Jan 262012

As I mentioned earlier, we were faced with a last-minute dilemma: We needed to get from Addis to Cairo, but the only direct flight left at like 3am…and we both absolutely detest redeyes…especially ones that are 1 hour long. No thanks! We had planned to transit for a day in Yemen, but they weren’t so keen on issuing visas at the time…pulling ours at the last minute. For some reason, a spark went off, and I looked into the possibility of connecting via the newest country: South Sudan. Shockingly, the times were perfect, middle of the day, fares were pretty reasonable…and it all ticketed! The only concern was that visa requirements for South Sudan were very unclear. I figured we could wing it at the gate and get away with it…and that’s what happened!

Ethiopian Flight 490
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Juba, South Sudan
Depart 11:05, Arrive 13:05, Duration 2 hours
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700, Registration ET-ALM, Manufactured 2004
Seat: 2L

There was a bit of confusion when we got to the airport. Ethiopian’s website now listed this flight at noon, as did a few flight tracking apps, but the check-in agent, the airport monitors, and all other “official” sources still listed it on time at 11:05. Guess what happened ūüėČ So, we checked in at the international terminal in Addis…only to be sent to the Domestic terminal. Seems that certain flights – with little rhyme or reason – still depart from this terminal. Computers were slow, eventually they checked us in (the walk between terminal is 5 minutes or so max) and immigration was a breeze, and we were in the lounge. Free water and diet coke made us happy while we waited. This whole time – NOBODY knew when the flight would really leave. The lounge was outside security, so we took turns clearing security to check at the gate.

As predicted, the plane had come from Rome, and we ended up boarding around 11:45.

On the taxi, we went past the airplane graveyard/etc in Addis which had a few interesting relics:

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Jan 252012

The whole purpose of this trip had been to visit a close friend who was working in the region…since we seem to always be his only visitors on these sorts of trips. Somehow, I’m not sure he believed we’d show up in Djibouti…but after Kuwait he also shouldn’t have been surprised! After a great night of showing us around, we had a relatively early morning ahead of us. But first, a shot from the beginning of the last night in Djibouti:

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Jan 242012

So…Djibouti immigration. Turns out 99% of our fellow passengers were in transit to the Daallo Airlines flight to Dubai (I suspect on another plane, since I don’t think the IL-18 has that kind of range) so they were shunted off, and maybe 10 of us went into the immigration queue. Where they took our passports, told us to have a seat, and we waited…for 30 minutes or so.

Eventually, we were ushered into a small office, where for a charge of $60 each, we got a collection of stamps, stickers, and glue in the passports that passed for an official “visa” to enter Djibouti. We had heard $55 in advance, but with exchange rate changes were not about to argue over such a small amount. Before the trip, for some reason, I suspected Djibouti Airport would be much much bigger. It’s not. it’s essentially one giant room with a few different areas…this place is tiny!

Got outside, and the Sheraton shuttle was of course not there as we’d asked for. Taxi was cheap, and soon we were off to the Sheraton…where they had absolutely no record of our points reservation, and were completely clueless how to deal with it. Check-in took nearly two hours, when you count the time to figure out what to do, get us to a room, get us a stocked minibar, and have everything sorted. Oh, yes, about the minibar. Due to local “sensibilities” they leave it empty. However, for platinum guests, they are happy to deliver a more-than-adequate FREE minibar:

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Jan 232012

What, you’ve never heard of Daallo Airlines? Shame on you – one of the finest outfits in the business. I mean, you even have the luxury of calling a 1-800 number in the US to book with them, where you get transfered approximately 114 times to different people, have to fax photocopies of your credit cards to another 14 people, and then email them as well just so they’re sure they can read them. Surprisingly…after all this…you actually do get a confirmation number…and when you check in at the airport things are flawless. Welcome to 1990 I guess? But…it all worked. Then, we got to the airport.

Honestly, the airport in Hargeisa was perfectly fine, and perfectly functional. Check-in was perfect, and we were informed that today we would have the luxury of travel on a relic – an Ilyushin IL-18D – a relic of an aircraft that is a bit of a legend from Soviet days. This plane was such a relic, I’m still trying to get details on its origins! Enough of that, however. Check-in was so good that our bags were tagged with proper electronic baggage tags, we got proper electronic boarding passes….and then off to passport control and security – which were honest, efficient, and only collected the fees posted on the wall. I was beginning to get a bit shocked at how anti-climactic this was!

