Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Photographic Safari

As mentioned in an earlier post when planning for a trip it is always good to be prepared for the unexpected. For instance my travel plans to our destination to Tanzania was scheduled to include 3 different flights on Northwest/KLM. First to Chicago then on to Amsterdam and then on to Arusha to spend a night at the Dik Dik Hotel.

My actual travels went like this. The first flight was supposed to leave around 12:45. So I got up early and decided since I would be flying for 17 hours I wanted to get a run in. It was the end of February but there was not a lot of snow. The roads were clear for the most part. I was only going to do a short run, a 3 mile loop. I was staying at my parents house and as I approached their driveway and slowed to a walk I was thinking what a great run it was, and there was no ice to manuever through which made it better because I could keep my pace going. Until...Mom leaned her head out the door and shouted, "Hurry up you're leaving eary!". I took a running step onto the end of the driveway and I hit it. ICE, the one place I had to step, had ice.

Down I went, slamming my head to the pavement and getting road rash down my thigh and ass. I sat up and and thought, this is not good.

I got inside and found out we were leaving early due to fog in Chicago. They had already closed Midway and we were to fly into and out of O'Hare so were taking an earlier flight in case of further delays etc.

Next, came an hour ride to the airport. I was wearing my windpants and a shirt. An hour in the car preceeding a trip on a plane gives one plenty of time to think. I realized that what I was wearing was not a good choice. If we crashed and there was a fire my nylon windpants would melt to my skin. (Nevermind that I would probably be dead!). So upon arrival at the airport I pulled my Khaki pants from my bag prior to checking it. I then went to the bathroom and changed stowing, my windpants in my carry-on.

Speaking of my carry-on, we received special permission from the airline to take two carry-ons which is usually not allowed on overseas flights. We would all have our camera bags and then we would have a regular carry-one with our medicine and other usual items. My carry-on was big, and heavy. While I was in good shape back then, I am not a big person. I could carry it like a suitcase or turn it into a backpack.

I think I had about 85-90 rolls of professional film with me. Yes, this was long before the days of digital. We had all taken the film from the canisters and placed them in baggies. This way when going through security you could ask to have your film handchecked. So we would take out the baggie, the guards could see it was film and pass it back to us around the xray machines. This was important because we were taking so many flights and we didn't want the film to be affected.

So we boarded our flight which turned out to be the 10:00 flight that was finally leaving at 12:30. We were on an older model plane with no phones and we were directly in front of the bathroom, you know those seats that don't tilt back because the wall is there. We all decided we had to get better seats on the next flight, but we were all so high from the excitement of Africa that we didn't care too much.

Not until the Captain came on the loudspeaker. He had an annoucement to make. He would be turning around to return to our city of origination. "What, no, he can't do that, he must circle!" we all shouted. We were told that there were too many other planes circling, "yeah we can see them out the window, so what's one more" we asked. Then we were told, "well this plane doesn't have landing capabilities in fog." What, you let a plane take off that doesn't have landing capabilities in fog to fly to a destination where you knew that one of the airports was already closed due to fog. Yeah, tell me another one Mr. Airline. All we could do is sit there, the excitement gone while we rode the 45 minute flight back to where we started.

We landed and the gate crew told us we would have to go back to the main ticketing counter and see if we could get on another flight. So we all made the treck back to the main ticket area to be told, actually the gate crew has to give you a ticket so you need to go wait there and see if a seat opens up on the next flight which was the 3:00. It is now 2:50. We run towards the concourse, go back through security hand checking our film on the way. At this point I am wearing my carry-on as a backpack, carrying my camera bag and runnning to the same gate we had just arrived at, screaming to people as I go to "get out of the way" so I and the others can get through. I might be little but I can be determined and when I want something you better not be in my way. Of course our gate was at the end of the longest concourse the airport has. We get there in time to wait in line and catch our breath. We are given a ticket for the 3:00 flight. We board the much nicer plane fully equiped with phones and take off at 3:30.

So why the big urgency to get to Chicago? When we get to O'Hare, we have to transfer to the International terminal. Then we have to get checked in so we are ready for our 4:30 flight to Amsterdam. Once in Amsterdam we have a couple hours layover and then we depart to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania-a flight that only runs twice a week. Therefore, if we miss that connecting flight in Amsterdam we will miss 4 days of our Safari.

