March 30, 2012 10:02 pm

Around South Africa in a small tin can

It was not exactly a lap of luxury, but a girl can never have too many days flying around a beautiful country

How many is too many? Clothes, for a start. Just over halfway through my tour of South Africa in a Cessna 172R, I am wondering if I could have brought fewer clothes with me. Before we left Cape Town to head east along the coast, I decided to jettison much of the luggage I arrived with from London. Goodness knows I weigh more than enough myself, and every kilo on me or in my bag is 1.3 fewer litres of fuel we can carry. In South Africa, where fuel is not available everywhere, a girl can never have too many litres on board.

I am not flying solo around this beautiful country. Two new companions are a handbag and a piece of very grown-up soft luggage. The latter was a birthday present from my Single Girlfriend, and is the perfect size to take on a small plane. Four of my other girlfriends got together and bought me the handbag, which came in an orange box with a brown ribbon and is also very grown-up indeed. A girl can never have too many pieces of posh luggage; frankly, I consider them almost as vital as aircraft fuel.

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Mrs Moneypenny

I am also accompanied by two young men. (Note that I mentioned the handbag before the men.) I had intended originally to travel only with my UK flying instructor, Wonderful Wayne, as I fly too few hours to be truly safe in an unfamiliar country and an unfamiliar plane. Plus, he is very handy with a screwdriver and a computer.

But we did not have sufficient time to validate our licences in South Africa, a lengthy process that involves paperwork and expense. However, we discovered that it was just as cost-efficient, and a lot quicker, to rent a flying instructor to travel with us for the week. Step forward, Noble Neal, so called because he took a week off from his main job to come on a six-day flying trip with two strangers. Over his birthday. The three of us have spent almost 24 hours a day together, all week, and I am not complaining. A girl can never have too many flying instructors.

The low point of the trip thus far was when the three of us got into a taxi after dinner in Plettenberg Bay. Admittedly, it was dark, and because I was going to pay, I sat in the front for the drive back to Bosavern, our B&B (thank you Viv Dreyer, who runs this excellent place). “Had a nice dinner?” the cab driver asked conversationally. “Yes,” I said. “Lovely to see a mum out with her two sons,” he remarked. Sons! NN turned 35 that week, and WW is 38 this year, so I would have been starting very early indeed to have managed either of them. Mind you, after a week of paying for everything, I have renamed them the Temporary Cost Centres.

The two TCCs have brought very little luggage. In WW’s case, this was because he too had jettisoned some luggage in Cape Town, also in the interests of fuel endurance. What did he left behind? His travel iron, he said. WW is not someone I associate with travel irons. It is possible to have too many travel irons. Even one seems a little pointless. Either I am in a place where they will iron my clothes, or I am somewhere it doesn’t matter whether my clothes are ironed or not.

So far (the east coast to Durban and then inland routing round the north of Lesotho to Bloemfontein) the trip has been reasonably stress-free. KSS (call sign Kilo Sierra Sierra) and her little Lycoming engine have proved very reliable, so my thanks to Cape Town Flying Club, which rented her to me. It is like flying around in a small tin can, not exactly the lap of luxury, but when you are looking out of the window at Cape Agulhas, the Knysna Heads or the Drakensberg Mountains, it hardly matters that the upholstery has seen better days and the parking brake doesn’t work. A girl can never have too many days flying around South Africa.

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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