He handed me a small Tupperware box with several Cadbury Eclair sweets inside. I passed them back into the cabin and everyone took one. “Breakfast” said the pilot. He looked around the aircraft one more time and pulled the throttle right back. We accelerated away and within a few seconds were airborne and the bounce of travelling in a different medium shocked us all, and the ground was left far behind. To the right the sprawling suburbs of Kigoma and Ujiji diminished and the row of low hills to the west gradually revealed the lake. We travelled for a short distance southeast, almost tracing the lake’s shoreline before swinging northeastwards still climbing. The GPS told me we had 40 minutes to Kibondo, wherever that was. The wonderful sight of thick African bush was below us, river valleys cut into soft rock and meandered between lines of hills. Small groups of people scratched out a living on slopes of dubious soil quality,
The prospect of a 180 degree view was tempered by the fact we were heading directly into the rising sun, and a yellow haze and wispy clouds spoiled the vista in front. I cursed the fact that I had left my sunglasses in my hold-all, now at the back of the plane. To the right of us, though, the land was crystal clear and I could make out the long straight dust tracks of the major roads, forested areas, huge vlei, probably part of the great Malagarasi Swamp. To the west, the mountains on the border with Burundi rose high, almost to meet us at eye level. We were flying at around 8000 ft, and the ground below was over 3000. The mountains to the west, bordering the western rift, are among the highest in Africa.
Despite the awe inspiring views, and the once in–a-lifetime opportunity that this was, several things conspired to make me tire quickly of the experience. Firstly there was the incredible noise of the engines. The pilot has his earphones on, so was probably oblivious to the pain it was causing me. A loud, badly pitched whine and shivering vibration that just continued, never changed for the forty minutes in the air. Secondly, the view was not all that stunning. The old adage of MMBA was holding out. All I could see was Miles and Miles of Bloody Africa. The bush was all the same, the rivers still meandered, and the people still scratched out a living on slopes of dubious soil quality. The third thing was that it was still only 8 o clock in the morning and I had already been on the go since 5:30 , after not getting to bed till after midnight the night before (the American running the Nyanza project had kept me talking all night).
I started to nod off and even I could tell I was snoring in time with the vibration of the plane (Ncrrr crr crrr crr crr). I tried and tried to take a look out of the window, but each time I did the view that was obscured by the haze soon was also obscured by eye moisture and then eyelid. I was almost asleep when we were bumped three hundred feet up into the sky. I looked out and saw a long ridge, almost the same shape as the North Downs. We had hit the already rigorous thermals that rose up from these bumps and the little plane had been tossed upwards viciously. The pilot smiled at me and said “A good job we didn’t have too much breakfast” and went on to explain how you learnt to look for these features.