Sunday, November 20, 2016

TRAVEL : Above the clouds...

I was surprised that day, when I learnt I was

I was surprised that day, when I learnt I was the only passenger flying to Arusha at that time, meaning it would be only me and the pilot. PHOTOI Hansjürg Jäger. 

By Hansjürg Jäger @jaegerhj

It all began with a Whatsapp-Message.

“Hellow. My name is Duwil. Am working with flightlink Dar es salam. You are one of our clients going to arusha tomorrow morning. I just want to advise you that you have been shifted to 10:30 departure. And you’ll be flyng via Znz. Arrival time will be 12:30.”

“Thats too late, man. I will be have a meeting in Arusha by 11 am,” I replied. I had booked a flight on the morning of the meeting, departing at 7 a.m. in Dar es Salaam. Shifting the flight to a later arrival was no option, although flying via Zanzibar did sound very appealing in the first run.

So, my (usually) solid plan started to change. Duwil and I agreed on shifting the flight to the previous day, 2 p.m, which was three hours ahead of the time, I received his first message. I rushed to my room, packed my backpack and called a taxi. Well on time I arrived at the old airport from Dar es Salaam, Terminal one. A rather small three-floor-building, with brown walls, white windows and an entrance-control with a pretty old looking security-scanner.

I carried a bottle of water (1,5 litres) and passed without problem at the security-control. I did expect at least some angry looking security-man, but was disappointed. Instead, I was waived through the control - even with the bottle. And this was already the first sign, that this flight might not be the same as those I did on other trips.

It eventually became better, as I got issued a hand-written boarding-pass at the empty check-in. Obviously, I was at that time the only customer of Flightlink. I booked the flight via air-viva, which is just linking flight-operators and wanna-be passengers like me. And I was told to remain the only passenger for the flight, which was the biggest surprise of all.

I went to the waiting-area and was picked by the staff some five minutes later.

“We will let you go in some five minutes,” one guy said, while passing by to direct me outside the building and onto that Cessna 208 Caravan, carrying me and my pilot to Arusha. The sun was shining, the crew-members had a chat. While the pilot was going through his checklist and waited for the final documents, I was just ready for the takeoff.

No stress, no need to follow a very strict and clear protocol, no time slot for takeoff which one would have to get. And no stewardess, no funny or akward safety-rules-video or demonstration how to behave in case of emergency. Just some words, where to exit if the plane should crash.

I had no idea, where the life vest was located. But apparently, this is not necessary to know as we flew only above the solid earth of Tanzania. After some five minutes, the pilot finally unlocked the brake. The noise of the engine eventually became louder and louder, as the propeller turned faster and faster. The plane was pulled forward, and accelerated. Then, the old familiar moment, when the plane takes off the ground. You feel like all your blood is going towards your legs, being pushed back to your seat and not able to breathe for just a second. Even in the small Cessna, it seems to be pretty similar to the big planes connecting continents. But while in the big planes, the windows are often not big enough to get a clear view on what is going on outside, we got a nice view of Dar es Salaam and its approximately 5 million citizens.

To the left, clouds slowly passed by, to the right, the pacific lay like a big blue carpet to our feet. While we rose to the travel-altitude, the city became less densely populated. Ahead of us one hour and 40 minutes flight. Below, the clouds drew patterns on the red, brown and black Tanzanian soil, on the black, blue and silver roofs of the houses and the factory-buildings.

As we approached our travel-altitude of 10,500 Feet, we crossed the lower-lying clouds. As I know from earlier flights, this is often the part of the travel, which might be a little bumpy and shaky. For now, the Cessna remained stable. Above us a clear blue sky. Below us a scattered carpet of small and big clouds, allowing us to see the fascinating ground. The roads drew straight lines to the ground, while on the left and the right, some green and brown spots created a scattered carpet. After a while, in front of us some larger clouds piled up in the sky.

As we came closer, the little Cessna started to swing a little to the left and to the right, up and down.

“There it is, the old familiar moment, I do not like at all,” I thought, holding on my seat. But still, I was fascinated by flying so close along the impressive white giants in the sky, reaching some 50 to 100 metres from bottom to its top. On the left side, the wing disappeared in white candy floss for a few seconds, the machine still shaking and vibrating a little.

For few seconds, there seemed to be no direction, no up or down, no left or right. Just a plane and two souls in a cloud. But before being allowed to further dive into this transcendent moment, a small, oval-shaped window opened the cloud again. It reminded us, that we were still flying with 140 Knots from Dar es Salaam to Arusha.

We continued our journey and after 90 minutes, the engine’s riot became less. The pilot just had started to leave the travelling altitude. Again, we passed some clouds and Arusha appeared on the horizon. Below the clouds, it became again a little bumpy, so the plane swung up and down, to the left and right. But as we went further down, I did not, this time, feel worried because the closer we got to the ground, the calmer the plane got.

And as the runway of Arusha Airport came into sight, I knew, the adventure was coming to an end. Five minutes later I left the plane, thanked the pilot for his work and walked through the small Arusha Airport.

In my mind, I sang a german song by Udo Jürgens who once sang: “Über den Wolken, da muss die Freiheit wohl grenzenlos sein.” (meaning: above the clouds, independence must be infinite). No doubt, he was right. Yet one has to add that this independence may be a little bumpy. Especially if you are flying in a small Cessna 208 Caravan.