What a large spacious aircraft compared to the tight Boeing 737, the plane in which we flew from Brussels to Paris.
With a capacity for three times as many people, you have a lot more space and this plane rattles a lot less than the old crate with wings attached to it on the flight to Paris.
Oh well, a glass of whiskey with a couple of cubes of ice as an aperitif and some snacks compensates very well for the delay of half an hour. It was a bit of a mess in that first half hour. Quite a lot of people had to switch seats in the plane, my sports-bag wasn’t allowed in the plane because I didn’t have a receipt, but since I had arrived from Brussels I could get on aéroport Charles de Gaulle a receipt from a group of gentlemen in uniform. They found a receipt utterly unnecessary and I could enter the plane with my sports-bag, without a receipt.
At that moment inside the plane two strong police officers handcuffed a man and escorted him out of the aircraft. About one minute later the same man returned without handcuffs or policemen and sat down in his seat.
Then the door of the cargo area wouldn’t close anymore.
In the meantime stewards walk nervously up and down with small click-devices to count the number of people that are actually in the plane; they seem to have lost count completely.
After this delay of half an hour, the Airbus taxies to the runway for take off.
After I finished my scotch (J&B) on-the-rocks they serve the starter (game pâté) and subsequently the main course of poached salmon with a ‘beurre blanc sauce‘, a bottle of Chardonnay to rinse everything we are ready desert; a chocolate-cake with raspberry sauce. We finish everything with a good strong coffee and a cognac. You fly Air France or you don’t!
The movie that is being shown on the small monitors is ‘Trois couleurs: Bleu‘ an easygoing cult-movie while we fly – after we passed the Mediterranean – over the Sahara desert.
I yearn for a smoke and walk to the improvised smoking lounge – next to the pantry – to smoke a cigarette, together with some 20 fellow-passengers we hang around smoking, a little chatting (my French is lousy) and drink another cognac. Life is good, flying 10 km above the earth.
I must elaborate on the smoking part, although I haven’t smoked for the last 10 years, I have smoked allmost all my life upto the 10 years ago. And although smoking in a plane was not allowed even then, France you know. I have worked on an oil-refinery near Strasbourg, France. There was a strict nonsmoking policy on the premises; no smoking allowed on the terrain, in the cantine or the offices. Except in the control-room, by the gigantic pressure of work, the operators were almost obliged to smoke. If that was not allowed, a strike was certainly the next item on the agenda of the labor negotiation meeting.
I intend to use this trip to Mali as a help to stop smoking. But formally we haven’t arrived yet, so I can easily smoke two or three cigarettes. Maybe even more if I hurry up.
The human mind is a pure stroke of genius, no, absolute brilliance when we have to make up these kind of excuses.
Back to the Airbus.
We are flying above Guinea, and we will make a short stop in Conakry, it is about 4pm.
My friend and travelcompanion Paul and I had the plan to drive the route Paris-Dakar in a luxury Citroën CX. We would start in Holland and arrive in Dakar, Senegal, a very straightforward and foolproof plan that can’t go wrong.
A few tiny little details prevented the execution of this otherwise flawless plan. The border between Mauritania and Senegal was closed and we could not pass through Marocco as a result of the problems in the Western Sahara, Algeria was not safe because of the problems with the GIA. This meant that we would have to drive 3,000 km extra via Libya. That could also be fun but it would take twice the amount of time. At least!
So we decided to travel by plane. Destination? Mali. Why Mali?, Why not!
Without any knowledge at all about this country (or Africa) – but with a Lonely Planet in my hand – we made our first trip to dark Africa.
At 5pm we are flying above Mali. During the whole trip we had a clear sky and you could see the white-yellow sand of the desert, the rest of the surface was bare, now you can see some vegetation below. You notice the red soil – colored red because of the oxydised iron in the earth – with a few small bushes and some parts of dry grass. You can spot some roads or dirt tracks and a few villages.
Precisely above the small airport of Bamako, is a single thunderstorm that out of loneliness has decided to produce a lot of rain and thunder. It is storming underneath the cloud and above the ultrashort landing strip.
Landing the plane isn’t as smooth as it should be. Descend, trying to land and ‘oops’, quickly up again. Descend again, trying to land and ‘oops’, quickly up in the air. After the 4th attempt the captain perseveres, and when we come down we bounce directly up again, down and we hit the surface with a bang, the plane has stopped. A big swallow and a deep breath.
More than 300 people applaud spontaneously for the commander ‘Capitain Snitzlèr’, a name I will never ever forget.
After six hours of air-conditioned luxury in dry air and a temperature of 19C() – with a hint of too much whiskey, white wine, poached salmon en coffee with cognac – the door of the airplane opens and we descend the stairs onto the runway. We are standing on African tarmac that has been cooking all day in the burning sun.
H O T ! ! !