desert, swamp and jungle

   night flight to Benghazi
In the air. Two hours of sunlight left. I've already put down my sunglasses as we approach Tripolis. The sand is taking on a golden shine. My God, this planet is desolate! Once more it seems to me that the rivers, the green cool shadows and the homes of people only exist by grace of a happy conjunction of circumstances. What space these rocks and sand take up!
The whole landscape below is as yet bathed in a pale light, but is fading just the same, bit by bit. I know nothing, truly nothing, that can compare to this hour. Those that have felt the strange love for flying will understand.
I slowly withdraw from the sunlight. I leave behind the large golden fields that could have offered me shelter if the aircraft would fail me. I go into the night. I push on. Only the stars can guide me now.

Antoine de saint-Exupéry, Terre des hommes (Wind, sand and stars) (1939)

desert, swamp and jungle

   the Sudd swamps
At that time (1935) no woman was allowed to fly solo between Juba and Wadi Halfa without express permission from the RAF Headquarters at Khartoum. The reason for this was plausible enough - a forced landing in the papyrus swamps of the Sudd was barely distinguishable from a forced landing on the banks of the Styx, and a forced landing beyond the Sudd might mean days or weeks of searching by the RAF.
I am a little vague as to why it was thought that women were less capable than men of avoiding these obvious dangers, though I suspect there was more of gallantry than reason in the ruling. In all, I flew the entire route between Niarobi and London six times - four of them solo (after convincing the RAF of my ability to do it), and other women have flown it too.

The outstanding error of judgement in flying over the Sudd, as a matter of fact, was made by a man - the late Ernst Udet let himself run out of petrol while crossing it during the dry season and force-landed on a ridge of hardened mud, where, after several anxious days, he was found by Tom Black, whose understanding of the Sudd was such that he was willing to spend several days trying to get somebody out of it. Udet himself was hardly worse for the experience, but his mechanic was near death from mosquito bites.

If you can visualize twelve thousand square miles of swamp that seethes and crawls like a prehistoric crucible of half-formed life, you have a conception of the Sudd. It is an example of the less attractive by-products of the Nile River, and one place in this world worthy of the word 'sinister'. The surface of the Sudd from the air is flat and green - and inviting. If you should be either hypnotized or forced into landing upon it, the wheels of your plane would at once disappear into the muck, while your wings would rest upon the slowly heaving mat of decomposed -and living- growth that in many places is fifteen feet thick and under which flows a sluice of black water.

   the desert, like night
Beyond the Sudd there is the desert, and nothing but the desert for almost three thousand miles, nor are the towns and cities that live in it succesful in gainsaying its emptiness.
To me, desert has the quality of darkness; none of the shapes you see in it are real or permanent. Like night, the desert is boundless, comfortless, and infinite. Like night, it intrigues the mind and leads it to futility. When you have flown halfway across a desert, you experience the desperation of a sleepless man waiting for dawn which only comes when the importance of its coming is lost.

Beryl Markham, West with the night (1942)

see also Ernst Udet's version of his forced landing, below

desert, swamp and jungle

   the dry season
A leak in the gasoline pipe forces us down. Below us only swamp and bush. So - back to the main road. Go for that sandy spot, miraculously flat. In only fifty metres the machine rolls to a stop; it pays to practice landing in cramped space.

We are in the Sudd, quite close to the main road where a car passes about once every fortnight. The ground radiates heat like a baker's oven, there is no shelter to be had. We throw a tarpaulin over the plane and lay down under it. Already feverish, Schneeberger moans for water.
I go looking for it. After prolonged searching I discover a hole with muddy yellowish water that I boil in an empty tin. I pour it through my pyamas to filter it.

After two days of this, a slow despair creeps up. A sick friend, no food or drink. The heat is stifling. I need to stay with the tent to prevent the negroes taking off with our possessions. It could take weeks for a car to pass here. But on the morning of the third day I hear a faint hum in the distance… it grows to a roar… the sound of an aeroplane engine. The pilot circles twice before landing. He is a slim, Ernst Udetcompetent looking man in khakis. 'Campbell Black', he introduces himself. He brings cigarettes and first of all water, fresh drinking water.

The next evening in Khartoum we are the guests of Wing Commander Sholto Douglas. He waves my thanks away, saying: 'We have fought at the same front in 1917; and although at different sides, the fact alone forms a bond between men'.

Ernst Udet, Mein Fliegerleben, (My life as a flier) (1935)

desert, swamp and jungle

   beauty of a sort: parsley
From Chittagong and almost all the way to Singapore the country overflown is almost without exception, to put it gently, inhospitable.
Mac looked down from his Valentia at the jungle below and pondered. The hills, with occasional clouds in the valleys, looked as though they were covered with giant parsley gone mad. Rolling greenery as fas as the eye could see with never a glimpse of the ground. It had a beauty, of a sort. Mac, as we all did, toyed with the idea that if he was coming down, it might be best to drive the aircraft fast into the treetops.

A.G. Dudgeon, the Luck of the devil, (1985)

desert, swamp and jungle

   Dutch version: cauliflower
It is a funny thing, in this year of 1934, to still be flying without radio-contact to a landing field covered in low clouds. Hours and hours his machine flies over the monotonous tangle of the tropical rainforest in the lowlands of Sumatra. Cauliflower, from this height. An unending field of cauliflower, in which only some small rivers bring any relief. The mist lifts and gives way to a soft drizzle.

The head of the managing director pops round again. 'Where are we?' Jan makes a nondescript circle above his rolling map. 'Somewhere around here,' he waves over a large green colored area of Mid-Sumatra.
'Ah. Where's your radio?' - 'Well, we don't have them yet on these lines.' Good lord, and the boss didn't know! 'We still navigate by hand.' A displeased creasing of brow. The head disappears. All quiet again. But Jan is confident he can find the sheer unfindable airfield of Pakan Baroe. All he needs to do is steer five degrees more westerly to fly over a clearly visible, straight white road, and follow it east.

C.C.Küpfer, Wanderer of the air, (about Jan Bach) (1941)

the managing director: Plesman, founder of KLM

desert, swamp and jungle

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