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Mike's Pilot Log: South to South Adventure

We booked into a little hotel made entirely out of mud.

We lifted off just after sunrise and flew low level over the nearby village, waving to the people who ran out of their huts. The dust was still bad. Being a bit faster than I was, Olivier stayed ahead of me. Whenever his trike started becoming difficult to see I would inform him and he would tell me if he was circling left or right. Most of the time he would start to disappear when he was further than about 60 metres in front of me. I enjoyed the low level flying early in the morning – this way I was able to see a bit of the countryside. For the last 2,500 km through North Africa I had not seen a single wild animal, but this morning I saw a one wild cat. In this part of the world the locals have killed and eaten everything that moves.

Actually the low flying brings with it some humour – and sometimes danger. In the westernised countries no one is too surprised or scared by us passing low level over them, but in the third world countries the locals and animals have never seen such strange flying objects and react accordingly. In Morocco I was flying low level down the beach and a young man picked up the soccer ball he was playing with and kicked it at me as I passed overhead. The ball bounced under the trike with a loud bang – I was not expecting to be hit and initially got a fright, but within a few seconds felt anger after thinking of the consequences if the ball had hit the prop. I circled and prepared for a Stuka dive on him ….. but, sense prevailed and instead I shook my fist at him and then continued on my way down the beach.

The goats in Mauritania are quite funny. Even if we are as high as 500 ft above the ground they still run like hell for cover. If they are near a tent they all run at high speed into the tent. I can picture a few Berber woman sitting in their tent drinking green tea and yakking away about women things like nails and shoes and the penis, when suddenly fifty goats come galloping into the tent to join them. If there is a small bush nearby then the goats all try to hide under it – the problem is when the bush is the size of a chair and there are thirty or more goats. If there is no bush they run towards each other to form a tight-knit united bunch, often having quite a big crash in the centre. The camels only run when we are very low.

The men, women and children usually run for cover, but as soon we wave at them they stop and wave back. The white teeth smiles in their black faces can be seen from 500ft up. When the kids run, they never look where they are running … they run looking backwards at us and often either have a crash into each other or hit a bush or a camel.

It is not our intention to scare or chase animals or people, but flying low level in a part of the world where they have never seen or heard of an aeroplane is enough to make anyone panic…. anyway, I am sure we brighten up their day and give them something to talk about for months.

The day was hot and the visibility terrible. At one time I tried to climb to clear air, but at 5,000 ft I lost sight of everything and had some difficulty keeping the trike on track. I could not imagine flying in those conditions without a GPS.  We flew eastwards until we hit the Niger River and then turned to the north.

We talked to the ATC at Tombouctou and I half expected that he may say the conditions were IFR (which they were) and that we had to divert to Cairo or Nairobi …. but he said nothing about the visibility in his weather report to us.

It was very hot as we unpacked and removed the wings. We gulped the last of our warm water down as we worked.

After talking to the ATC and arranging a guard, we were given a lift to the mystical town of Tombouctou. It is a hot and dusty place – not really what I was expecting at all. The buildings are all made from grey-brown mud, some falling down from recent rains. The rutted streets are narrow with dirt everywhere, a lot of the people of Tombouctou still live in the same way as they did for the last few centuries. Walking through Tombouctou was like travelling back in time.

We booked into a little hotel made entirely out of mud. Our room was tiny, but at least we had a fan. After a few very cold beers and a tough African steak, we had a shower and fell asleep with the fan going full blast.

Later after the sun had lost some of it's strength in the late afternoon, we employed a young Taureg boy as our guide and he took us in search of an Internet café. An Internet café in this dusty town seemed impossible – but we found one. Of course the connection was so slow that we were unable to check the page or check our mail, so instead we headed to a bar for a drink.

I landed up sitting next to a young cripple Taureg man who had received his crutches as a gift from a South African tourist.

Olivier chatted to a young white girl near the entrance to the bar. She sat with us for awhile and after chatting some more about her travels Olivier offered her a lift to Mopti which was on our way and where she wanted to go to next. It is sometimes quite astonishing to see young women travelling on their own into some of the wildest parts of the world, completely unafraid.


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