Flying Safari to Namibia, May 2016
By Henry Doenlen
Our first visit to Africa was during our honeymoon. We did a safari in Kenya, riding in a van with 6 other tourists from one game part to another, seeing and photographing the animals and learning a little about the culture. When Hanks Aero Adventures proposed an Escorted Self-fly Safari experience, we were interested in going back to Africa. Having an escort was desired, to provide knowledge of the area and help with the administrative complexities so we could focus on the joy of flying in southern Africa. Much of our time was spent in the wonderful lodges and camps that were arranged by Nick and Christina Hanks for our trip, but this post will focus on the flying.
This web page is a combination safari blog and photo album. Almost all of the photos are clickable and hyperlink to a larger image. Clicking on the videos takes you to YouTube. Click here for the blog with flying info only.
A pilot needs to get their license "validated" before being permitted to fly a South African registered aircraft. The validation process started months before the safari in South Africa. I had fill out a 1 page validation application and send notarized copies of my American pilot's license, medical, recent logbook pages and passport photos to Hanks Aero Adventures. They took care of all of the details. Validation is for a specific model of airplane. Hanks Aero Adventures uses Cessna 182s. During the months before the safari, I found a Cessna 182 at Ferguson Airport (82J) for checkout and rent. I was able to do several soft field landings on the turf runways there.
After a regional jet flight from Pensacola, we were ready at the gate in Atlanta for the 14 1/2 hour Delta 200 flight to Johannesburg. Our carryon luggage had our headsets and all of the other flying gear we would need. We had materials to study for the validation flight, including South African air law and the reporting points in the Johannesburg region. The flight was to depart by 8:30 PM, so the plan was to sleep 6 hours, then stay awake for the rest of the short day. Fortunately the international Delta flights were stocked with many new movies to watch while sitting snugly in the coach seats.
5/7/16 … and arriving in South Africa
After sunrise, our flight took us over Namibia so we could see the terrain where we’ll be flying. From high up, we could see the sands along the coast, the mountains, and the desert bush lands. It was becoming dark by the time we landed in Johannesburg’s O. R. Tambo Airport around 5:50 PM. South African customs stamped our passport with a tourist visa. At the Johannesburg airport, I tried to get a Vodafone sim card for my cell phone, but the salesman could not make it work. The Hanks had arranged for the 45 minute drive north to the Hartford Hotel in Lanseria. At the hotel, we had are first meeting with Nick and Christina Hanks and with the crew of the other Cessna 182, Andy and Karie Davidson.
5/8/16 morning: Church & Lanseria Tower BriefingAfter having breakfast at the Hartford hotel, we arranged for an Uber driver to get us to church It turned out that the latest services started at10 am, and our driver found a church, saying, “it's only 10 minutes away.” As he drove, we chatted on the way about life in his home country Zimbabwe and why he left for South Africa. His family still lives in Zimbabwe and they struggle with the economics and the corruption of the leadership. He reasoned that South Africa’s president is corrupt but at least he will pay for his corrupt dealings. The 10 minute drive actually became 30 minutes, and we got to the Church of the Resurrection in Bryanston about 30 minutes late. The church was standing room only, and an old priest was still giving an enthusiastic rambling sermon about church history and works of mercy that went on for another 20 minutes. After that, the service was same as in America, except for the South African accents.
Outside of the church was an oddly configured shopping center. We started to notice that there was a lot of security around the buildings and that everything was gated and guarded. Even the church was gated. We shopped at 3 markets and purchased some Kalahari salt and tea for gifts. We also bought a small bag of beef biltong to try, which was like jerky with a somewhat milder different taste.
Back at the hotel at 300 PM, Andre from the Lanseria Airport (FALA) control tower gave us a briefing on the airport procedures and surrounding Johannesburg African airspace. There were a lot of airspace considerations for getting in and out of Lanseria Airport and some different terminology to become familiar with. Special rules, circuits, zone or boundary out were just a few in addition to the South African accent of the controllers. Airspace around Lansera is cramped. Lanseria Airport is 4521 elevation with a circuit pattern of 5500 feet. Johannesburg approach control does not allow VFR flights into the Johannesburg TMA which is 7600 feet to FL 110. There is also Lanseria CTR from ground to 6500 feet and a larger Lanseria TMA from 6500 to 7600 feet extending to the west and south of the airport. Fortunately, the tripkits from Hanks Aero had information about the altitudes to use getting in and out of Lanseria airspace. Louis Ashpole gave us a portable GPS with all of the safari flight plans to use in the Cessna 182 we would fly. After the briefing, I had to do a new flight plan for the validation flight, to take into account what I had just learned about the reporting points for the north departure from Lanseria Airport.. I slept poorly that night waking up a 2 am to program a flight plan into a portable GPS.
