Friday, July 19, 2013

Traffic Jambanja

There's a photo I've wanted to take since I first got to Xaxaba. When the bigger planes like the Airvan and Grand Caravans come into land on these dirt strips, the sand on the edges of the runway makes beautiful swirls as the wake turbulence disturbs it.

So the other day, I'm scheduled to lift for Maun about 25 minutes after a Gippsland Airvan is due to land at Eagle Island. I brought my camera(the one Mik sent me, not the one that got stolen) over to the hangar. I pulled the heli out, pre-flighted, and watered the road(to keep the dust down, this is Kalahari Desert so some dust will get into the compressor no matter what, but control what you can control, right?)

I figured BBK would be on final approach any minute so I walked over to the strip and waited. It wasn't long and I saw the silver glimmer in the sky. I made sure I had the camera set on burst mode, focused on the other end of the runway, and crouched down.

I started snapping just prior to BBK touching down. I saw a zebra running full speed from stage left. From a thousand meters away I didn't know how close it would be but Martin(the pilot) knew it was gonna be close cuz he tried to lift off again. He had only pulled the plane up enough to clear a warthog when his right wheel clipped the zebra in the back. The plane twisted to the right and nosed down but Martin was able to recover and get it onto the left wheel.

The whole time I'm snapping away thinking I'm about to see this plane roll but he did a great job. Martin was able to stay on the left wheel until he lost inertia, then the belly pod made contact but he kept it straight down the centerline until it was time to pull the plane off to the side. It came to rest just by the windsock, mid-field off to the side.

One plus two on board, injuries: one zebra, damage: one wheel, one belly pod. The plane and the pilot are both back in the air.

I gave the pics to the air charter company with the caveat that they not be distributed without my express written permission. They gave the photos to CAA-B and The Botswana Police. Yesterday, SA Flyer called the air charter company and asked if they could edit the photos. So some jackass at one of those government agencies obviously passed them on. But in keeping with the cultural norms, no one will admit giving the photos away. Always more to the story in this place.

Friday, July 5, 2013

CSI Botswana

I never really know what day it is until I see what the kitchen prepares for dinner. Every day's just like every other when you're on an eleven months on, one month off schedule. I do get excited when I see the fire-making fixings pulled out by the pool cuz that means it's Wednesday and Wednesday night is Braai Night. Braai is an Afrikaans word that means 'grill-out, drink lots of beer, and talk about rugby.' The braai at Eagle Island takes place on a 200 liter drum that has been sawed in half and converted into a grill capable of holding an entire eland(world's largest antelope for those of you who don't know Will Shortz.)

Lately, I've been sent to other camps on Wednesdays and I haven't been around for braai night in a couple of months. It's just random but has turned into a running joke. This Wednesday was no different, I brought a group of Spaniards into town and had to night stop in the thriving metropolis of Maun.

A group of us went out for pizza to a place called Chaplin's. They do a good job with the food and the atmosphere but in keeping with how Africa's just a little behind or a little ridiculous, it's not possible to get a half Cadillac, half Happy Pig. Ah well, the eats and conversation satisfied.

We got back to the house to find two broken windows, bent burglar bars, and a bunch of stuff gone. A belly full of wine doesn't help much as far as solving problems of missing passports and pilot licenses go, so we turned in.

I woke early and irritated. It was the first time I'd been robbed and I can't say I enjoyed the feeling. I couldn't do much about the sense of violation but I figured maybe I could keep the helplessness at bay. I walked around the house and had a look at the access points.

If the Zombie Apocalypse comes to fruition, the skills I've acquired along the way will serve me well. I dug into my bag of tricks and pulled out my tracking tools. I studied the shoe prints from several angles and got them committed to the hard drive.

Then I followed him. Most everybody walks here so there are lots of feet pounding lots of trails. In some places the sand holds a track as if it were cast in stone and other times it's just an oval depression. Since it's winter there are lots of leaves scattered about. I had to keep going back and casting sideways every time I hit a patch of dead vegetation or trail crossroads. I did track him across several tar roads and tuck shacks(roadside stands where people sell crisps and cigarettes and the customers disturb the shit out of the trail.)

After about an hour and a half and the third Motswanan telling me that if I caught up to the guy I should just turn around and call the cops (I can't call the cops, Rra, he took my phone) I decided I should get to a place where I could easily find the trail again, mark it and go to the office. So the next time I crossed a road(and here I'm using the term as in half-way between a logging trail and a donkey path) I drug my heel deeply across the sand so I'd be able to find it again. When one walks with one's head down, one doesn't realize that one has covered more than 4k's.

At the office they sent us straight to the police station. The experience at the station went a little like this, repeated 14 times; "You were robbed? Who robbed you? Please write it down. No you must not write it like that. I will write it, you sign."

Finally the paperwork was done and they said they must come and collect evidence. I asked about the tracks, stating that the trail was still fresh but wouldn't be for long. No, no, it's okay you take the forensics men, and we will send the tracking team. While it was silly that we had to give the forensic crew(one man and one briefcase) a ride, I was pretty excited that we were gonna have a whole team for the tracking.

So what kind of dog does the tracking team have? No Mister, dogs are for drugs, we have a Bushmen.

I took the trackers, 2 Bayei men and 1 Bushmen to where I'd marked the trail. I'd heard about the Bushmen long before coming to Africa and was excited to see how the legend matched reality. This man was short and thin with smiling eyes. He took off and we followed. At the first crossroad he didn't even break stride. Occasionally I'd ask him and he'd show me a heel mark or a scuff. Really? Eh Rra, it's him, look. Two hundred meters down there'd be footprint that I could believe was the right one. The Bushmen covered the same amount of ground that I had in half the time and he looked like a man out for a walk. No one we met asked him what he was doing. When we got into a neighborhood, they made me turn back so as not to alert the suspect.

So far one laptop is back in the right hands and Find my iPhone ain't working.