South Africa Lock Down and my trip back home to Kenya
Covid19 Helicoper Return
Oh well where do I begin, I ask myself ? I know myself like everyone else in 2020 will all have a unique story of how we survived lockdown, of how we got home, how we dealt with being alone and all the rest of that crap. We all went through it in our own way and are still going through it today as I write this. My journey started in Cape Town the day I dropped my very dear client/friend Cathy Stephens with whom I hope to travel more of Africa as we make a fantastic team.
South Africa 26th Feb – 3rd July 2020
Dropping Cathy at the fabulous Mount Nelson Hotel in the CBD, I headed to the northern suburbs of Cape Town to collect my one and only baby girl Khaleesi (daughter). Despite me knowing that Covid (the unknown) was in the world and spreading fast I knew deep down it was my time to spend at least 10 days with my daughter before I returned back home to Kenya. I was positive as much as possible but boy was I wrong!!!
Before I knew it, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country was in full lockdown, all borders closed and people must stay put wherever they are!!! I was now towards the end of the 10-day planned holiday with my daughter that all of a sudden became an extra 1 month with all my flights home to Kenya cancelled. Now not saying my daughter is a handful but I really have experienced first hand how hard it is to take care, entertain, feed, wash, put to bed ….. kids. Hats off to all that do it without blinking.
Days went by and we crossed each day out on the calendar we had made and stuck up on the wall. Eventually there was a chance and my lovely Khaleesi was able to be collected by her mum and taken home….. This is when reality struck. I was alone in a small cottage during lockdown watching the news and struggling to know what to believe or not anymore, struggling to know how long this would be the new normal as they call it. Days became weeks and weeks eventually a month. I was really starting to go slightly mad as by the end of my solitary confinement I had a ball called Wilson, I started singing and making cooking shows, basically anything that I thought would keep me going and was sane to me at that moment. To be honest the best thing I started doing was to exercise and keep fit and healthy. This I am still doing as we speak and has really improved my own life and health. Eventually an opportunity presented itself for me to move closer to my daughter.
I stayed in a small lovely cottage that belongs to very good Swiss friends of mine. This became my new home during Covid times. Luckily the owners had a wine cellar with plenty of good wine available which kept us going as the country had a complete ban on the sale of any wines or spirits. My days became busier and more interesting as I would get to see my daughter often, I had my bicycle and the lockdown level was slightly eased so there was more to do for one. Despite everything going very well it was not how I saw myself living and needed to get back to Kenya as soon as possible. My Father was there and he also needed to get to Europe for medical reasons. My properties are also there and they needed serious maintenance and general up keep as things in the tropics if not maintained deteriorate very very fast as some of you might know.
During all of the time both in the old and new place I was constantly trying to find a way back to Kenya. Despite contacting all my Embassies nothing was able to be done and all I was told was to keep put and wait. One of the companies I also contacted was a company from Durban called BAC air charters that was working in Northern Kenya spraying locusts for the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation).
I forgot about it and thought nothing of it till one day in the morning, after a fantastic cowboy themed friends birthday party I received a message from the owner of the company saying “Alex come to Durban you will be flying to Kenya by helicopter and will be working for us!!!!!!. I could not believe it. The time had come and I was going home!!??
I started packing, had a Covid test, booked my flights from Cape Town to Durban (the first flights since inter provincial flights were allowed). Although all this was very exciting the worst thing for me was not knowing when I would see my baby girl again. I boarded my domestic flight on the 15th of June to Durban and to be honest it was perfectly fine. All protocols were in place and people were safe as can be. I got into a cab and was driven to a guest house where I was told to go. The flight to Kenya by chopper was supposed to be on the 17th or 18th June. Two weeks later I was still in the bed and breakfast and my chopper flight had not yet left for Kenya due to clearance related paper work. I was comfortable and the owner of the B&B was so kind that I got a lovely home cooked meal every day. She also works for BAC and her husband was already in Kenya working for the FAO. Eventually we were cleared for take off on the 3rd of July to fly from Durban to Nairobi …..