Fountain at the Hartford Hotel
Actual routing for the validation flight
First meeting of our Cessna-182
5/9/16: Validation Flight & Botanical Gardens
Airport, Silke gave Liz and I a briefing on flying the South Africa bush. Silke
was an instructor and a recently certified air transport pilot. She gave use
many interesting and scary tips. One tip was to watch out for bush pigs and
other animals who may choose to scamper onto the landing strip when the airplane
is on final approach at an unsecured airport. Most bush camps send out a Land
Rover with staff to clear the landing strip. But when that does not happen, or
if we make a diversion to another bush strip for an unscheduled landing, we were
told to overfly the landing strip at 300 feet above the ground with a wing low
to inspect for animals.
At UTRUK intersection, we turned northwest to Pilanesburg Airport, set the altimeter to 1013 hPa for standard flight levels, and contacted Johannesburg Information for flight following. In South Africa, a local altimeter setting is used for flight less than 2000 feet above ground level. When the local altimeter setting is used, altitude is reported in feet above sea level. At and above 2000 feet above ground level, the standard altimeter setting is used and attitude is reported in flight levels. Johannesburg Information had a weak signal on the radio, and I could not make out what the controller was saying. Fortunately, Silke understood and she handled the radio, arranging a climb to flight level 085 (about 8500 feet above sea level or 4000 feet above ground level), then for a diversion on the route to Pilanesberg. Silke asked me to demonstrate a precautionary touch and go landing at Rustenburg Airport, then over to the practice area for an approach stall, demonstration of engine failure procedures, and a go-around over an empty field. We routed back to Lanseria Airport, contacted the tower, reported abeam the satellite tracking station, and requested to join the circuit for landing. We were told the join for a left base to runway 07, report final, and I did another touch and go landing. Then right traffic for the third landing. My first flight in another country was 1.8 hours, and Silke wrote “validation successful” in my log book was written to allow me to be pilot-in-command of a South African Cessna 182.
Hank’s Aero Adventures arranged for a car rental from Avis, and Liz got the paperwork completed while I was flying. Liz spent the time with Louis, our flight leader with expert photography skills, learning how to use our new camera. He kept reiterating to use the rule of thirds when composing photos, and so photography skills improved by 30 percent.
In the rental car, I found myself sitting in the right seat having to drive on the left side of the road. Paying a massive level of attention, and with Liz carefully watching, we made it back to the hotel. Only one time, we found ourselves turning into ongoing traffic in the lane. Traffic around Johannesburg is harrowing because many busy intersections of 4-lane roads have non-functioning traffic lights and so become like 4-way stop signs. With traffic stopping in all 8 lanes, there is no logic as groups of cars lurch into the intersections while pedestrians attempt death defying crossings. It seems that all of the cars stopped for 2 seconds, enough time for several drivers simultaneously to realize that everyone has stopped and it was a good time to move into the intersection. Incidentally, in South Africa traffic lights are called “robots. “
With some of the afternoon left, we decided to brave driving in the traffic again and go to the botanical gardens about 30 minutes to the west of Lanseria. Google Maps kept trying to get up on a highway, and we finally gave in to the cell phones yelling and entered the highway to avoid the intersections. Driving through the neighborhood to the gardens, I kept telling myself, “right turn to left lane” to try to avoid turning into the wrong lane. We arrived at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens and found parking, about an hour before the gates would close for new visitor. We found the walk outdoors to be refreshing. We found the Eagle’s Fare Restaurant for a quick late lunch. I ordered a tramezzini, which turned out to be 2 tortilla shaped pieces of flat bread with filling sandwiched in between, looking more like a quesadilla. We walked to the waterfall, then onto the woodland walk along the Crocodile River to the boardwalk over the wetlands to watch the ducks. The gardens were close to closing, so we drove on the left side of the highway back to the hotel.
of Humankind & Safari Briefing
Nick and Chris Hanks live in the middle of a game preserve. We drove a long, bumpy dirt road to get there. At their house, we were given lunch and an extensive briefing for the entire trip. Each aircraft would have a milk crate full of supplies, including a first aid kit, survival kit, water, 2 quarts of oil and a funnel. Unless arrangements are made well ahead of time, most airfields might not have fuel. It's Africa and it's best to be prepared for anything and everything. Two airplanes got a DeLorme satellite text and GPS device so the Hanks could track our flights from their home. Nick thoughtfully included a pint of Jack Daniels whiskey to be used only if there was an emergency landing somewhere in the bush. We were also given a binder containing envelopes with complete information about each leg of the trip. These “tripkits” included runway information, altitudes, frequencies for the departure and destination airports, route information, frequencies, and alternate airports, as well as a route map and an overhead of the airports from Google Earth. We were also briefed on numerous possible emergencies and inconveniences that could occur on the safari.
