May 262018
 


Woke up way too early, turned on the iPhone, and as usual the messages started coming in. Emails, text messages…and the notification from TripIt that my flight with Air Namibia from Windhoek to Harare was canceled. UGH. I was already unsettled about this part of the trip given Air Zimbabwe’s recent fleet problem of being reduced to one airworthy plane, but this was a whole new wrench in the works.

It looked like I might be able to fly to Johannesburg and then to Bulawayo, but of course Air Namibia and Air Zimbabwe took no responsibility, and this would be several hundred dollars out of pocket. Too tired to really focus on the impending problem, I did what any sane person would do, and headed around the corner from the Hilton to Slowtown Coffee.

Ok, in fairness I stopped by the Hilton Exec Lounge first, but the caffeine looked unpredictable, and the lounge was filled with loud americans touting their “status” so I made a hasty retreat. Slowtown definitely seemed to be THE place to be in Windhoek this morning:

Plus, a super tasty iced coffee and a pastel de nata and I was much more prepared to figure out what I was doing with the next few days:

I debated just spending another day checking out Namibia, but after four nights I didn’t think there was that much I was going to see, plus the cost of extending the car might get crazy. I decided to head to the airport, fly back to Johannesburg, and decide from there if I could salvage the trip at all.

Back to the airport, up to the Hertz counter, and guess what? Yes, their credit card terminal was down again, so “please write on this paper what you think you should pay for” and that was it. I basically wrote down the four days of rental plus taxes, and decided to see how things went. No one way drop off fee. None of the crazy insurance they tried to push on me in Walvis Bay. I had a feeling this was going to get bad, but at the same time I was pretty confident that American Express would have my back.

Security and immigration took maybe five minutes today, and the airport was a ghost town compared to a few days prior. How much of a ghost town? This is the ENTIRE departures hall:

Short stop in the generic business lounge, which actually had a reasonable variety of snacks and beverages, and a couple bottles of Savannah Dry Cider later, and it was time to board. Our flight today had a total of 60 people, so it would be nice and relaxed.

This time, no complaints about taking pictures, and was able to grab a good shot of our plane while boarding.

British Airways flight 6274 operated by Comair
Windhoek, Namibia (WDH) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 14:55, Arrive 16:45, Flight Time: 1:50
Boeing 737-800, Registration ZS-ZWJ, Manufactured 2006, Seat 1F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 36,935
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,556,997

No pre-departure drink at all, but right after take off a glass of sparkling wine and a bag of nuts:

For such a short flight, meal service was still done in two parts, with the salad, cheese, and dessert coming first:

In case you’re curious exactly what it was:

Beef, chicken, or veg, and I went with the chicken. Unusual choice for me on a plane, but not only did I go with the chicken but I opted to stick with champagne. It was good – not great – but I was plenty happy with it. Slightly dry like I expect airplane chicken to be, but who knows…maybe I was feeling just a wee bit healthy?

Landed in Johannesburg almost 20 minutes early, got a bus gate, and it was time to head back to my hotel…and figure what if anything I was going to doing with the next three nights…since my journeys to Botswana and Zimbabwe looked to be at risk…

May 252018
 


Despite the lack of air conditioning and any city noise at all on Moon Mountain I slept like a rock and woke up just as the sun was coming across the horizon. View from my private plunge pool just outside my tent:

Yup, I think if I spent a few more days here I might have actually managed to relax enough to enjoy the peace and quiet of the amazing surroundings:

The road into Moon Mountain…it’s definitely “real” and “remote” Africa:

Leaving breakfast, the sun was coming up just over the mountains:

Headed out to get an early start, because I wanted to make it to Windhoek in time to see a bit of the city. Of course, I stopped at the bakery in Solitaire one last time for another piece of apple pie. Third visit, and I finally noticed the pictures of Moose McGregor hanging in the bakery:

So, this is where things got a bit messy. Maybe 30 minutes out of Solitaire, I saw a warning on the “D” road that I was on that trucks were not permitted due to steep inclines. I figured hey, how bad could it be, there would be some sort of serious warning if it was that big of a deal – right? I should probably preface this by saying that I don’t really deal well with heights.

