Monday, October 13, 2008

"Gentlemen, we have reached our cruising altitude of 120ft"

Justin and I had both been on some small aircrafts before, mostly when going to and from Nantucket or skydiving. However, as we walked along the tarmac in Dar es Salaam to our connecting flight from Zanzibar to the Matambwe airstrip in the Selous Game Reserve, we agreed we had never even planned on flying on a plane of this size, ever.
The cabin of our 4 passenger “airplane” was no bigger then that of a twin bed. Justin and I were in the middle seats, a large Brazilian man was sitting co-pilot because the plane was most stable with him there, and a small Belgian man behind us with our bags to further “stabilize” the aircraft. Our pilot was a confident Canadian named Richard, who had been “flying in the bush his whole life” (he was no older then 27). To say the least we were sweating as we taxied to the runway.
We had a 50-minute flight to the first landing strip where we would drop off the other two passengers. As we made our descent to land we realized this landing strip was something out of a movie. The “airport,” had no lights, no control tower, and certainly no terminal. Just a dirt strip with a faded flag signaling the pilot the direction of the wind. Once on the ground and realizing that we could indeed take-off, fly, and land without any problems, Justin, obviously wanted a little more with the next flight. Being that the man at the check-in counter told us that these pilots enjoyed flying low so the passengers could view the wildlife from the air, Justin, no longer as nervous, intended to see if the ticket man gave us actual information. Without hesitation Justin not only asked to sit co-pilot, but hinted that it would be in the best interest of all of them for Richard to fly as low and fast as the plane would let him. Suddenly this young Canadian’s eyes lit up, and his response “absolutely eeehh” For the next 15 minutes we flew no higher then 120 feet off the ground at 125 mph, nearly skimming treetops and narrowly making ridges. This was certainly an adrenalin rush and a great kickoff to our safari. As we approached our landing strip, Richard made a fly-by to pick his spot to land. We touched down flawlessly and were greeted by the manager of the Sable Mountain Lodge, Ricardo.
Ricardo was a rugged looking Spaniard who informed us that he ran the lodge with his Czech wife Veronica. He was very nice and welcoming but seemed a little on edge upon our arrival. Later that night at dinner we found out why. Veronica informed us that Ricardo, normally mellow and easygoing guy had had his fair share of problems this week. Veronica explained that it had rained very hard the last few days which left the solar powered lodge very low on energy, destroyed the dirt roads (we saw two 4x4s stuck on our way to the Lodge from the landing strip) and many of the guests were unhappy do to the soggy weather. As she said “this is supposed to be the dry season.” On top of this she said that she would have never flown, or landed where we did today because it was far too muddy from the rain. (Thanks) Although our maverick pilot landed us safely, Ricardo did not have as much faith as we did in Richard. Ricardo even insisted on waiting for the plane to take off again just to make sure he did not have to call the ambulance in case of a issue. We were the only people at the landing strip. Being that our arrival day was so exciting, we could only imagine what the rest of the safari would have in store for us.

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