En Route For London

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

This article is the first of a series which Mr B. Ramlallah proposes to write to cover the activities of the Mauritian Press Delegates now touring the United Kingdom.

By B. Ramlallah

After a 40-minute flight from Plaisance, we reached St Denis Airport, where we were greeted by the Press of Réunion. The meeting was arranged by Mr Fanchette of the Central Office of Information. For an hour, we talked about various matters ranging from the overpopulation problem to the economic situation of both islands. The journalists were very cordial. It was our first contact with our colleagues outside Mauritius. Though we did not know each other, we felt we had a lot in common. They expressed pleasant surprise when they learned that we were going to the UK at the Home Government’s expense. They said the Press of Réunion was not as fortunate as that of Mauritius. We were taken aback to learn that, although the population of Réunion is about half of ours, and there are several dailies, and the circulation of their papers is much higher than ours. For example, the circulation of the daily, Le Journal de la Réunion, is approximately 17,000. It publishes an illustrated monthly magazine that is sold by the hundreds. I bet we won’t be able to sell half of what they are selling.

* * *

I am writing from the air—en plein ciel! in an Air France plane. The plane left Tananarive Airport at 2 pm. We were flying above the sea somewhere between the mainland of Madagascar and Zanzibar on our journey to Nairobi. The weather is wonderful. Below, the sea looks like a light blue carpet spread to an infinite distance, where it seems to melt into nothingness.

We just received from the air hostess a Government of Kenya Entry Declaration Form to be filled by all those entering Kenya, even by passengers on transit, even if one doesn’t leave the airport at all. It should be filled in conformity with Immigration Regulations made by the Kenya Government in 1957. The very wording of the Entry Form fills one with disgust. I could feel the segregation oppressing me. I had the temptation not to fill it, but the thought that I might not be allowed to land to change the plane made me change my mind.

The entrant into the Kenya Colony, if he happens to be a non-European, should write down his father’s and grandfather’s names, or if the passenger is a woman, she must write the name of her husband’s father. Besides his nationality, he should declare to what race he belongs. The entrant also has to declare whether he has ever been convicted in any country of a crime punishable by imprisonment and whether he has been refused permission to enter Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, or Zanzibar or has been expelled from any of these countries.

All the members of the Mauritian Press Delegation were invited by the captain of the plane to visit the pilot and radio operators’ room. We were shown around, and very kindly the pilot explained to us how the different abstruse mechanisms operate. We were told that we were flying at an altitude of 12,440 feet above sea level and at a speed of 480 kilometers per hour.

At Nairobi, we changed planes and boarded a giant B.O.A.C. plane, where I wrote this letter. It was very comfortable, probably more so than the Air France Super-Constellation. The plane stopped at Entebbe, an airport close to Lake Victoria in the Uganda Protectorate. After a 45-minute rest, the plane flew to Khartoum, Sudan. That airport is very large and beautiful, with several planes coming and going. Another 45-minute rest followed, and then we proceeded directly to Rome. That was our most tiresome and dangerous flight, starting at 2 am. By then, the moon had appeared, looking unusual from a height of 20,500 feet above sea level. We were informed that we were expected to fly at 31,000 feet above sea level—flying 2,000 feet above Everest itself!

* * *

The appearance of the sun was heralded by a long crimson line. The day was splendid with the sun shining gloriously, but the most amazing scene was the sky and the clouds below us. We are used to seeing them above us, but from above, the clouds look small. There was not a single cloud above because we were flying high in the stratosphere, where no cloud ever reaches. We had a chart from the captain showing us the flight’s position. At 4:55 am, we were flying over Benghazi at 20,500 feet above sea level, with an outside temperature of 9°C and a speed of 345 miles per hour.

We flew above the mainland of Italy, moving fast north towards Rome. Below, we noticed the beautiful landscapes of the Italian countryside. For some time, we flew very low, travelling above hilly terrain. We could see houses, trees, and plantations as if a stone’s throw from the plane. The woods looked like those of Mauritius, and we could see cars rushing on the roads. The vine plantations near Rome Airport, which we could see up close, were magnificent.

We landed at Ciampino Airport in Rome at 8:30 am. We walked to the airport restaurant for refreshment, feeling the change in atmosphere—it was unmistakably Europe. At other airports, the police and customs officers were coloured. In Nairobi or Khartoum, waiters were either Africans or Arabs wearing long, white robes, tailed fez, and barefooted. At this airport, passengers were served by waiters wearing white coats and black ties. Several souvenir shops were present with Italian girls behind the counters.

After 45 minutes, our plane took off directly to London—a 3-hour flight. At 10 am, the plane was flying above Elbe Island at a height of 22,550 feet and a speed of 325 miles per hour. The sight while flying over the Alps was magnificent. Between 10:35 and 11 am, the plane hovered over the Alps, at times coming close to the peaks. The sun shone brilliantly, and all the peaks of the Alps looked like finely chiselled blue basalt stones on a green carpet coated with fine white sugar. The white sugar-like thing surrounding the peaks is snow; year in and year out, the peaks are partly covered with snow. The most thrilling sight was Mont Blanc—a huge lump of snow rising majestically above all the other peaks, awe-inspiring and worth the travel itself.

Leaving the Alps behind, we flew over Lake Geneva and the town on the lake’s border. It was a splendid sight. The fields close to the lake were green, intersected by straight roads, and meticulously traced. Switzerland is covered with green and dense forests, in stark contrast to Italy, which appears to be a dry country. We flew over the northeastern side of Paris, the Channel, the wondrous English landscapes, and fields, finally reaching London Airport—one of the gateways to a world I have been looking forward to re-entering.

6th Year – No 263
Friday 28th August, 1959

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