getting stuck into the aeroporto

24  Nov 2011

I’m still not feeling well, but at least better. Seven workers pitch and we head out to the airstrip to try and win it back from the bush, eight years after it had last seen a plane touch down.

The machete gang starts cutting back the mopane that have encroached on the runway while I mark out the centreline. That done, it’s time to try The Plan.

The runway is overgrown with grass, which, although cropped by a resident herd of impala and an ark of other animals who regularly drop by for salad, is still too long to land a plane in. It’s also too bumpy and littered with underlying stones.

So here’s the plan: Instead of skoffeling a nine hundred metre long landing lane with shovels, I’m going to try and clear it with a scraper that can be dragged behind the Nissan Patrol. The tailgate of an old army Bedford that died under the mopane’s is what I have in mind.

We cart the steel frame out to the strip, weigh it down with old tyres, hitch it to a rope and off I go. With not much success. It behaves more like a sled than a scraper. To add to my problems, it starts raining again.

Fortunately Fate, fickle witch that she is, can have a warm heart at times, too.

I soon notice that my grader starts getting more effective as the ground gets wetter. The rain keeps bucketing down and eventually I not only get a wide lane ripped up, but also have a wild lot of fun as the place gradually changes from a runway to a slipway. Up and down I go; wheelspinning, slipping and sliding, much to the amusement of the machete gang huddling under a tarpaulin like spectators at a dragstrip. It works wonderfully; the scrabbling tyres churn up great swathes of mud and grass and the sloshing sled that follows smooths it all out again in a thick soup. By the time the inevitable happens and the crabbing Patrol gets bogged down by the drag, the place is a total mudbath.

But the job’s done.





You’re cleared for landing on runway zero-three-two. (Once it dries..)

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