After returning to the Hartford Hotel, we walked out of the south gate to a strip shopping center to get water and cookies from the supermarket and Rands from the ATM.
Leg 1 - Lanseria (FALA) to Upington (FAUP)
5/11/16: Into the bush
day arrived! At Lanseria Airport, we pulled the Cessna 182 airplanes out of the
hangers and the fuel truck topped them off with avgas. Supplies and luggage were
loaded, headsets were plugged in, and a portable GPS and iPad mini with flight
plans were clamped to the yolks. A pre-flight briefing was given. In South
Africa, flight plans are required for VFR flights to and from towered airports.
Flight plans for any VFR flight helps with rescue when the aircraft does not
arrive at its destination. Also, pilots flying visually are supposed to maintain
radio contact and give position reports to air traffic controllers along the
way. Ready to go, we found ourselves delayed by a runway closure when a small
airplane landed without lowering the gear. This closed the airport to all
traffic in and out until the runway was cleared. Our planned takeoff time came
at 11:00 am and
went. We were a bit worried that if our departure was delayed too long, we would
be arriving after sunset at 5:55 pm in Upington. But, it's Africa. No use
getting upset, be patient with a smile. The commercial traffic would get to land
and depart before we would be permitted to leave.
Leg 2 - Upington (FAUP) to Keetmanshoop (FYKT)
Hand pumping avgas into the wing tanks
5/12/16: Border Crossing into Namibia & Fish River Canyon
involved crossing an international border and dealing with government employees.
For this reason, we both wore pilot uniforms which consisted of a white pilot
shirt with epaulettes on the shoulders. The commercial pilots of the King Airs,
Caravans, and other turboprop airplanes used for air taxi all wore pilot
uniforms with epaulettes. The airport staff expected flight crews to be wearing
uniforms, and the uniforms allowed for easy access to the flight apron and the
airplanes. We ordered the shirts and epaulettes from mypilotstore.com. We wore
navy epaulettes with 3 gold bars. I ruined the effect by wearing jeans, but Liz
looked quite professional in black slacks.
Fish River Canyon
Leg 3 - Keetmanshoop (FYKT) to Karios (FYKC)
View out back of Canon Lodge
As we flew southward on leg #3, we could see the narrow Fish River growing into a vast series of increasingly larger canyons. It was a marvelous sight. We flew turning with the river until we reached a vast canyon complex. There were thick overhead clouds and thundershowers were about 50 miles to the west, but visibility was excellent. We made our way to Karios Airstrip, which was a single runway of packed sand. Louis landed first and radioed that there were animals crossing the runway. The Davidsons landed next, and when Karie announced short final, I flew to the airstrip, announcing my position several times adding, “looking for animals.” The others were off their radios, so there was no answer. I over flew the airport then set up for landing, flying a steep final so we could make sure the runway was clear, before landing on the packed dirt. Flight time was 1 hour.
At the Canon Lodge, we were given snacks of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches along with a drink of Gin and tonic. We checked into our little cabins which all had cemented stone walls and thrashed roofs making them look like Hobbit or Smurf cabins. We went on a ride looking for animals, but we only found a Kudu couple and a Martial Eagle. We spent more time photographing the sunset through the clouds, and a tree with the sunset through the clouds. We came to a place with chairs line up to watch the sunset, and where given snacks including biltong made from game, and another round of Gin and tonics. Dinner was a buffet, including springbok, and we discussed the possibility of fog at Luderitz Airport and the difficulty of finding fuel elsewhere within 2 hours of flight. We were tired after the busy day and we all went to our Smurf cabins early.
Leg 4 - Karios (FYKC) to Keetmanshoop (FYKT)
Leg 5 - Keetmanshoop (FYKT) to Gulek (FYGK)
At the breakfast buffet, we talked about Luderitz Airport being fogged in. Our validation was for VFR, and Luderitz Airport did not have an instrument approach. Louis checked the weather repeatedly, and we waited for the clouds to lift at our destination. Two hours later, the weather did not improve for Luderotz. It looked like we would miss out on flying up the Skeleton Coast of Namibia. Nick Hanks called back and said arranged for more fuel to be available at Keetmanshoop. By the time we reached Canon airstrip, the winds had picked up considerably. The 15 to 20 knot winds made pre-flight and loading challenging, and the co-pilot’s door on the Davidsons’ 182 became damaged from a wind gust blowing it open. The back-taxi down the runway was a little harrowing because of the wind, but the takeoff for leg #4 occurred quickly with the headwind. The sky was clear with unlimited visibility. We flew 30 minutes back to Keepmanshoop Airport, which was again uncontrolled. We waited for our fuel guys to arrive, roll 3 barrels of 200 liter avgas to the airplanes, and hand pump the fuel to top off our tanks.
