Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Trans-Africa Adventure

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

Bom-Bom is at the northern tip of this small island paradise, with luxurious wooden huts set back from the beach. To describe the place as "away from it all" conveys too much sense of frenetic activity—perfect for another rest day. Dining under the stars by candlelight, our table strewn with fresh red hibiscus blooms on the white tablecloth, life was good, and the meal was simply excellent.

The flight north from Príncipe was a crux moment, crossing the ITCZ ("the itch"). Despite a discouraging (but predictable) forecast, we departed north and had a good flight. The visibility was poor but workable until we approached the Nigerian coast where it cleared. The flare stacks of the Niger Delta were all around, burning bright.

Entry into Nigeria was something of an ordeal—this is Africa's most populous country (almost 200 million people in an area only a little bigger than Texas). After a crazy drive through Port Harcourt traffic, we arrived at our hotel. Our return journey to the airport the next morning was more relaxed (though probably only because we knew what to expect).

It was with a sense of relief that we got airborne—it's not often that the cockpit of a light airplane can seem serenity itself! We had over 400 nm to Kano in northern Nigeria—which also marked our move from equatorial jungle to the beginning of the Sahara. The flight wasn't easy, as our forward visibility was poor (though vertical visibility was perfect even from 7,000 feet), and there was lots of radio chat to maintain separation. The runway became visible three miles out, and we landed in turn. The airfield officials couldn't get their heads around the arrival of our aircraft. "What flight number did you arrive on?" they asked repeatedly. "Where are your passengers?" No, we were Captain and crew of an aircraft that has no passengers. Still confused, they waved us through with a smile into the sprawling, bustling desert city.

The next day, we returned with 16 gallons of Mogas for one of the planes. Potential problems with security were sidestepped when Sam Rutherford of Prepare2go suggested that perhaps it was apple juice! The leg we were to fly was straightforward, but the air was full of dust, and a high-pressure area had settled over the region, preventing it from clearing—but there was blue sky above. Sam decided that he and I would go first to Agadez, in Niger. On landing, he would use the satphone to call Adam (also from Prepare2go) back in Kano with a pirep. My plane was chosen for the test flight since if we were unable to land at Agadez, I could (just) return to Kano. The flight went smoothly, and everyone else then followed.

A short flight and removing two letters—but what a difference. As well as being Africa's poorest country, it's also one of the least populated—an utter contrast from its southern neighbor. On landing, we refueled quickly and were taken to our auberge, which turned out to be a delightful Touareg-style oasis in the center of Agadez. We visited the world-famous mosque; some even climbed to the top of the minaret.

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