Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Chad by Road

Last Monday my flight plan was to leave early in the morning for Roukoum to drop off 2 passengers and then continue onto Zakouma to pick up missionaries who had travelled from nearby Am Timan for a flight back to N'Djamena. I expected to be back by lunchtime but that all changed when I landed in Roukoum and discovered my left main wheel was flat. First job after unloading the passengers and their luggage was to ascertain how much of a puncture I had - if it was a slow enough leak I might be able to pump it up, fly back and gently land it back in N’Djamena. This seemed unlikely though as it has gone flat in the 2 hour journey from N’Djamena. When we pumped it up we couldn't see an obvious puncture but after pouring water over the tyre, several small holes releasing air appeared. In 10 minutes the tyre was already going down and it was clear the aircraft wasn't departing any time soon! 

Plan A would normally be that we dispatch our other aircraft with an engineer to rescue the aircraft, or if the road is good enough, we send the engineer out by car. This time though our other aircraft was grounded with a damaged elevator and our engineer was in France. We enquired with some other aircraft operators to see if any of them could fly past and pick me up but no luck so the best solution was for me to come back by road. By this time it was already 10:30am so there would not be enough time to get back in one day before dark. The helpful people in Roukoum offered to drive me back and initially the suggestion was to leave Roukoum early next morning to do the whole journey. But I think my dismay at the thought of not making any progress on the first day encouraged them to make arrangements for me to stay in their main base in Biktine, 4 hours away. I was very pleased that I would have a chance of getting back home by lunchtime on Wednesday rather than dinner time. It would be the first night I was away from Luke and I was keen to get back! First though we had lunch in Roukoum (the lodge there is run by French staff so having lunch is very important!) where I got to watch the monkeys and some of Chad's spectacular bird life. Unfortunately I only had my phone camera which lacks any zoom or the ability to capture the true beauty of the scene.

Roukoum Reserve

I was warned that the first 4 hours of the drive would be on dirt road so was fully prepared for an uncomfortable, bumpy journey as I remember well the dirt roads of Madagascar with their many potholes and rocks. This one was compact sand and really good so we did about 60km/hr along it and the journey was very smooth. I spent the night just outside of Biktine at the base managed by an Italian named Carlos. He has been working in the area for the last four years with a team of 200 Chadian people, building water towers and providing irrigation systems. He travels up to 400km to build and maintain water systems in the region.

Just leaving Roukoum

Obligatory Sighting of Camels

Fantastic Dirt Roads in the Green South

Busy market day in one town
 At 5:30am we set off for N'Djamena, proposed to be 20 miles of dirt road and then 5 hours on a good tarred road. From Biktine the road was amazing, it looked like it was newly built and we made good progress until we got to within 180km of N'Djamena when the road got progressively worse as the pot holes got bigger and deeper. Often the driver had to drive on the sand road used by the camels and donkeys as it was a quicker and smoother option! We made it back to our compound at 12:30pm, 7 hours after setting off, and was greeted by Luke who was very happy to see me!

Some of the beautiful scenery en-route

A lot of the trip was just vast expanses of nothing

Yesterday I went back to Roukoum with an engineer to rescue the aircraft. While our Caravan is stuck on the ground awaiting parts, a pilot and plane from MAF Kenya has come to help us out and he flew us back to Roukoum in 1.5 hours! The engineer replaced the wheel, I got some fuel from the other aircraft and dislodged a few spiders from my pitot tube and flew back in time for lunch.

It was fun to make the journey by road and get to see some of Chad's scenery at ground level, but it was also very nice to make the return journey by air rather than a full days travel.

MAF Kenya's aircraft helped rescue our 182