Airborne again for leg #5, we routed north to Gulek airstrip. Skies remained clear with unlimited visibility. For Liz and I, our CRM, Cockpit Crew Management, was coming together nicely. I flew the airplane and checked the Easy Cockpit on the iPad for navigation. Liz fed me information from the Tripkit and monitored the display on the portable GPS. We both listened to radio transmissions and often compared what we heard with each other before responding. At 1 hour before the estimated time of arrival, we would brief the landing information in detail. Liz would recite the runway direction, altitude, length, and composition, the circuit altitude, surrounding obstacles, and the radio frequency. We looked at runway diagrams, determined what we would expect to see on the approach, and planned the descent profile. This planning helped us avoid surprises and last minute searches for information, resulting in relaxed, predictable, and safe landings.
At Gulek, the airstrip blended in with the surrounding terrain, and was difficult to see until we were upon it. We were able to confirm that it was the correct landing strip by seeing the other 2 airplanes in our group on the ground. The standard VFR approach to uncontrolled airports in South Africa and Namibia is to over fly the airport at 2000 feet above ground level to look for traffic in the circuit and check the safety of the runway. Then enter the downwind while descending to the traffic pattern altitude, typically 1000 feet above ground level. While circling the landing strip and while on final, the runway should be checked to make sure it is cleared of animals and other debris. We reported positions in the circuit on 124.8, the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency for all of Namibia. As we landed on the gravel strip, we could see the red sand dunes. Flight time was 1 hour 35 minutes.
After landing, we were met by our guide, Foster, and were given water bottles which could be refilled. We were driven to the Little Kulala Lodge where we were greeted with a washcloth for our faces, a glass of sherry, and staff singing a happy African song. The Lodge is part of Wilderness Safaris, and accommodates only 22 guests at a time. We checked out our nice "kulala" (the word means 'to sleep'), that had a view to the stunning mountain sunset. The dual walk-in shower was very nice. And surprise, laundry was included. We realized that we over-packing 7 days of clothes, when all we needed was enough for 4 days. Dinner included kudu. Foster told us he would wake us up at 530 am in the morning, so we ate dinner and went to bed early. The sky was very clear showing vast amounts of stars and the Milky Way galaxy.
We were up well before dawn. After breakfast, Foster drove us to the orange dunes of Sossusvlei just as the sun began to rise. The Namib sand sea (UNESCO site) name comes from the term wet Namibe and coined by the bushman. Drawing a map of Namibia with markers on the inside of his windshield, Foster explained that the desert of Namibia was the world’s oldest desert. The sands came from the action of the ocean on the mountains of South Africa, moved by ocean currents onto the shores on Namibia, and then carried inland by the winds to be deposited onto the vast area of sand dunes. The iron in the sand gives it the red color. The colors are richer just after sun rise and just before sunset. Foster gave the best geography lesson ever! Towards the south diamonds are mined. Uranium is mined in the central coastal area and towards the west. Only 2.3 million people live in Namibia. The biggest population is located in areas of more rainfall. They have had 3 presidents in the past 26 years. Housing became expensive on the coast due to foreign interests. Some areas get only 300ml of rain per year.
We drove on an
asphalt road into a long clay pan that was flanked the great red dunes. The
dunes were striking in the sunrise, showing the contrast between the sun lit red
sand and the shadows behind each dune’s crest. We passed dune 14, the
“beautiful dune,” where people were already climbing. We continued to the end of
the asphalt road, were we stopped at “the last decent toilet,” although there
was no sink for hand washing. Foster then drove us onto the sand to the dune
called “Big Daddy,” the tallest dune in the area, some 150 meters tall. On the
other side of the sand valley was a dune called Big Mama, due to its “sexy
As we drove around, we saw ostrich, springbok, oryx, baboons, jackal, and a white snout lizard. Springbok live around 16 years and if a horn breaks it doesn’t grow back. Springbok move in big groups are jump up and down when warning of water, predators. Jackals mate for life. Before leaving the dunes area, Foster drove us a shady area were we ate snacks and drank Mimosas.
After lunch at
the lodge, we drove by fairy circles on the hillsides. Many theories exist on
why fairy circles exist. One theory is that ancient termites lived in these
areas and grass would not grow in the circular area around the termite mounds.
