Tim offers a unique flying safari that really caught my attention, it's called "Over The Waters of Africa". Tim personally flies a small group of fortunate clients over migrating wildebeest, flocks of flamingos, stark deserts, roaring waterfalls and sleepy villages, on a journey from Nairobi to Cape Town. Guests on this aerial adventure stay in luxury safari camps, meet local Maasai, trek with chimpanzees, see the magnificent Victoria Falls from above, and fly low over wrecked ships along Namibia's Skeleton coast. It's quite a journey.
What inspired you to learn to fly?
I was born in Kenya in 1949 and lived in a world where people flew to each others house for tea. My godfather owned Mercedes Benz dealerships around East and Southern Africa and he'd visit each one by plane. When I was a boy he would take me with him on business trips, I even met Idi Amin. I learned how to fly at a very young age, and got my official license and became a pilot when I was 17. I got a job as a distributor for Cessna and helped them bring some of their planes from their factory in France, back to East Africa. This was during the 1970's. I flew 4 of these single-engined planes from London to Nairobi with little navigation aid beyond maps that said "relief data incomplete". My worst experience was landing in Port Sudan in a massive sand storm with little fuel left. There are no land marks to guide you into some of these tiny airstrips and you hope it's safe. You pray there's fuel for you because you're basically flying beyond the point of no return on every leg of this trip. I delivered planes to farmers and doctors working throughout East and Southern Africa.
You also worked as a "bush pilot". What does a bush pilot do?
A bush pilot is basically a charter pilot, he goes from A to B. In the early days when Beryl Markham was working as a bush pilot, they were often employed to track wildlife for big game hunters. So they'd find a family of elephants say, and circle around them to see if any were worth shooting for their ivory, and report back. This is how Denys Finch Hatton died, circling too tight.
One of my most memorable trips as a bush pilot came as a result of an emergency call from Jane Goodall who was working with Chimpanzees in Gombe, Tanzania. She urgently needed some medicine for a sick chimp. I got the medicine there, met Jane and had to leave quickly because this was the fall of 1978 and Idi Amin had decided to invade Tanzania. I had to land at a game park and get fuel. This was right on the border of the two countries, I could see the soldiers coming towards the plane and managed to take off just in time.
And now you operate a safari company. Tell me about your flying safaris.
I spend 3 months of every year flying around East and Southern Africa. I visit my clients on safari, and will fly them from camp to camp sometimes, or guide them on a walk or drive. I also fly around to check out new destinations, lodges and camps.
The big flying safari that I've been doing for the past 8 years is a totally unique safari. I fly a small group all the way from Nairobi to Livingstone (Zambia). The trip can also continue on to Cape Town which is great because we get to fly over Chobe and the Okavango in Botswana, as well as the Skeleton Coast of Namibia. It takes at least 3-4 or weeks and we overnight at safari camps or private homes. The first time I did the flying safari I took 5 women from Ethiopia to Cape Town. We collected water from every river and lake we stopped at. We had water from the Blue Nile, White Nile, Zambezi, you name it. Once we reached the Cape we poured the water into the Atlantic. The theme we made up for this trip was "no water, no life".
Can you land anywhere? How does that work with immigration?
You have to clear customs and make sure that wherever you land, there's fuel available. This can be difficult sometimes. We clear customs at various points in the trip but it doesn't take long, these are small custom posts, in half an hour, you're back up in the air again. It really makes you feel like you're on a big adventure, which you are.
How has the landscape changed?
From the air, you can see the desertification everywhere. Lakes have been reduced, virgin forests have been reduced. You can really see this in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. It's really the result of population growth, clearing more land to grow crops, chopping trees down to make charcoal, that kind of thing. The most shocking personally, is the Mau Forest in Kenya's Rift Valley. It's vitally important. There are still some very dense swaths of vegetation left though, especially in the DRC, Zambia and Tanzania.
Are animals bothered when you fly over?
Animals don’t bother themselves with planes, they know bullets don’t come from planes. Speaking of bullets, there has been a huge upsurge in poaching, especially in Kenya and Zimbabwe, even in areas that are well protected.
When you fly low over Lake Nakuru or Bogoria, aren't you worried about getting a flamingo in your engine?
Luckily, flamingos actually fly down and away. But you need a pilot with a lot of experience to know how to fly safely over these areas with a high bird density. Pick a pilot who has a lot of flying hours under their belt.
Have your clients changed much over the years?
Clients have become less willing to rough it. They’re looking for more luxury. It’s an expensive trip and they don’t want any problems or delays, which is very difficult to achieve in Africa and so the job is a little more stressful.
Quick One Answer Questions:
Favorite Place - Ethiopia
Favorite Animal - Elephant
Favorite African Beer - Tusker