2004 Micro Trip



This years 2003 microlight expedition was slightly tamer than last year, however no less entertaining and life threatening in many ways. It resembled last years circumnavigation attempt of South Africa in that my microlight engine stopped once again and secondly I was cold and hungry on many a disolutional occasion once again.

Deciding I needed to travel to Cape Town (over 1000kms away) I joined a few mates that were flying around the country and happened to be routing to Cape Town via the Namibian border and then back down the West coast of South Africa. The plan was that I would join them for this first leg of their trip. It perhaps was a bit over ambitious however the planning was left to a few newcomers that possibly didn't realise that weather conditions happen to change rather rapidly and that the wind is not always in ones favour. This however would be a learning curve in expedition planning for them.

A day before we were scheduled to leave Johannesburg, I few up country on a conventional plane and joined my last years flying partner Joe Standuhar for the trip towards the West. Day one and a bit was to take us to last years small town, Bloemhoff (that I constantly try and erase from my memory, due to lack of sleep,lots of beer and overly friendly locals- etc etc). The next day was to take us on a very over estimated leg routing via Reivello, Kuruman, oliefantshoek and then onto Upington. (last year we flew Upington to Kuruman and that was only just manageable). Half way into our leg we were hit by an awful headwind, slowing out groundspeed drastically and forcing us to land and wait up in Reivello due to massive storms which looked like they were moving in our directions. Luckily we did as an hour later the heavens opened and one of the most impressive storms I have seen in ages descended on our heads. Standing trying to take shelter under a few square meters of fabric in torrential rain allows one to think a lot. This was where I decided I wasn't having fun anymore, and realised I have been in this situation more times than I care for. Anyway the storm passed and we figured we would ready ourselves and attempt the last Upington leg while omitting Kuruman from our journey. Just as were ready to take off another huge cumulo nimbus storm arrested our departure and back under that despised wing we crawled. Another hour later we readied our selves again. I was in the front seat of another mates plane and was flying the afternoon leg. Joe had taken the extra fuel, bedding and tents, however that doesn't mean we weren't horribly overlaiden. Take off was uneventful and was quite pleasant turning on our GPS co-ordinates in the late afternoon post storm weather. This however was fairly short lived as right across our flight path, moving at a considerable speed was another of these monsters that seem to materialise out of no where. We were quite keen to try and outrun it or fly through the edge of it, however consensus was that the rest were turning back towards where we had come from, I decelerated to lose height and low and behold that familiar sound that was still edged in my memory from almost exactly a year ago was audibly heard, yes that spluttering noise that means your engine is not working and will soon cease to operate at all.

Being very heavy one has a considerable sink rate once power is removed, and with nothing to keep us aloft we entered what could be described a sink and glide ratio that could be associated with a brick that was thrown off a hi-rise building. The area below us was full of ant nests, burrows and tufts of knee high mounds of grass and to top it all we were heading directly at a 6 strand barb wire fence and there was nothing we could do (being too low to turn away). We had managed to almost make the threshold of the runway without an engine, but luck would have none of it as we hit the ground, bounced into a burrow and catapulted into the fence. All that was separating me from the fence was one aluminium bar which almost miraculously snapped all the strands of the fence as we careered through it. If not I would be in kit form now with neatly sliced sections dispersed over the Northern Cape terrain. The plane needless to say was in far worse disarray and would certainly need some major reconstructive surgery.

This specific town seemed to have no guest houses or hotels and nowhere even to eat. Myself and Joe made our way into town and even the police station seemed to contain mentally deficient and possibly inbred employees. After a lot of dead ends we made contact with a worker at a local diamond digging that put us in contact with the mine bead and breakfast where we were blessed to make contact with Adell, who couldn't have done more if she tried. We are all most indebted to her and her friends for all the driving around in the middle of the night, rain and cold and the incredible hospitality she offered us.

Two of the microlighters seemed to want to continue "the back to nature experience" and had opted to camp in the wet and mud, out near their planes, while we had supper cooked for us and a long over due hot bath. Somewhere towards mid evening another horrendous storm arrived and proceeded to blow one of the planes over that belonged to one of the chaps that stayed behind, so out we all went to lend a hand in weather even ducks would have avoided. It was interesting to see the huge sums of money that mining companies invest in the local community. This particular mine (zink and lead) has built a posh guest house, lacking absolutely nothing for its visiting managers (and other remnants of microlight expeditions), and also an enormous community centre which back in those days must have been estimated at a good few million. They were in the process of closing down and "rehabilitating" their operation during our visit (which realistically should take a year or so), and were donating all investments, buildings and infrastructure to the local community. I think it is gestures like these (and it is not an isolated case in our country) that the rest of the world fails to recognise. Impoverished communities gain hugely from affirmative action policies and legislation governing corporate enterprises and industry. It is this ongoing upliftment and donations that I believe should be more publicised. What does concern me is what effected most of Africa following the colonial withdrawal from many, many countries up North. The local presidency inherited a wealth of knowledge, logistics and mining concerns following independence, so much so that some African presidents, in a year or two following autonony, were listed as the top 3 wealthiest men in the world, while their country was the poorest per capita. Those same countries slowly spiralled into oblivion and were raped of all potential wealth. just take a look at Africa.

Now with 2 of the 4 planes out of action and one of the remaining pilots deciding enough was enough, the tedious task of summonsing help from a good 8 hours drive away to come tow the planes back home was undertaken. I hitched a ride with a local farmer to Kuruman and then caught a bus (12hours) to Cape Town. That was one of the pleasures this year of not owning a plane!

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