The next trip was a two-week planned bush tour with Newlyweds. I hate newlyweds. Everything has to be oh so blerrie special and things tend to unperfect themselves at the speed of light. Before you've even found enough thorn tree branches to lay around your tyres, to protect them against the Hyenas, there's bound to be a fight about some unmet expectation or another and then the whole camp runs around trying to uplift the couple's mood.
The brief was to pick them up at Tambo and fly them straight to the Okavango Delta. That way the tourists can avoid any real life in Joburg altogether. I parked the Piper Seneca on G5 parking, not Golf11 like I had asked Apron on 122.65 before approaching, just to see if he knew what he was talking about…I hardly know anything more irritating than speaking to Apron repeatedly, very slowly, whilst flying in the clack in busy airspace, being vectored by radar, and having to listen out to all the other traffic, their positions and simultaneously slowing down the plane…and he takes his time to allocate you a bay.
This should be pre-arrangeable or sorted out after landing upon entering the G Apron. Then one wouldn't have to jump between frequencies in one of the busiest and most important phases of flight. There is ALWAYS ample space available anyway.
Anyway, the handling agent Menzies brought them out in time for our slot and we took off into the windy haze. The international airport East of Joburg is Hot and High with an elevation of 5558' and the density altitude was at around 8000' but the runways are long and broad enough to handle the typical gusts and windshear, windshear especially present on landing at 03 R in my experience, due to the elevated Runway and the gusts and the TS in summer. I came in with an expensive cargo on board once where I saw the centreline directly underneath me, then the green grass to the left of the Runway and immediately after a controlled crash landing on the outer right edge of the runway. While tower shouts: "first exit!"
Google Banner Ad
But back to our specials: we were headed to one of my favourite camps, Chitabe. Great location, great lodging, great food, great staff. The elevated walkways connect all the tents with wooden floors and the décor is beautiful: Modern African Style. The 12/30 Strip is a typically dusty calcrete affair but well maintained and at 1000m, no problem.
After arrival the guests were greeted and I had timed the flight in such a way that they could set off on their first game drive immediately, to give them less time to start bickering… I had already briefed them on the necessity of drinking Gin & Tonics on the sundowner cruise (Game drive in an open 4x4 vehicle including a perfect place in the bush for a few toots while stretching one's legs.)
We met the couple again that night for dinner in the tented main area. Surprisingly, everything was going really well and they were extremely happy. We enjoyed fantastic food and wine and got to know the other guests in the camp. When it was time to leave, we were escorted to our chalets, via the walkways by a staff member guiding us through the starlit sky with a torch.
Google Banner Ad
Next to the wooden walkway was a huge Jackalberry Tree, which has a massive branch which slants at an almost horizontal angle towards the walkway. The guide with the torch had just passed the tree, when a leopard dropped down from the tree right in front of our guests. My colleague B. Cross was in front of me and I didn't even see the slinky thing. The fresh bridegroom had nothing better to do than to silently turn back and grab his new wife, pick her up swiftly and place her in between himself and the Leopard. Charming…The bride screamed and wriggled, and in the pandemonium that ensued, nobody realised that the elusive cat had slunk away faster that you can scream: "You Bastard, let me go!"
Well, that night no-one slept in the camp. The whole night we heard shouting along these lines:
"Thank God we don't have kids yet! I wouldn't want to breed with you now anymore!"
"How could you do that?!?"
"I'm sorry, honey, it was just instinct."
"Don't honey me, if I can't depend on you in an emergency, I can't depend on you at all."
"I should have listened to my mother. She said you were a bit of a wet blanket"
"I'm sorry, it was just a reaction. I won't do it again."
Damn right you won't do that again…because I'm leaving you.
On and on it went.
The very next day, they requested we fly back to Joburg so that they could get back to Europe. They couldn't stand to be together for the duration of the trip and I heard later that she got the wedding annulled, very important to her, being catholic and all that.
The next time I was supposed to take honeymooners around Botswana, I was already worried, before even meeting them. The couple decided to do a canoeing safari down the Selinda Spillway and I was to wait for them at Zarafa Lodge. Zarafa is hands down the most exclusive and expensive lodge I have ever stayed in on one of these flying Safaris. The tents are huge and the chef is the best.
We flew via Maun and just as we landed, we managed to dodge a significant sand storm. The massive sandstorm had literally caught up with us at great speed just seconds after landing, obliterating any visibility of the grassy surrounds. The strip is long enough at 1000m but quite narrow at roughly maximum 20m in places and due to it being sand, only aircraft of up to 2300 Kg were allowed. So, the perfect strip for my trusted little Seneca III.
The couple came back from the 3-night canoeing trip looking quite different from when I had fetched them from OR Tambo airport. The wild bush overnights and rustic bucket showers had taken their toll, as well as the tourist's inability to sleep with laughing hippos and roaring felines, not to mention the everpresent mozzies. The lady gave me a huge surprising hug of relief when she saw me, (Germans normally being quite reserved), and I noticed then and there that they smelled quite different now too…
Google Banner Ad
She was so relieved because she knew the next stops were all going to be in five-star lodges and the worst of the trip according to her was over. We took off and flew towards Kasane. Upon landing I had to dodge a family of three Ground Hornbills on the runway and we rushed past elephant browsing outside the fence line.
After checking out of the country, we flew towards the magnificent Victoria Falls, circled the Cloud That Thunders for a bit at 6500 feet, (only rotor wings are allowed to go lower), and landed in Livingstone. The route took us along the mighty Chobe/Zambezi Rivers and is one of the most beautiful scenic routes on offer when bush flying.
From there the honeymooners managed to get irritated with each other, as expected… The problem was that she had sunburnt her lips to bleeding bits and therefore didn't feel particularly amorous anymore. When he said in that case he could have stayed with his previous wife and did she know what this trip was costing him etc, things went downhill very quickly…
They managed to stay the whole itinerary but lots of cajoling and deflecting and disarming of arguments was needed from my side and it was hard work, quite draining in fact. Gosh, who would have known at the beginning of my starry-eyed pilot career, what was required of us aviators! It's not just about being a competent pilot, is it?! It's about diplomacy, event planning, organising, giving clients one's own paw-paw cream to heal their sunburnt lips, repeatedly wiping away baboon pooh from the grooms seat on the game drive vehicle, (why the baboon only defecated on his seat is still beyond me), human factors, babysitting, nursing egos, dealing with gluten intolerant tourists, they are always the most demanding in other aspects as well… ohhh and yes, a bit of flying in between…..