Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Moonpath home

What's seemed like a long 24 hours has passed and I am nearly back to England.
The route home is Bangui - Camaroon (5 hours lay over)- Paris (4 hours layover )- Amsterdam (2 hours lay over- Bristol where my gorgeous Naomi will be . 
Well I had a little drama on the night before returning as I went for dinner at a place next door to the hotel and stayed for half an hour after to watch one of the African football games and ended up being pick pocketed and lost my wallet. Totally daft of me to take it with me really, but all the cards are now cancelled and 50 quid lost.
A good night sleep after and time to get up and pack the last of my things and wait for Freddy the driver to come. The arrangement is quite good as there is an air France office in he city and you can check in there and give in all of the luggage rather than stand in crazy long queues at the airport in 36 degrees.
I get my bags checked in and a little forward planning grab some food now at my favorite little café and then I don't need to worry later.
The route to the airport is still quite a problem so the UN have organized convoys with the soldiers a long the route securing it.
It felt strange arriving at the airport after a few days away and this time for the last time. It's not off to see the weather guys or flight planning. It's homeward bound.
There's a little lounge at Bangui airport for about 15 people for you can pay $10 and get free drinks , air con and wifi. That's the option for me as there's 3 hours to wait.
I enjoy people watching and the lounge soon filled up with a wide variety of passengers . A Korean/A erican guy who was incredibly loud on his phone, then 2 minutes later was snoring like a thunderstorm.
Two American Vietnam vets, who must have been nearly 70 but they had both been hunting somewhere and were telling stories of their stalking .
Then the place fills up with military and fellow aid workers making their way home to where ever that is.
I'm not feeling very talkative so I put my headphones on with my audiobook and focus on my own personal voyage .
Now I'm checked in I allow my mind to wonderamd look forward to seeing Naomi and catching up on all of the things I've missed over the last 4 weeks.
I'm looking forward to seeing a few friends and also starting to get our longer term planning under way.
I think this trip has been good for me for starting to realize where I want things to go professionally in the near future and also it's given me time to reaffirm what I want and hope for in my personal life.
With a huge whoosh the Air France 777-200 lands in front of the window and its time to shake a leg.
This is it. Not exactly the time or the flight that I expected to be leaving Africa on but aviation has its own twists and turns and if you don't want to go nuts you just have to roll with them.
The boarding starts well but doesn't exactly go as planned as we are all lined up on the apron I can see a huge storm from about 5 miles out to the south heading in at a rate of knots, it's swallows up the refugee camp then shortly after we are getting sand blasted from the sand and dust, then it's closely followed by the heavy rain.we manage to scurry up the steps and as we are climbing them I see the captain doing his inspection under the belly of the plane and pointing the one of the tyres, from his sign language it looks like there's an issue.
I keep climbing up on to the plane and get guided to my seat. Disappointingly it's one of the worst in the cabin being next to the toilet, so not too much sleep for me, as I'm sure each flush is going to wake me up. 
It turns out I'm right about the captain and the tyre and there is an announcement over the PA system that we are going to be delayed for 45 mins as there's a tyre change to be done as something has stuck in the tyre on landing that's been left on the runway.
I end up having a nice chat with some of the cabin crew. Two guys, one of whom has worked with aviation sans Frontieres in the passed by looking after children on flights. They are intrigued as to life on the ground in Bangui and are quite surprised when I point out the kids football pitch 50 yards from us next to the runway .
The tyre gets repaired and we are underway, I have to say I was slightly concerned as night had fallen and usually there were no night operations in Bangui.
But we are rolling.
The first flight is scheduled as a short one only an hour and a half to Camaroon, where we have to land and wait for around 5 hours until midnight as we cannot land in Paris in the middle of the night and also there has to be a change of crew.
I couldn't stand sitting by the loo so I had a stroll once airborne and the flight was going quickly. As I was going back to my seat one of the flight crew pulled me aside and said he really admired what the pilots and worker for aviation sans Frontieres and aviation without borders do and he would let the incoming crew know there is an ASF pilot onboard for the next flight to Paris . He said there might be an extra slice of cake for me with dinner.......
I'm certainly a cake lover.......
It was time to strap in and land in Camaroon, we all have to get off the plane and sit in the transit lounge and wait, although they do lay on sandwiches and drinks, it's a long wait and I'm restless. 
I listen to my audio book and start to fidget and need a stroll and just keep repeating the process until it's time to reboard the aircraft and head to Europe . 
As everyone know where they were sitting the boarding seems to go quickly and I find my toilet and sit down. A quiet friendly voice of one of the cabin crew whispers in my ear as I grab my book, 
"Are you Mr Morton, the pilot with ASF" ?
"yes" I reply.
"Would you like to get your bag and follow me please?"
Slightly worried of an immigration issue a grabbed my bag and followed. 
I was introduced to the Captain in the forward galley who shook my hand and asked me how the work in Bangui had been. So I explained a few of the things we had been up to.
He put an arm on my shoulder and said " well done, I admire that"
"let's find somewhere comfortable for you to sleep " he says next. 
That'll be business class then....... As he shows me to a seat with a wink.
I can't believe my luck. It's like a little space age pod, seat 5E is to be my home for the night with big TV, a moving seat that turns into a bed and even a duvet. Not a flushing toilet in sight.
I settle into my seat and a glass of champagne is handed to me, and decide it's not time for pictures of myself sitting here, I just sat, took a huge deep breath and melted into the seat taking in my surroundings.
I had my eyes closed and felt a wave of relief wash over me.
I'm jolted from my reverie by a hand on my shoulder. The captain again. 
"Want to come and join me up front for departure?"
Looking slightly confused with glass of champagne in Hand he tells me to bring it with me.
So I follow him through the cockpit door and he gets me to strap into the jump seat between the pilots and I'm introduced to Thibault the co pilot in the right seat.
Sitting on the flight deck at midnight , glass of champagne in hand and watching the two Pilots go to work in between chatter about bush flying in the Central African Republic .
Pinching myself.
We are pushed back from the stand ,the lights are dimmed and we back track runway 01 for a 180 turn at the end on a tight turning padto line up for runway 19.
The captain briefs the departure, first turn, altitude and the co pilot gets take clearance.
The throttles go to full power and we are soon moving !!!
Air speed is alive, 
80 knots, check,
We are very quickly passing 150knots and starting our right turn.
As we turn onto heading and continue the climb we blast through a cloud layer and moon lights up the cockpit.
An amazing sight only gets better as I can see a distant lightening storm flashing away below us lighting up the clouds.
I have to remind myself I'm actually a pilot not an 8 year old.
The departure is pretty much complete as we reach our initial altitude and we have a really good chat about the plane I was flying in the bush and I can see a wry smile forming on the aging captain's face.
"It must have been amazing " he says almost to to himself.
"It certainly was Captain, I reply , almost to myself , as we climb away from Africa with the moon lighting our way.

