Jun 012012

This post is just plain full of travel and plane geekery – feel free to skip if you don’t want to see what to expect on some slightly less common airlines. Paro to Male is only 3,070 kilometers as the crow flies (about 1,910 miles) but that would be too easy…and expecting two relatively out of the way places to be connected by such a straight line would be way too much to ask for…so, roundabout routing it was, involving no less than three tickets and four flights. I wasn’t really thinking ahead that in this part of the world, there’s no such thing as an easy transit, and almost got myself in trouble.

Despite my early flight, the hotel insisted that breakfast would be served. Breakfast is included, and they were going to make sure I had it. They suggested 5am, and when I went to the restaurant the overnight front desk guy was working, and happy to make me anything I wanted. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, so boiled eggs, coffee, toast, and a bit of fruit it was! Then off for the short ride to the airport where I arrived just before 6am…way too early for a 7am flight out of this tiny airport! After killing time waiting (check-in, immigration, and security took maybe 10 minutes total) we were waiting…and then I realised why I wasn’t able to book business class on this segment: it was operated by an ATR! I’d read so much about Druk Air carefully selecting A319s because they were about the only plane that could navigate the tricky mountain approach into Bhutan…and now I was going to try and fly out on a prop plane? Time to start hoping that karma I earned paid off!

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May 252012

After landing just after 8pm, getting to the hotel at 9pm, and catching up on e-mail over wine finally crashed around 1030pm. My strategy had been to book an early flight the next morning, knowing I wouldn’t get a full night’s sleep due to jet lag anyways. I was correct, and this proved to be a perfect choice. Woke around 4am without an alarm, coffee was delivered to the room shortly after, and I was out the door and to the airport with no troubles at all!

Check-in was a bit confusing – with people manning the doors to the airport, and seemingly being random who they let through. They wanted an itinerary, printed only – e-mail on the phone not good enough, but my sense was if you were polite while putting up enough of a stink and acting important enough you were let through. One lesson I’ve learned in developing country travel: be polite, firm, give off an air of importance, and you almost always get what you want. One hint of rudeness, or being “nobody” and the petty bureaucrats eat you for breakfast.

Got to the Air India counter, where I learned the flight was completely full. Managed to get an exit row window for the short flight, so I was plenty happy. Immigration was quite quick, and soon I was in the Priority Pass lounge for a quick snack. Three Diet Cokes and a few hard boiled eggs later, I was happy, and it was off to the gate, where at 40 minutes prior to departure I was one of the last to board!

Air India Flight 213
Delhi, India (DEL) to Kathmandu, Nepal (KTM)
Departure 7:30, Arrival 9:00, Flight Time 1:45
Airbus A319, Registration VT-SCJ, Manufactured 2007
Seat 11A

Honestly not too much to say about this flight. Crew was good, seat mates were tolerable (except the guy in the middle who insisted on hogging the armrest and part of my space) and even got en edible meal on this short segment, with the typical in India “veg or non-veg” options.

Soon, we were landing in Kathmandu, with a short bus to immigration.

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May 222012

So it had been four months, and I was itching to travel. I’d recovered from my visit to Somalia in January, and the friend I visited next door in Djibouti was headed to Seychelles for some R&R…and of course, having never been there – I wanted to go with. But can I do it the easy way? Of course not…I started looking at alternative routings that would allow me to visit as many countries as possible…as cheaply as possible…in as short of time as possible!

You might remember the last three years where I spent New Years Eve…yes, Iraq and then Iran/Afghanistan, ending with Somalia this year.

So…I found a great fare to India….which told me I had to finally visit Nepal and Bhutan. Great fare from there down to Seychelles that allowed a stopover in Mauritius…and we were well on the way. The fare back from Seychelles allowed a stop anywhere in Europe…so a chance to finally get to Bulgaria. Tentatively, the parts to this report will be:

Part I: Washington DC, National (DCA) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Part II: Transit in Delhi, and the Sheraton Muraya
Part III: Delhi to Kathmandu, Nepal (KTM) and touring Nepal
Part IV: Kathmandu, Nepal to Paro, Bhutan (PBH) and visiting Bhutan
Part V: Paro, Bhutan to Male, Maldives (MLE)
Part VI: Sheraton Full Moon Resort, Maldives
Part VII: Male, Maldives to Port Louis, Mauritius (MRU)
Part VIII: Visiting Mauritius
Part IX: Port Louis, Mauritius to Mahe, Seychelles (SEZ)
Part X: Seychelles, including the Le Meridien Fishermans Cove and Scuba
Part XI: Mahe, Seychelles to Sofia, Bulgaria (SOF)
Part XII: Sheraton Sofia, and visiting Sofia, Bulgaria
Part XIII: Sofia, Bulgaria to Washington Dulles (IAD)

The Route:

The Route

Hope you enjoy…I’ll try and get through this with lots of pics relatively quickly!

Apr 092012

So with my country count now at 109, it’s getting a bit more difficult to “collect” multiple countries in the same trip.  When I found out that I’d have  a chance to visit a friend in the Seychelles this spring, I started, of course, looking at creative ways to get there.

One thing I’ve learned the last couple years is that roundtrip fares are rarely the best way to go somewhere if you’re looking to maximize the number of countries you visit.  Fares from the US tend to be expensive, and often you can string together several one-way fares at a much better deal – especially if you want to travel in the pointy end of the plane.

To that end, I found an amazing fare that would allow me to hit south asia on the way, and visit Nepal and Bhutan.  Of course, that got me wondering if I could stop by the other country in the region I still need to visit – Maldives – and I found a way to make it happen.  Of course, on the way from Maldives to Seychelles, I wanted to see if I could transit elsewhere in the Indian Ocean – and sure enough it looks like Mauritius is a possibility!

Now, leaving Seychelles was easier…and even better when I found a “hidden” fare to north america that was milage-based, and allowed stops in Sudan and Bulgaria on the way back for just a few airport surcharges…great deal!  Now, I don’t get to leave the plane in Sudan…but by the rules of the game I can count it for now, with the hopes of returning for a real visit soon.  That will make 7 new countries in just under two weeks, and bring me to 116 on the count.  How is everyone else doing?

Mar 152012

Needless to say, the next few months is going to be incredibly busy! Starting this weekend, I have 6 big trips planned in the next three months. Short story is:

Ski and birthday weekend in Mont Tremblant, Quebec
Four days of diving in Grand Cayman, getting SCUBA certified
Then, a few days later, off to Oahu, Hawaii for a welcome home
After that, I’ll actually stay put a few days before it’s off to Nepal, Bhutan, Seychelles, Sudan, and Bulgaria
Work a few days, then off to Ottawa, Ontario to run the Ottawa marathon
…and from there, I fly straight to Longyearbyen, Norway, at 78 degrees north latitude, for the Spitsbergen Marathon 6 days later!

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Mar 092012

Count stands at 109, and in May, I have a trip to get five more countries already booked.  Nepal, Bhutan, Seychelles, Sudan, and Bulgaria (strange combo, for sure) are already done.  That marks 114.

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