Based in Entebbe, Uganda, we had to do regular flights to El Obeid in the Sudan to fetch Safair's contract crew and bring them back to Entebbe in order for them to fly home. The routing from Entebbe to El Obeid took us over the breathtaking Rwenzori Mountain range and the extensive tea plantations into the Sudan.
As we flew the lush green forests of Uganda gave way to what almost looks like a Karoo type shrub in the area of Juba. As you flew North that shrubbery gave way to pitch black mountains and reddest of red sand.
I am sure that is what Mars must look like.
Approaching El Obeid in the Sudan, I could not do any of the radio calls as I was flatly ignored by the air traffic controller because I was female. Once landed at El Obeid, I could not help with the refuelling as the refuellers would not assist me. I could also not file a flight plan as I would be flatly ignored. So, the only thing I could do was to go and pay the landing fees.
I wore a scarf over my head and made sure that I covered my hair before I went into the terminal building. One of the tricks that I quickly learned was to take a whole bunch of the smallest denomination US Dollars and put them on the inside of a roll and put a couple of hundred US Dollars bills on the outside so that it looks as if you have a lot of money available. When I walked into the little permit office, I made sure that I put my roll of money in front of me when we started filling in the landing fee form. That quickly changed the officer's reluctance to do anything to being extremely helpful in an instant.
Someday the flights were absolutely amazing because you have this beautiful scenery of the red sand and the blue skies. Other days you were hunting for runway at El Obeid, obscured by the massive sandstorms. The wind plastered Sudanese national flower (the plastic bag) against every fence and pole that it could find. On days like that you wore your jacket even thought the temperature was hovering in the high forties just to prevent yourself from being sandblasted. Afterwards you would discover sand in places you did not even know you had!
There is one thing that Uganda has plenty of - fruit, and a huge variety. Due to the lack of facilities in El Obeid, I had to stop fluid intake the previous night so that I did not have to go and find a bathroom, as there were none usable in El Obeid. My fluid for the day was an apple.
The captain and I made a point of buying a big, juicy pineapple the day before and we would cut it up into big chunks and leave it in the fridge for the next day.
Coming back from Mars to this sweet, juicy, ice-cold pineapple was like a little piece of heaven.
Our next adventure will take us to a mining exploration camp in the DRC