Ok, so I didn’t really co-pilot, but one of our flights was on a tiny airplane and I was in the seat by the pilot, so if something happened, I either learned how to fly or we all died. Read on.

We arrived in South Africa via large commercial jet. We started in Istanbul, then changed planes in Dar Es Salaam and again in Johannesburg before we arrived in Cape Town. We stayed Cape Town for a few days, then flew (commercial) to HDS, Hoedspruit. From there we drove to Thornybush Lodge (ok, we hired a driver). Then after Thornybush, another car ride to Mala Mala. And finally from Mala Mala we flew via a semi-private charter to Johannesburg.

Flying out of Cape Town to Hoedspruit was on a commercial jet via South Africa Airlines regional carrier. It was a smallish jet, but a jet nonetheless. The flight was unremarkable, but after landing, while taxiing in, the pilot did name off the small antelope that blocked our path as we waited for it to clear the taxiway. Hoedspruit was the smallest airport I had ever traveled through or even seen in person. To call it an airport would be generous. We grabbed our carry-ons, walked off the built-in steps of the airplane, and walked over to the “gate”. We went into the arrivals lounge, which resembled someone’s jungle theme living room. The luggage tractor gathered our bags from the cargo hold, and delivered them to us on the sidewalk in the parking lot.

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Flight status board at Hoedspruit. Note the fee for overnight parking, converts to about $2.50.

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Our drive to Thornybush only covered a few miles as the crow flies, but it was almost all dirt roads and never a direct path and took an hour or so. We did see random people wandering out in the (literal) middle of nowhere. I always find that odd. You could be miles away from anything and you will still see people out walking in South Africa. Thornybush Lodge has an airstrip, the only time I saw it was when two amorous lions decided to get it on there. (Doesn’t feel right posting a picture of lion sex, but I have a few, it didn’t last long)

When we left Thornybush to go to Mala Mala it covered more miles as the other drive but there were also few roads that led from one to the other, lots of dirt roads, lots of random small towns. Road closures with little if any warning and guesses on how to get where we needed to go. Cows. Goats. Donkeys. All wandering around on the sides of the road, on the roads too. We passed many shopping areas. But we’re not talking what many of us would think of, we’re talking open front sheds (many with electricity) lined up as stalls on the side of the road.

Our original plan for leaving Mala Mala was via a road transfer, a 5-6 hour drive in an air-conditioned van. Doesn’t that sound great?! So, we changed once we were there to use the semi-private charter via Federal Air. They go from airstrip to airstrip of these private reserves picking up passengers and going to Johannesburg. We were the last stop at the reserves, so when we took off from Mala Mala, we went straight to Johannesburg.

One of the Mala Mala drivers drove us from camp to the airstrip, took maybe 8 minutes. We saw two planes on the airstrip, a small one and a smaller one. Any guesses which was ours? Yes, the smaller one.

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There was a uniformed man that took our luggage from the Mala Mala driver and placed it in the rear of the plane. And by rear, I mean the back door, next to the last seat in the back. We walked over the the front door of the plane and climbed up a half dozen stairs and once on the plane realized it was even smaller than we thought, we couldn’t even stand upright. I was in seat 1, Dave there in the back was seat 8. Next to him was the luggage area.

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We load up and the nice man that loaded our luggage follows me onboard and closes the door. He then tells me that there are food and drinks for anyone that wants them, we should help ourselves (I discovered they were actually belted in, so I couldn’t pass them back, looks like I was serving).

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Then the nice man gives us the standard flight safety briefing and then hops over the center console of the cockpit and lands in the driver seat. He was luggage, flight attendant and captain.

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I realized that if something happened to the baggage handler/flight attendant/ pilot man, I would be flying this plane. So much for my regular napping on airplanes.

The flight was mostly smooth, quick and uneventful. Just like we want them.