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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fattening Up For the New Year!

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to ya!  We've been down in Balikpapan for the past few days, enjoying a much needed and long-overdue vacation from Tarakan.  And yes, they DO have a McDonalds here, so we're fattening up for the new year!

Balikpapan is the first city that you have to fly through when leaving Tarakan.  Every large commercial flight to/from Tarakan goes via Balikpapan.  Whereas Tarakan has almost no expats (with the exception of the MAF staff), Balikpapan is home to many, due to the major oil, gas and mining industries.  For many of these expats, Balikpapan is definitely "roughing it"--a place to escape from when it's time for vacation.  I guess it's all relative, because for us Balikpapan is like the land flowing with milk and honey...offering all sorts of food and perks that we're not used to in Tarakan.  We try to get down here once a year to recharge our batteries.  This time, we were so blessed to be able to stay in the home of an expat friend, Alison, who was on vacation in Australia.  It was sooooo nice to have the space and independence of a home, while still enjoying the perks of Balikpapan!  Thank you Alison!

On Christmas morning we dined on a J.CO doughnuts (sort of like Crispy Creme), real bacon and sausage, and dad's special, bacon-fried-cheesy eggs!  Like I said, we're fattening up for the new year!  The only time we get to eat bacon and sausage is in Balikpapan, so it's a real treat for the kids.

Another huge treat is the swimming pool.  The house we stayed in was part of a beautiful housing complex which had it's own swimming pool.  And what made it even better (according to the kids) was that the jets that were coming and going all day from the airport, flew directly overhead the pool and the house.  It was like the best of everything--getting to watch airplanes fly low overhead, while swimming!

Whereas you might have been wishing for a white Christmas, so you could go out and make some "snow angels", our kids were hoping for a hot and sunny Christmas so they could go out and make "water angels."

We spent a lot of time in the pool!

We also went to the Crocodile Farm, where they raise crocodiles for eating and making things from the hides.  It costs about $2 for our whole family to get in and walk around looking at all the crocs.  You can also pay a buck to chuck a chicken in to the hungry crocs.  It's cheap fun!  To find out more about the crocodile farm check out my older post, "Hey Mr., That'll Cost You $5!"  To see a video of us chuckin a chicken to the crocs on a previous trip, go here and scroll down to the end of the post.

At the crocodile farm they also have two elephants that are native to Indonesia.  We especially like Happy, the 8-year old elephant.

The kids took turns feeding Happy fruit and nuts.  They decided that we should have an elephant for a pet...but um, I think we'll have to old off on that one!

It's been a wonderful time of family fun, relaxing, and battery re-charging!  We'll need it, because the new year is already shaping up to be one of the busiest we've had here!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas in the Hangar

It's been a busy Christmas party week at the airport!  Monday night the kids did their school Christmas program--at the hangar.  They all did a great job!

That's Hannah, second from left in the front row, Hudson third from right in the front row, and Britton right behind Hudson.

Hannah on the far left, Hudson third from right.

Britton in the blue.

Wednesday night their was a Christmas party in the airport proper--over in the passenger terminal.  It's the first time ever that the minority Christian employees at the airport were allowed to have a Christmas celebration there.  MAF was invited, along with all of the local Indonesian churches in the area.  Several other MAFers and I was a really neat event both for the significance of what it represented, as well as the sermon and singing.

Then on Saturday night we had the MAF staff (Western and Indonesian staff) Christmas party in our hangar. (Below).

Here the pilots & mechanics and their wives were singing a song, while in the background a few hundred feet away a 737 was roaring down the runway on takeoff.  Those sideways light streaks in the darkness just above the center tables--those are the lights from the plane as it screamed past, completely drowning out anything and everything that was being sung for the next 30 seconds.  Well, hey, at least the electricity stayed on this time!   And that's something that we certainly don't take for granted!  :)

This is already shaping up to be another busy week, but we look forward to remembering and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, this weekend!  More later.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Safari Flying

This week we were busy doing Christmas Safari flying for the Bupati.  No, we weren't flying him around to hunt tigers and elephants.  Rather, there's a tradition in the Apo Kayan, where the Bupati (regional elected government official) goes around to all the villages at Christmas and spends some time meeting and greeting and generally just spreading Christmas cheer among his constituents.  

They call it the "Safari Natal Bupati" (Bupati's Christmas Safari).  I've flown Bpk Yansen, the current Bupati, many times over the past years, long before he became the Bupati.  He's a man that shares our faith and has a long-standing great relationship with MAF!  The people really seem to like him too!

