and to continue to our next fuel stop, Mwanza, but not enough for any sightseeing.

We thought that Seronera would be like Lumbo, no other airplanes around, but it turned out to be a very busy airstrip, with Coastal Air Cessna Caravans bringing in tourists to visit Serengeti. This was when we realized none of us had an idea what frequency to use to self-announce. On long final, a Caravan cut in front of me from left base and I had to do a 360 to let him land. After landing the pilot came to me and said he saw me on TCAS and he tried to talk to me. It turned out that uncontrolled fields in Tanzania use 118.2, which was something Marcus told us about in a pre-departure briefing, but we forgot.

Mbali Mbali Lodge In Serengeti

We were picked up by cars from Mbali Mbali Soroi lodge, our hotel for the following three nights. We had a picnic lunch and went for a game drive on the way to the lodge. The lodge is located on a hill, with amazing views on the valley below. The staff told us that during the time when Migration passes there, which usually happens late June, early July, you could literally sit on the chair and see thousands and thousands of animals passing by. We were a month late, unfortunately. If you are planning to visit Serengeti, make sure to choose a lodge which is close to where Migration is when you arrive. In our case, the animals were already in Kenya and we missed it. In spite of that setback, we did go for game drives both days and saw giraffes, elephants, zebras, buffaloes, antelopes, lions, leopards and hyenas. Many times, the animals were couple of feet from the car.

Leopards from really close

Departing Seronera for Mwanza, we showed at the airstrip with all our luggage and were told we had to go through security check. This is a problem everywhere in Africa, and if fact the same was the case in Central and South America. They just don’t understand there is something like private airplane and apply the same security checks as for commercial flights. I simply refused to follow their admonitions and loaded two of our four suitcases into the airplane bypassing the security checks. A guard grabbed however the remaining two, opened them and started to check the content. He found a hair spray and triumphantly told Ania: “you can’t take it with you to the cabin”, to which she had a brilliant reply: “oh, don’t worry, this is in the checked in luggage”. The guy was so stumped, that he only managed to say: “ah, ok then” and off we went. This exchange wins the first price for absurdity.

After an hour flight to Mwanza, which is located at the shore of Lake Victoria, where we refueled and went through immigration and customs, we departed for our next destination, Kisoro in Uganda.

480 nm through Tanzania and 5 hours on Hobbs

Mozambique Coast

This is the first part of our East Africa trip, travelling from Pretoria, South Africa to Zanzibar, Tanzania along the Mozambique Indian Ocean Coast to Tanzania. We were a group of friends flying in four Cessna 182 and 206 airplanes.

We arrived to Opikapi Guest House in Pretoria after a 9-hour flight from Istanbul. There isn’t much to see in Pretoria, but we still did a half day guided tour, visiting the center, Voortrekker monument, Nelson Mandela statute and Kruger house museum. The following day it was time to meet our airplanes. Marcus from Bushpilot Adventures proposed that I take a Cessna 206, instead of 182 originally planned and I agreed, but I forgot that a 206 has no door on the co-pilot side and the window doesn’t open. There is a door on the pilot side on the left and a big one on the right side in the back for passengers. Ania didn’t like that arrangement at all, so I ended flying the whole trip from the right seat.

A test flight didn’t start well. Unlike smaller 172 or 182, it is pretty much impossible to reach the fuel cap without climbing on the wing, so Marcus checked the fuel. He is the owner of Bushpilot Adventures from whom we rented the airplanes. Right after the takeoff we had a plume of avgas streaming from the left wing and we returned immediately back for landing. Airport truck found the missing cap on the runway and the second pattern was uneventful, except this being my very first landing in a 206, I managed to pancake it on the runway like a pre-solo student, which was made worse by Chris, who went with us for a ride watching it all from the back seat. A timeless lesson out of that: when you have two pilots, you have to be twice as vigilant, I was a PIC and I should have checked that the fuel cap was secure.