We arrived at Sesriem Canyon, and we walked down a path to the canyon floor.
Foster showed us a shepherd bush, which was considered sacred because it always
supplied leaves for animals to eat in the desert. The shepherd tree communicates
with other trees. If it gets nibbled on, it sends a signal to other ones and
tegu will produce a bitter taste. The acacia trees in the area are hundreds of
years old. Foster said that 80% of the people in Namibia were Christian, either
Catholic or Lutheran. The people in the villages kept to the old religion,
Sacred Fire. They prayed to their ancestors. They sacrificed a lamb over the
Leg 6 - Gulek (FYGK) to Dura Nowas (FYDN)
Finally, a gas pump at Dura Nowas!
Leg 7 - Dura Nowas (FYDN) to Hartman Val (FYHV)
5/15/16: Over the coastal mountains
breakfast, Foster drove us to the airstrip where the wind was 20 knots with
dusty, sandy gusts. We each had been given a
bagged lunch with a yummy sandwich, cookies, a drink, and water. Most of the
lodges gave us lunches to take on our flights, and this made the flying more
enjoyable. Our original plan that day was to refuel at Swakopmund Airport with
sand/gravel runways, a part-time control tower, and avgas fuel pumps. Much of
the Atlantic coast of Namibia, including Swakopmund, was still fogged in. From
Lanseria, Nick Hanks check our second stop, Dora Nowas, and found they had
plenty of avgas. This changed the fuel situation because we now had a 2.5 hour
flight ahead. Although there were plenty of bush strips, since most lodges have
one, there were very few places had had avgas. Availability of avgas had to be
arranged well in advance. In flight, a Cessna 182 burns 13 gallons or 50 liters
per hour. I had 180 liters in the tanks, enough for the flight to Dora Nowas 1
We were met by our guide Solomon, who brought snacks with him. The drive to Serra Cafema took more than an hour over very bumpy over sandy and rocky road. The land was strikingly beautiful, with flat sandy areas and high hills covered with white and green grasses, as well as brown and gray outcropping of rock and surrounding mountains. On the way we saw bunting, sparrow, Ludwig buzzard, and rock kestrel along with wild donkeys and ostrich.
The Serra Cafema Camp accommodates 16 guests. It is part of Wilderness Safari, located on the Kunene River which separates Namibia from Angola in the north. It was very remote in the northwest corner of Namibia, about 50 miles from the Atlantic coast. There was no cell phone service and it was difficult to get internet access through the satellite enabled Wi-Fi. Almost all of the Namibia camps we stayed at had Wi-Fi connections, but very little, intermittent, useless internet access. By this time, my cell phone now longer booted after the post screen. Back in the States, I found it was not possible to reinstall the Android operating system. The Galaxy S4’s internal memory was not working, and I had to get a new cell phone, a Galaxy S7. Not having access to the news and the isolation from the rest of the world turned out to be very relaxing.
After getting settled into our villa, Solomon wanted to take us on a sunset drive. We drove five minutes to a nearby location where Solomon gave us gin and tonics with snacks. Karie used her iPod app to identify that the bright red star on the horizon was actually Mars. We were soon tipsy and laughing, which continued after we returned for dinner.
breakfast, Solomon took us to a nearby Himba village which had been there 20
years.. Before we arrived, he told us about the woman in charge, who was called
Crocodile because when she was younger, she was attacked by a crocodile when she
was at the river. The Crocodile bit into her left Breast and arm. A barking dog
caused the crocodile to let go. The crocodile went after the dog and both
escaped. Crocodile did not know her age in years. If asked her age, she would
say, remember when those rains came, I was born then. Based on this, it was
estimated she was in her 50’s.
5/17/16: Hartman Valley
breakfast, Louis, Shauna, Liz and myself went with Solomon on a quad-bike ride.
Shauna quickly dropped out due to a stomach ache. We drove up a stone hill and
passed the Himba village, then up a sandy hill where Liz stalled because she was
in the wrong gear and I got stuck because I stopped to see what was wrong with
Leg 8 - Hartman Valley (FTHV) to Ondangwa (FYOA)
Leg 9 - Ondangwa (FYOA) to Ongava (FYNG)
5/18/16: Flying inland
Leg #8 was a 2 hour flight direct to Ondangwa, a tower controlled approach and field. The tripkit warned us that this was a fuel critical leg. We leaned the mixture for the best fuel economy, and carefully maintained course while watching the fuel consumption. The Ondangwa tower controller talked fast with a thick accent and we both had to listen to interpret his clearance. Landing on the asphalt runway was uneventful, and we topped off the airplane with fuel.
