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Friday, June 09, 2006

Nose Glued to the Window

The day was one of those pristine flying days. The routes featured stunning scenery. Yes - I had my nose glued to the window all the way.

From take off over the tranquil harbour, banking to fly low over rolling farmland and then out past rugged surf beaches and over the wind whipped sea. Then we fly almost directly over the top of the classic volcanic cone that has featured in some movies as stand-in for a more famous volcano. Again across a body of water and peaceful sinuous tongues of land reaching for the sea. Over mountains with a light dusting of snow on the tops and a view across the rift valley and long fault escarpments and across the strait to the other main island. More rolling hills, these barren and bare, and valleys with forest plantations, which give way to the wide open plains. The flat expanse covered by a patchwork of fields and windbreaks and crossed by many meandering braided rivers which contrast against the arrow straight roads and rail tracks. As we circle the airport to land we get views across the city and estuary to the broad flanks of the twin extinct volcanoes jutting into the sea and the large circle of the coastal lake beyond.

The next flight is, if anything, even more scenic. A large mountain range dominates the horizon on one side, and on the other is the gentle open sweeps of a huge bay where plain meets ocean. At first we are flying along the great plain but soon we reach the first of the fold hills, the barreness apparent even through the light snow cover. As we steadily head inland the ranges grow on either side of the aircraft - low at first but steadily becoming higher and higher. We pass canals and dammed lakes, the water shining an irridescent turquoise thanks to the glaciated water running off the peaks. Big river valleys reach deep into the mountains. As we begin our descent the land shines brightly, the schist and mica outcrops reflecting the strong sunlight, as does the snow on the tops. Now the mountains appear close on either side of the aircraft and the pilots' hard work becomes apparent. We pass close over ridges as we descend towards the bowl containing the airport. Skifields break the emptiness of the mountains underneath while deep canyons are scarred by tortuous ribbons of roads cutting into the heartland. Today the flight path is different from the usual approach and we burst into the confined basin above the airport, below the peaks towering on each side but far too high for landing. The pilots expertly spin the aircraft in a pirouette around the sides of the bowl as we sharply descend to final approach over a small hill and across the swift deep river and all too soon we touch down.

We have a small delay in departing as we wait for another aircraft to take off, there being no taxiway and only one tug to push back, and also wait for a landing aircraft. As we wait we admire the view and say farewell to the lovely town. The taxi down the runway is short and we spin around at the end before immediately rolling for takeoff. We lift off very quickly and steeply climb above the lake, banking as we go around a modest hill and thankfully avoiding the mountain a short distance away on the other side of the lake. We keep climbing to clear a rugged mountain range that appears to leap out from the lake beside the airport. The snow is still high on the range but soon the slopes will be packed with skiers. The great mountain range appears to the side and stretching out in the distance ahead of us. The cloud is banked up far on the windward side but our side is clear, protected by the great range. The highest peak, fittingly, pierces the clouds with its distinctive shape. As we retrace our path across the mountains, hills and plains, the sun sinks lower in the sky. The mountains casting shadows for hundreds of kilometers until eventually the sun sets. The silhouette of the alps is both striking and familiar as we descend to land. The city lights cast a glow before us, while in the distance are pin pricks of light from smaller townships.

This was a great day to be flying.

1 comment:

macmohan said...

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