Wonderboom to Maputo

Friday morning was the day of departure, we loaded all our bags into the airplane – a 206 is well known for its load carrying capabilities and launched from Wonderboom to Kruger. It was a good thing that we were departing and returning to FAWB, because I was only understanding half what the controllers were saying, between unfamiliar phraseology and strong South African accent, I would have made a fool of myself if we were to fly there more. It was a short, less than two hours flight to Kruger and I decided to climb to 7,500 to see how the airplane flies – I had an impression it took forever to get there, which will make it interesting when taking off from Ngorongoro at that altitude. Strong crosswinds in Kruger made a landing in a still unfamiliar airplane somewhat interesting, but we survived. The following leg to Maputo was even shorter, landing was already decent and we were in Mozambique.

As a general rule, more miserable a country is, higher the hurdles at the border and Mozambique is not an exception. We didn’t have a visa and had to wait two hours in line to get one on arrival. While fuming about the delay, I recalled that I did have to wait two hours at immigration arriving to San Francisco once, so I guess this can happen anywhere. We were hoping to see the city, but the delay and frustration made us stay in the hotel for an early dinner – after mandatory gin and tonic in the bar of course. The “Grand Dame” of Africa, as the Polana Serena Hotel is widely known, is a must-see historical landmark in Maputo. The elegance and splendor of its façade are the living memory of bygone colonial times.

Polana Serena Hotel

On Saturday morning, we returned to the airport to find out that the fees we paid the previous day went directly to the pocket of the guy who was doing our paperwork and that we had to pay them again. It was the only real cheat on that trip, but it only made the bad taste for Maputo worse. We launched for a 3.5 hours flight to Vilankulo along the coast. When departing, Maputo tower advised all of us individually and solemnly to “avoid overflying the military base”, to which all four pilots replied without hesitation “roger, we will stay clear”. When I asked after we arrived, none of us had a slightest idea where the “military base” was.

The flight was beautiful, the coast amazing, we stayed at 1,500 all the way while the others went a bit higher in search for favorable winds. We landed in Vilankulo, took fuel, paid fees and launched for Bazaruto Island. Well, some of us actually did. Two airplanes were already taxing to the runway when I tried to start the engine and heard only a faint click when I turned the key. That was really an unpleasant surprise. Chris stayed with us while I called Marcus at Bushpilot Adventures for help.

While he was conferring with mechanics, we moved one of our suitcases to Chris 182, with the idea that they will fly to Indigo Bay, Bazaruto, about 10 minutes flight and come back to pick us up after unloading the airplane there. In the meantime, Marcus called back and asked that I remove the cowl and locate the starter. I did that and he said to tap lightly on the solenoid and harder on the starter, three times with a wrench. Seriously? You know when the IT support asks you “sir, please make sure your computer is plugged in” as the first step in debugging, I felt the same, but I obliged and tapped three times each. Back to the cabin, master on, turn the key and …. the prop turns. Unbelievable, this is African black magic, even more impressive because done remotely. I put the cowl back, we hop into the airplane, I ask Ania to cross her fingers, master on, fuel pump on to prime and off, turn the key and the engine starts. We fly to Bazaruto, land by huge sand dunes advancing onto the island from the ocean side and race to the bar for a well-deserved gin and tonic.

Anantara is a luxury resort located on Bazaruto Island, about 10 nm offshore, with a staff attentive to any guest requests and is all inclusive – including the gin and tonic. Staff welcomed us at the airport dancing and singing local songs. We spent the next day relaxing at the resort and recovering from the previous day adventures. We also went on a tour of the island, searching for and finding flamingos, but they were too far for taking good pictures.