The next flight, leg #9, was one hour to the Ongava landing strip. We had to be careful not to overfly the Etosha National Park, which was visible by the large salt pan. We flew on the west side and followed the road until Easy Cockpit on the iPad showed we were over the Ongava landing strip. We could see the land rover and and the other airplanes on the ground waiting for us.
We stayed at the Onvega Tented Camp. These were obviously not Boy Scout tents, but were large, standup tents with a queen sized bed and full bathroom. The camp could accommodate 16 guests. Before dinner, we went on a game drive around the Onvega Game Reserve, and found several lions at a watering hole. We watched a mischievous lion cub who kept jumping on his older sisters. The sisters then pinned the cub to the ground and tripped the cup when he walking. The camp had no fence to keep out the animals, and the animals roamed freely through the camp as there was a watering hole in front of the dining area.
During dinner, one of the staff, Sidney from Walvis bay, told us the menu in the click language. He spoke the click language but Afrikaans was his strongest language. He had learned English in school. Dinner was family style and we were entertained conversing with 2 German brothers and their stories of being dentists while engaging in their hobby business of importing quarter horses from Texas to Germany. We also met Petra from Germany while travelled alone all the time. She had been to Kenya 10 Times. There was a young couple from London who talked politics with us. We could watch the animals that came to the watering hole while we ate. We were told that it was not safe to walk outside in the dark. A man with a flashlight and rifle escorted us to our tents after dinner. We were told to stay inside the tent until someone came by to wake us up in the morning. I asked the escort if he ever had to use the rifle and he said yes. I asked what for and said lions on the path.
We were wakened at 530 AM, and were told it would be safe to walk outside at 600 AM. Breakfast eaten, we were ready to go at 630 AM. Leon, our guide, drove us out of the Ongava Game Reserve and turned left to the entrance of Etosha National Park. He told us that most guides work 6 weeks and then have 2 weeks off. Louis had been looking at the instructions of my new Panasonic Lumix FX-1000 camera, which he had pointed me to months before the trip. An expert photographer himself, Louis showed me how to use aperture priority and point focus. Doing this, my zoom photos were much better focused. We saw giraffe, warthog, rock dassie, wildebeest, impala, bee eater swallowtail bird (many others), kudu, and lion. We found 9 lion cubs playing together. The smallest was 5-6 months old. The rest were 1 ½ years old. They would stay together till full grown, around 3 or 4 years.
We drove to 4 different water holes. The first had various animals, arriving in groups to the water hole. There were groups of springbok, impala, zebra, and ostridge. We noticed that the animals were orderly in their waterhole activity. One group would come in together and leave as the next arrived. The second water hole had second many zebra. The third water hole was being repaired by a group of men. The water holes were kept filled by man-made pipes. There were over two hundred animals circled around that water hold waiting patiently for the men to make the water full it again. The fourth water hole had elephants. One elephant apparently had had enough of tourists and picked a medium sized rock with his trunk and tossed it towards our range rover. The lead elephant stared us down. There were around 2000 elephants in the park. We learned that the males leave mothers sooner than the females. They flap their ears to cool themselves and sleep standing up. They may live 60-65 years. When leaving, the park staff sprayed the wheels with disinfectant for hoof and mouth disease.
While at lunch back at the camp, there were several water bucks at the watering hole. One male appeared to be focused on getting “tail” from a female, although the female repeatedly turned around refusing his advances. During a sunset drive in the game reserve, we found a mother and daughter rhino walking on the road up to our truck to get a better look at the vehicle and us. White rhinos have 3 humps and stay in front of their babies while black rhinos have smooth backs and stay behind their babies. To discourage poaching, the population of rhinos in the park is not released to the public. The poachers are more interested in the black rhino. It was dark after we returned, and because we could not walk out of our tent unattended, we just had to wait for an escort. The escort was late retrieving us and we wondered what we would do to get to dinner if he forgot. We figured that eventually someone would miss us at dinner. The escort finally came and dinner was fine.
Leg 10 - Ongava (FYNG) to Windhoek Eros (FYWE)
Leg 11 - Windhoek Eros (FYWE to
Kalahari Game Reserve (FYKE)
The flight for leg #10 from Ongava to Windhoek Eros Airport required more preparation because Windhoek was a complicated airspace with several frequency changes needed. Flight uniforms were worn because Eros was a busy, well secured airport. I was the first in the air and I opened the flight plans for all 3 airplanes with Windhoek Area North. We had clear skies and unlimited visibility for the 1 hour 45 minute flight. Approach involved position reporting in FYD-130, the Windhoek Flying Training Area, and contacting Windhoek Approach. Eros was a busy tower controlled airport. The Windhoek-Eros aerodrome diagram is available by searching for “FYWE airport aerodrome.. After landing, fuel trucks topped off our tanks and the fuel uptake was recorded in the flight folio. We ate lunch at the Skyview Restaurant in the airport terminal, a nice break. I asked for a sandwich and the waitress told me they only served them for breakfast. I settled on a salad.