The purser came into the cockpit to get the food order for the pilots dinner and the captain suggests I should go back with him as my dinner will be served shortly. 
Thanking both of them i retreat to my armchair like seat.
The food followed shortly after........
Fois Gras with smoked salmon
Followed by
Duck breast and vegetables.....
Followed by
Fondant Chocolate 
All accompanied by a chilled glass of white wine.

Quite a contrast the past few weeks.
As I sit and write this I am sitting in the airport after arriving into Paris. 
I have a few hours to wait, well I should be in Bristol in about 9 hours time.......

Monday, January 26, 2015

A mini post....

I wanted to write a quick Thankyou ,whilst I have some internet here to make a post, to my friends, family and also some strangers who have read my bog whilst I am out here in Africa flying for aviation without borders.
In the 4 weeks that I've been here there have been nearly 2000 views of my blog, which astounds me from all over the world . I have no idea how some people in Russia or Brazil, Indonesia or Ukraine have come across my ramblings. I have enclosed below some of the stats, on the list of countries it only lists the top 10 of the moment but there have been some very random places where people have been taking a peek at what I'm up to.
Thankyou for the kind messages of support both privately and publicly, it's really something that helps when on an adventure like this .

For the moment I am waiting to hear when my flight back to Europe will be as there are not too many flights out of here.
Thankyou once again. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Slowly slowly day by day

With security high on the list of priorities and what looks like 2 days until the next flight out of Bangui I'm kinda stuck at the hotel here at The Hotel du Centre. 
Like any budding tourist I grab my sunscreen , my glasses and my hat and I head for the pool........ mmmmmmm

What do I find ?
Well as for the water you can't see the bottom of the pool and it's only 1.5m deep and there's kind of a lot of floaty stuff on the top. 
The pool furniture could be described as a little tired and needing some care and attention.
The Mosquitos are buzzing around looking upon me as lunch. Maybe a tactical retreat to the bar is a better idea. 

Maybe I won't be spending my afternoon by the pool.
For me today seems to have been more about questions than answers.
When will I be heading back ?
What's next ?
Will they actually clean the pool ?  
Do I have enough winter clothes ? 
Will ASF have a need for me flying again?

(As I write that I get an alert on my phone that there has been another kidnapping , this time a government minister, here in the city.)

 It seems the kidnapping and armed hijackings continue here. 
Time to pop the news on and see what's happening. 

This afternoon I am here perusing through social networks, Twitter and facebook . 
There's not really any news about what happens here in Africa at all. It gets me wondering what the 24hr news channels would be like if a European Government minister rather than an African one was kidnapped at gunpoint. I imagine there would be "breaking news" on every channel.
I'm not sure if that's down to racism, lethargy or infact I have no idea why what happens on this massive continent doesn't seem to be globally important. 
I find that pretty sad. 
I wonder if I or one of my colleagues here were taken hostage whether it would be the same. Or would Sky news and Fox News be reporting it. 
It's a strange old situation and one that saddens me a little, this is a country here that is wealthy enough that it should be able to stand on its own two feet, infact it's probably too wealthy and that seems to be the cause of a lot of the issues, the diamond mining and gold and therefore fighting over who controls that under the guise of religious fighting. 
The one thing I do know for sure is that due to this there are thousands of displaced people, children and families who are refugees because of the violence . A generation of people who will grow up knowing nothing but conflict. 
Now as the tensions increase each day here ever so slightly day by day the first thing that happens is the NGO's here to help those displaced gradually scale down their work as its deemed unsafe. That then leads to desperate times for the families, villages and groups. 
That desperation then leads to more conflict and the cycle goes on again. 

I'm guessing not so many smiles today on the faces of those children whom I've met over the passed month.
I suspect they will be looking to the skies wondering if our airplanes coming to help bringing people and aid.
But no plane today, and probably not tomorrow. 
I hope they manage to keep smiling I really do

A pretty big week of flying with some centreline hopscotch.....

Hours flown this month(FEB): 33 Landings: 8 Countries visited: 5  Continents visited: 3  Quick iron of the shirt and in th...