Takeoff from Indigo Bay, Bazaruto Island

All too quickly it was time to depart, our original plan was to refuel in Quelimane, about half way to our next stop, but Quelimane had no fuel, we had to refuel in Beira, which still allowed us to fly to Lumbo, the airport of our next stop at Isla de Mozambique and continue to Pemba. It was only an hour to Beira, engine started fine at Indigo Bay, so we thought we were in good shape. They did have fuel in Beira, but when I turned the key, I was met with the same clicking sound as before. Voltage went to zero, we had a short somewhere in the starter. This time, no amount of tapping on various components made a difference. Calling back Marcus, conference with mechanics, they suggested turning the prop counter-clockwise, but still no luck. We were getting ready to hand-prop the airplane, but decided to check it one last time and the prop turned. We now had a strong suspicion this was heat related – about an hour after we removed the cowl and the starter cooled off, the short disappeared. Not exactly comforting, but better than the alternative. Cowl back on, engine starts and we launched for Lumbo.

Lumbo is an uncontrolled field and I got an impression that nobody landed there yet in this century. We had a local school running over to see four little airplanes with eight crazy white people and few dozen suitcases pack into Coral Lodge van. In the meantime, we negotiated with a local policeman a fee to guard the airplanes, it started at $100/airplane for two nights, but we couldn’t reach an agreement. In the end, we paid half of it, after the intervention of the hotel manager. We drove through a narrow bridge from mainland to the Isla de Mozambique, but we couldn’t see where the hotel could possibly be. Turned out we had to jump (literally, from the beach) onto a boat and now it started to rain and it was dark. We arrived soaked and cold to the hotel for another mandatory gin and tonic.

Low tide Coral Lodge

Next day we are greeted by scattered clouds, but the sun soon punched through. It was low tide and we walked along the beach and on sandbars, I took the opportunity to test fly my drone, annoying our neighbors. I generally don’t like lobsters, but this was the only choice for dinner and it was divine. Coral Lodge is a wonderful hotel, very remote, but definitely worth a visit. We took a boat back to the island and went for a short tour, there was a local museum with interesting artifacts and no tourists. Ilha de Mocambique used to be the capital of the country a while back, but now is very remote and very few people manage to get there. These days it is a treat to see an interesting and empty museum. The only way in an out of the island, other than a boat is by a single lane bridge. This makes it for interesting situations when two cars drive from opposite directions.

Single lane brige; somebody has to back up

It was Tuesday evening, time to leave Wednesday in the morning and we learned there was no fuel in Pemba. Nacala never had it, our only option was Nampula, about 80 miles inland, not exactly in our way, but there was no other choice. We still didn’t have permits to fly into Tanzania, but Marcus is told that all was arranged, they were only waiting for a Very Important Person to sign them off. The VIP was supposed be in the office in the morning to sign it. The fuel in Nampula was supposed to show up in the evening and be ready for us in the morning. Together with our ongoing starter problems, we seemed to be in great shape for pressing into Tanzania. In the morning we learned that fuel did show up and the VIP also, so we left the hotel and drove to the Lumbo airport. Our airplane started fine, but Chris reported a backfire during the takeoff roll. He aborted and repeated the runup, which was fine, so we all flew to Nampula. Turns out the fuel was there, but while the VIP did sign off our permits into Tanzania, their “IT system is down” and they couldn’t generate them.

Remember what I said about poor countries and their bureaucracy? Tanzania is richer than Mozambique, but they are even more backward for supporting general aviation. The said permits have exactly zero utility, Marcus started to work on them weeks earlier and these morons were stringing him until the last day, just to find out they weren’t even able to run their computers. In the meantime, we went through the usual circus of paperwork in Nampula, with landing fees, security fees, filing flight plans, all the time hoping that permits would come through. We couldn’t wait too long, because we could only fly during the day and it was 4.5 hours flight to Zanzibar – we needed to arrive before dark. Finally, we decided to launch without permits. We had about an hour flight to Pemba, if the permits come through, Marcus would send them to our satellite text messengers, if not we would divert to Pemba. Talk about “Just in Time” concept.