The flight for leg #11 from Eros to Kalahari Game Reserve required a rapid climb to get over the U-shaped mountains that surrounded Windhoek to the east, south, and west. Weather continued to be clear with unlimited visibility on the 2 hour 20 minute flight. The landing was landing because the gravel, sand and grass landing strip at the Kalahari Game Reserve only was only 40 feet wide. It was the most bushy of all the bush air strips, requiring a high altitude, soft field and precision short field landing techniques. No one had landed at this strip for the previous 6 months.
|Upon arriving at the Kalahari Game Lodge, we were greeted by Tookey, a 9 month old meerkat who was abandoned by his family. Tookey was very friendly, seeking attention from people in between digging for snacks of insects or worms. After playfully biting my fingers, he let me pet him until the truck arrived indicating it was time to go home. He stays at the home of one of the staff members at night. He was eager to get on the truck, trying to jump in and climbing on the tire. Dinner featured onyx. The lodge has only been open less than 2 years after being a family owned ranch for many years. It was mostly visited by Germans, Dutch and South Africans. An acrimonious smell in the air that smelled like pot turned out to be sour grass. In a few months it would dry out and die.
I was told that there was a meerkat family on the lodge grounds. I found the holes of their nest a short walk from our chalet. I was told that they would be out around 430 PM, when it was no longer hot. I found and photographed 3 large squirrels, that I later learned from our Tswalu guide were ground squirrels, but were called in Afrikaans what translated to fan tailed meerkats. Liz and I walked to the top of a sand dune hill were there was a lookout platform where I photographed the sunset and moonrise. I later asked David about the meerkats and he said they go out to hunt as sunrise.
Leg 12 - Kalahari Game Lodge (FYKE) to Keetmanshoop (FYKT)
Leg 13 - Keetmanshoop (FYKT) to Upington (FAUP)
Leg 14 - Upington (FAUP) to Tswalu (FATW)
5/22/16: Border Crossing to South Africa
David then told me that the meerkats came out after the sun hit the holes that were the entrance of their burrows. By 730 AM, only the ground squirrels were outside their nests. Our Tswalu guide said that ground squirrels could live with meerkats together in their burrows because they ate different things. The squirrels were skittish, and then went back underground when I came closer than 15 feet.
We departed from the Kalahari Game Lodge on leg #12 and flew 1 hour under clear skies to Keetmanshoop. During the flight, I photographed Louis’s Cessna 220 as he passed me. Again, this international airport had no tower controller. After landing, we met with customs for an exit stamp for our passport out of Namibia. I was asked, "What are you taking out of Namibia?" I told the customs agent some carvings and little baskets. She seemed satisfied. After a little wait, we got extra fuel hand pumped in from a barrel.
We then flew a 1 hour 40 minute hour leg #13 in clear skies over the border to Upington Airport. Before we could exit the airplane they sprayed the interior with disinfectant. We had to check with customs and get another tourist visa stamped into our passports for entry back into South Africa. We were then permitted to top off our tanks with fuel.
A third 40 minute leg #14, again in clear skies, was flown to Tswalu which featured a paved, asphalt runway. We arrived at 4:00 pm, about an hour before sunset.
At Tswalu, we were met by Marielis, our guide, and James, our tracker. We did a slow drive back to the lodge, looking for animals. Our guide got a radio call about a pangolin sighting, and we drove to it as the sun set. The pangolin is an unusual mammal, with external scales that look like a reptile. It was dark, so lights were shined on it so we could take photographs. The pangolin apparently did not like the attention, and scooted away in a hurry. We also saw a roan antelope, which is slightly larger than an oryx. White markings on the face reflect the sun while the black markings help with panting and cooling down. It's called a correlated reset system.
We arrived at the Motse Lodge to find it was a 5 star hotel, which can accommodate up to 24 guests. Our lagaes (suite) was elegant and expensively appointed. Dinner was served outside, our meal was barely illuminated by gas lanterns. It was spicy and tasty. We ate under the African night sky.
