Off We went with the open Landy until we happened upon a huge Baobab tree. The ranger parked there, because it would be easy to spot the tree from afar and so we would always find the vehicle easily. The guide gave us another round of do's and don'ts and off we set through the relatively high grass into the bush. I am not a fan of walking Safaris, especially in high grass. Anything can be hiding in the adrenalin grass and the no gun policy of certain camps does nothing to calm my aching nerves.
We were about 1 km from the vehicle, the guide in front, when I saw a purplish red stomach of an antelope. The stomach was fresh and full and lying in the tall thatch grass, without flies on it. The more I looked around, the more blood could be identified in the beige grass. I tipped my index finger on the shoulder of the guide in front and showed him with raised eyebrows and my eyes what I was looking at and said: "No flies yet!", knowing that he would know exactly what I meant, without getting the
tourists into a panic.
He handled the situation well and said: "We should all go back single file to the big Baobab tree, back to the vehicle and whatever happens, nobody should run."
I held on to the hand of the teenager, because they seldom blerrie listen or follow instructions. Very silently we made our way back up the koppie to the LandRover. Whilst walking I had the most horrible thought while my survival instinct kicked in.
If the lion or Leopard or whatever had killed the bokkie would jump at us, out of the bush, I would simply push over the fat North American lady and gap it in the ensuing pandemonium… that way the lion can eat her and not us…"
Needless to say, we made it back safely to the vehicle, drove back to the sighting and found three fully grown female lion chomping on a Tsessebe in the grass, a few metres from where we had stood. The Tsessebe is the fastest antelope, so I am not sure my plan would have worked, I thought, looking guiltily at the fat lady from the US…
The next day we flew to another camp, near the Shashe River in the area where Botswana, Zimbabwe and the Limpopo Province meet. The tented camp had the typical canvas and wood structured tents and I had been here a good 15 times, it was one of my favourites at the time. Leopard guaranteed, lots of elephant, Boma Dinners, a tame Genet that stole the milk from the coffee bar and no walking Safaris!
Making sure the Mags and the Master was off, we left the aircraft behind at the strip's apron, and were immediately driven to join the other vehicle for the sunset game drive. About 50 Km before we reached the other vehicle, we could make out the tourists on an open Landy, since they had elected to put on bright red T-Shirts. What possessed the Belgian family to dress like this in Buffalo country was beyond me… They should rather have gone to the shop, where all the Germans buy all their Khaki kit before they come to Afrika. The well organised German nationals all look uni-beige and are dressed more "bush-y" than the game rangers when on Safari. In fact, when visiting Germany in their summer, they looked completely different in their natural habitat: the beer garden. With their sandals and socks and differently coloured pants and T-shirts.
In the still-dark morning we were woken way too early for tea and rusks and told to get ready for another dam game drive. Sipping my second cup of coffee under the main Lapa a bit later, waiting for some stragglers, a tourist from the US said to me in a hectic Yankee accent: "I don't know why, but I slept at an angle last night." She said, speaking very slowly.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I said, I don't know why, but I slept at an angle last night." She said upping the pitch of the second half of the sentence in that irritating way, that makes a sentence sound like a question.
"I'm so sorry, but I really don't understand what you're trying to say." Clearly, I hadn't had enough coffee yet, to boot up the system…
"Oh," she said, now speaking even slower: "The bed broke on one side, so I slept at an angle last night…" She was showing with her very pudgy forearm a steep angle from raised elbow to the end of the fingers, touching the table. Finally, the penny dropped and I realised she was in denial about her weight / size and that the bed's two legs on one side had given way during her slumber…
"Why didn't you just pull the mattress off the frame and sleep on the floor, instead of trying to sleep at an angle?" I stupidly asked, not realising fast enough, that between the end of her arms, and the unsurmountable resistance of her torso, there wouldn't have been enough of a gap to pull the mattress off the bedframe. Her friend wasn't any thinner either, so she wouldn't have been able to help. Then I remembered that they had said that they would fly to the next camp. Desperate to change the subject, I asked: "So, tell me, with which charter company are you going to get to your next destination?"
