After sitting on the tarmac for almost an hour and a half, waiting for a difficult refueling operation to complete and then waiting some more in line for departure on the only available runway at Paris CDG, we finally took off and headed south on our 10 hour journey to Johannesburg.
It’s now early afternoon. Air France flight 994, a mighty Boeing 777, is over-flying a most extraordinary landscape. 29,000 feet below us, stretched to infinity like the rippled and sunburned skin of a sleeping giant, is the Sahara Desert.
Sure, seen from a plane the Florida Keys and nearby Bahamas are stunning, the Alps are incredibly majestic and the Four Corners, amazingly textured. But today, the simplicity of a desert beats everything I’ve ever seen from the air.
From the vertical of our position to a hazy horizon, sand reigns, eternal and yet ever-changing, a static ocean of pure heat constantly reshaped by the winds. It’s now late enough that shadows are serious and each dune is revealed as if an all powerful hand had applied eyeliner to the face of the Earth.
Mesmerizing shapes and patterns become apparent from the sky and while the poor soul stranded down below could hardly see beyond the next sand dune and would easily get lost forever, an aerial view explains the highly complex yet logical organization of the desert.
Camera in hand, I spend close to an hour glued to the rear exit door windows, shooting over and over again, hoping that the shots will be focused and crisp enough. Eventually, a layer of clouds appears and blankets the ground, as we leave the desert behind and move over the lush forests of Central Africa. The sun soon sets. 5 hours to go. Then a night at the airport. 2 more hours to Cape Town and the magic begins.