Noel and Nell invited us to another excellent sunday lunch. It was pouring with rain when I went down to get Mark at the AMEG lodge in town, it seemed unlikely our car would make it so I borrowed Nell's Toyota Prado which is altogether better suited to these roads. Plunging through some quite deep puddles I had to take extreme care not to splash any of the crowds of people walking up the side of the road in their sunday best to church. The rain had stopped by the time we made our way back and most of the puddles had disappeared; the volcanic soil here drains amazingly well and it boded well for later when we had to get out with our car to take Mark to Kilimanjaro International airport.
We took a look at the flight recorder trace from Mark and Eve's record flight yesterday. Jan and Jana Bem's existing record is 6876m or 22556 Ft. but to make an altitude claim they had to beat 7082m or 23,233ft. After correction for local atmospheric pressure it looks like Mark and Eve reached 7364m or 24,160 ft, so they've beaten the record by around a respectable 488m or 1604ft. I say -around- because I haven't got the calibration sheet for the FR here, so the final difference will be a bit different, but I remember my FR wasn't very far off from true last time it was calibrated 18 months or so ago.
When he looked at the trace though, Mark was rather disappointed. At 23,000ft they were still tearing up at 250 - 300 Ft per min and then suddenly the rate of climb slowed dramatically and they spent the last five minutes or so floating around hardly going up at all. Eve said later, "I know we should have turned right", because they'd done the normal thing of climbing round Mawenzi and then floating in towards Kibo peak, and it would appear that it was then that they either encountered air which either wasn't rising or was probably sinking. Had they stayed out in front of Mawenzi they could conceivably gone quite a lot higher.
They've got the record though, so really can't complain. And it was encouraging to me because I know Jan Bem will be having a go at getting his record back, and I know my machine has more in it. Just got to lose some weight...
It seemed stupid for me to take Mark all the way to KIA and then come back again when early next morning I had to return the car to Arusha, the other side of KIA, and then get to KIA myself to catch a plane to Dar by 11 am. Eve came to the rescue and rang her friend Colleen Hogg who lives there to ask if I could stay the night. This was all fine, so at about 5 we made our goodbyes to Noel, Nell, the children and everyone else staying with them and set off to deliver Mark to the airport and his KLM flight home. Luckily the roads had almost completely dried out by this time so we had no trouble getting up the steep bits close to the house.
I left Eve and Colleen at 8 the next morning to fill the car up with petrol, return it to the Japanese place, finish paying for it and, seeing as I'd paid until midday, pursuade them to lend me a driver so I could go to KIA by 10 and then he could return the car. All went well until the last bit, no, "now you've returned the car, it's returned and can't go anywhere, you should have gone to KIA and got your own driver to bring it back". This didn't seem very logical seeing as I'd not paid for all of it yet, and said that all I was trying to do was be an honest man. "OK, we can arrange another car",they said. Normally it takes about an hour to get from Arusha to KIA, and time was ticking by, but the price was outrageous; more than a whole day's car rental. I pretended to be patient and negotiated. Eventually we came to a half reasonable price, but still no sign of the car. 45 minutes to go, still no sign of it, 40 passed, and then eventually it turned up at 35.
Right, "lets go" says I, but we went nowhere, they were peering at the insurance disk on the windscreen in front of me. Eventually some sort of decision was made and we were off; 30 minutes until checkin closes. I tested the seatbelts and considered what position I was going to take in the inevitable crash, but we only went 100 yards and pulled into some place and my driver got out for a bit of a conversation with someone. I leant across and tooted the horn which seemed to spur him along a bit and shortly we were off again, I noticed the fuel gauge was on zero. Once out on the main highway we accelerated alarmingly, the steering seemed a bit wobbly, I checked my seatbelt again, shortly we pulled into a petrol station and took on 6 litres which was all the money he had. I resigned myself to missing the plane. About half way to the airport there was a police road block, we pulled off the road into a shopping centre, drove past it slowly and then out onto the highway again - something to do with the insurance disk I supposed, We should be there by now, and we were off again at breakneck speed, narrowly missing a couple of people on bicycles wobbling with heavy loads down the side and overtaking dalla-dallas - the local, very overloaded minibuses - when they slowed down for the many speed bumps. The driver started rapping the dashboard, the engine temperature gauge was on red. By this time all I could rely on was Eve's assertion that Precision Air is more usually known as Inprecision Air, if I got to he airport alive that is.
After one of the more terrifying drives of my life, I jumped out of the car and rushed into the airport twenty minutes late to find the people behind the Precision Air checkin desk totally cool, yes, the plane was on time - no problem. Phew!
Eve was coming back to Dar the same day too, but from Arusha airport via Coastal, the airline she works for, but was likely to arrive some time after me. Elias was supposed to be waiting at the airport to take me to her house as I only had a 90% recollection of how to find it and airport taxi prices are always outrageous. My flight went via Zanzibar so was an an hour longer than Elias expected so he'd gone off to town, but after one bit of indecision I did find Eve's house at a not completely outrageous price.
Once 'home' I took another look at Mark and Eve's flight recorder trace. Once my adrenaline level was back to normal it had occurred to me on the flight down to Zanzibar that it might be interesting to see how they'd done on 'climb to height', of which there are two possible records, from 'starting rolling' to 3000m and 'starting rolling' to 6000m. As Moshi is quite high at 2735 ft and of course it is hot hot, I didn't hold out much hope, but amazingly, on first look it seemed as though they might have done rather well. Mark must have really booted it, which explains why they were back so quickly.
Once Eve got back and her internet connection was up and running I checked the existing records to find that they'd narrowly missed the 'time to climb to 3000m' of 9 min 19 sec by getting there in 9 min 33 sec, but they'd comprehensively trashed Jan Bem's existing 33 min 15 sec World record of 'time to climb to 6000m' by doing it in an amazing 25 min 33 sec. Even though this is still subject to change because I don't have the Flight recorder calibration sheet with me, I know it is not far from 'true' so I'm confident they've got a second World Record claim in the bag. Amazing.
Today I visited Teddy Junior Ltd, our shipping agents, and met Dickson Luwumba the General manager. Apparently our kit has today been picked up from MTC to be delivered to KIA and it may be back in UK later this week. They really have been exceptionally effecient and I would recommend them to anyone without reservation. I'd hoped to meet Juinata Mramba at SCB as well to thank her for all the help they've given us on this expedition and to see whether they thought we had helped their efforts in promoting Seeing is Believing which is such an amazingly good cause, but unfortunately she was busy all day.
Tonight I'm on the plane home with some presents for Nicky, Alexandra, Isobel and Hugo.