I’m writing this from Cape Town at the end of my adventure, the sun is shining and I’m totally in love with South Africa. Before I came out here, someone told me that Cape Town is one of three places in the world, alongside Auckland and Vancouver, where we should all be able to live, conducting all business by email, video conference and the occasional visit. Hear, hear.
In total, I covered 2,000 nautical miles in six days in the little Cessna 172R in which I was touring the country, accompanied by my instructors and co-pilots Wonderful Wayne and Noble Neal. I rather enjoyed our progress at 100 miles an hour – seeing South Africa at that speed is exactly the right pace. When I wasn’t piloting, I sat in the back and divided my time between looking out of the window and perusing my South Africa guide book, learning about what was around me.
WW and NN learnt a lot as well. For a start, they learnt what a turn-down service was. Our spontaneous travel arrangements meant that we landed in Durban with nowhere to stay, so I treated us all to a night in a five-star hotel in Umhlanga Rocks. The boys had spread out aeronautical charts all over WW’s room and were preparing to work out how best to get to Bloemfontein the next day, when a maid knocked at the door. WW and NN then watched in bewilderment while she got WW’s bed ready for him to get into, turning down the quilt and laying out a bedside mat on which she placed a pair of white slippers.
When we met up later for dinner (I had meanwhile been for a swim in the sea – after all, why do flight-planning if one is travelling with two flying instructors?), they questioned me closely about the purpose of “turn-down” activity. WW assured me that he knew how to use a bed, so why did he need someone to turn down the quilt to indicate the point of entry? And what on earth was the white mat for?
Our tour halted at lots of places just because I felt like it: Ladysmith for a start, the centre of so much Anglo-Boer history, and Kimberley, where we also flew over the Big Hole (I was at the controls and, looking down, suffered a moment of vertigo). We also stopped at Upington, which has a great little airport with a 5km runway. I gather Upington is where Bono and his wife Ali Hewson did the photoshoot for their Louis Vuitton luggage advertisement. I arrived with the same luggage but no one photographed me, and to make matters worse I forgot to shut down the plane properly and drained the battery. Fortunately WW is a dab hand at starting a single-engine piston by turning the propeller.
I diverted a little between Upington and Springbok to see the Augrabies Falls. In Springbok there was no turn-down service but I did treat the boys to dinner. They each ordered a 1kg steak: we were in a restaurant where anyone who cleared their plate got their name engraved on a board. NN cut off the fat and left the chips; WW ate the chips, salad, onion rings and the entire 1kg steak and was taken to show his empty plate to the kitchen. We expect to see his name engraved next time we stop by.
I flew the last leg into Cape Town, landing on the same runway as my family did the next morning. We all went to see Robben Island; I wanted the Cost Centres to experience the tour in the company of guides who had once been imprisoned there – my sons’ own children will not have that privilege.
Although I was pleased to see my family, I was sad to finish my adventure. For a busy working mother of three, it was totally liberating to have nothing more to worry about for a whole week than the availability of aviation fuel. It is perhaps fitting that in South Africa, where freedom has been so hard won, I have experienced, if temporarily, the greatest freedom of my adult life.