Well, after 30 minutes more of driving, that’s when I saw it. The road took a very sudden right turn, and started heading up the side of the mountain, on a long and winding road with switchbacks and no guardrail, at roughly a 15% incline. It also kept going and going. I froze probably a minute in, and was like “ok, backing DOWN this thing at this point is going to be even worse, not to mention 2-3 hours probably out of the way to find a better route, so hey…you’ve lived a good life. Go for it.”

Yeah, I’m being a little dramatic because I hate heights, but it really is a pretty bad road. Fortunately, it’s been bricked over so at least you’re not sliding on gravel. The road crossed up over the Spreetsoogte Pass which is bad enough to have its own Wikipedia entry. According to Wikipedia, the road varies between 16% and 22% grade, making it even worse than I thought.

I was way too whiteknuckles the whole way to stop for pics, but a couple from google:

So, I admit that based on these pics it doesn’t look too terrifying, but if you need to see for yourself, the D1275 from Solitaire towards Windhoek will do it for you. I promise.

Anyways, I lived…and at the top I was terrified that if going up was rough (when I looked down at the road in front of me the whole way), I was scared how bad going down would be when I couldn’t avoid looking down, down, down. Well, surprise surprise, we never went down. We were actually drive up onto a plateau, so thank God for small miracles?

Driving the rest of the way to Windhoek was pretty easy, and the road actually turned to asphalt for the last 45 minutes or so. Waze did a great job of guiding me all the way into my hotel at the Hilton Windhoek, and had no problem getting the car parked and surviving the trip without wetting myself. After patting myself, I checked into my first super comfortable hotel with great AC in a few days and went for a walk.

Right outside the hotel was a statue of Curt von Francois, the founder of Windhoek in 1890:

Along the walk I stoped at Cramer Ice Cream, which tempted me with a waffle with amarula ice cream:

One of the best parts of Africa is the streets named after dictators:

Christuskirche:

The Independence Museum, with a statue of Sam Nujoma in front of it:

Very North Korean looking statue – it would not at all surprise me if Mansudae Overseas was responsible for this in addition to the statues in Senegal and other places.

Speaking of streets named after now former (sort of, since he’s still living in the Presidential Palace) dictators, it’s Uncle Bob Avenue!

After a long hot walk, I retired back to the rooftop pool at the Hilton where I had a couple of ciders and just relaxed.

View from the roof wasn’t half bad at all:

At the recommendation of friends i negotiated a taxi on the streets to take me to Joe’s Beerhouse, which was supposed to be a Windhoek institution. Based on the literally hundreds of people hanging out drinking and eating, I’d definitely found the most happening place in the entire country. The oryx lasagne was definitely a one-of-a-kind treat too!

Back to the Hilton, where the city looked just as amazing at night:

Off to bed, because it was time to get up early and fly to Zimbabwe in the morning!

Dec 282015
 

The airport was absolutely deserted when we arrived, and the immigration people seemed a bit irritated to have to work. No problem signing in, and then off to arrivals. I admit I hadn’t checked the currency situation, but knew it was approximately 1 to 1 with the US dollar, so decided to take out some local currency. Over the next few days I learned that US dollars are accepted absolutely everywhere at 1 to 1, so no need for local currency at all.

I was tired and a bit cranky, so gave into the guy with the town car who accosted me in arrivals and offered me a ride to the hotel at a reasonable price. We had a nice chat, and it was a very comfy ride, and soon I was arriving at my hotel for the next couple of nights, the British Colonial Hilton, Nassau.

First impressions on check-in weren’t good. It took nearly 15 minutes to get to an agent to check in, and when I did she informed me “all rooms are full, this is the only room.” Uhhhh, ok, guess it will do. Up to the room, which looked reasonable:

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That is, until I realized the whole room was vibrating from the bass at a party. Back to the front desk, same agent tells me basically too bad, I know you’re a diamond member, so sorry, but there’s a hurricane benefit party, we’re totally sold out. Too bad.

Um, that’s not going to do. I asked for the manager on duty. She eventually arrived after about 15 minutes, and when we went to the room she saw what I was talking about. There were just a few more rooms from the BA crew that had just checked out (to turn my flight around I’m guessing) so she checked which rooms those were.

