Cruising over the Ituri in the fresh morning air I could smell the forest below. It was reminiscent of frangipani or something sweet like that. I couldn’t put my finger on it. But while looking at every shade of green tree under the sun, one of florescent coral orange or pink or rusty brown or polk-a-dots of white would pop out in stark contrast. Black and white hornbills gliding through the tops of the branches, their white trailing edge feathers forming a gentle sweeping C, showed that there were living things below. A turquoise green parrot of some sort shot along as if in a very big hurry to get somewhere and added other flashes of color to delight your eyes.
I was going to pick up some men at Mambasa who had been working on a building project for a mission that needed living quarters for people coming to meetings, youth camps and conferences. They were big strong tan handsome curly-haired Dutch guys who were obviously brothers. Kees, Marko and Thijs (who are 3 of 12 kids in their family). They build and engineer roads in Holland and do other building construction things. They grew up on a farm and knew about tractors so the airstrip was mowed beautifully in the process of their work. That is a rare treat in the forest. They said the grass was about 2 meters high so I was glad they went to the trouble before I got there. An airplane is a very expensive lawn mower and when the grass is hitting the leading edge of a high wing airplane it is not nice.
Mambasa airstrip is built on the side of a little mountain and the bottom of the field is down in a hole so deep that I usually bypass about half of the runway before touching down. The big hump in the middle dividing it keeps you from seeing the other half when you are on the ground, so taking off you are never sure what is down in the back half until you get there. I have found a herd of buffalo over such hills at other strips like this so you really need to be on your toes and ready to abort the takeoff or landing.
The village community had lined up along the area we stop in to say goodbye to the volunteers…or just because they were curious and they greeted us enthusiastically. I once took a couple of the kids for a ride in the plane so maybe they were hoping for that. Anyway, pictures were taken, there were hand shakes all around and last minute words were spoken. They had obviously been appreciated.
Marko won the toss for sitting in the front and we loaded the VERY heavy suitcases. Luckily there were only three people and not far to go, just a 50 minute flight. But they enjoyed the forest and wonderful scenery along the way. Sometimes we even see chimpanzee nests in the trees along the way, but the forest is so thick you would have to be very lucky to see the elephants that wander around below. We circled the building project as we left the area to many waving people from the ground.
We were hours early to catch the MAF-Uganda flight over to Entebbe so I invited the brothers home for something cool to drink and a bite to eat. One of the nice things about this job is the close interaction with so many of our passengers who become great friends over time. While we talked they said that their suitcases, which were going to cost $50 in overweight just to Uganda, were full of pineapples! These would no doubt be confiscated on entry to Uganda or Amsterdam so they finally decided to leave us with a bunch and we got it down to where there was no overcharge. We are now enjoying pineapples and were able to give many to friends.
It was another great day at the office.