A Travellerspoint blog

Day Sixty Three – Pilots and Basket Cases

24th November 2011

semi-overcast 28 °C

The Lonely Planet was for once exactly right. Our backpackers hostel did have a ‘bar-at-the-end-of-the-world’ feel to it. Propped up by middle aged men who looked like they never left and with ‘pilots and pretty girls chatting each other up.’ It was a nice spot. Hammocks hung from trees at the rivers’ edge, Christmas tree lights provided a dimmed and relaxed hue; drink and laughter flowed whilst Chris De Burgh and Simon and Garfunkel played in the background.

This close up encounter with pilots was amusing. We’d already worked out how to spot one on our campsite-booking expedition. A pilot is the one with a strut and a self confidence like Greta Garbo walking into a bar, cigarette in hand, expecting heads to turn and voices to hush. His, (it’s normally a he though the two females pilots we observed dressed strikingly like the male of the species,) appearance is one of worldly traveller that is a little bit too neat and preened around the edges. Beaded bracelets have been replaced with fancy aviator watches, (what else can a pilot tell the time with?) Ray Ban aviator sunglasses are derigeur and we were lucky enough to spot one guy pull up on his motorbike without helmet; in a scene I assume he felt was reminiscent of Top Gun, before striding into the airport entirely aware of how cool he felt he looked. One guy introduced himself in the bar. He was in his Saturday best; that being a brand new Chelsea top with ‘Torres’ on the back. He was one cool cucumber. It took him two sentences to tell me he was a pilot. The second sentence was his name.

Having hired a plane, (all five seats of it,) and a taxi driver to fly it, we’d left an advert in the backpackers hoping we could find some fellow aviators to help bring the costs down a little. We met our compatriots in the bar on our return from Baines’ Baobabs. Two Dutch brothers doing a whistle stop, two week, Namibia and Botswana tour. Just like that our plane tickets were half price.

We arrived early, brimming with pre-flight excitement, sadly I’d forgotten the sat-phone and compass (in case we went down,) but had the camera. We nipped into the cafe, full of pilots, and had a coffee to settle the nerves. The waitress asked what kind of coffee Laura would like. Clearly overcome with the cosmopolitan atmosphere of a pilots’ cafe Somers said, “I’ll have a latté please.” “One coffee,” was the waitresses reply. The Dutchies ordered double espressos, I had a black coffee, the boys got what they ordered, Laura got one mug of coffee. Latté or not, it would be her downfall.

We walked onto the runway in slow motion, transformed. Laura’s’ long brown hair billowed horizontally, but gently in the wind. The sun shone down reflecting from our designer sunglasses, our strides were long and purposeful across a tarmac that was deep black with ripples of heat rising, flickering up from its surface, our smiles revealed rows of perfectly white teeth as we joked with one another; we’d hired a plane, we were like them, we were cool.

The flight itself was bloody brilliant, a little bit turbulent but our small 6-seater – leather seats may I add – and its one little propeller, soared across the Delta. Herds of elephant grazed beneath us, crocodiles lay on sandy banks, water buffalo swam and giraffe looked on, bemused at another flying taxi. Hippos wallowed and white birds flew across lagoons that reflected the morning sun. It was magical. For an hour we flew out over this supreme wilderness, Attenborough style sentences flew through my head as the scenery beneath changed but never ended, “Here, on the Okavango Delta...”

Laura had been seated behind me: the pilot had mentioned something about weight distribution and I had said something about drinking skinny lattés in future. Fifty minutes into our flight I turned to take a picture of this English (strictly speaking, Welsh) rose, looking down through the planes’ window, onto nature at its most remarkable. She looked a little queasy as I set my camera to rapid fire. She looked right, and green. She looked forward with puffed cheeks and a slow puffing motion to her breathing. Slowly, from below, centre screen, a white paper bag with a plastic sheen emerges, opening as it rises. Laura’s neck extends; cranes and dips into this intriguing bag of delight. The Dutchie sat next to her thought she was eating a croissant. My camera and I saw the bag fill with coffee.

Our pilot, a consummate gentleman, landed us safely and taxied around to the petrol pump. At one stage, he reached up to a switch above his head, I thought he was going to stop the meter and say “That’ll be twelve pound eighty please.” But he didn’t. He got out, helped us out, and, thanking us for flying with Major Blue Air, told Laura that there was a bin fifty metres down the plane parking lot.

After the woozy light-headedness of being cool for an hour we decided that the afternoon would best be spent doing something a little more sedate; learning to weave baskets. There was a lady that ran a community shop, where women from all over the region are able to showcase their wares and make a little dollar. The lady that ran it was called Thitaku Kushonya and she is considered to be one of the best, if not the best weaver in the country. She’s had pieces exhibited around the world and came fourth in a world craft exhibition in the USA. More recently she came sixteenth out of 250 competitors in the same event staged in the UK, she wins the annual Botswanan event each year and her best pieces sell for hundreds of pounds. With funding from the United Nations Development Program she is helping to teach other locals how to weave and create an income for themselves. The world could do with more like her. We sat on her stoep, (the veranda bit outside the house,) and she taught Pinky and Percy how to weave baskets from grass and dyed palm leaves. We were essentially not very good at it, but after three hours we had two small baskets to show for our hard work. Mine was big enough for one pair of small stud earings; Lauras’, a little larger, could have been host to the egg of a small Wren or perhaps even a Robin.

Posted by ibeamish 08:42 Archived in Botswana

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Hi we have just been catching up.Again it sounds like life is full of adventure the latest photos were brill not very chivarous E taking poor Laura with her sick bag but glad to hear she soon recoverd when she was back on Terrafirma. Well there just forcastimg the first snow so think of us all here shivering.Takecare xx

by paula ste

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