How to become a Jungle Pilot
“The village was engulfed in flames. I circled overhead and saw there was a battle going on at the landing strip. I realized I was just about to land in a war zone!”. How did Swedish born Elin Larsson end up as a jungle pilot in Indonesia?
She spent four years flying passengers and all sort of cargo (literally all sorts…) in her Cessna C208 Grand Caravan. Recently she published a book about her adventures in the wild and remote jungles of Indonesia. I talked to her about living an extraordinary life.
If Indiana Jones was a woman he would be Elin Larsson.
Swedish born adventuress, who besides being the sweetest person you ever met is also a surfing enthusiast and a hard core hiker.
She furthermore is one of the few people in the world qualified to fly in the dangerous jungles of Indonesia.
Flying Back in Time
In Indonesia the storms are violent, the mountains are enormous and most landing sites are also the village main street. Landing here means avoiding running pigs and flying chickens. And off course keeping the plane steady on the uneven, bumpy gravel road. Everything here was so different that sometimes Elin Larsson felt like flying back in time
“Some of the villages had no connection with the rest of the world. One time the locals provided a bowl of water to my plane. Assuming it must be thirsty after the long flight… Adventures like these make me feel alive. It makes me feel that I am using my precious time in a good way.”
No doubt jungle pilot Elin Larsson has decided for an exceptional life. “I always feel much better after doing something a little bit adventurous rather than wasting time watching TV. My goal is to have at least one small adventure every day.”
A Broken Foot
As a result of her desire for adventure she found herself with a broken foot in Samarida, a small airport in Indonesia. It was during her first year at Susi Air.
As she was about to exit the airplane when she stumbled and fell hard onto the tarmac. She felt stupid but even worse was her foot broken.
The pain was almost blinding. However she did not want to expose her injury. Afraid guys at Susi Air would think she was a crybaby who could not handle the tough assignment as a jungle pilot.
So she swallowed the pain, boarded the passengers and flew co-pilot back to Bali. “Throughout the landing it was almost impossible for me to use the foot-pedals. Every time I moved the foot I felt a gruesome pain.”
During her years at Susi Air she often heard the story about a crazy co-pilot who flew with a broken foot. Never revealing that it was actually her.
Failure is Part of the Process
About the same time as Elin Larsson got her pilot license an Icelandic volcano with a name that no one can pronounce (Eyjafjallajökul) started erupting. This natural disaster affected many airlines and suddenly a lot of experienced pilots were out looking for new employment. This off course made the competition harder for anyone newly licensed.
Living in Stockholm at the time she never gave up her dream of becoming a pilot. She would even work for free as long as it got her closer to her goal. “When I find something that I really want to do I devote all my energy towards that goal. It is a matter of doing what I am passionate about and avoid wasting energy on things that I don’t want to do.”
Finally. Finally. One tired afternoon Elin Larsson found the job of her dreams; Flying as a jungle pilot for Susi Air in Indonesia.
Following a Dream
But going was not a simple choice. Family and friends advised her not to leave the safety of Sweden. Nevertheless, she decided against them all, packed her flip flops and chose the adventure.
“People were giving me advice based on their own fears. Everyone, who knew nothing about Indonesia, gave me the advice to not go.
All this negativity surely made me doubt my decision to go. I started to question if this was actually what I really wanted.”
A sad truth is that most people don’t fulfill their dreams because they are scared of the opinion of others. Luckily she had the guts not to care that much about other people’s opinions. And this soon to be a jungle pilot is determined not to waste her life.
“I read somewhere what other people think of you is none of your business. Just accept that not everyone around you is going to be supportive of your ideas. Especially if your ideas are a bit out of the ordinary.”
Base Your Decision on Facts
She strongly recommends everyone to spend some time alone every now and then. Doing this has often helped Elin to distinguish between her own dreams and what other people want her to do.
Secondly, Elin Larsson recommend, that you base your decisions on facts.
“I find that once I sit down with a pen and paper and actually do the maths I am usually closer to my dreams than I thought. Maybe you are not quite there yet but once you have it on a piece of paper you have something to work towards. If you really want to make it happen- make a plan! “Says Elin Larsson.
What the Hell was I Thinking?
Reading her book I understand some of her experiences must have been challenging both mentally and emotionally. I ask her if she had moments when she thought ‘What the hell was I thinking leaving the safety of Sweden?
“Absolutely. I found that happening quite a bit when flying in the mountains. The weather and the general conditions changed so fast. Some days that it was hard to be on top of everything at all times. We never flew ourselves into any situation unless we had a plan a, b and c to get ourselves out of there.”
No matter how experienced you are you can never control everything flying out there; the terrain, the weather, the insane amount of other planes, the crazy landing strips and the political instability.
“I am extremely happy and proud that I am one of the very few mountain pilots in the world. It was magnificent flying but I am really happy that I made it out safely.”
Crossing Comfort Zones
As a jungle pilot Elin Larsson often flew to villages in the mountains that used to be isolated from civilization. It was an unforgiving environment to fly in with no room for guessing or being too relaxed about any situation.
“I very, very seldomly find myself outside my comfort zone. I am a coward that actually don’t like taking risks. That might sound weird but it is true.
I didn’t start out landing on the craziest runways, hiking the steepest route or surfing the biggest waves. It took lot of time building my experience, knowledge and confidence. You don’t have to be an adrenaline junkie to live an adventurous life.”
Clash of Cultures
Being a tall blond from the other side of the Planet did some times result a clash of cultures.
“It is the passion that keeps me going and sometimes I don’t even realize that I fail along the way. I just see failure as a natural part of the process to get to where I want to be. Sometimes I almost think it is fun when it is hard to get what I want. I like to fight for things so failures doesn’t bother me that much.
When I was younger it was sometimes hard to distinguish between what I wanted to do and what “society” wanted me to do.
Now I am much better at identifying what I am passionate about and just focus on that.”
Elin Larsson have been back from Indonesia for a while. Her book was published last year and I wonder what new adventures she is planning?
“I have been living in northern Scotland for the last year and that has been heaven! The hiking, surfing and mountain biking is amazing and you literally never have to be inside. I don’t have to wait for my holiday to do what I want. I can just go out and do it. Every day!
Elin Larssons book: “Mina Äventyr som Djunglepilot” is unfortunately only available in Swedish. Hopefully one day it will be published in English. I will let you know!
If you want to get a hold on your own copy then share this post
Click here to watch an amazing little video that shows Elin at work. The film was filmed by Reiner V.d. Westhuizen and Emil Sergel.
Click here to see an interview with Elin at Swedish TV4.
Follow Elin Larsson on Instagram #FlyingElin
All pictures featuring this post are from the book Mina Äventyr som Djungelpilot
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