I made a mistake here; I decided to stay for a day to buy food, and to find out about landing-grounds ahead, etc. My time from Tripoli to here was the same as Hinkler had taken from Malta. However, I was not trying to beat Hinkler now, but only to satisfy myself. The mistake I made was that I got more tired staying than I would have if I had flown on next day. After official and business calls, many talks and interviews, laying in a fresh supply of stores, and servicing my motor, I was utterly fatigued. I could not rest, the hotel seemed to be rustling and whispering with life, and the air was so wet and heavy that I expected to touch it. The city swarmed with people, and on one side of the street modern ferro-concrete buildings contrasted with hundreds of Malay women washing clothes in a dirty canal, and looking most seductive with their wet clothes clinging to their lovely bodies.
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I wanted to find out about a landing-ground in Timor, the last island before crossing the Timor Sea to Australia. A Dutch air force pilot, representing the Dutch Government, said that Koepang was not to be used. A KLM pilot whom I met said that it was excellent, and much the best airfield before crossing to Darwin. Later at Surabaya, I was told that Koepang was unusable. Farther on, at Bima, I was told that it was in first-class order, and that the other airfield I had intended to use was not usable. I was growing desperate about this when I was told that the Resident of Koepang himself was there, who settled the matter for me by saying that Koepang was bad in one place, making it slightly dangerous for landing, whereas the other airfield, Atemboea, was in excellent order. All along the route I had the same difficulty in finding out about the next airfield.
Then there was difficulty about distances; no two maps of the East Indies seemed to agree. The best that I had been able to find had a scale of one inch to 64 miles. This gave the distance from Batavia to Semarang, for example, as 260 miles, whereas a map much used in Java and which I saw there gave it as 324 miles.
One hundred and twenty miles after leaving Batavia I came to Cheribon, and there achieved what must surely be one of the slowest flights on record. I found a heavy rainstorm blocking the route ahead, so flew south for 10 miles to avoid it, only to find a bigger one ahead that stretched right to the mountains in the south. I returned to the coast and flew into the rain. It was like flying into a heavy showerbath. I throttled back to 60mph, and water began to trickle down my back. I turned round to fly back to Cheribon, but as soon as I got outside the rain I decided to have another shot. This time I got in farther, but was down to within a few feet of the ground and it was nervy work looking out for trees. The nearer I came to the centre of the storm, the more the plane was tossed about. The water stung my forehead like hail, streamed into my eyes, down my chest and back. I cursed myself for a fool, and turned back again. ‘If only I can get out of this and find a landing-ground, nothing will budge me till this storm is finished,’ I told myself. I got out and headed west, but thirty seconds later decided to have another attempt. I was flying round in a circle, wondering what was the best thing to do, when I saw a three-engined Dutch mail plane emerge from the middle of the black patch ahead. He was flying a few feet above the sea near the coast. ‘Well,’ I thought, disregarding the fact that he would be fully equipped with blind-flying instruments, ‘if he can do it, I can.’
I thrust in again; it was more like entering a bath than a showerbath. I was a few feet above the sea, bumped about badly, and missed the masts of a fishing-boat by inches. I turned left, and flew 5 miles out to sea. I could see nothing there, except a small patch of water a few feet vertically beneath the plane, and this was hard to distinguish, because both sea and rain were the same dirty colour. I made for land, and the bumps began again.
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