Friday, July 10, 2009

Bird's Eye View

I had never flown in a helicopter until the other day when I climbed aboard a Russian-made MI-8 and flew from Dili on the north coast of Timor-Leste to Suai -- a town on the south coast. It's a ten-hour ride in a four-wheel drive on a horrible road. In a helicopter, it takes about 30 minutes. Flying at about 4500 feet is fantastic -- you can easily distinguish things and get a real sense of the lay of the land.One of the things I immediately noticed was just how many people don't live along a roadway. Many villages are accessed by foot paths -- along the ridges of hills and mountains. There are areas where there are dense forests, but many other areas that have been stripped -- often done illegally.This particular helicopter was piloted by three Russians -- working for the UN. They were from the Siberian city of Khabarovsk -- spending four months here and then returning home for four months.

The passengers this particular morning included a couple of Americans, a Timorese, an Australian, a German, a Bhutani and a Frenchman.