At each location the people get all dressed up and come out to greet him when he gets there.  He usually spends one to two nights in each village before moving on to the next.  It goes without saying that without MAF, this would be an impossible trip--especially when it involves an entourage that's swelled to now 26 people!

On Tuesday I flew the Bupati and some of his entourage into Mahak Baru in the Kodiak.  They started the "Safari" from there.  By Saturday they were in Data Dian, needing to go to Long Sule.  We "stood down" the Kodiak on Friday, so that it would have just enough time to fly them on Saturday before it had to begin an inspection.  So on Saturday I flew more people from his entourage, including his wife, below, directly to Long Sule from Malinau.

Then, I made several trips over to Data Dian to pick up Bpk Yansen and his team and bring them back to Sule.  Tripp also made several runs in a 206.  Next week the Safari continues from Sule to Pujungan, then Alango, and finally back to Malinau.

Do you have any safaris planned for Christmas?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Flying the Governor

Last Saturday we were asked to fly around the Governor of East Kalimantan and his entourage.  Craig flew the Caravan and I flew a 206 (they requested the Kodiak, but it was grounded, waiting for a part from the U.S.)

And here (pictured below) is the Governor himself, all smiles after a great flight by Craig.

A huge line of people were waiting to greet them when they got off the plane in Malinau.

Then, later in the afternoon they had requested the Caravan to take a group of them directly from Malinau to Samarinda.  Because it would be late in the day and it's a long flight, there was no way that Craig could get there and back to Tarakan before dark.  So he was planning to spend the night in Samarinda.  However, as often happens in these situations, there was a communication blunder and in fact they wanted BOTH planes to go to Samarinda.

It's been a long time since we've taken a 206 to Samarinda.  It's a loooong way from Tarakan (or Malinau) and there is no Avgas.  What's more, late in the day the weather can be very wild en route in that area.  And the 206 is a lot slower than the Caravan.  I wished for the Kodiak, but alas, it would have to be a 206 or nothing.  I pushed for my passengers to get there earlier, but again, as is often the case, they were not to be "pushed".  Finally, at 3:15pm I departed Malinau, heading for Samarinda, a 2:15 flight away.  If all went well, I planned to arrive 30 minutes before sunset.

This is not normal for us here.  We typically plan to land at least 45 minutes before sunset, and especially on a long flight like this!  But since there were two of us going and the Caravan was faster and would be out ahead giving me weather reports, I departed--planning to turn around within the hour if the weather was anything but perfect.

Ten minutes after departing Craig overtook me in the Caravan (pictured below as he flies past to my right).  As you can see, the weather was absolutely beautiful.  In fact, I'd say that it's probably only this good about 10 times a year at this time of day.  I climbed up to 11,500 feet and settled in for the ride.

Shortly after leveling off I saw a nice mushroom topped thunderstorm way off in the distance.  It was dead ahead and about 100 miles away.  That was the only "bad" weather on the entire trip, and it was easily avoided and as it stood all alone in a clear sunny sky.  Here's a shot of it out the window as I skirted well clear of it to the west.

Helped by a nice tail-wind we made good time and landed at about 5:20pm in Samarinda (the airport is called Temindung).

When I landed, there were hundreds of people on both sides of the runway from end to end--not right up next to it, but off to the side.  I thought that was strange, but no one was moving and the tower said the runway was "clear" and that I was "cleared to land".  I was very much on edge, ready to abort on a moments notice if someone ran out into the runway.  But they didn't.

However, by the time I taxied in and shut down, I realized what they were doing.  They were waiting for me to land so that they could overtake the runway.  Normally the airport closes at 5:00 pm. Apparently at 5:01 it gets overtaken by throngs of kids playing soccer and couples going for romantic walks.

After securing the airplane for the night, I walked out onto the runway to see what all the fuss was about.  It just struck me as both funny and surreal to see a paved, aviation runway, covered in swarms of screaming, laughing, happy kids.  It was so not normal--at least for my western mindset.  So here I stood looking to the west as the sun set down at the end of the runway that I had just landed on 10 minutes before.  The shirts on the ground make a goal at one end of a make-shift soccer field.  There were probably a dozen similar games going on simultaneously from one end of the runway to the other.

Then I turned around and shot a picture the other way--yes, another goal, this one defined by two pairs of shoes.  I hung out and made a bunch of new friends for the next 20 minutes or so, before finding Craig and making our way to a hotel.

The next day I flew back to Tarakan, and once again the weather was great.  I have some pictures I want to show you from that trip, but that will have to wait till next time.