The flight back home 3rd July – 6th July 2020
The day finally arrived for us to depart for Kenya. The chopper ZS – OKX, a B2 squirrel captained by my now very good friend Frederick Cilliers and myself with all or luggage and extra fuel in jerrycans departed. I personally had flown very little in helicopters during my life as I only did a few scenic flights here and there with clients on safari. This was different! It was a 25-hour total flying time trip. Normal endurance of a helicopter is 3 hours max and that only if the wind is in our favour and pushing from the back.
My fingers were crossed the whole way hoping that the fuel, weather, technical issues were all going to be ok during our ferry to Kenya. Our journey was low level (VFR) from Durban to Zimbabwe to Malawi to Tanzania and Eventually Kenya. We flew briefly over Botswana and Mozambique stopping for fuel at international airports. At some places we had to fuel in the bush as we were carrying jerrycans in the chopper that gave us approximately 1 hours extra of flying time. We ate and slept on the ground at the airport due to the Covid restrictions and us not being allowed out of the airports. All in all it was a once in a life time trip for me that I am happy I did as it got me back home to Kenya and what I saw is truly magnificent.
Back in Kenya and compulsory 14-day quarantine
As soon as we landed at Wilson Airport Nairobi I knew I was home! We went through all the necessary clearance paper work and customs that took about 2 hours. We were then escorted by police to a holding facility in Nairobi where we were to quarantine. This would be my home for 2 weeks. To be honest it was fantastic and since I was so used to being in self isolation/quarantine it was fairly easy. One might as well go with the flow and make the best out of every situation. On day three we had our Covid test done which was not as bad as my previous ones in South Africa. This was my third one so far so perhaps I was just getting used to it. 8 days later our tests came back negative and due to us working for the FAO under the ministry of Agriculture we were cleared and discharged to leave earlier up north to Lodwar to start spraying the locusts as they were causing terrible damage to the vegetation in the area and the horn of Africa.
One month of spraying locusts in northern Kenya
Leaving the quarantine facility, we were both very excited to finally be going where we had to have been a month ago. Our flight from Nairobi was scenic with a fuel stop on the way at Baringo. At 4 p.m. we were eventually in Lodwar at the cradle camp with the rest of the team that were there with 2 other survey helicopters and the crew for over 2 months already. The following month was spent spraying the locusts and surveying the area for new swarms. The team was fantastic I made many new friends and saw parts of northern Kenya not many people get a chance to see. I was home but not really home! I was working to pay off my free flight back from South Africa, my quarantine in Nairobi and just to say thank you to the company that made it possible for me to get home.
As I write this, I am home and have been here for 2 months already. My days are busy with maintaining of my properties and getting everything back to normal. Things in the tropics deteriorate very fast if one is not on top of them. I am slowly getting back to my routine and trying to live this new normal way of life. Is this it? Is this life from now on? I really hope not as so many things to do and see. My current mission is to go and see my daughter in Cape Town this December which I truly hope will be possible. I promised her a huge ice cream and some Lego and a small holiday. At the end of the day it all depends on all of us and how we behave. Fingers crossed I will be going.
There is really so many people I would like to thank for your support, your friendship, your guidance during this crazy year 2020. If I have forgotten to mention anyone my apologies in advance.
Khaleesi – My daughter for always making me smile and proud. Remember you are always my number 1! You are my rock.
My Father – For being as generous and supportive for all of us in these difficult times
My what’s app friends – You know who you are! We spoke many times during lock down. We danced and made fools out of ourselves. My apologies for my crazy behaviour … lol
My hosts in South Africa – You all really went out of your way to feed and accommodate my crazy needs. I remember you all very dearly and you are all always welcome in Kenya.
To be honest It was a roller coaster ride that’s for sure…… WAIT!!! we are still on the roller coaster today.
Stay safe and be strong.
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