5/23/16: Meerkats & tracking cheetah
Our guide gave us a wakeup call at 600 AM, then breakfast at 630 AM, for a game drive at 715 AM. We looked for cheetah tracks. Cheetah tracks show their nails but lion and leopard do not. After finding tracks, the tracker left on foot. We stopped to look at meerkats who were habituated to humans. We could walk as close as 3 meters and they were not bothered. The meerkats were frantically running around, stopping frequently to stand up and look around. Our guide said it was a meerkat war. They were trying to scare off a meerkat from another colony who entered their territory. They eventually scampered off to forage for food. We found our tracker, who said the cheetahs were circling, which made the tracks confusing. We drove to an a building on a hill and were served brunch with a view.
Tracker sits in chair on the Land Rover's hood
Cheetah tracks, you can tell by the claws
Cheetah's enjoying their kill
At Tswalu, there is an early afternoon break because the animals sleep then. It could be dangerous to startle a sleeping animal. After high tea at 330 PM, we resumed our search for the cheetah. Our tracker found its tracks in the sand of the road, and found where the cheetah turned into the block, an area in the bush bounded by roads. Our guide asked if we wanted to continue the tracking on foot, and we enthusiastically agreed. Our guide armed herself with a rifle and gave us instructions to follow single file. After walking about 10 minutes, our tracker noticed that there was more space between the cheetah tracks indicating that they were running. There were also tracks of a hartebeest also running. Our tracker thought that the cheetahs were chasing the hartebeest for a kill. After another 5 minutes of walking, we saw one of the cheetahs in front of a bush, with the dead hartebeest. After taking some photos, our tracker picked us up with the Land Rover so we could get a closer look. The cheetah's brother joined in their dinner. The cheetah rest 20 minutes after the kill to cool down before they start to eat. They drag their kill into a tree to ward off hyenas and jackals, who want to finish what the cheetah doesn't eat. Vultures arrive in the afternoon when they smell the dead animal and can catch the thermals.
We tried to find leopard but they are elusive - bigger than the cheetah and the cheetah are afraid of them. There was a wild dog pack that recently died off because of canine distemper. Otherwise we saw eland, fox, sable, mongoose and many new birds.
The morning game drive started with tracking for lion, but we heard that the lion went over the mountain. We then looked for various birds, first at a water hole, then while driving. Before lunch, an oryx walked between our lagaes and the next, and got stuck by a wall on the main path. A staff member reassured us that it happens all the time and they only intervene when it's a more critical situation.
5/19 to 5/24/16: Birding
Karie had a great love of bird, and we often stopped on game drives to see various birds that were barely visible on trees some distance from the road. After I learned to use the spot focus on my camera, I was able to zoom in and photograph some off the birds. I eventually used the burst mode to try to catch some birds in flight.
Leg 15 - FAUP to FALA flight plan and path
Tswalu guilde and tracker with flight crews
Liz ("the crew") & Harry ("the pilot")
5/25/16: Return to Lanseria
Karie stayed behind at the lodge for a massage, while the rest of us set out on a game drive. I wanted to see the meerkats again, and we found them digging for insects, their food. Our guide was able to get a picture of myself with a meerkat, a female that our guide knew personally as calm around people. The meerkat actually ignored me, even though I was trying to make sounds to get her to stand. We then found the cheetahs we saw yesterday, and drove into the lion area but learned that the lions were too far away to make it there and to the air strip in time for our planned departure. We spent time by a lake watching the birds, then on to the air strip.
We were put into the Southern Sun Montecasino in Fourways, where we had dinner and a final debrief discussion of the trip with the Hank's and other flight crews. Altogether, we had spent 15 days in the bush, flying through 2 countries to 6 destinations. We made 15 flights totally over 2,900 nautical miles and 30.6 Hobbs hours.
We stopped by the Mandela family home in a wealthy area of Jo’burg. All homes are enclosed with walls with barbed wire over top and security cameras. The security business became huge in the city and remains that way as conflicts continue between white, colored, black, and Afrikaners. The country eliminated apartheid 20 years ago but difficulties exist with the blacks and their ruling influence and the affinity for corruption to remain in charge. Their bill of rights clearly states everyone has a right to adequate housing, education, healthcare, and nutrition.
out the yellow numbers on the houses in Kliptown as reference to when the
resident would be able to receive their own home from the government. Even after
moving into free government housing, many Soweto keep their own shacks to rent
out to others as landlords. Some yards in Kliptown had port-o-pots while others
used chemical sanitation. Many seemed to have satellite dish and cell phone
access. Cattle and goats roam close by as is part of their funeral custom to
kill a cow and feast on it during the sendoff gathering, which usually takes
place on Saturdays.
We flew Delta 201 for a 15 ½ hour night flight back to Atlanta. Stamping our passports, the United States customs agent smiled and said, “Welcome home!”