Chris has a bad magneto

With all this commotion, I didn’t even think about my starter. It didn’t work when I tried right after refueling, but I hoped that it would work when the engine cooled off and indeed it did. That’s when Chris radioed out that he had a magneto failure and shut down the engine. We checked it again and yes, no RPM drop on the right magneto and engine dies on the left. This was now looking pretty bleak. Bad starter, bad magneto, no flight permits and in Nampula, Mozambique. We looked around and there was a hangar of Ambassador Aviation – it is a charter and humanitarian air charter company and they have maintenance. Dave, a pilot and a mechanic graciously put the 182 in a hangar, disassembled the magneto and confirmed it was dead. While they fly a fleet of Caravans and 206s, they use Bendix, not Slick mags and he couldn’t help. We called Marcus in Pretoria, who in the meantime already found a starter to tell him that he needed to also find a magneto. It was now clear that we were stuck in Nampula, the question was only for how long. For us to depart the next day, the following had to happen:

  1. Marcus needed to find a magneto and they are not manufactured anymore.
  2. He had to find a flight bringing him from Pretoria to Nampula latest by 9 am.
  3. Dave had to be able to replace and time the mag and replace the starter by noon.
  4. We had to redo the paperwork for international departure from Nampula.
  5. Geniuses in Dar-el-Salaam needed to issue the all-important permits.

It all looked like a piece of cake. We found a hotel in Nampula and the gloom factor deepened when we found out there was no bar and no alcohol. We were in Muslim country. Surprisingly, the hotel had an Indian chef who prepared great food and we had curry with mineral water and Coke Zero.

Dave at work on Chris magneto

We woke up Thursday morning and drove back to the airport – in fact Dave’s friend offered us a ride in both directions in his pickup truck. He refused any payment – today I help you, tomorrow you will help somebody else. In the meantime, we learned that Marcus was on a flight landing in Nampula at 8:10 am, with magnetos and starter. He flew to Maputo the day before late evening after “begging” airline officials to let him check in the airplane parts. The said begging included a charitable donation to official causes. Permits arrived and if only we could replace the parts in time, we might be on our way after all. This indeed what happened, Marcus replaced the starter and the solenoid, while Dave worked on the magneto and we were able to launch at noon for our 4.5 hours flight to Zanzibar. We landed at 5:30 local time, exhausted but happy to be out of Mozambique and with working airplanes.

1,800 nm in 16.,8 hours on Hobbs over 4 days of flying.

Africa, Again!

Our trip to South Africa in 2017 was magical, but Africa is addictive, once you’ve seen it, you can’t help to want to see it again. And again. So we return to Africa.

We have even more grandiose trip scheduled for July 2019 – it is long time to plan, but it is not your garden variety of cross-country flight. To wet the appetite, here are the highlights:

  • Departing Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Maputo, Mozambique and follow the coast northbound
  • Vilancoulos and Bazaruto Island
  • Isla de Mozambique
  • Zanzibar and its Stonetown
  • Fly around Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Game viewing at Ngorongo Crater
  • Great Migration in Serengeti from the ground and from the air
  • Bwindi Impenetrable Park in Uganda and mountain gorillas
  • Chimpanzees viewing at the shore of Lake Tanganyika
  • over to Mombasa, Kenya traversing Tanzania

It will take us three weeks and the schedule is built to allow for one day of flying, followed by one or two days at a given location. The majority of flights are less than 2 hours, with not more than 3 flights per day in Cessna 182. It will be a small group,  four or five airplanes flying together.

First part of the trip takes us through Mozambique and the unspoiled beaches of Indian Ocean, I plan to stay low at 500 feet to enjoy the scenery. After visiting the capital, Maputo, we are heading to Bazaruto Island. One of the greatest pleasures of traveling in a light airplane is when you can land on a dirt strip and walk to your hotel.

Our second stop is to visit Ilha de Moçambique half way up the coast, a small crescent shaped island where time stopped, tourists didn’t yet arrive and African, Portuguese, Swahili, French and Goan flavors mix  in a potent melange.

