Up In The Air and Down The Funnel


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, March 17, 2004 was originally posted on March 22, 2004.

DAY 151:  I don’t know who said that video games deteriorate a youth’s mind, but whoever said it obviously never got to fly an airplane.  Having flown virtual planes growing up on computer flight simulators and Zaxxon on my 1980s ColecoVision, I was all prepared for when I was handed over the controls in a real plane 7,000 ft. in the stratosphere.

“ARE YOU BARRY?” I asked the old man having breakfast in the main lodge, baffled at an impossible jigsaw puzzle which, when completed, would form the blown-up picture of popcorn.

“Yes, are you Erik?”

“Yeah, I’ll be your first co-pilot this morning.”

We met at the hangar just a ways from the main house on Stanley Island.  Barry got his glider ready while I waited at the runway with Sonja and Chris who were next in line.  Soon, we heard what sounded like a gas-powered lawnmower and around the bend the glider appeared with Barry inside.  I entered the tiny two-man cockpit, strapped into the three safety belts held together by a latch that a three-year-old could dislodge with a little elbow grease, and put on my headset so I could communicate with Barry while the engine was running.

Barry flicked a switch and the propeller started spinning.  He held control of the joystick in front and soon the plane accelerated down the grassy runway the entire length of the island.  Before we reached the end, we had lifted off the ground and climbed to about 2,000 ft. (picture below).

ONE OF THE PERKS OF STAYING at the no-longer advertised Stanley Island Lodge was the fact that its manager Barry just so happened to be a glider pilot.  For $50 (USD), he took people individually on a scenic flight up the coast, above the mountains and the ocean to observe the tree tops and the marine life below.  I was fortunate enough to see a group of dolphins jumping in and out of the water — Chris actually saw a massive school of hammerhead sharks.

“Is it easy to fly?” I asked Barry through my headset.

“You’ll find out,” he answered.  “You’re going to drive back.”

Barry flew the plan up to Dryfhout Bay and then turned the plane around.  He explained to me how to read the velocity gauge and the altimeter and then let go of the controls so I could take over.  It was my task to gradually bring the plane up to 7,000 ft. without burning out the engine.

“Keep the needle here at about eighty-five [km/h],” he instructed.  Using slight motions of the joystick, I maintained the needle in its zone to prevent burn out.

“Don’t concentrate on the gauges,” Barry said.  “Look out the window.”  Out the window, I had managed to get the plane in a really crooked angle out to sea. 

Eventually I got the hang of flying the glider, turning it gracefully like I had done years ago in a computer flight simulator, piloting it without any turbulence.  I repeated in my mind the mantra that I had from my childhood days playing the game Looping on my ColecoVision:  Up is down, and down is up.

Speaking of “looping,” once we got around 7,000 ft., Barry took the controls to have a little fun.  He cut the engine off so we could just glide on the ocean winds without the sounds of the motor or propellor — and loop the plane upside down and around twice in a row (536k Quicktime MOVie).  For his next trick, Barry did a couple of stall turns, in which he flew the plane straight up at a 90° angle without the engine on, and let it hang there for gravity to take its toll.

“It’s like a bungy [jump],” he said.  We freefell once facing straight down in a nosedive and other going straight backwards like in a really good roller coaster, leveling out smoothly on both occasions.  I couldn’t stop laughing the entire time.

While gliding down towards the ground with the engine still off, we flew straight down towards the earth where it looked like we might crash into the lagoon.  My eyes bulged out as it was something out of a movie, but then Barry turned the engine on at the last second and lifted the plane up to safety (236k Quicktime MOVie).  Eventually we came down to earth on the grassy runway so Sonja could go up next.

“It’s so fun!” I raved.  She excitedly got into the cockpit and took off.  I ran to the dining hall where the others were having breakfast to share my enthusiasm. 

“You are smiling from ear to ear,” Verona commented.

“It was so good!” I exclaimed.  “You have to go,” I told Andy who wasn’t so sure if he wanted to spend the extra money without hearing about it first.  He rushed off to register.

“So it was good?” Tom asked me at the hot beverage dispenser.

“Yeah, I don’t even need coffee this morning!”

I continued to rave about the flying, looping and freefalling like a kid who had just gotten the new high score in an arcade game. 

AFTER SONJA, CHRIS AND ANDY ALL HAD EAR-TO-EAR SMILES, we left Stanley Island and hopped back in the little green Bok Bus, westbound back towards Cape Town.  Tom drove us to the seaside town of Knysna, a former hippy haven-turned-yuppieland voted the “Best City in South Africa” in 2001 — by who I don’t know, but it was probably the people of Knysna, South Africa.

The coastal town, full of chic shops and coffeehouses, was known for two things:  the spectacular sandstone rock formations known as the Knysna Heads, which we saw from above, and the Knysna oysters, harvested from the wild in Knysna Lagoon.  Knysna hosts an annual oyster festival where people from all over can sample the town’s tasty contribution to the international culinary scene. 

