Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Overnight Kama Day 1

One of Goma's volcanoes seen from 12,500 feet
Today I'm taking off for Bukavu...no passengers, just me, a 55 gallon drum of avgas, 6 empty jerry cans, and my overnight bag.  The weather looks wonderful, the plane is loaded, and my flight plan is filed, so I'm off.  I request runway 10 just so I can make sure Joy and Kaitlyn are up as I roar over the house at 500 feet.  Then it's a right turn heading south, and a 30 minute climb to 12,500 feet.  I'm not allowed to go any higher without supplemental oxygen, but on long legs, climbing high has its advantages.  It's smooth, clear, hopefully a stronger tailwind, higher ground speed, lower engine temps...etc.  If the weather holds out, I might even be able to take a peek into the cone of a volcano!

Once I reach 12,500 feet, I level off, and accelerate, but unfortunately, no tailwind.  Oh well, at least I can save a jerry can of fuel along the way.  I'm also treated to another wonderful view of the Rwenzoris.  I wait until the plane is settled, then I pull out my breakfast and munch on an apple 2 miles high.  Not a bad way to start the day, especially when you have a view like that!

An hour and a half later and I'm nearing Goma, and the volcanoes.  I spot the one I'd like to take a peek in, and it looks possible, but as I get closer, it starts belching out grayish clouds and smoke, so I decide against it...I know the plane needs a paint job, but no sense in making it any worse.  Another 30 minutes and I'm landing in Bukavu, with a full load of cargo waiting for me on the tarmac.

I'm thinking ahead to my next stop already, as the MAF staff begin unloading.  I go right to work siphoning fuel out of the wing tips, and managing the loading of all the cargo.  Looks like this time I have many boxes of Bibles, supplies, and food for the Kama mission station.  I pay my taxes, double check the loading and the fuel, and then I'm off to Kama--1 hour southwest into the jungle.

The weather is holding out...for now, and after flying 2 hours straight, this leg goes quickly.  I reach the airstrip and circle overhead, impressed with what I see.  Last time I was in here I got the airplane all muddy...and I mean all of it.  The grass was overgrown and the gravel was just wide enough for my tires.  Once on the ground, I express my appreciation for their hard work (it's not easy cutting 6 foot tall grass with a machete for 700 meters!)  I take a few minutes to chat with the folks, and then it's back to loading more suitcases and rearranging the cabin to fit four passengers.  One thing is for sure, it is hot, and it is oppressively humid.  Yet, men are wearing jackets, long sleeves, pants.  I feel like the 20 minutes on the ground here has already scorched my skin; the sun is brutal.

On the way back to Bukavu, I climb to 7,500 feet, just high enough to fly through the pass safely, but low enough to avoid the strong westerly winds.   I'm still 5,000 feet above the ground, but the visibility is excellent.  I study the ground--rivers, hills, trees, towns, old airstrips.  I see 3-tiered waterfalls, trees blooming white flowers, rocky outcrops, and coffee colored rivers.  Closer to Bukavu, the ground rises to 7,000 feet and I need to pay more attention to not hitting things.  Bukavu sits adjacent to Lake Kivu, surrounded by towering mountains and steaming volcanoes.  When the weather is nice, it belongs on a postcard, but when it's not, it's quite a workout.

Lucky for me, it's been gorgeous all day.  I have 2 passengers and more cargo waiting for me on the ground, and after fueling and loading again, I get my passengers settled.  I make sure my Congolese passenger knows how to use the doors, the sic sac, the seat belt, and the fresh air.  She just smiles at me, mumbling something in a language other than French, so I greet her in Swahili, smile, and enlist one of the MAF workers to brief her.  My other passenger has probably flown with MAF longer than I have, so I give her a headset and remind her of the important things.

Lenticular clouds...a warning sign of turbulence--think of rapids in a river.  These clouds can be formed hundreds of miles away from the mountain range that produced them

See the grayish smoke coming out of the volcano?
Back to Kama we go!  A few thunderstorms are popping up now, but nothing I can't easily fly around.  I look for the cool waterfall I found last time, but to no avail.  It's even hotter in Kama now, so I work quickly, unloading the supplies and one passenger, and picking up four more for Kipaka...even further into the jungle.  It's only 25 minutes but unfortunately, there's no relief from the humidity.  I fly overhead Kipaka, evaluating the airstrip and circle around for landing.  I smile as I touch down 50 meters from the end and squeeze on the brakes all the way to the end.  I'm greeted with not one, but two glasses full of freshly squeezed lemonade.  Ah, the life of a missionary pilot!  I have one passenger back to Kama, where I'll be spending the night, and it's starting to get dark.  By the time I make it back, shadows are already covering the landing area; it's a little difficult to see, but the landing is nice--I'm glad this day's over, I'm tired!

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