Phew, I see that the break we’ve taken from daily updates has had the consequence that at least one person is going to buy a composite aircraft. I figured it may be serious, but not that serious, so here we are, back again, in the midst of a bombing mission which is going on outside. Check out the photo I’ve just taken to capture how hectic things are here in the war zone.
So the good news is that Michelle from Flight Permits in Durbs has eventually charmed the dude in the Marshall Islands and we’ve now got the permission to land there. His original attitude was, “There’s no avgas in the Marshall Islands”. Then, when Michelle told him that we would use mogas, he said, “There’s no aeroplane in the world that runs on mogas”. Then the responses simply stopped. Anyhow, her persistence has paid off. An all in all the terms aren’t really all that onerous.
They look like this – we have to pay cash, no credit cards; landing fee is USD23,76; parking fee is USD3,35; handling fee is USD175,00 (compulsory – a pity, but not totally prohibitive); and 100 US gallon (385l) gasoline is USD566,50 (not too bad out there in the mid-Pacific, I suppose). Anyhow, that means we’re almost home and dry, in principle, on permissions, and all at a more or less reasonable cost and effort. Also, there’re a bunch of people here at Oshkosh who have offered to help with people they know in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and so in if we do run into problems. We’re pretty sad that we won’t be getting to see the Sydney Opera house, but hey, we’ll see the KL Petronas Towers instead!
INTEREST AT OSHKOSH
The response to our mission here at Oshkosh has been absolutely awesome. Our talk was poorly advertised and attended, but people who come past the plane love it and can spend hours asking questions. Americans are pretty verbose people and of course they can also spend hours telling you about what it is they’re up to, so one has to be a little mean with one’s time. All in all it’s been a lot of fun and a very warm experience being here in this way.
SUPPORT ALONG THE WAY
As appears from the photos we were met by a great crowd at Oshkosh. We’re staying with the Merkes family, whose house feels like home away from home. Apart from the Merkes’s, though, on the day we left SA we hadn’t arranged to meet a single person along the way and we hadn’t booked a single hotel or even ascertained the name of one. Yet since our second night in Conakry we haven’t arrived anywhere without a welcoming party and at least a meal with someone local. In Belem it was Robbie Weich and his friends, Gilberto, Octavio, Hugo, small Gilberto and Octavio and others, in the US Virgin Islands we had a great home meal with Curtis White and his wonderfully warm, hospitable and culinary English/South African wife, in Fort Pierce we were met by Don and Susan Moseley who guided us up past Cape Canaveral in their Cirrus, through the storms, to the Phillip Larkin Airfield in Palatka and put us up in their beautiful and gracious Florida home. The next day we met up with Chris Haarhoff in Kentucky and he guided us through the storms, also in his Cirrus, to Oshkosh itself. Now we’ve no end of offers of accommodation both in Colorado, en route to Los Angeles, and in LA itself.
I’m definitely beginning to have fantasies of just keeping on at this for the rest of time – I feel as if people would just look after us wherever we go. It’s so great to feel how warm and generous people are when you’re on a mission like this and I keep reminding myself myself how important it’ll be to remember afterwards.
OUR PROBLEMS IN CONAKRY
We haven’t had an opportunity to explain properly what happened with the military police in Conakry. Put simply, I had the bad fortune to have a military policeman walk through the camera lens in a public street in the evening while following shooting some children who had walked past Mike. As a consequence of this infringement of national security we were frogmarched from place to place, eventually to the headquarters of the national military police, where they found some senior official still in his office at after midnight. We had to answer questions there for a couple of hours, then were sent off back to our hotel, without our camera, and told to return the next morning. The entire thing of course was a farce, and really rather a sad and disillusioning one. For me the absurdity was illustrated at a point where, after no less than 15 or so policemen had been handling our camera vigorously for a number of hours, one guy suddenly decided that it should only be held through a plastic bag, to protect finger prints. Then the others had to do likewise. Things were initially no less nasty the next day but, in true African style (I hate to use these words, but they just seem to fit the experience so obviously) things suddenly started to change. While maintaining the ongoing threatening atmosphere, the very large and clearly senior lady interrogating us (she had the surname Camaro, which is the same as that of the President, who’s sister she claimed to be), came and stood behind me and held by hand at one point. Later we all swopped cellphone numbers and so on. Very weird. Anyhow, it allowed me to send a couple our captors a couple of pretty acid text messages as we finally rolled off down the runway.
It all ended without our signature of some incomprehensible handwritten statements in French, the deletion of about 3 seconds of recording on our camera, and then our release back to the hotel, where we set about stealing a whole parcel of bread rolls for in flight cuisine!
Its 17h30 now and time to head off back to the Merkes’s for what looks like being a going away feast of some note. Tomorrow morning at 6am we do a “photoshoot” flight for the EAA here, then we have the day to ourselves. Monday on to Santa Fe, Tuesday to LA and then, if the weather plays ball, Thursday to Hawaii. One other good piece of news is that it looks like although we’ll have a headwind out of LA, we should have a tailwind for most of the flight from 4 hours out or so. Please hold collective thumbs.