Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
In compensation for the danger he faces in his plane, he enjoys new perspectives on the earth from vantage points thousands of feet above the planet’s surface and rediscovers nature. In this way, mechanical advances can promote spiritual advances, as from his aircraft the pilot appreciates natural places that he may never see on the surface of the earth.
*Sahara. Immense desert that extends across the entire width of northern Africa that provides the setting for much of the book. At least twice, aircraft malfunctions force the pilot down in the desert–once in Spanish colonial Africa on the western coast and once in the Libyan desert. His mishaps land him on a plateau with sides so steep as to make it inaccessible from the ground, leaving the pilot to suppose that he is the first person ever to stand on that location.
When the pilot and his mechanic, Prévot, go down in Libya, they do not know exactly where they are, beyond the fact that they are too far from the Mediterranean Sea to reach it on foot. They then begin walking eastward, across endless sand. After three days they see mirages–images that look like fortresses and patches of vegetation that turn out to be the shadows of cumulus clouds. Eventually, they return to their plane where they stave off thirst by capturing morning dew on parachute strips. The desert days are hot, but the nights are cold. When they again set forth on foot, they encounter Arabs who lead them to safety. Their desert experience teaches them that they have the courage and resourcefulness to survive hard conditions and that even this lonely and inhospitable place supports people who, though alien in speech, garb, and customs, possess great human kindness.
*Barcelona. Spanish port city near the Pyrenees, the mountains that separate France and Spain, that the pilot visits during the midst of the Spanish Civil War. From the air, the city’s wartime damage looks minimal; however, on the ground the pilot sees the war’s true devastation in the once-beautiful city, within which many people are still going about their daily business. He concludes that civil war is a “disease” afflicting the participants, whether communists, anarchists, or fascists.
*Madrid. Spain’s capital city, which to the author seems like a ship loaded with humanity that an enemy intends to sink. He witnesses a bombing of the city that kills and mutilates innocent civilians but also fortifies the citizens’ will to endure.
*Andes. South American mountain range where the pilot almost crashes during a strong downdraft near the coast of Argentina. From this experience he learns why some accidents occur in the mountains even when visibility is not obstructed by fog or rain. However, he himself does not crash because a sudden reversal of the wind sends him back high into the air. Then a cyclonic wind blows him out to sea. In a matter of a few minutes, he is carried, against his will, high over mountains, through a deep valley, and out over a rough Atlantic Ocean. Such a struggle against the elements, he discovers, can temporarily rob a person even of sensation.
*Punta Arenas (poon-tah ah-ray-nahs). Town in northern Chile on whose central square the pilot spends an evening observing people and musing about not only the solitariness he feels as a stranger but also about the isolation of human beings generally, of the difficulty of entering the world of any other person.