Daallo Airlines Flight 159
Hargeisa, Somalia to Djibouti City, Djibouti
Depart: 10:00, Arrive 10:45 – later adjusted via e-mail to Depart 14:00, Depart 14:45 – flight time 45 minutes
Aircraft: Ilyushin IL-18D, Registration UP-I1801, Manufactured who knows when!
Seats: TBD, Printed as 18A and 18B

So, into the waiting hall where they were selling newspapers and food. THe usual sodas, crisps, etc, and then it was 14:00…and no plane. We found there were some plastic chairs out on the tarmac, so we went out there to have a sit and wait for our plane. Not much to see, but more interesting than inside!

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Jan 212012

Woke up, and decided to do what everyone else in the hotel was doing – have breakfast delivered! Can’t go wrong with coffee, eggs, and toast…and we had the hotel set to arranging a tour around the city before our early afternoon flight. Of course, this involved going to hire an armed guard of course, but we negotiated to give him a few wads of the Somaliland Shillings this time, everyone was happy, and we were off to see the city of Hargeisa itself.

The Ambassador Hotel is set just near the airport (presumably so frightened NGO types can flee the country asap should things go bad) and maybe a couple miles out of the downtown proper.

First stop was the Somaliland Independence monument – even if things get better in Mogadishu this part of Somalia has no interest in re-joining the federation.

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Jan 212012

I’ll start with a bit of background. I’m not sure anybody in their right mind goes to Somalia these days. Mogadishu hasn’t had a real government going on 15 years now, and the country is probably the largest breeding ground of terrorists outside of Iraq…or was that Afghanistan¬† Nope, it’s Somalia. Anyways…back in “the day” Somalia was two countries – British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland. They were merged, and an independent Somalia was born…which didn’t last long. About 12 years ago, the western part (former British Somaliland) left Somalia, and has been relatively quiet, peaceful, and stable ever since. Their own government, currency (as you saw in my previous post), border guards, and all. Unfortunately, however, the international community isn’t buying it…and still considers it part of Somalia. For someone trying to visit Somalia, what better way to go!

I’ve already posted about our hotel…but when we got there, they informed us that all rooms had only one bed, and thus we needed, of course…two rooms. Fortunately, we got two across the hall and solved that problem. They were decent, functional, and since it was almost noon….we decided to grab some lunch in the hotel restaurant while the hotel sorted out the day trip we’d requested. So first, lunch! There were two things on the menu in Somaliland we hadn’t had yet…and we were determined to have them! The first was camel (which we had as a steak at dinner…and was pretty awesome!) and the other was goat. Soon our goat stew arrived, and it was actually really tasty and one of the best meals I remember from the trip!

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Jan 202012

As I mentioned earlier, booking tickets to Somalia isn’t easy. The airlines don’t operate frequently, there is next to no information about them online, not to mention anything about how to book. Thanks to a very helpful person I talked to on Flyertalk I learned about an airline called East African Safari Express who supposedly was the most reliable (i.e. the flights actually do go when they say they are going to) option. Took about 5 or 6 e-mails until they responded, but once we’d traded emails I found a date and time that worked and voila…it was booked. Of course, they only take payment in cash, and could you kindly show up in our office in Nairobi to do that?

Since we had barely 36 hours in Nairobi this was going to be tricky, but they agreed we could pay the day before. What they forgot to advise us was that the day before was a holiday in Kenya…and they were closed! Fortunately, immediately upon arrival we’d spotted their office, walked in, dropped several C-Notes with a shady looking guy in a back office…and had carbon copy tickets that were handwritten…things crossed out, changed, etc. Fortunately, all went well!

Arrival and check-in was quite quick and efficient, and there’s not too much to say. They insisted we check our bags, but other than that…it was just like a “normal” flight. Through security, and into a very unfabulous lounge thanks to Priority Pass, and then it was down to the gate….where we saw the first glimpse of our plane!

East African Safari Express flight 1823
Nairobi, Kenya to Hargeisa, Somalia
Departure 8:00, Arrival 10:00, Flight Time: 2 hours
Aircraft: Fokker F-28, Registration 5Y-EEE, Manufactured (approximately) 1985
Seat 12E

Now, I say approximately, because I really can’t find a production list for F28s online. I found this aircraft has been passed around Africa for over 10 years now, after doing previous duty in the US with Allegheny, Piedmont, and eventually US Air!

All the checked baggage was laid out next to the plane, and before boarding you had to point yours out before they would load it. That was reassuring…at least you knew it was on board! That said, the flight itself was quite uneventful. I’d say it was 75% Somali diaspora and maybe 25% foreign aid worker looking types. They even served a “meal” on board…you’d never see THAT in the US!

