Just before new year Eve Jackson who has been sorting out all my Tanzania CAA permissions in Dar es Salaam had asked me to bring a set of Land Rover brake cylinders; apparently the seals in the ones you can get in Tanzania are attacked by brake fluid and don't last long, and some sausages and pate. With the new year holidays and the fact that it is rather a vintage landrover the brake cylinders weren't so easy to find but I'd got them. The sausages and pate were a lot easier; from David Chapman, the excellent butcher in Baldock.
The last thing to do was to stuff them frozen into my padded camera bag before Dave the taxi man arrived at 3.30am to take me to Heathrow. There was a massive queue at Terminal 4 of people who seem to have thought they had to be there three hours in advance for their intercontinental flight. As far as KLM were concerned however, this first leg to Amsterdam was just a local flight and their check in staff didn't even turn up until there was 90 minutes to departure. With all the last minute bits and pieces in my bags, plus the brake cylinders and sausages I expected to be well and truly nailed for excess baggage but I needn't have worried, though I did have to do a bit of last minute juggling between the two of them to avoid a £35 penalty for one being more than 30 Kg.
I slept for the first half of the flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi, my GPS told me I'd woken up somewhere over Darfur. Just before sunset we went over the Nile at Malakal where I'd blocked the runway for an hour by landing with a puncture in all three tyres almost exactly 22 years ago on my London - Capetown flight.
In the seat behind me a young chap from Bor was staring out of the window at his homeland. He had spent most of his life in Kentucky, but now things in Southern Sudan things are more peaceful than they have been for a long time was making his first trip home since he'd left as a child. I was interested to know whether he was often treated as something like a slave in Kentucky as in my experience it's something of a confederate stronghold, but he said no, never.
My last visit to Malakal was when it was a government held town under seige by John Garang's SPLA rebel army. It wasn't a siege like you see on the movies though, in fact the only real manifestation was the lack of fuel or any other kind of supplies from the outside World since the boat from Khartoum was comprehensively shot up the year before. I had prepared for this though, and had pre-positioned six jerry cans of fuel which turned out to be much more than enough and I sold the two and half leftover cans for more than it had cost me to fly it all there in the first place. Perhaps the best deal I've ever done in Africa, I didn't say that it had 2% two-stroke oil in it, but the chap who bought it could only drive a couple of miles up and down in town.
I had to change planes in Nairobi. There were a few people on my flight to Dar who were getting away from the riots expected the next day, but on the whole people seemed very calm and there was enough traffic on the roads to suggest there wasn't a curfew.
Eve Jackson surprised me by appearing at the immigration desk at Nyere International airport before I'd collected my luggage. Of course, she works in the airport and has a pass to get in. Half my luggage failed to appear - it was the bag with the sausages and pate in it, and some fairly important bits and pieces like a rather expensive video camera which was too big to go in my hand luggage. There was nothing to do but file a lost luggage form and hope it turned up before it all got too smelly.
Eve drove me the short distance back to her rather nice house in her rikkety 1973 landrover; it struck me that it probably needs a lot more than new brake cylinders; headlights a bit brighter than a cheap torch would be a good start, but I suppose a good example of how old landrovers can go on and on with a bit of TLC.
Brian Milton will have you believe he was the first man to fly a microlight to Australia, back in the 1980's. This is true, but what is also true is that Eve was the first -person- to fly a microlight to Australia, at more or less the same time as I was flying to Cape Town in 1985/6. Having now flown the route with blind co-pilot Miles Hilton-Barber in the spring of 2007, this is the first time I've seen Eve since then, and I was interested to know what route she took since I'd never realized until I did it quite how much water there is to cross, and I knew that Gertie, her CFM Shadow didn't have the range we did, and of course in those days there wasn't any GPS or anything so navigation had to be done 'properly' with no second chances if you got lost.
It turns out that she took pretty much the same route as us, but where we tended to fly straight lines over water, she sensibly stuck by the coastline as much as possible and so flew a longer distance with many more stops. The one big difference between her route and ours was the last sea leg across the Timor Sea to Australia. She, like us, had arrived in Indonesia at a time of year when there is quite a strong easterly wind, which meant a headwind from Kupang to Darwin for which neither of us had the range. Whereas we went south, crosswind, to Truscott in Western Australia, she continued much further east in Indonesia to do the same thing from Saumlaki from which was about the same distance across the sea as we did, but straight into Darwin.
After her epic trip Eve came back to UK and qualified as a licensed aircraft engineer, and then three years ago, revived Gertie, painted her pink, and flew her, still fitted with a two cylinder two-stroke, on another epic flight from UK to come and live in Tanzania. That trip too had its moments, including a forced landing in rebel held southern Sudan which involved a week long adventure with the SPLA before she pursuaded them to help her build a runway to take off from. The full story can be read in her book Gertie's day out.
At the moment Gertie is 'resting' at a small airfield just north of Dar since an unfortunate hole in the runway knocked one of her wheels off and broke the prop. Eve promises she'll fly again once she's got the funds to buy the parts. In the meantime she has just about completed building a 912 X-Air.
Elias, Eve's 'fixer' turned up at 9 in the morning in a shiny white Mercedes with a driver to take me into town to get the last of our permissions from the TCAA. I had my RAeC tie on and looked the part. I also had an appointment with Juinata Mramba at Standard Chartered Bank and finalize our plans with for Seeing is Believing events in Moshi. I left Eve contemplating the fitting of her new brake cylinders.
