|MICROLIGHT EXPEDITION 2003. JOHANESBURG
TO CAPE TOWN
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
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
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!