Eventually, after nearly an hour, we did find a room that was reasonably quiet. In exchange for the inconvenience of having to find a room that was reasonably quiet, she asked what I was doing for dinner…and I said I was just going to probably order room service because it was late. “Go ahead, and it will be on us.” To her credit, I ordered a sandwich, desert, and a few beers, and they were all comped. Points to them in that department. Unfortunately, I was left with a bitter taste from the surly lady at check in…and the people attending the benefit in the room across the hall who were loud until around 2am. Ugh.

Next morning, woke up, and decided to go for a bit of a walk with my one day. First stop, of course, Starbucks! On the way, I passed this monster having just arrived in port:

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Got my Starbucks (where they decided my name was Jacin) and people watched for about an hour as the cruise ships disgorged their passengers. I felt like I was in Middle America on the seaside, full of people complaining that things “aren’t like home here” and being generally…awkward about being in a foreign port.

Walked back to the hotel for a bit, and was glad to see that after the Bahamian flag the Chinese flag flies proudly at the same level:

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After getting things together, I headed out for a long walk. I decided I was going to walk through the city, and head over to Paradise Island before taking the ferry back towards my hotel. After about an hour of walking with breaks to check out the kitschy little souvenir shops, I was near the bridge to Paradise Island:

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Halfway across the bridge, the first views of Paradise Island:

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I walked around Paradise Island for a couple hours, mainly people watching. I know there are all kinds of resort activities, but since I was only there for a day I just wanted to walk around and see things and people. I don’t know what I expected from Nassau, but I felt like I was in Orlando, or somewhere people go that they think is exotic. It just didn’t feel that “different” from the US at all, and basically just like a place that tries to be as American as possible so as not to upset the cruise ship crowd. I’m sure the more remote islands are much different, but I left disappointed.

That’s not to say the views weren’t amazing:

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After a bit more walking, I was on the ferry back towards the Hilton in the late afternoon:

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On the way back, we passed all the cruise ships docked…

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Sunset view of the Nassau ferry port:

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Overall, Nassau was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be. It was a nice warm day, but literally felt like I could have been anywhere in Florida. Not complaining, but I guess I feel like when I visit a foreign country, I want to feel like something is “different.” Nassau, to me, didn’t feel like that. It felt like it could have been anywhere, very generic, with the Hard Rock Cafe, Senor Frogs, Starbucks, McDonalds, and nothing that felt authentically local. Again, I’m sure there are places that are, but I didn’t find them.

Next morning I slept in a bit, grabbed a bit of Starbucks, and just walked around enjoying the nice weather. Soon, it was time to taxi to the airport and begin my trek home. Taxi prices were fixed and posted at the Hilton, so there was no drama at all.

…until I got to US Immigration. The US does pre-clearance in the Nassau airport, and my big concern was if they would care about Cuba. I know nobody has been hassled over the OFAC regulations in many years, but you still never know. Went to the Global Entry Machine, didn’t get the dreaded X, but when I turned it into the agent she started paging through my passport. The conversation was even more weird:

Her: What were you doing in the Bahamas:
Me: Vacation
Her: How long were you here
Me: Three days
Her (seeing Algeria stamps from a week ago): Why were you in Algeria? Do you know anyone in ISIS?
Me: Uh, no? I was just on holiday. Trying to visit every country eventually.
Her: Ok, how much money do you have on you?
Me: Maybe $100 or so?
Her: Ok then, have a good trip.

Now, why she didn’t ask my how I got from Algeria to the Bahamas I’ll never know, but oh well. Just left me frustrated that our immigration agents are often poorly equipped to really ask the questions that would catch people conducting some serious shade.

Speaking of serious shade, I was surprised to find there was a Priority Pass lounge. They let me in, and told me it came with a $20 credit for snacks and drinks. That’s the first lounge I’ve ever been to where you get a credit, and that’s all you can eat or drink. It was just odd! I got a couple diet cokes, some chips and was happy enough until we boarded.

United flight 1462
Nassau, Bahamas (NAS) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 13:05, Arrive 16:20, Flight Time: 3:15
Boeing 737-800, Registration N37273, Manufactured 2001, Seat 2B
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 123,129
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,162,096

Welcome aboard plastic cup of Oscar Cliquot:

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Nice short flight, and there were only two choices of meal. For once, I decided to get the pasta which I never seem to get. It was actually pretty tasty. I don’t remember the cookie, but fortunately I got the exactly same one today on a Mesa/United Express flight. Come on United, you can seriously do a bit better than this!

