Thursday, September 25, 2008

Over the pond

Well I think I finally have a reason to blog. I recently got the opportunity to ferry a Beech 1900 to Conakry Guinea in Africa with my former boss Rob Waldron. He sent out an email about the trip and I've blatantly plagiarized his email below since I'm lazy. The precursor to this story is that the airline I used to work at, Vintage Props & Jets went bankrupt which left me with some time on my hands. Rob called me and said there was a contract job opportunity to fly one of the 1900's that we used to fly over to Africa. What a great experience! Here is Rob's version of our trip, I've interjected my own comments in parenthesis and in the color green :)

--"We started in good ol' Daytona Beach to Richmond VA, to Bedford MA, to Goose Bay CA. Saw the northern lights in Goose Bay as we stayed our first night there. The Canadian Customs personnel were very stern, but polite in a professional way.
Next morning we departed early and went further north to Canada to a place called Frobisher Bay for fuel where we were above the tree line, thus not a tree in sight at 65 degrees north! (also know as Iqaluit, pronounced Cal-ah-wit. This place was creepy, no vegetation for as far as you could see.)
From Frobisher we traveled south east over to Greenland and on the approach saw glaciers and many large icebergs in the bay. Not very hospitable if one were to put down in this area! We were very happy we didn't have to do an instrument approach into Greenland due to the huge mountains around and the 'dead end' going into the airport. An immediate turn is required if you go missed due to mountains up the forge at the other end of the runway. The run way at one end was fully 100 feet higher than the approach end.
Out of Greenland we traveled to Keflevik Iceland where parking was at a premium due to a NATO exercise going on with military aircraft from many different countries...including the US. We spent the second night here where everyone was very friendly and the town was rampant with activity. Techno/Disco music was blaring everywhere as an outdoor concert was going on by the bay in town. If you thought Techno/Disco was dead and/or punk style clothing and hair styles...fear not my Iceland it is alive and well. We had some language barriers due to TJ and myself not knowing a word in Icelandic.
We took an early morning Iceland departure to Stornoway Scotland. These people were nice and the countryside was beautiful. Very pretty country here, I'd like to visit again someday.

Scotland departure after about an hour delay with Customs and then over to London. The weather here was down to minimums and it was very bumpy and rainy. Fueled and ready for another leg we departed London and traveled to Bilbao Spain. TJ is fluent in Spanish and we had no problems communicating there. The landscape was very mountainous and the weather was still bad with moderate turbulence. We broke out a few thousand feet above the approach minimums for the ILS. (The pictures of Spain are very blurry since this was a very bumpy approach, winds were gusting to 40 KTS )

After Spain, we landed in Casablanca, Morocco. The taxi driver took us to the hotel doing 160 Km/hr on the highway. We haven't yet figured out how fast that is, but we know it was a little scary and produced more concern than any thing we had yet encountered flying! The hotels here...well, let me just say they stunk and the linens were not clean and this was one of the nicer hotels. The people here were also nice, but Arabic was the language of choice and neither of us spoke a word. We could get by on the little French that we knew as their second language.
Morocco to a place called Dakhla in the middle of the Sahara desert. This place was remote. Simply, it is an airstrip in the middle of the sand with a couple of buildings. Hot and desolate. I think if the locals wanted to they simply could remove us from the face of the earth here and we'd never be found. The locals were not very friendly and the language barrier was difficult. They wanted to see everything!! Pilot certs, medicals, registration, insurance, airworthiness, passports, drivers license, etc, etc....but the ironic thing is I don't think they could read a word of it. We got our fuel and left here as quickly as possible.

From Dakhla we traveled down to Banjul Gambia and then on to Conakry, Guinea which ended our journey. We were immediately surrounded by para-military personnel and EVERYONE wants money and their English is very broken. We spoke enough French to get by. (By speak enough french to get by Rob meant we could say: good morning, good afternoon, good-bye, and where is the bathroom) They want money to greet you, to meet you, to park your plane, to escort you into the airport, to unload your plane, to have you walk into the terminal etc, etc.
We managed there for two days and all I can say is BE THANKFUL FOR ALL THAT YOU HAVE!

I think we sometimes forget all that we have as Americans and going to a place where the average daily wage is $2.00 is a real eye opener. The nicest hotel in town was dirty. My bathroom sink plummed right out onto the floor. When you turned on the faucet, water came out went into the sink and straight onto the floor. Dirty linens complete with stains and it smelled as did most of the people. Just ask TJ as his eyes were watering from the smell of the person sitting next to him on our flight out of Africa. This is the only place where on my departing flight the flight attendant took two can of air freshener and literally began at the front of the aircraft cabin held each arm out to the side with an air freshener in each hand and began walking to the back of the cabin with a continuous spay along the way...which helped tremendously! That was a first for me!
All in all it was an experience I'll never forget and the aircraft performed well for the most part. We're here in Florida again and glad to be back in the United States! A land I love."--

Rob mentioned the flight home, but didn't mention the full gravity of my seating arrangement. I spent 3.5 hours next to Captain B.O. of the Universe. If I could have reached my carry-on I would have smeared speed stick all over my face and as far into my nostril as I could cram, I might have even tackled this guy and forced the it on him. He then proceeded to "cocoon" himself in his blanket, literally covering himself from his feet to over his head, it looked like I was traveling next to a corpse except no corpse could smell this bad. Luckily this flight was back to Casablanca only and the 8 hour flight over the ocean to JFK was much nicer to my nose hairs.

Overall this really was a once in a life-time experience and I'm very glad that I got to go, it started out just being something I could do for money while I'm looking for a job but it turned out to be a real eye opener. Every American should spend a few weeks in a 3rd world country, I think that people would stop complaining about small trivial things and be grateful that we have the privileges that we do. We really do live in the best country in the world.

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