The Upsides to a Fear of Flying

We’re home. Til the day after tomorrow. By the end of this week, Hat and I will have driven almost the entire breadth of this huge country, from the lake in the West to within touching distance of the border with Burundi, home again and north east to Arusha near the border with Kenya.

Friends ask why I don’t learn to fly. Indeed many question my proclivity to hours in a car rather than – though not always, given the lack of precise timing observed by our only commercial carrier, the optimistically named Precision Airways – fewer in the air.

Well. First of all, I couldn’t afford a plane so learning to fly would – frankly – be a futile exercise. Learn to fly and then what?

Secondly – and significanlty – I harbour a near pathological fear of flying shared by my husband which is fortunate: we’re on the same side when it comes to travel arrangements.

But mostly, you miss too much from Up There.

Were I to have flown home instead of spending two days on the road, I would have missed noticing the heartening thickness of indigenous forest unfurl as we travelled from the desolation of Kigoma to the interior; I would have missed noticing that the baskets carried by the women of Uvinza were quite different in design to those borne by the ladies on the lake (you could carve a map of Africa according the shape and weave of local people’s baskets); I wouldn’t have enjoyed the plummet from the highlands of Kasulu near the border with Burundi to the salt flats below; I would have missed the subtle changing hues of the soil – from blood red to honeyed yellow. Had I flown I wouldn’t have registered the majesty of the Malagarasi floodplain, stupendous in its width and a hurdle that defeats travellers as much today as it did during the days of Dr Livingstone’s legendary expeditions: in spate the road is impassable and even the railway line submerged. Had I not driven I wouldn’t have witnessed the voluptuous new green of the Miombo, in anticipation of rain, nor the delicate yellow pompom blossom of the acacia. I wouldn’t have felt the warm sand of the road beneath my baref eet when we stopped for a break. I wouldn’t have bought fat mangoes and plump bananas from roadside vendors. From the air I couldn’t have snapped the herd of beautiful long-horned Ankole cattle which briefly held us up on a bridge.


I wouldn’t – most importantly and deliciously of all – have watched a storm as it approached and then been swallowed by its staggering ferocity so that hail hit the windscreen and the road was obliterated briefly. I wouldn’t have drunk in the scent of rain.



The elevation and the clouds Up There smooth Africa below to insipid, colourless flatness. Drive and you are wrapped in the very fabric that she is so that you feel every knot of her weave.

And the bumps too.

But then that’s par for the course here.

11 Responses to “The Upsides to a Fear of Flying”

  1. R. Sherman Says:

    But mostly, you miss too much from Up There.

    Too true.

    Here, we love driving vacations into the western U.S. As we head toward the sunset, the number of people diminish and eventually, it’s just you and landscape. I remember stopping once on a slight rise out in the High Plains, Wyoming, I think, and just staring at the rolling grass and the horizon and a ribbon of road without another vehicle or human in sight.

    Truly good for the soul.


  2. Kathleen Says:

    Yes driving is my absolute favorite for getting out and seeing the sites. I remember driving up and seeing the Rio Grande Gorge in New Mexico, US. I’ll never forget that feeling it was overwhelming and the pictures I took just don’t do it justice. Sounds like you guys had a great time, even with the melancholy sites!!!

  3. jen Says:

    it’s the sense of adventure. the wide open spaces.

    i am really enjoying how you write about these things, with such bravery and ease.

  4. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Mr Sherman, Kathleen – I’ve never been to the States. I’d love to do a road trip there, all the family crammed loudly into something big, eating up the miles under a huge sky and being able to go home to say we’d visited America.

    Jen; that’s very kind, thank you.

  5. guineapigmum Says:

    It sounds wonderful. I don’t mind flying but I think I’d rather drive, too. For all the reasons that you describe so eloquently.

  6. mind the gap Says:

    Ooh I can just smell the steam that rises up from the road after a proper African downpour. I love your blog – it takes me back to living in Zimbabwe as a child.

  7. iota Says:

    I like that bit about “feeling every knot of her weave” – beautiful.

    And of course if a car breaks down it just stops. If a plane breaks down, it stops and then… I’m with you and your husband on the flying thing.

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks gp Mum.

    Mind the Gap – best smell in the world, isnt’ it? Thanks for reading.

    Iota: I know, that’s the thing. And what would you rather: sitting on the side of the road in the sun for a few hours awaiting rescue. Or freefalling to earth in a sealed capsule full of similarly panicking fellow passengers … no thanks.

  9. Paula Says:

    Oh wow, we have just spent a weekend in Ruaha National Park which is about a 5 hour trip from us, it is a long and red road and you see it stretching out before you for hours, its so beautiful that my heart aches. When the scenery opens up and the whole of the Ruaha valley is laid out before you I know why I can never live anywhere else, except Africa. About the flying, yes, I am with you, we fly often to Dar on a little Coastal Air plane, and in the 8 months we have been back here there have been several incidents of the plane coming in not quite straight onto our dusty/swampy runway, or of the plane having to abort takeoff due to the door suddenly popping open!!! Say no more.

  10. problemchildbride Says:

    You describe Africa so beautifully and evocatively. I’ve made up my mind to visit, in large part I think, due to what I’ve read here.

  11. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Paula – that sounds fabulous: Ruaha. Not Coastal Aviation!

    Thank you problemchildbride: and if you do, there’s always a glass of wine at mine. With sunshine and lizards to watch …

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