We were all trying to be calm on this flight. Except for John. It was at some point during this flight that he realized that during our return trip down the concourse he forgot to pick up his film when it was handchecked by security. So he was about to embark on a photographic safari with no film, a real bummer. He had no choice but to try to buy some at the airports. Our fabulous leader was busying trying to call her contact at the airline to have him meet us at the gate when we arrived. All we could think of was that all the flights have been delayed due to the fog, so our flight to Amsterdam will be delayed also. While it will be close we should be okay. We landed in Chicago at 4:35. We deplaned and looked at the departing flight screens. One plane had taken off on-time all day.

Our 4:30 flight to Amsterdam.

The airline people were real jerks. They were crabby and nasty and not nice. I know they were being inundated with upset people, but you work in customer service dude, that's what it's all about. We were repeatedly told, nope can't help you, your ticket is untransferable and non-refundable. We headed over to the International terminal to see what we could do there. We got to the ticket counters and only two were open. One guy was at the airlines counter we had just been on, and Brittish Airways was open. We went to BA to see if there was any way that they could get us to Africa.

The ladies there were great. They found us a flight but we would have to get our previous airline to sign off on what is called a Fin, which means any cost difference would be charged to the airline that screwed up. So over to the other ticket counter we go and plead our story. We don't even get done telling it and the wonderful gentleman whose name I'll not forget, "Jimmy Carter" said of course we can help you, no problem. This guy even went down to baggage claim to get our bags so they could be checked in at BA. Our flight was not until around 8-9 pm. So we sat around waiting. We were the first ones to check in and when it was finally time to board, the gate crew ladies came to find us in the crowd to get us on the plane first, there was no way they were going to let us miss this plane. So a big thank you to Brittish Airlines and Jimmy Carter. We boarded the plane and were on our way to London's Heathrow Airport where we would connect to Nairobi Kenya. Once there, one of our drivers would meet us and we would stay overnight and travel by bus to Arusha, Tanzania.

We boarded the plane and could finally relax and enjoy our teriyaki salmon dinner and watch a movie. There was only one more hurdle we had to get over.

When traveling to Africa you need a Visa for the countries you will visit. We had all sent our passports to Washington DC to get a visa for Tanzania. No one had a visa for Kenya - where we were landing.

We arrived at Heathrow and found our next gate was of course at the other end of the airport. Heathrow is one long airport. It took a bit to get there because Patty had taken a sleeping pill on the flight and apparently it didn't kick in until three hours prior to landing. So I was leading her around in her sleepy stupor trying to keep her moving. John kept disappearing into every gift store he could find emptying them out of all the film they had in stock trying to replenish his supply. We finally made it to the gate in time for last boarding call. Good gosh, what more could happen. We get on board and they close the door and we are off.

The plan is that we will need to get a termporary 24 hour visa at the airport when we arrive. Hopefully the visa people would be there as we were arriving around 11:00 pm, as without a visa there would be no going through customs. We arrived to find a massive group of other people that also needed a temporary visa. But at least we were on African soil. We talked to other travelers while we waited over an hour to get our 24 hour visa that we would need for 6 hours. Finally, we got through customs and could head down the elevator to our driver who should be waiting, get our luggage and go to the hotel. Our driver Aly was waiting at the bottom of the escalator, good, finally something went as planned. We walked to the luggage racks and stared in disbelief. They were empty....hhmm so where is our luggage?

Lets recap, we were the first ones to check in for the Brittish Airways flight in Chicago, which means our luggage was the first into the belly of the 747. We barely made it to last boarding call on our connecting flight at Heathrow which we went directly to. It never occurred to us that our luggage probably wouldn't make it. Aly assured us he had looked into it while waiting for us to get the visas and it would be arriving on the next flight from London, which would be in four days - at which time we would be in the bush! (No worries a bush pilot would bring them to us I was told, hhmm, me thinks I'll believe it when I see it.) We got to our hotel after midnight and would have breakfast at 6:30 am to catch the bus to Arusha at 8:00 am.

So the lesson here is to be flexible and open minded, it adds to the adventure. Besides you will drive yourself, and everyone you are with, crazy if you don't, especially when you are about to embark on a month long trip to a third world country.

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