Seeing is Believing is Standard Chartered Bank's in-house charity which works to help people with curable blindness in the Third World. SiB is not your average NGO which often spend a large proportion of their income on administration; instead, SCB covers all expenses and doubles every Pound, Dollar, Euro or Rouble you donate to SiB. From the experience of Miles Hilton-Barber's and my flight to Sydney where we saw some of the things they are doing, they really do do a fantastic job and recently passed their 1,000,000th sight restoration, so only about 25 million or so more to go.... The machine is on loan from them and has SiB written all over it, so it seems only reasonable that we should offer to do what we can to promote SiB while we are in Moshi. I'm told that as AIDs and Malaria are such important issues in East Africa SiB has found it difficult to make as much of an impression as in some other places, so we'll try to do our bit.
Our first stop was with Mr Njawa at TCAA airworthiness. Initially he looked rather apprehensive, like I was about to create some sort of new complication, but was all smiles when I said all I'd come to do was thank him for the permissions he'd already granted.
Mr Kipingu at the clearance office was a different proposition. He knew about me, and had a copy of Mr Njawa's permission, but after a lot of leafing through several large piles of files he couldn't find the application Eve had submitted a while back. Slightly worryingly, Mr Kipimngu seemed to be full of difficulties; he was concerned that I understood the regulations Mr Njawa had specifically said we had to comply with, but I think was impressed that I had copies of them in my briefcase already prepared before I left home; nothing too difficult or unusual, no flying under 1500 ft over congested areas, same sort of things as we have in UK, in fact the rules were so similar they were probably copied from UK rules.
There was also the question of flying over National Parks, Kilimanjaro is in one, had I got a permission from TANAPA, the National Parks Authority? I had sent them an email a while back, but with no response. They're up in Arusha but I had spoken to a Mr Kessy there and as expected, so long as we stayed above 1500 ft AGL then they couldn't care less, but of course getting a paper actually saying this would be difficult. I think Mr Kipingu knew this really, so the subject was dropped when I offered to call Mr Kessy there and then to reconfirm what I'd already been told. There still remained the business of the lost file though. Never mind, I proposed we could make a new one; he agreed this was an idea, then maybe we could have our clearance tomorrow.
But where to make one? With the traffic in Dar the way it is, there was no time to go back to Eve's, but perhaps SCB had a computer and printer I could use.
Juinata was out, but Hoyce Temu, her No. 2 could help, and I quickly had a suitable letter composed and printed. Meanwhile, Elias was totally agog, he told me later that Hoyce had been Miss Tanzania 1999, had made it into the top 20 out of 104 Miss World contestants, and was really famous. While Elias popped back round to TCAA with the clearance request, the tall and beautiful Hoyce took me to a vast boardroom where we discussed what we could do for SiB in Moshi.
Elias then returned, bearing an envelope. I don't know how he did it, but he'd pursuaded Mr Kipingu to issue our clearance while he waited. I awarded him 5 stars and told him he was brilliant; I was still unaware of how famous Hoyce is, Elias positively beamed.
I got back to find a greasy Eve sitting cross legged in front of a semi dismantled front axle, it was one of those jobs which the more you took it apart, the worse it got. More parts were definitely needed.
With the permissions done, all that remained was a car. Originally I was planning to go up to Moshi by bus, but apparently the white Mercedes could be hired for $40 a day with unlimited mileage. David Barker rang later that evening to see how things were going and he thought that sounded quite reasonable, the same as in the States, he said. I had to remind him that this wasn't exactly the same thing as you'd get in the States, not least because this particular car, although quite shiny, clearly carried a very considerable mileage and had quite a hum from the back axle at any speed over 40. It would be fine for round and about in Moshi, the question in my mind was whether it really would get the 500 Km to Moshi in the first place.
We went into town again to find Eve's Landrover parts. On the way back she made our driver stop outside a clothes shop, and said "you've got to come and look at these". The shop had some things described as "Portuguese party jackets". Sorry, Nicky, I'm afraid I had to buy one. The Mercedes took the opportunity to demonstrate its reliability by refusing to start when we were ready to leave; just a click when the driver turned the key. Being an automatic, it couldn't be push started either, so he opened the bonnet and started to fiddle with the fuses in a random looking sort of way. Eventually it did start, but whether this was a result of his expertise or that it had just cooled down a bit is an open question. Elias said that tomorrow I could choose from a selection of different cars.
Eventually he did take me off to a bar half a mile or so from Eve's house where we sat around a few Kilimanjaro beers discussing life the World and everything while waiting for cars. Eventually George, the car man turned up, but without any cars. He said that he didn't think that the Mercedes would be suitable to take to Moshi without its driver as it had a 'small electrical fault'. I said we'd already experienced it, and I wasn't very keen to break down half way there, or have to go to all the extra expense of hiring, feeding and lodging the driver. Never mind, some other cars will come, he said. We waited some more, but nothing turned up. This morning I was told that one was available for $120 a day. I decided to give it a miss, some you win, some you lose, so I'm off up to Moshi tomorrow morning on Scandinavia bus. I can hear banging going on outside in the garden, hopefully Eve will have fixed her Land Rover by then.
And what of the sausages? They turned up with everything else intact the morning after I arrived. My camera bag had done its job and although no longer frozen, they were still quite cold, so Eve now has some nice pate, sausages and a Boerwurst personally marked by David Chapman as "Best of British" to enjoy.