Feb 192015
 

Woke up in the morning not feeling too much better, and knew it was going to be a long day. Grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant before checking out and going to meet my driver. I’d offered to my taxi from the day before that he could take me back to the airport if he showed up at 7:45, and he seemed excited for the business. I should have known when he insisted on being paid for the one way up front there was a chance he wouldn’t show… Dar has incredibly bad traffic, but when he still hadn’t showed by a few minutes after 8:00 I had to give up and hire one of the hotel cabs. They wanted the same price, so I wasn’t out anything.

Off to the airport, and saw this sign which made me laugh. Apparently times are tough everyone…Men at Work has become Man at Work ūüėČ

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Traffic was nightmarish, and it took nearly 90 minutes to make it to the airport. Fortunately, I’d planned for that as a worst case scenario, so everything worked out just fine. Check-in was no problem at all and after immigration and security it was into the departure hall where my flight to Nairobi was till showing on time:

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Kenya Airways uses the Tanzanite Lounge in Dar, and it was located downstairs from the departure hall. Fair amount of seating, though I imagine when/if widebodies come through it gets really full really quickly. Not too sure on the food and drink offerings, but there were plenty of outlets for charging up the phone which is all I was looking for for the thirty minutes until it was time to board.

Kenya Airways flight 481
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (DAR) to Nairobi, Kenya (NBO)
Depart 10:25, Arrive 11:45, Flight Time 1:20
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration 5Y-KYP, Manufactured 2010, Seat 2A

Offered water, juice, or champagne upon boarding…seriously? On an hour long flight? I’d been interested to try Kenya Airways, since I’d heard even on short flights on regional jets they were doing quite well, and so far I wasn’t disappointed!

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Plus, their inflight magazine featured an article on honey badgers, lol!

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Wait, MENUS on a short regional flight?!

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Decided to go with the beef paprika, which was served with multiple refills of the champagne. It was reasonably tasty, especially for a short, flight, but could have used a small something sweet for afterwards.

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Landed in Nairobi over 20 minutes ahead of schedule, and caught an L1011 on the tarmac – been years since I’d seen one. I have fond memories of them from my first ever trip across the pond on Delta from Cincinnati to London:

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Remote gate, but there was a bus just for the 10 passengers in business class to the terminal! Excepting the private car Lufthansa provides to first class passengers, this is how a remote gate should be done!

Into the terminal, which…seemed much more modern and nice than I remembered. I knew there was a major fire at the Nairobi airport a couple years back, and I assumed the airport was still more or less under construction from that. Yes, there was still construction going on, but we arrived at what felt like a nearly new and very modern terminal. I was pretty impressed how much of an improvement it was from the old airport. Transfer security was quick and efficient, and it was time to look for the lounge since I had a bit of extra time.

I didn’t have to look hard, because it was maybe 100 meters or so past the security checkpoint and up an elevator. Lounge was very nice compared to the old one, with plenty of power outlets and beverages. I wasn’t hungry so didn’t check out the food options, but there were plenty of drinks including proper champagne on offer. Can’t complain at all! 45 minutes until the next flight, I went down to the gate, only to find out I was the last one to board and they were waiting on me!

Kenya Airways flight 412
Nairobi, Kenya (NBO) to Entebbe, Uganda (EBB)
Depart 12:45, Arrive 14:00, Flight Time 1:15
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration 5Y-KYS, Manufactured 2011, Seat 2A

Despite having a gate, the plane wasn’t using the jetway, so we walked down the jetway, down stairs, about 20 meters, then up stairs to the plane. I’m guessing the jetways just weren’t working in the new airport yet. Never mind, there was more champagne on offer!

Plus, a menu with some different items:

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Left the gate 20 minutes early, maybe a 10 minute taxi, and we were airborne. Decided to go with the Chinese chicken this time which was tasty, probably because it was extremely salty. Still, meal was great except it could have used some dessert.

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Landed in Entebbe over 20 minutes ahead of schedule, and taxied by the airplane graveyard where I got this blurry pic:

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Into the arrivals hall, where nurses were waiting to take everyones’ temperature before allowing them to proceed to immigration. Quite an efficient operation, not to mention immigration…where you handed over your passport, they asked for $50 for the visa (which just got thrown on the counter with a bunch of other cash) and stamp….I was in Uganda. Piece of cake. Found my driver from the Sheraton to take me to Kampala (the airport is about 90 minutes drive from the capital) and off we went.

My phone finally got data service a few minutes into the drive, and started blowing up with emails and text messages.

I was supposed to be in Uganda for one night, which I’d decided on for a couple reasons. First, the main thing I wanted to do there was wildlife trekking, especially seeing the gorillas, and that would take a good week to do it right, and with the every country quest I knew I didn’t have that type of time right now. On top of that, given the government’s recent homophobia and atrocious human rights record, it wasn’t a place I wanted to spend much time or money. So, I opted for one night, and then onto the next country…Yemen.

