I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had the chance to travel to some extraordinary places in my life. In my gap year after leaving school, I spent 6 months in Paris before then travelling to Kenya where I helped as a teaching assistant in a Junior school just outside Nairobi. I stayed with my God-Mother, Annie, an artist, and her husband Mike who worked then, and still does, as a conservationist and manager of eco projects in East Africa, (mainly in Tanzania and Kenya) One of the greatest highlights of my six months stay in Kenya, was when Mike used to take me out on field trips with him in his tiny 4 seater airplane. We would climb into the cockpit at Wilson airport, Mike behind the controls and like an excitable child, I’d get in beside him. The noise of the planes propeller and rattling engines made it almost impossible to have a conversation without shouting, but it didn’t matter – I was totally speechless. It is almost impossible to describe to you just how it actually feels to sweep down the Great Rift Valley, the vast scar whose trough stretches from Tanzania, through Kenya and up into Ethiopia, bordered by steep escarpments on both sides, it’s floor broken by volcanoes and a string of lakes, their turquoise water teeming with bright pink flamingoes. To witness hundreds of thousands of migrating wildebeest from above as they snake their way across the vast plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania, onwards to the Masai Mara grazing in Kenya. To see groups of startled elephants scatter and run, caught unawares by the noise of the noise of the small plane above them or a lone giraffe gracefully take off in fright as we disturb her lunching on prickly acacia trees. Our journeys were many and varied, and in that 6 months I flew from Nairobi across Tsavo to the Indian Ocean, down the coast, up and over tea and coffee plantations in the Highlands, remote mud hutted villages in the bush, over rivers filled with lazy hippos and wily crocodiles, ice capped mountains, deep gorges and huge seemingly never ending plains. However, the best trip without doubt was when Mike received an SOS call one evening on the house radio from the famous archeologist and anthropoligist Mary Leakey asking him if he could fly out asap with some whisky and cigars as she had run out and was getting desperate. We set off early the next morning and headed due south from Nairobi, past Mt Kilimanjaro and over the incredibe Ngorongoro crater with it’s teeming wildlife towards Olduvai Gorge where Mary worked and lived. We landed bumpety bump on the rough grass strip outside her house and spent a happy afternoon with her.
I still love looking at the earth from the air, and I’m know that I’m not alone. I bet there are many of you who read this who get a kick from looking out of an airpanes small windows watching the chequered landscape below, gazing down in awe and wonder at the sheer physicality and beauty of what lies beneath. Many artists too have been influenced by what they have seen from the air. James Turrell, Peter Lanyon, Georgia O’Keefe and Sam Francis to name but a few. In 1994 the French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand took off across the world photographing some of the most beautiful landscapes on the globe from helicopters and hot air ballons. The result of his work was a book called ‘La Terre vue du ciel’ or in English ‘The Earth from Above’ which sold over 3 million copies and was translated into 24 languages.
As I travel the one hour 40 minute flight backwards and forwards from Bali each week I watch out of the window and marvel at what I see. This tropical landscape, so far from my old home in London excites me beyond belief. Soon after leaving Jakarta the first volcano appears, and then just further on another, then another, like giant vertebrae peeking out of the clouds, they are the backbone of Java and each one that we pass, means that we are getting nearer to Bali. Giant swollen rivers, their rich swirling chocolatey waters, meander through the lush, dense jungles, whilst mountains and craggy valleys give way to the flat lands where towns and villages dot the landscape.
These following photos are hardly those of Yann Arthus-Bertrand! but I hope that they show something of what I see from my budget flight on Air Asia twice a week, taken through a grubby window with a mobile phone at 38,000ft.