Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Trans-Africa Adventure

Part II: From Cape Town to London in a Cessna 206

On arrival, we cleared immigration and customs more smoothly than expected, and our drive into town was stunning, through acacia trees with large showy flowers of brilliant orange lining the dusty streets that vary from potholed tarmac to rutted dirt. Angola is curiously the most expensive country in Africa. This was brought home when the Mooney pilot, Derek, kindly ordered me a single shot of Portuguese liquor, aguardente, at $25!

Our early departure was delayed by rain and low cloud. As it improved, we lifted above the broken cumulus with mountain tops peeking through until we reached the coast where we descended and enjoyed flying along the shoreline. Our landing at the small coastal airfield of Sumbe was tricky with a short runway, strong crosswinds and an offset final approach. Everyone got down okay, some on their second attempt!

The following day was a no-fly day, and we spent it exploring Angola with our guide Mario in Toyota Land Cruisers. Time stands still in rural Angola, and they say that Europeans "may have watches, but we have time." The extreme of this was our visit to Boa Entrada, a ghost town that was abandoned in 1975 when the 27-year-long civil war began. Built to house the workers and managers who ran the country's largest coffee plantation, it's now home to local Angolans who have returned but who prefer to live in their own mud huts next to the empty colonial buildings!

Republic Of Congo
On touching down, we were welcomed by the president of the Aero Club with a large beer. They had additionally thrown a party in our honor, which went on late into the night. We had a late departure the next day, and were on our way for the 300 nm journey up the coast into Gabon.

Flying low along a deserted beach is always special, and the coastline of Gabon was no exception. We had been told to keep a lookout for elephants on the beach—and a number were spotted. They swim in the sea to remove insects, and it makes quite a sight. It was mid-afternoon when we landed over the oil rigs at Port Gentil. The town is only accessible by air or sea as it's surrounded by inhospitable marsh.

The flight was short and easy (but for São Tomé Radar asking every pilot for their phone number!), and we crossed the equator again. The island of Príncipe measures just 16 times the length of the runway. The Príncipe immigration and customs formalities took minutes in a relaxed island-style way, and we had arrived. Ten minutes on the back of our hotel's "truck," through lush jungle brought us to Bom-Bom Island.

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