Tag Archives: Flights

Le Parc National de la Garamba, Province Orientale, République Démocratique du Congo

Once we finished our measles vaccination campaign in Faradje, we were asked to fly west to Dungu to do the same. If you draw a line from Faradje to Dungu on the map (and there is indeed a road joining the two, though our security rules prevent us from driving along it), what you see above that line is Garamba National Park, once home to an incredible number and variety of wild animals. Unfortunately, it has for several years now been frequented by Joseph Kony’s famed Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which, some may recall, was active in Northern Uganda for many years, but eventually began to frequent areas of South Sudan, then DR Congo and Central African Republic once a number of militaries started putting more energy into pursuing them. The LRA not only terrorised and thereby displaced local populations all across the area, but they also seem to be part of the reason for a decrease in the number of wild animals in the park. Nevertheless, during the half hour flight from Faradje to Dungu in a Cessna 208 Caravan I, during which I was lucky enough to get the co-pilot seat again, we managed to see quite a few animals. Our pilot, John, could see the animals from far away, and banked the plane hard several times to get us closer for a better look.

John, pilot extraordinaire, banking left to see some elephants

I only had a wide-angle lens with me, so I took very few photos and focused on watching the animals with my own eyes, but I’ll post a couple pics anyways. In this photo, there are at least seven elephants, two of which have white birds on their backs. Can you see them all?

Seven elephants in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

If not, here are zoomed views of two different parts of the photo:

Three elephants in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
Four elephants in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

In total, I saw about twenty elephants during the flight. We also saw well over 200 hippos by my estimate, as we flew over at least ten groups of hippos lounging along the banks of the Dungu River, which runs through Garamba National Park, and each group had at least twenty individuals. For instance, I count at least 38 hippopotamuses in this photo:

At least thirty-eight hippos in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

I didn’t get to fly the plane, but being in the co-pilot seat has its advantages regardless, mostly the chance to wear a headset and spend the entire flight chatting with the pilot and listening in on radio conversations between pilots and airport control towers.

Chris the co-pilot

As we flew over the town of Dungu to prepare for our final approach to Dungu Wando Airstrip, we got a clear view of the famed Dungu Castle. The story told about the castle’s construction is that the Belgian administrator at the time chose to build a single bridge across the river instead of two, using the bricks instead to build this medieval-style castle:

Dungu Castle from above

Vancouver to Frankfurt to Geneva to Brussels to Kigali to Kampala to Bunia to Faradje in 5 days

Back on January 5th, I got a call from MSF Canada asking me to leave on the 7th for a short contract in DR Congo with the emergency team. I quickly finished typing up my annual update, then proceeded to cancel all the plans I’d made to meet up with friends. Having spent only two weeks in Vancouver after six months abroad, I first flew to Geneva, Switzerland for a briefing and to get my Congolese visa.

Sunset over the clouds en route to Frankfurt, Germany

Of course, what would a flight to Geneva be without a stopover in Frankfurt, Germany? With about five hours to spare before the second leg of my flight, I was through customs and in the airport train station within minutes of landing. I’d never been to Frankfurt before, only the airport (the only time in my entire life that I missed a flight, in March 2008, due to a late connection, I spent many hours in the Frankfurt airport) and train station, so this was a great chance to have a quick look. As luck would have it, while I looked for the right train to take me into town, I got a phone call from a random German number. It turned out to be none other than my good friend Darren Peets, who was already in the airport waiting to surprise me!

Darren and me in Frankfurt

This was a terrific surprise, and really made my day! Not only was it great to see an old friend in an unfamiliar place, but it also meant I had to put zero effort into figuring out the trains and various signs in German, as Darren handled all that with ease. Together, we visited an old church, strolled around the old town centre admiring neat old buildings, walked over and quite a ways along the river, ate German food outside while the restaurant staff looked at us as if we were a pair of crazy Canadians, and caught up on each others’ lives over the course of about three hours hanging out.

Frankfurt old town centre, with massive Christmas tree
Frankfurt old town centre
Neat tower in Frankfurt, Germany

This bridge over the river is decorated with thousands of padlocks, each symbolic of a couple’s love. Every once in a while, they’re all removed by the city.

Pedestrian bridge with love locks in Frankfurt, Germany

After Darren and I returned to the airport and said our goodbyes, I caught a quick flight to Geneva and headed to my hotel to sleep. I spent the next day at the MSF Switzerland office meeting a few people for briefings, getting my documents in order, and generally appearing out of place. Early the next morning, before the sun had shown his face to the snow-covered Swiss Alps, I caught a taxi to the airport with two colleagues. After downing a much-needed coffee, we were soon up in the air over Geneva.

Taking off from Geneva, Switzerland
Flying out of Switzerland

That first flight took us only a short distance, to Brussels, Belgium where we rushed from one side of the airport to the other, with the typical Brussels Airport ridiculously long queue to get through security. We then flew to Kampala, Uganda with a one hour stopover in Kigali, Rwanda. After a night’s sleep in Kampala, we headed to Kajjansi Airfield and boarded a tiny little Cessna 206 to head to DR Congo.

Preparing to board a Cessna 206 at Kajjansi Airfield, Uganda

From Kajjansi Airfield we first flew seven minutes to Entebbe International Airport to clear customs, during which time I was in the co-pilot seat for the first time in my life.

Cessna 206 interior design

At Entebbe Airport, pictured below, we went through customs and bought food from the duty free store, then continued on to Bunia, DR Congo.

Entebbe International Airport, Uganda

Heading out of Entebbe, and over Lake Victoria:

Fishing boats line the shore of Lake Victoria

Winding road just outside Bunia, Province Orientale, Democratic Republic of Congo:

Winding road just outside Bunia, Province Orientale, Democratic Republic of Congo

We landed happily in Bunia on January 10th and by the 12th were back at the airport, this time to board a slightly larger Cessna 208 Caravan I, which would take us from Bunia to Faradje, in the northeast corner of DR Congo, not far from South Sudan and Uganda.