We will continue heading North along the Indian Ocean coast, cross into Tanzania and head towards the island of Zanzibar. When Tanganyika and Zanzibar joined each other in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania, Zanzibar kept a semi-autonomous status, with Stone Town as its local government seat. Its architecture, mostly dating back to the 19th century, reflects the diverse influences underlying the Swahili culture, giving a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements.

While we will not be able to overfly it, since it rises to almost 20,000 feet, we will fly by and around Mount Kilimanjaro after a 2-hour flight from Zanzibar and land in Moshi, the town at which the majority of trekkers start their Kilimanjaro ascent, and as such has a vibrant feel while still being typically laid-back African.

Departing Moshi, we will route past or over the volcano of Mt. Meru and continue towards Ngorongo Crater. This is our highest altitude airfield at 7,800 feet, with a view into the crater on final approach. Approximately 2.5 million years ago, the Ngorongo crater was a huge volcanic mountain, rivaling Kilimanjaro in size. This changed when the top of the mountain collapsed, creating the biggest volcanic caldera in the world.  The park is teaming with wildlife, with animals such as zebra, buffalo, hyenas, wildebeests and lions thriving in the area.

After couple of days at Ngorongo, we will fly north towards Kitumbeine  Ol Doinyo Lengai volcanoes, over the oddly-colored Lake Natron sporting colonies of flamingos before turning west towards Serengeti, taking our time in the air and go in search of the Great Wildebeest Migration – it’s a true privilege to be able to see the sheer size of this spectacle from the air and piloting one’s own aircraft provides the freedom to explore all corners of the Serengeti at will.

After leaving Serengeti plains we will head towards the mountains of Rwanda, first Kigali and than Ruhengeri to admire the Volcanoes National park from the air before entering Uganda and stopping for the night at Lake Mutanda. We will spend the next day at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, an ancient mountain and lowland forest spanning 128 square miles and home to the largest population of mountain gorillas. There are fewer than 900 of them in existence and we will have a rare opportunity to observe the everyday interactions of these gentle, mysterious primates. To see them from few meters away, we will pay a price of couple of hours hiking in the forest.

Time to return to Rwanda and fly back into Tanzania for an overnight stop in Kigoma, relaxing with unparalleled views on the Lake Tanganyika, before following the lake shore next day for a flight to Mahale.

Very different from anything else Tanzania has to offer,  Mahale Mountains National Park is set in the far west of the country. Remote and beautiful, this off-the-beaten-track destination is quite possibly the best place in the world for chimpanzee safaris. We hope to come close to them during our next day hike in the forest.

Time to head back – after a refueling stop in Tabora, we will cross Kenya border and terminate the trip in Mombasa.

Three weeks, about forty hours of flight time, four thousand nautical miles,  we expect to bring back terabytes of pictures and videos and the most precious – memories.

Namibia Dunes

The last leg of our Africa trip brought us to Namibia. We flew commercial from Cape Town to Windhoek and rented a nice 4×4 Toyota pickup truck. If you ever plan to drive in Namibia, rent a car like that. Although many dirt roads we drove are in excellent condition (for a dirt road), a small city car will not be comfortable there.

Toyota is built like a tank and didn’t care about any potholes. Otherwise, you may end up like the car on the left. This is in a place judiciously called Solitaire, our hotel Moon Mountain Lodge, was located about 20 km south of that place, about 4 hours drive from Windhoek.  The lodge is built on a side of a small mountain, part of Naukluft Mountains.

It was about 45 minute drive from there to Sossusvlei, where dunes are, but we were happy to stay away. The lodge is small, away from crowds, sunset and sunrise light over the desert were beautiful to watch.

The park opens at sunrise and we drove in the dark to get there before 6 am. While technically Sossusvlei (pictured below) refers only to a salt and clay pan surrounded by red dunes, located in the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia, the name is often used to refer to all surrounding area.

