The joy of flying on a small plane

Sunday September 3 2017

Small planes fly lower and offer good views of

Small planes fly lower and offer good views of the landscape. PHOTO | FILE 

By CLIFFORD GIKUNDA
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I have flown several times, but this particular flight from Nairobi to the northwestern Kenya’s agricultural town of Kitale was unique.

My flight was scheduled for 07:15 on a Tuesday morning from the small but busy Wilson Airport on the edge of the Nairobi National Park. This airport handles considerably much of the local flights, including a sizeable number of chartered flights to the game parks and reserves around Kenya.

It’s common to find groups of tourists at this airport destined for different locations, cameras dangling on necks, anxiously pacing the small departure lounge; businessmen in suits waiting pensively to go seal their next big deal.

I am a photographer and it had been a busy night for me, with a heavy workload to clear to avoid a backlog on my return. It can be a frustrating drive to the Wilson Airport from Nairobi’s central business district, especially at peak traffic hours.

There are several transport options but this morning taking an Uber made more sense. I hit the road a few minutes before 5am. The drive was uneventful, but for some reason I was apprehensive. I made it to the airport in 20 minutes and I found a few people at the security check.

Wilson Airport

Unlike the famous terminals at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Wilson Airport will give a first-time visitor a jolt. It is very basic, with a small waiting lounge.

The planes here are small too, no bigger than 24-seater in capacity. They, therefore, don’t fly too high, meaning one can enjoy the scenery below. I was on a Safarilink flight.

The check-in process was easy and quick — the normal procedures of giving out identification documents for verification.

As we proceeded to board, I realised that we were only two passengers on this 12-seater Cessna Caravan 208.

“This looks more of a chartered flight buddy,” my friend Sam, visiting from Belgium tells me. I have never been on one so I was ready to enjoy this “empty” flight. But we are soon joined by a female passenger, nevertheless making only three of us.

Magical views

The scenery unfolded as soon as take- off, as we flew over beautiful houses with red roofing; storied residential apartments looking meticulously planned, giving the city below a touch of artificial exquisiteness.

This view morphs into that of the shanties of the sprawling slum of Kibera with screaming rusted iron sheets.

As the plane turns towards the national park, we are suddenly facing an expansive open land. Although we are too high to see any animals, the lands below are green and look full of life, typical of the African savanna.

Thirty minutes into the flight, the scenery again changes into dusty dry land as we fly over the floor of the Rift Valley. Below us is the magnificent Mount Longonot.

From above, we can see the entire expanse of the crater sitting like a bowl on the mountain with a green spread of vegetation cover.

I click away on my camera as I absorb the beauty, which brings a sense of calmness in me that massages my soul. It’s a good feeling. We fly farther over Lake Naivasha; a pink hue of the flamingos on the banks and the blue of the lake give the water body a spectacular view. Adjacent to the lake, hundreds to thousands of acres of green houses glisten in the sun.

The Rift Valley now looks like manicured lawns of a golf course, with breaks of towns and forests and a distinct road network. From my birds view, I see vehicles below move like ants except for their different colours.

I am glued to the window, clicking away at the water bodies — dams and the meandering rivers — that give the Rift Valley a unique beauty.

As we approach Kitale, plantations of green vegetation give the grounds a carpet in golden and green hue. On closer look I realise most of it is maize nearing harvest. After all, this is Trans Nzoia, one of the leading maize producing counties in Kenya.

The plane finally makes a smooth descend at the Kitale airstrip. We thank the pilots— Cap John Kanina and Rupesh Pabadia — for what we considered a photographer’s dream flight.

“This is one of the smoothest flights I have ever taken and the scenery was so enchanting. It kept me captivated throughout the flight,” my friend says.

We leave the airstrip invigorated and drive into Kitale town.

That morning flight was indeed magical. It is worth the early morning trouble.