But, back to those texts and emails…

Was notified by several friends and colleagues that the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen had gone into full “shred and burn” mode and were preparing to abandon the embassy. Now, I’ve visited several countries before where the U.S. doesn’t maintain an embassy, however, news they were preparing to imminently abandon it was definitely a warning sign that things were about to go bad…and quickly!

By the time I got to the hotel, I learned that the Embassy had evacuated, and when they got to the airport the marines who protected the embassy were held by the houthi rebels and had all their cars, weapons, and who knows what else confiscated. Things were going badly quickly, and I decided the trip just wasn’t worth the risk at this point.

So, I mailed my tour contact in Yemen…who quickly replied that things were completely fine and I’d be passing up an opportunity by not coming. Um, ok, thanks, but still not a risk I’m comfortable taking with the information I have.

Next step was to figure out where to go next. After Yemen my next stop was Eritrea, but I still didn’t have a visa! So, that made that a non-starter. I was going to come home from Eritrea via Ukraine, so I could probably still find a way to do that, but what’s the point? At this point I had the chance to go straight home several days early and still enjoy a long weekend. It was challenging.

The Sheraton gave me a nice suite, and so I retired to the Executive Lounge for a beer and to do some planning. None of the options seemed very attractive, and I was toying with if it really wanted to take the 5am Turkish flight out of the country. Instead of Entebbe-Istanbul-Yemem I could do Istanbul-Kiev and still at least enjoy that. But 5am. Ugh. With all that was going wrong what was the point? Maybe I should stay in Uganda for an extra day and see what there was to see. I was tired, exhausted, still a bit sick, and cranky at this point, so I decided to delay it 24 hrs. I booked Entebbe-Istanbul-Berlin 24 hours later, which meant I could at least sleep in the next morning, have a full day in Uganda, and go from there.

Quick room service dinner because I was tired, then off for what would hopefully be a solid sleep. There was much planning to be done…

Feb 172015
 

After my evening wandering the streets of Stone Town trying to find my way to and from dinner, I had a nice relaxing morning. Breakfast was included in the hotel restaurant, which was on the top floor and had a nice view out over the roofs of Stone Town. As an added bonus, the breakfast buffet spread was pretty good and service was quite good as well. Nice relaxing start to the morning.

Checked out, and had the hotel call a taxi for me, which took about 10 minutes to arrive. While waiting, I saw this table in the hotel lobby. I loved it…nine little compartments on top, each filled with a different spice. Something like this would be a great souvenir from the spice island!

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Taxi came in about 10 minutes, and the fantastic hotel staff insisted on carrying my bags to the tax, which was maybe a 100 meter walk from the hotel. Many of the streets in Stone Town (including the one the hotel is one) are so small and narrow that no vehicle traffic is possible, so cars just come as close as they can.

Got to Zanzibar Airport, and found out that domestic flights depart from a different terminal, which is just one room with one x-ray machine. There were maybe 50 people waiting when I got there, for an assortment of flights in tiny planes to Dar, Arusha, and possibly some other destinations. There was one check-in counter, with no real signs/indication of where to go for which airline…of which there were at least five different airlines. I just went up every 10 minutes to ask, and eventually, yes, they were checking in my flight lol.

Boarding was five minutes before scheduled departure time, and we started walking to the plane. There were a couple of dozen small plans scattered around the tarmac, so I was curious to see which one we would get. View of the airport:

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This little guy turned out to be our plane. Pilot plus room for five passengers, one of which sat in the copilot seat. Smallest plane I’ve ever been on.

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ZanAir flight 105
Zanzibar, Tanzania (ZNZ) to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (DAR)
Depart 11:00, Arrive 11:20, Flight Time 20 minutes
Cessna 207A Stationair, Registration 5H-ARD, Manufactured 1980

It was getting hot out. Very hot. So what do you do if you’re the pilot? Hold the window open to get a good breeze going during taxi…of course!

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View of the apron at ZNZ just after takeoff:

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Flight was a total of about 40 miles, and lasted just over 20 minutes. Soon, we were in Dar es Salaam at the domestic airport:

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The domestic and international terminals at Dar are quite a way apart, and all of the other passengers on my plane were connecting to international flights so ZanAir gave them a ride in a company car over to the other terminal…how nice! There were plenty of taxis for me, and prices were posted, so there was no question what a fair price to the hotel would be. ¬†Traffic was horrendous, and it took well over an hour to get to the DoubleTree hotel located in the neighbourhood of Oyster Bay.