The area was created when the Tsauchab River was blocked access to the ocean by sand blown from the North and forming immense dunes – the biggest one is 388 meters high – that’s 1,300 feet for metric-challenged, several hundred millions years ago.

There is an asphalt road from the park entrance to the parking area for regular cars, about 40 km. On the way, you pass Dune 45, which many people climb – we didn’t.

Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, the main interesting areas are about 5 km past the parking and you must have a robust 4×4 car, because you will drive on the sand (otherwise, there are shuttles). We passed some people who were stubborn and stuck. Once you climbed the dunes, you can have fun going down, here is Ania descending the famous dune called Big Daddy.

After returning back from the dunes, we drove another 5 km to see Sesreim Canyon, created when flood water descends over plains and in the afternoon, we took a scenic flight all the way to the ocean, which is still about 50 km to the West. Dunes, which when they meet the ocean are still over 100 meters high, stop abruptly creating sand cliffs. The whole area is called Skeleton Coast, because so many ships wrecked here navigating this remote area.

Magic flight and I promised myself that we will return here and I will fly all the length at that coast myself.

We did a bit of a road trip to return back to Windhoek the next day, via Swakopmund, driving through the Kuiseb Pass. You drive through the desert, but it keep changing every 100 km, from savanna to sand desert and amazing rock formations.

This is the last post about our 2017 Africa trip – unforgettable experience.





Cape Town

It was a rude shock to fly squeezed in a tiny economy seat for our flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, after enjoying luxuries of Cessna’s seats for so long. We suffered. After arrival, we rented a car and drove to our Airbnb apartment, with fabulous views over the town.

Next day, weather was nice and we drove to Cape of Good Hope. This is the name that sounds beautiful in every language. Cape de Bonne Esperance, Przylądek Dobrej Nadziei.

There are so many reviews of Cape Town, I will not bore you with another saw this and that. Instead, let me recount our Cape Town culinary experiences.

Gold Restaurant

This is a bit of touristy place, but the food is fun and the show is exciting. The Gold Restaurant serves Pan-African kitchen with bits and pieces from all over Africa. As always, we attacked the dinner in sprint, but it turned out to be more of a marathon and by the time the main dishes arrived, we regretted the early fast pace.

The food is only half of the fun at Gold, dance and music is as good. We didn’t dare join the dancers on the scene, but many other patrons did. I wish I had their rhythm.

To show we are not just another pappy and mammy and to express our wild side, we got face paintings.


Greenhouse restaurant is in Constantia, about 45 min drive from downtown. It was dark by the time we got there and it rained, we started to have doubts about the wisdom of driving so far for a dinner. The doubts disappeared when we saw the menu.

We couldn’t believe we had doubts after the first dishes arrived. Presentation, quality, taste, everything was impeccable.

Test Kitchen

We’ve been to Bernard Loiseau’s Cote d’Or in Saulieu, to Michel Guérard’s les Prés d’Eugénie in Eugénie les Bains, to Paul Bocuse in Lyon, to Marc Haeberlin’s Auberge d’Ill in Illhaeusern, to Arnaud Lallement’s Assiette Champenoise in Tinqueux, to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville and to Joshua Skenes’s Saison in San Francisco. I write  it only to establish credentials, so that when I say that Luke Dale-Roberts at Test Kitchen is as good or better, as exciting, as interesting and surprising, has as many or more variety of tastes as these 3-star Michelin restaurants – you know that I have solid basis for comparisons.


We live close to Napa Valley, well known wine country, so we were curious how Cape Town wine country compared. Here I am at work, deep into comparative research.

We drove from Cape Town to the town of Stellenbosch and continued East. By pure luck, we stopped at a beautiful winery (Graff Estate) for light lunch and wine tasting. The area is magical in its beauty and I wish we had more than one day to visit it.


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