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Jan 192012

Before this trip, nearly everything I’d read about Nairobi was negative. Get out as soon as possible. It’s an urban jungle full of crime. Nothing worth seeing, etc etc etc. I’m so glad we gave it a chance for a full day. Even though it was forced by flight schedules, our day there was amazing.

Although I’m sure it was moderately overpriced, we arranged for the Hilton Safari vehicle to take us on a tour of the Nairobi National Park. The cool thing was there was never a concern about how long the trip was – we could stay out as long as we wanted. Since we’d booked another afternoon urban safari, however, we kept it semi short from 7am to 1pm. Still, we saw a ton. Having just been on safari in Botswana four months prior we’d set our expectations low, but we ended up more than surprised. We saw another lion stalking a kill (though it didn’t happen) and finally saw the one thing we missed in Botswana: Zebras!

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Jan 182012

When I booked this trip, I really tried to find a way to go to Rwanda, Burundi, and end up in Kenya, with two one-way flights. ¬†It wasn’t to be. ¬† Lots of flights between them all, but also lots at 2am, 3am, etc. ¬†Since these are pretty much hour-long flights…and I have a really strong aversion to redeyes, it’s how we ended up in this situation. ¬†Flying into Rwanda from Europe was easy, so that was the jumping off point. ¬†Rwanda to Kenya or Burundi was easy….but to get out of the region you have to be in Kenya….so Rwanda-Burundi-Kenya was the logical order. ¬†Unfortunately, the only Bujumbura to Nairobi nonstop is at some awful hour in the morning, so we took the one-stop back via Rwanda again. ¬†Little did we know it would be such an adventure!

Check-in in Bujumbura was a non-event, seats assigned, and off to passport/security in this very very small airport. ¬†I’ve been fascinated with Bujumbura ever since my undergraduate days when I had a good friend from Burundi….looking back, I never would have imagined back then just how “small” this airport is. ¬†We saw a security lane marked “VIP” and decided to try it with Delta Platinum cards since we were flying Kenyan….no dice. ¬†They gave us blank stares. ¬†Flash of the correct passport and we were whisked through, and straight into the “VIP Waiting Room.” ¬†Not quite sure why it was needed when the whole airport is one gate and there’s no WiFi, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

Kenya Airlines Flight 442
Bujumbura, Burundi (BJM) to Kigali, Rwanda (KGL) to Nairobi, Kenya (NBO)
Depart Bujumbura 12:15, Arrive Kigali 12:55
Depart Kigali 13:40, Arrive Nairobi 16:10 (1 hour time change)
ERJ-170, Registration 5Y-KYL, Manufactured 2006

So, perhaps the strangest part of this trip was the timing! ¬†We boarded in Burjumbura around 11:15, and by 11:30 we were in the air! ¬†Yes…we departed a full 45 minutes early! ¬†Not sure if everyone had checked in or what, but yup that’s what happened. ¬†Same thing in Kigali…arrived way early, and departed nearly 30 minutes early! ¬†I guess Kenyan has a major “thing” for being on-time? ¬†Anyways, the flights were totally uneventful, and we arrived Nairobi about 20 minutes early. ¬†Visa on arrival was quite easy, except for the very very unusual question: ¬†“You no working in Nairobi right? ¬†Only transit? ¬†No making money?” ¬†Um, no.

Our next segment out of Nairobi was on a strange small airline that only takes cash, and we were VERY lucky to spot their office after leaving immigration. ¬†We were due to go ticket the next day (which I had confirmed via e-mail) but turns out the next day was a holiday in Kenya, and they would not have been open! ¬†VERY fortunate. ¬†We headed to the East African Safari Express office, confirmed our tickets, got the first carbon-copy tickets I’ve seen in years, and were all set for the big adventure ahead.

Fortunately, the Hilton shuttle waited for us this whole time, and soon we were off to the hotel. ¬†We were given a nice junior suite as an upgrade, and everything worked perfectly. ¬†A bit of internet time, planning for our one full day in Nairobi the next day, and soon it was off to dinner at a recommended place by some colleagues called “Havana” which was promised as Tex-Mex.

Unfortunately, the food and drink were pretty disappointing, but the amusement of having Tex-Mex in Kenya was pretty high…plus, at least the drinks menu was entertaining if not good! ¬†Next up, I’ll update on our full day in Nairobi, which was 100x more fun and interesting than people had led me to believe was possible!

Jan 172012

Taking a break from all the trip reports, I finally had a chance to sit down and reflect a bit on 2011, and it was probably my most amazing travel year yet. 2012 is already off to a bang, and I plan to set records in all categories this year!

Total Miles Flown: 135,132 – well off my highest, but still over 10,000 per month Continue reading »