Was given a very nice upgrade to a suite upon check-in:

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I was exhausted from several days of go-go-go traveling, and it was mid afternoon by this point, so I decided to relax for a bit and just enjoy the afternoon by the pool…where I was the only person for most of the afternoon:

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Sunset near the hotel:

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A friend had recommended I get dinner at the Cape Town Fish Market restaurant, which was located near the hotel. I asked for directions from the bellman, who seemed terrified that I was considering walking there. After convincing him I was serious, he gave me directions, and it was an easy 10 minute or so walk. The neighbourhood didn’t feel the least bit dangerous, even after dark, so I’m not quite sure what the big deal was.

The restaurant itself was fascinating people watching. It was packed with various expat types as well as what appeared to be lots of middle and upper class locals. There were clearly lots of regulars, because the staff were greeting everyone by name. It was a nice warm evening, although there was a breeze, so sitting by the ocean and having dinner was perfect. They tried to sell me on a salmon entree (seriously? salmon? in Africa?) but I passed and asked for something local. Ended up with a red snapper which was quite tasty. Wanted to get dessert as there were several tasty looking options on the menu, but wasn’t all that hungry. I’d later find out the next day that I was getting sick and that’s what had killed my appetite.

Not feeling great headed back to the hotel and early to bed to hopefully sleep it off before heading to Uganda in the morning.

Feb 142015
 

Somewhere in the middle of the night the aircon in my room decided to crap out, so woke up nice and early a sweaty mess. Lovely. I would have enjoyed the sunrise, except it was super hazy, so there wasn’t really anything to see. Oh well! Might as well check out what the all-inclusive breakfast has to offer.

It was a pretty poor selection, and honestly a step below almost every hotel breakfast I’ve ever had in a major hotel. It was pretty disappointing…there was enough to eat with the fruit, breads, etc, but it was far from exciting. Well, I may not have enjoyed it, but the guest who joined me for breakfast sure wanted some!

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My taxi showed up right as promised, 2 minutes early actually, but he apologized up and down for being two minutes late. I informed him he was early, and he was relieved, lol. I don’t know why so many taxi drivers in the developing world are unpleasant and try and cheat you…it kind of goes contrary to the idea of providing good service and making money. Is the concept of service really that foreign? That said, this driver was fantastic and I really appreciated the effort he made to me more than “just” a taxi.

No line to check in at the airport, and off to the departures lounge.which involved going upstairs. Apparently, in Mombasa, knowing how to use an escalator doesn’t go hand in hand with flying:

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There was as lounge in the airport which was nice and air conditioned, but apparently my Priority Pass card had expired three days prior and they never bothered to send me the renewal. Sigh. Service from AmEx goes downhill further and further every year. At least I had less than 30 minutes to go until it was time to board.

Walking to the plane:

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My big orange ride for the trip to Zanzibar….anything goes!

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Fly540 flight 105
Mombasa, Kenya (MBA) to Zanzibar, Tanzania (ZNZ)
Depart 10:50, Arrive 11:30, Flight Time 40 minutes
Canadair CRJ-100, Registration 5Y-BXC, Manufactured 1997, Seat 12A

Not that this plane was a throwback or anything, but they even had borrowed beverage carts from TAROM:

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…and other storage carts from Air Littoral:

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My boarding pass said “open” for seating, but apparently they’d assigned seats to everyone else. Oh well! For some reason, despite the plane being booked 42/50, there was nobody at all in the last two rows. So I moved back there and had a whole row to myself. Go figure!

Plus, the inflight magazine came with free fashion tips:

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Quick flight, no food served, just a bottle of water handed out upon boarding…which was more than enough for barely 30 minutes in the air. Soon, we were landing on Zanzibar!

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Visa on arrival was an unpleasant $100, but it came with a full colour sticker and was good for multiple entries for a full year, so I suppose it wasn’t awful. The ATMs in the airport were all broken, so my next task was to find a taxi who would take me to the hotel and accept Euros or US Dollars. I’d been told to expect roughly $30, so when a driver offered me a ride for $10 I jumped on it…20 minute or so ride, and I was at my hotel, the Doubletree Stone Town Zanzibar.

This hotel is almost a small boutique hotel right in the heart of Stone Town, and has maybe 60 rooms spread across 6 floors. I received a Diamond upgrade to a “deluxe king” room which was very nice…and freezing cold! I was in Heaven! The decor felt “very Zanzibar” to me, and for the price paid it was a fantastic room.

My first mission was to go on a long walk and enjoy stone town, but first I needed a coffee. Delicious double espresso at a little cafe right next to the hotel. Price? Less than $2

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After rejuvenating thanks to the magic of coffee, it was time to begin my walk through Stone Town:

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Walking along the corniche:

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The tree known, appropriately, as “the big tree”

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