How do you top an unforgettable trip to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa? Throw in a Cessna 182 and a dozen exotic locations in four countries, and voilà! That's exactly what my brother and I did last summer.
We're football junkies (soccer for my American fellows), so when the games were to be held for the first time in Africa, we simply had to go. Being equally fanatic about flying, I found a treasure trove of exotic destinations that we could fly to in between games.
We arrived in Johannesburg, and started our trip with a terrific game between the U.S. and Ghana. Early next morning, we embarked on our first sortie—a trip through the eastern mountainous regions of South Africa to a private game reserve area of the Kruger National Park called Mala Mala. Departing just after dawn from the Grand Central Airport (FAGC) on a VFR day, we navigated our way through the mountains across this beautiful land. South Africa is a heavily mountainous country, and many of its airports are situated in high elevation. A solid dose of density-altitude knowledge, mountain-flying skills and back-to-basics navigation is a must. I knew that we would be faced with many hours of stick-and-rudder flying and manual operation, but I was enjoying every moment of it. After two hours of flying through this terrain, the little strip of Mala Mala (FAMD) appeared in the distance. Landing in any field outside of the major cities in Africa requires that you execute a full precautionary approach procedure. All types of animals often roam the field, and one or more close passes are required to inspect the field and scatter the animals. We landed and secured the aircraft and surrounded it with low-voltage electrical wires to ensure no animals would damage the aircraft or chew the tires. After an unforgettable visit to this magnificent park, we set out the next day to go back to FAGC. I experienced my first full-IFR departure and flight in the bushlands of Africa.
We enjoyed two more games before embarking on our second sortie, which would take us to Botswana, Zambia, with overflying adventures across Namibia and Zimbabwe. Our first destination was the Okavango Delta deep inside the marshlands of Botswana. Most of the flying was IFR. There are distinct differences between flying IFR in this part of the world and in the U.S. or Europe. Clearances are vague, ATC handoffs somewhat shaky and with little or no radar coverage, significant extra attention is demanded of the pilot. In many instances, the new ATC didn't know our altitude or even route of flight. In one instance, we had to remind them that we would be on a conflicting altitude with another aircraft, which I had figured would be coming in the opposite direction.
After a long stretch across the Kalahari Desert, we approached the delta, cleared customs at Maun (FBMN) and continued on to the incredible resort of Shindi in the heart of the delta. This lush area is the world's largest inland delta, and home to some of the most spectacular wildlife. We spent the next day enjoying the scenery, and then headed out on our next leg—the long and winding flight over the Chobe River toward Victoria Falls in Zambia.
Botswana law requires minimum height over wildlife, so we decided to fly low right over the river on the Namibian side and enjoy some of the most stunning views of wildlife along this magnificent country—elephants, rhinos, hippos and more. It couldn't get better than that. Until, that is, we saw a puff of dust in the distance. It was Victoria Falls! As we approached this amazing Natural Wonder of the World, we couldn't resist a flyover, and the kind controllers complied. After a few turns around this breathtaking scene, we landed in Livingstone (FLLI) for a visit with my old schoolmate who had recently bought a Cessna 210.
The next day, we flew down the eastern border of Botswana to Mashatu Game Reserve. We passed over spectacular sceneries in Zimbabwe, and landed in Limpopo Valley (FBLV) just before sunset. If there were any animals we hadn't yet seen, we saw them here.
Our final flight back to FAGC would take us through some of the prettiest mountains and through the valleys in a mix of IFR and VFR weather. We landed in Polokwane (FAPP) to clear customs, and as we approached FAGC, we could hear the ATC chatter about all the aircraft that were approaching Jobo for one of the best and most memorable semi-final games for that evening.
Our flying fever had to give way to soccer madness. As we parked the aircraft, after more than 20 hours of flying, we knew that we had made a historic mark in our lives—the like of which we could hardly imagine again. Until, that is, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
For more adventures, visit my website at http://flyingadventures.weebly.com.