How the hell did I end up in Borneo? Well it’s because Phuket’s too far from Taipei to get there in a single hop, especially in a stiff headwind. And anyhow Vietnam refused to agree to a foreign GA aircraft traversing its airspace. Patrick had a mate in Brunei, but then that proved to be too time consuming (and expensive). The Philippines was really too close, it’s not that GA friendly and since you have to use a handler, it also costs a bit. Malaysia’s friendly, it turns out, but KL’s also just a bit far in a single flight. Labuan Airport seems like a good spot, but they reckon it’s mixed civilian and military, so minimum 5 days’ notice is needed.
Hhhmmm, Kota Kinabalu, Sabha Province, Borneo looks OK.
Right, so here we are! And all that planning happened in just 48 hours. That’s how it goes with flying around the world in a little plane. The US, Canada, Australia and Europe are easy. Greenland, Iceland, Cape Verde and the Azores pose no problem. South America’s pretty straightforward and the successful African countries come next. Then the Pacific Islands – they’re a logistical challenge, but the authorities aren’t dead set against you. India and the Middle East can be done, but the paperwork is heavier than the plane. Which leaves Russia and the Far East. I know nothing about Russia, but I imagine GA’s not too difficult there, just perhaps a bit expensive. In the Far East it’s different. Legally and culturally that is. There’s no principled objection, but it’s all just developing and there’s a strong feeling that it’s got to be done right. A healthy respect for authority and an acceptance of the way things are useful traits. Not easy for a natural anarchist from South Africa.
So after quite a bit of phoning, sms’ing, emailing, Skyping, Viber’ing and WhatApp’ing we eventually got going, 22 hours of gas on board, at about 9am local time in Taipei yesterday. Conditions were IMC, so we departed on the “Radar One” SID. It took less than 3 minutes after take-off before we were in the cloud below the minimum altitude, mountains ahead and requesting vectoring out to the west. Taipei radar declined, our being below the required minima, but Patrick flew the plane, pretty much from his iPad as far as I could ascertain, and I just sat right just considering how different things are in the East.
We soon emerged from the cloud somewhere just west of Taipei and everyone seemed satisfied. ZU-TWN, now veteran of the Atlantic and Pacific, was performing like clockwork. There really can hardly be a more perfect little machine for travels like this. She purrs along with her Rotax 912 iS sipping 14 to 18 liters per hour, 24 hours fuel on board with an autopilot every bit as competent as an A380.
The immaculate fields and cities of the Taiwan west coast plains slipped beneath the wing and eventually we were off over the South China Sea, heading for the Philippines. They wanted us IFR at FL170, which led to long exchanges through Taipei approach, but finally accepted us at FL100 (which we were struggling to maintain - actually the Rotax 914 turbocharged engine’s quite a bit better for this kind of trip!). Two hours on the misunderstanding was cleared up, we were changed to VFR and given the freedom of the Manila sky with, “Fly at your discretion”. What a joy somewhere over the jungle and rice paddies of South East Asia.
It was a good day, the sun set at about 6.30 pm and about 8 pm we flew over Puerto Princessa at FL100. Where the heck is that?
In Malaysia you must fly IFR at night, so we entered their airspace at a convenient reporting point at the agreed altitude. They didn’t get us onto their radar for about 45 minutes and we flew through a couple of squalls before the stars came out above. Then close to Kota Kinabalu the clouds converged again and the haze brought vis at the airport down to 3 000m at the field. No probs, ATC vectored us onto the ILS, runway 02 and Patrick made a perfect landing, only taking the joystick for the first time about 10 seconds before touchdown. These Eastern guys really do know how to use an electronic device!
It was after 11pm and things were pretty quiet. We has to find someone to unlock a gate into the arrival hall, cleared immigration (no customs required), found an ATM to gather some Ringgits (3.2 to the Rand) and took at taxi (30 Ringgits) to the grottiest part of town where the cheap hotels are plentiful. Supper was Nasi Goreng in the street after 1am and we expired in a shared room without windows at 2am. Definitely not very glamorous.
Tomorrow we head to KL, about 9 hours flying. We’ve still got just about enough fuel left and there’s no avgas at Kota. But we decided to play it safe and managed to track down the secretary of the Sabha (read “Borneo”) Aero Club, who’s agreed to meet us and help us get some mogas to the Liam Liam hangar near Terminal 2 at 8 am. Hold thumbs it works.
So here I sit, on my bed, contemplating the adventure of the next seven days. Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Colombo, the Seychelles and then Kruger. Wow. In the last five days I’ve seen three of the world’s ten tallest buildings (Burj Khalifa, Ping An, Taipei 101 – Dubai, China, Taiwan). Tomorrow I see the Petronas Towers (10th on the list - Malaysia). What an amazing world this is, and being here in the East somehow anything seems possible. Probably not a wise way to think, though, for someone setting off to fly a 1 200 cc piston engine home to Joeys from Borneo.
To close – Taiwan was wonderful. Patrick launched The Airplane Factory Asia with a ripping press conference. Jean accompanied him on an historic flight around Taiwan. We visited the AOPA flight training show in Shenzhen, China and for an SA boykie it’s all just more exciting than one can imagine. But then again, the next 7 days look even better.