OK, so you got the basic story from Mike – we’re back in an hotel room (this time much more humble!), ZU-TAF is back in the hangar, we’ve had a first class Chinese Creole meal and now we’re settling in for a quiet sleep.
Today has been a good example of how travel experiences aren’t necessarily about making physical progress, but also about the details on the way. We may not have made great physical strides since sun-up, but we’ve made lots of friends and learnt a lot about Reunion’s people, their pride and their generosity.
Laurent, who picked us up at the airport yesterday, arranged last night’s free hotel accommodation and transported us to it (some 45 minutes by car), was back to pick us up from the hotel again this morning. We stopped for a snack en route, where I managed to leave my credit card in the Patisserie. At the airport there was a crowd to meet us. Radio, television and newspaper. Reunion was expecting our arrival no less than 10 days ago and since then there’ve been four published articles. While we prepped the plane we answered a bunch of questions for media and felt very proud of our machine.
Later we were informed that the Mauritians wouldn’t allow us through their airspace without a formal application for permission we’d been led to understand that, like Reunion, this was not required for private flights. The Aero Club instructor, Cedric, leapt into action and off went a series of emails and faxes. It would appear that these may now have reached the Mauritian Minister’s desk and we’re led to understand that tomorrow the permission will be forthcoming. Still, since we fly at night we’ll have to file an IFR flight plan nothing new, we had to change our Reunion flight plan to IF once we entered Moz airspace at night too. The help from the members of the Aero Club Roland Garros, including the Chairman, Mr Boval, was astounding. Special thanks also to Graziella Point, a pilot and medical doctor who assisted with translation, flight planning advice and later transport, dinner and good conversation.
When I realized I’d lost my credit card Laurent was instantly onto the line to Radio Freedom. Within seconds the woman behind us in the line at our lunch Patisserie had called in to tell the radio station that she’d seen me leave my credit card. She read the Patisserie telephone number off her lunch package on radio and a flight instructor called the Patisserie which confirmed, on radio, that the card was with them. Following an explanation of our adventure to the audience and an opportunity for me to thank the Island in my best French, Laurent drove all the way back to the Patisserie to fetch the card while Graziella drove me and Jean off to a restaurant for dinner.
One great feature of Reunion is that there is a wonderful mixture of peoples and cultures. Laurent describes his first language as Creole, yet he looks to me like a Parisian Frenchman (his ancestors were among the first settlers on the island nearly 300 years ago). Graziella is Chinese, but she grew up in France. She feels entirely French. There appears to be no financial distinction between different race groups in Reunion.
Perhaps the delay isn’t too bad a thing. There were embedded storms en route and some hitches with a component of the satellite tracking system which are right now being resolved. We would have been quite “out there” without any comms at all, at night in the middle of the ITCZ storms and it feels quite good to be in a warm, quiet environment. Actually, it feels like we’ll be quite “out there” anyway, whenever it comes.
Jean and I are getting along like a house on fire and, though not without its stresses, life on the road is good. Two days in ZU-TAF already feels like an old friend. Full of fuel she’s so heavy we can hardly pull her across flat tar. But we know she’ll lift off like a butterfly and climb to 10 000 feet when called upon to do so. She’s by far the bravest of the three of us on this trip!
Please hold thumbs for clear skies and no storms tomorrow night.
PS Rainier, thanks for the information on how the autopilot worked during our icing ordeal. It’s quite fascinating how technology gives a “feel”. I could sense that it was taking cues from different inputs and making good decisions about how to respond based on them just like a human brain. Actually I think we probably could have continued under the autopilot’s control, perhaps even indefinitely without any airspeed input (the rocking/pitching probably would have put my son to sleep quite effectively!), but the ice was building up very quickly, so it seemed to make good sense to get down as quickly as possible. Thinking about it, our MGL Odysseys are probably the next bravest people on the trip!