Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Travel Part of Traveling

... Always sucks. I mean, who wants to sit on a plane and in airports for 30 hours? That said, everything went pretty smoothly and I really shouldn't complain.
So, we're here in Dar Es Salaam. We actually arrived about five hours early yesterday (that never happens, right?) because our original flight between Nairobi and Dar was delayed, which, had we not been miraculously allowed to jump aboard an earlier flight leaving to Dar an hour after we arrived in Nairobi - would have meant spending about 12 hours at the airport.
As airports go, Nairobi is probably one of the most loiter unfriendly. For starters, there's already about 3 trillion people loitering there - literally sitting should-to-shoulder on the floor along every hallway. The airport is tiny (probably the smallest international hub anywhere), smelly and devoid of windows (just surreal, tiny holes in the walls where light seeps in and momentarily blinds you as you're walking through). SOOO glad we didn't have to spend 12 hours there.
The stop in London was fun - though a bit blurry. Met up with Penny, Colin and Alastair (old friends from Univ of Wales), walked to Hyde Park, found a restaurant with seating on the water (not the Thames River as I thought in my drunken state, but some artificial lake filled by the Thames). We drank bottle after bottle of cheap white wine for about 2 hours, realized it was time to make our way back to the train station, met with Anna and Laura (more floormates from Swansea), had another glass of wine, sprinted to catch the train back to Heathrow, realized we were on the slow train, got in a confrontation with the ticket checker who made us pay again even though we'd bought return tickets, got back to Heathrow in time to realize that none of our seats were confirmed (again. same thing happened on the flight between Denver and London), and Karin and I were both given middle seats rows away from each other. A nice lady at Kenya Airways changed this at the last minute - putting us together in the back row of the plane. we boarded. I realized i was um .... wasted. My headache/hangover hit moments later and i felt cheap wine coarsing through my blood until I passed out in Stephanie's living room yesterday.
Yes, we spent the first afternoon in africa passed out with exhaustion.
Beka - the cab driver that Steph knows, picked us up at the airport. very few places are in walking distance and there's not exactly a public transport system here. he met us at Steph's place again to take us to Steph's office to meet her and a couple colleagues for dinner (AWESOME Indian food), then took us back to the airport to get our luggage which naturally didn't grow legs and sprint across the runway in Nairobi to make it onto the earlier flight like we did.
So Africa ... from my limited experience so far, I can say this. It's very humid. My hair is full of volume. There are very few paved roads and the ones around are FULL of swerving cars, overflowing buses emitting black smoke, trucks with families riding precariously on the edges, guys driving oversized tricycles loaded up with wood and other supplies (who don't even flinch when cars swerve by and slam on their brakes behind them, missing them by a hair). As Karin pointed out, there is a "flow" to the traffic - an unspoken communication wherein people yield at the last minute to avoid collisions and accelerate into narrow holes in traffic without hitting anything. It's amazing.
Beka (who we called on our travel phone - Karin's idea, the best we've had so far, now equipped with a Tanzanian SIM card) dropped us at Stephanie's with our carry-on luggage. Steph (who had to work all day) left us several notes all around the house telling us where things were and how to operate the shower. Karin showered as I passed out on the couch. I showered, changed into the only clean pair of underwear I had in my carry on and one of Steph's t-shirts, passed out on the couch again as a rain storm clattered like bullets on the tin roof.
Steph's house is gorgeous. It's surrounded by a wall, a gate and a manicured lawn full of palm trees, palm bushes and flowers. She has a housekeeper named Irene who let us in, another 'grounds' keeper named, I think -Mr. Bennet, who introduced himself and gave us the 'tour' of the grounds, which featured the generator that provides electricity (that goes out every 20 mins at night) and that was about it. People seem very friendly. Not many speak English, but I've already learned Swahili for Thank You ("Asante") and Welcome ("karibu"). Dar is not like any other city I've ever been. You realize immediately that daily regulars that have always seemed different and foreign in other countries just don't exist here. There are no such things as laundromats or clothes stores, bars or dance clubs. Restaraunts are outside, consisting of a few tables, laundry is done by hand everywhere and hung up to dry and there are no such things as bike rentals or any other kind of 'rental.' Beka's "taxi" is an ancient Nissan with no shocks, no door handle (you have to open it from the outside, through the window which is always down) and wiggly wheels that somehow stay on.
Karin and I realized immediately that there is not a lot to do here in Dar. We leave for our safari Saturday morning (it is now Thursday morning), are planning our island trip to Zanzibar, trying to get in touch with friends in Kenya and get the rest of our activities lined up.
I got up at the crack of dawn after waking up all night under the mosquito net (i haven't seen a single mosquito yet, although the rain showers began early this morning, are finished now and the air feels very warm). We are going to walk along Coco Beach outside (which, Lonely Planet AND Steph pointed out is not a place you want to be carrying valuables - like money or camera) and explore a bit.
Sorry about all the yammering. the next post will be more coherent. But the point is, we're here. All is well.

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