The festival wasn’t until July, so to sample the famous oysters myself, we visited the Knysna Oyster Tavern, one of the first places that began harvesting Knysna oysters commercially.  Smaller than the standard cultivated ocean oyster, the wild Knysna oyster had a bit more of a robust taste to it.  Of course I was the only one that noticed this; Sonja was the only other person who was “brave” enough to try them, and she had no previous oyster tasting experience.  The rest couldn’t stand the thought of slurping what looked like snot out of a half-shell, even if it was splashed with lemon and hot sauce.

AFTER SOME BEACH TIME at Wilderness National Park where Andy and I played with the strong ocean waves, and a visit to the Alcare aloe ferox factory, where I sampled a natural energy drink made from aloe ferox (it tastes like bitter body lotion), we ended up at the Somerset Gift Farm in Sparrebosch Valley, our accommodation for the night.  The farm, set up to be a retreat destination, was less than a year old, solely run by Deon, an young Englishman who had renovated every one of its cottages to modern standards with new beds, electricity and kitchen facilities.  Deon stayed in the main lodge near the main gate with his dog Punch, who often started fights with a local peacock — the peacock always won. 

It was at this main lodge that Deon made us a delicious chicken braai for supper as he played tunes out of the digital music channels on the satellite TV behind the bar.  He tended the bar after cooking, which wasn’t much of a bar since we practically drank it dry of everything available in celebration of Kate’s 28th birthday the next day.  When midnight struck, Deon pulled out a beer funnel from under the bar and let the festivities go down the mouth of the funnel and into our mouths.  Once it hit the lips, it was so good — especially for Andy who was getting really happy-drunk.

Inebriated on brandies and Coke (South Africa’s “national drink”), wine, beer, and gin and tonics, Sonja, Chris, Andy and I walked back to our cottage down the dirt road.  I was feeling sober enough to make us all some two-minute ramen noodles that I had with me in the kitchen.  Andy the German, who was usually pretty quiet in conversations since he wasn’t too good with English, suddenly couldn’t stop rambling incoherently about his escapades in Southeast Asia when I told him I was of Filipino descent.

Apparently, he himself didn’t know what he was talking about because the next morning, he had no recollection of his words — or having any ramen noodles for that matter.

I don’t know who said that video games deteriorate one’s mind, but whoever said it was obviously trying to shift the blame away from alcohol.

Next entry: Foofie To The Very End

Previous entry: Superlatives

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Comments for “Up In The Air and Down The Funnel”

  • yay, i’m first grin

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  11:17 AM

  • ratz! .. down with you Dtella! ..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  11:22 AM

  • “leaving on a Jet Plane ... dunno know when I’ll be back again ” ...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  11:33 AM

  • My fear of flying has just returned…thanks. Great sunset photo, its my new desktop background.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  11:34 AM

  • I agree Dtella - that sunset photo rocks!

    Posted by Liz  on  03/22  at  12:32 PM

  • I made it my desktop as soon I saw it!

    I just want to know one thing… After the funel was there any streaking? If not, why not?!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  02:09 PM

  • P.S. I would DIE in that glider! I can barely handle take off in a 737!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  02:10 PM

  • My greatest childhood fear was that our plane would do a loop-de-loop.
    You’re laughing your head off in the videos - and I’m screaming on the inside.
    But that plane ride *was* cool.
    That resort island is awesome - I want to go live there.

    Posted by dunlavey  on  03/22  at  03:19 PM

  • i am with Td0t.  From watching your QT movies and pictures, all i kept thinking was that glider making a horrible crunching noise when it crash lands….ugh.

    excuse me…i feel light headed just talking about it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  03:32 PM

  • ah..memories! i think we did all the same garden route activities you’re doing… THE GLIDER PLANE!!! so much fun!!

    you should have went to the rasta township tour in knysna! weed is legal & it’s like an eternal party.  3 yr old kids smoking up… everyone greets you by slapping your knuckles & saying “one love”. ha ha.. 

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  11:47 PM

  • TDOT:  Actually, I don’t quite remember the walk back down the road to the cottage… so it was very possible.

    Too bad the KFC wasn’t open.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/23  at  08:38 AM

  • DUNLAVEY:  The resort island is up for sale…  If ever you feel like leaving Brooklyn to live on your own island (there is internet and satellite so you can still keep in touch and do your cartoons), look them up.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/23  at  08:40 AM

  • The coast pic is my new wallpaper =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/23  at  11:46 AM

  • man, that lopp-de-loop is so awesome!!! i am jealous. i bet that was way more fun than an ride at great adventure.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/23  at  03:22 PM

  • I’m FINALLY close to being all caught up. I loved the plane movies - those are fantastic!! I’m seriously jealous now! Thanks for all the writing, even if I can’t keep up!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/23  at  08:26 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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