They named the company of a well-known charter queen, and I excused myself to phone her quickly. "Howzit, I have just met your two clients from the US that you're flying out of the Valley to the Delta tomorrow, and just wanted to ask, with which aircraft are you planning to transport them?"
"A Cessna 182."
"Ah yes, I thought so. That won't be possible in this case. You won't even be able to druk them into the plane. It'll be like Winnie the Pooh, when he got stuck in Rabbit's House because he couldn't ft through the hole."
"Oh dear, are they that big?"
"Yep! You'll need a Seneca with the Cargo door at the back… Nice and low for them to easily get in as well."
"Thanks so much, jinne, let me start organising quickly."
After Frau Mossbacher got some good shots of Leopard following the contours of the dry river bed and another one with a kill in the trees, we were looking forward to our flight back to Johannesburg. The weather was fantastic and the sky couldn't be more perfectly blue…
The airspace coming in from the North and Northeast towards Lanseria is not very well thought through when it comes to the frequencies and the tiny, quick changing airspaces in the region… There used to be a lot happening in that airspace and a lot of talking was going on and a lot of listening out on two frequencies was necessary. There were flight students from three different areas and airports that used to train their students around the VOR (Very High Frequency Omni-Directional Beacon) HBV for their instrument rating, HBV was a reporting point for traffic for a certain airspace and many a flight test was flown in that area as well.
And so it happened, that I was bumbling along with the Charlie182, on the return flight from the relaxing bush to Gauteng, when an aircraft very narrowly missed us, before we entered the Johannesburg Special Rules West Area. They came at us from our left and just managed to pull up in time and fly over us to our right. They had come out of Wonderboom airspace for a flight test, and we were descending to less than 7600 feet, to stay out of Johannesburg Terminal Control Area (FAJS TMA) which extended from 7600 feet to Flight Level 110.
I had not heard them before the near miss, and therefore I assumed they were still on Wonderboom frequency beforehand. I quickly double checked, if I was on the correct frequency, hoping I hadn't made a mistake. I was right, I was broadcasting on 124.8, having just exited the Brits/ Grand Central General Flying which is the TIBA frequency, and I was listening out on 125,8 for JHB Special Rules West with my second radio, which would be my next frequency.
The twin engine then came back and formatted onto my left wing, came really close and then went over my aircraft, flew just ahead of my right wing for a little while, also uncomfortably close, fell back and then went under my aircraft and returned to the left side again, flying slowly, so that the Twin Piston Engine pilot could shout at me and look who was flying my plane. I finally got a hold of him on 125,8 and he shouted and screamed that I didn't know what I'm doing, etc.
My passengers were starting to freak out at his antics and I just carried on towards Lanseria, hoping he had gotten rid of his anger by now and would leave us alone. I wrote down his registration and would make a point of finding out who was in that aircraft once I had said goodbye to my pax on the ground.
It turned out, that it was a DFE who was conducting a flight test that was in that aircraft. I found out name and number and finally that evening at around 18h00 called the guy to give him a piece of my mind.
"Good evening. I am the pilot of the Cessna 182 that you harassed in the air today. I have double checked the map again, and I'm telling you that I was on the correct frequency for that airspace and you freaked out my clients with your uncalled-for manoeuvres." I was expecting a huge argument and was talking in my sternest voice.
"Ah yes! So sorry!!!! Really. I looked at the map again as well after landing and you were correct not to be on JHB Special Rules West yet." He took the wind right out of my sails with his earnest apology. No use having a Go at him now, even though I had actually looked forward to a fight…
Years later, I would do an important flight test with him and hoped he wouldn't recognise my voice. I didn't mention the incident until after we had signed all the paperwork. Turned out, he had a lot of stressors at the time, and we had a good laugh together about that day.
Personally: I blame the Crap Magnets. Without them on board, this wouldn't have happened. It was just the typical cherry on top to end this tumultuous tour… this story is dedicated to the best crap magnets, Anette, Andrea, and Nina…before you, I was unaware of how much crap can be attracted in the shortest time…