Loading cargo on a Cessna 208 Caravan I at Bunia Murongo Airport

For this final flight, I was seated the farthest back, just in front of the rear door. This turned out to be an excellent seat choice: as the plane began to pick up speed, there was a loud click, and a warning light on the pilot’s dashboard lit up red. The pilot looked back toward me, with the unhappy grimace of a father trying to manage some semblance of control over his difficult children on the drive to school in the morning. “OK, who left the door open?” he says. Of course, the answer was obviously his ground crew, but I figured out how to close and latch the door pretty quickly, the red light turned off, and within seconds we were climbing high into the sky.

The flight from Bunia to Faradje took exactly 60 minutes. The large Catholic church is visible near the top of this photo of Faradje from above, as we did a quick pass over the town before landing. Just below and to the left of the church is the parish centre where the priests live, and where we slept during our time in Faradje:

Faradje from above

Having landed in Faradje, we went straight to work organising a measles vaccination campaign for the town. More on that in the next post.

Vancouver to Amsterdam to Bonn to Abidjan

On June 8th I left Vancouver to begin my first contract with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF aka Doctors Without Borders), in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. As usual, I didn’t take the most direct route. Before starting work, I had to attend a ten day introduction to MSF, which was held in Bonn, Germany. Another guy from Vancouver, John, was on the same flight, which had a six hour stopover in Amsterdam, so when we landed on June 9th the two of us left the airport to see my old friend Pieter in town.

Clocktower, central Amsterdam

The three of us visited the MSF office, walked around a bit, talked a lot, and had strange but tasty Dutch sandwiches before John and I caught our train back to the airport. There, we met up with a few others heading to the induction, flew to Köln together, and figured out the buses to get from the airport to the outskirts of Bonn for the induction.

I can’t really say anything about the MSF induction itself, just that it was a lot of fun, with some really cool participants and organisers, rather bad (and I suspect perhaps decaffeinated) coffee, and no fresh vegetables for the first few days because of the big E. coli outbreak in Europe at the time. A few pics of Bonn:

Bonn Münster:

Bonn Münster, central Bonn, Germany

Bonn’s historic Town Hall:

Bonn's historic Town Hall

Bonn’s most famous citizen, Beethoven:

Beethoven statue, Bonn, Germany

Street art in Bonn: an East German soldier jumping over the line:

East German soldier skip rope street art, Bonn, Germany

After ten days, all the other participants left Bonn, except for me and one other guy. I stayed part of an extra night in the hostel, caught a taxi to the Bonn Hauptbahnhof in the middle of the night, and a little after 5am on June 19th I was zooming along the Rhine River watching the castles glide by around me en route to Frankfurt by train:

Castle on the Rhine, Germany
Castle on the Rhine, Germany
Castle on the Rhine, Germany

From Frankfurt it was a quick hop through the sky to Brussels:

Flying from Frankfurt to Brussels

From Brussels, the plane passed over the Mediterranean with its pretty islands and coastline:

Islands in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa
The northern coast of Africa

By 515pm I was on the ground in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest city, to start a six month contract.

Sunset in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire

Flyga från Kindu till Kanada

(I put the title in Swedish so I could justifiably spell Canada with a K, because alliteration is awesome)

On the evening of June 28th, I landed in Vancouver without telling anyone but my family. Getting there, from my current home in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was a rather long process. If you add up all the time I spent in the air to get from Kindu, Maniema Province, DRC to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada it’s a short little 22 hours spent airborne spread over three short hops within DRC and three longer leaps from Rwanda to Kenya to the Netherlands to Canada.

First, I had to fly domestically from Kindu to Goma. I caught a ride on June 23rd on Busy Bee, a great little charter airline we often use. That flight touched down in Punia, then Lubutu, then landed in Goma.

En route from Kindu to Punia, one of many tributaries of the mighty Congo River:

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The pilot and co-pilot gave me permission to take this photograph on the ground in Punia:

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Just before landing in Lubutu:

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En route to Goma, North Kivu Province:

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Some of the wealthier residences in Goma are waterfront properties on Lake Kivu:

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After a few days in Goma, I caught a bus from the border to Kigali in Rwanda and a taxi from downtown to the Kigali airport, where I watched the World Cup football match in which Germany destroyed England. Rooney wasn’t very happy with his team’s lack of success:

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From Kigali I flew to Nairobi on Kenya Airways, which actually provides a small hot meal on this short (just over one hour) flight, much better than Canadian airlines such as Air Canada and Westjet who don’t give a meal on a four and a half hour flight from Vancouver to Toronto. Kenya Airways planes at the gates:

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I spent the night in Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) – many people tell horror stories that remind of trying to sleep in Stansted airport, but in JKIA if you head toward Gate 3, down some stairs from Gate 4, you’ll find the sleep n’ shower facilities which were very useful for me. Also, at Gate 14 there’s a coffee shop called Java House with very tasty espressos. Gaining altitude outside Nairobi:

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Nearly nine hours later, I landed in sunny Amsterdam, where I boarded a KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) flight for Vancouver. KLM planes on the tarmac:

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Direct flights from Europe to Vancouver always fly over the Arctic, as it’s the shortest route, so we got to see some white scenery over Greenland and northern Canada:

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Finally, we passed just to the south of Bowen Island and came in for the usual east-facing landing at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, with UBC on our left:

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On July 13th I left Vancouver to do the exact opposite flight route, which was much more tiring because of the lack of sleep, and when I arrived in Kindu yesterday (July 17th) I slept from 1:30pm until 9:30pm and from midnight to 6:00am today.