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Landed in the C terminal…and it was my lucky day. Despite a short connection, my connecting flight was only two gates away. Lots of people have been complaining about how Newark has less walking space now due to the concessions in the middle of the hallways, but it was nice to get a good beer from the iPad restaurant during my wait:

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Now, for the absolute highlight of my trip:

United Express flight 4786 operated by CommutAir
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Baltimore, Maryland (BWI)
Depart 17:55, Arrive 19:16, Flight Time: 1:21
DeHavilland Dash 8-200, Registration N369PH, Manufactured 1998, Seat 2B
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 123,298
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,162,265

Just kidding, lol…plane was absolutely full…and I volunteered, asking to be put on the DCA flight an hour later. I originally booked BWI because it was over $200 cheaper for the P fare, but I really wasn’t feeling it tonight. As it was, they had several no-shows, so no volunteers needed unfortunately.

Flight was super quick, and soon we were arriving at BWI…brrrrr after the Bahamas!

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I had decided it was late, I was annoyed, and there was no way I was going to deal with the train/metro/etc combos to get home, so decided to get an UberX. I felt a bit bad someone would have a long drive back to Baltimore after my trip, but got lucky and got a DC-based driver who was on his last trip of the day. Worked out super, was really affordable, so BWI ended up not being so bad after all!

That brings the trip to a close, and just three days at home before I needed to head out again to Thailand for work…no rest for the wicked!

Oct 212015
 

Called an Uber to take me to the Dubai airport, and the driver showed up in less than 10 minutes, very clean car, polite, chatty but not too chatty, overall a very good experience. Was maybe 10 Dirhams or so more than the taxi the day before, but for the convenience of using up the last of my cash on the hotel and paying by credit card it was well worth it.

Arrived at Dubai T2 and it’s amazing how much this terminal has changed in the past 10 years or so. My first experience was in 2007 when I attempted to fly KishAir to Kish Island, and the entire terminal was basically one small room with a few bus gates on the other side. These days, it has a bright and sunny check-in area with probably 30 counters, 12 or so “gates” which are essentially just bus waiting areas, but the whole thing is a much nicer experience…except it is massively crowded since it houses all flights of FlyDubai as well as other airlines from dubious neighbouring countries such as Iran and Afghanistan.

Check-in took about 10 minutes, and even that wouldn’t have been necessary since online checkin worked just fine. I wanted to check about the possibility of discount upgrades, but it appears FlyDubai doesn’t do this at all…and my 737 only had a total of 30 passengers, so there was definitely no need for it today. All checked-in, before heading through immigration and security I decided to grab a little breakfast…at where else? See, I told you T2 had improved since my previous visit!

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Caffeinated and ready for adventure, I headed to immigration. After double-checking to make sure Stephen Harper wasn’t around, I decided to skip this special immigration line and head to the main line:

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Immigration was question-free and security took about 10 minutes, but that was only because the truple (not sure what else you call a man and what appeared to be his two wives) in front of me had eight children with them, and three strollers (including a doublewide), and security was insisting they had to collapse every stroller and put them through the x-ray. Try doing that with eight children…no easy task. And they were having none of me trying to go ahead of them in line.

The gate area was jam-packed with at least 15 different flights waiting to board. However, for some reason that I couldn’t figure out, the crowds were all congregating near the food court, and at Burger King in particular. There were still a few seats left at the gates, so it was easy to sit and wait. Because waiting is what you do when your flight time passes, and then 15 more minutes pass, and finally after 30 they announce boarding for your flight. I would have asked what was going on, but, well, there were no airline employees anywhere to ask.

Hmmm. Short bus ride to the plane, and it was time to head off.

FlyDubai flight 8039
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (DXB) to Salalah, Oman (SLL)
Depart 9:00, Arrive 11:05, Flight Time: 2:05
Boeing 737-800, Registration A6-FEJ, Manufactured 2013, Seat 6E

Boarding confirmed there were only about 30 people on the flight, and since I’d paid an extra 100 dirhams for the bulkhead I had the entire row to myself. Got to sit in the middle and enjoy the amusing safety video:

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We also had a few stowaways for the flight…

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All in all the flight was extremely uneventful. As a low cost airline FlyDubai charges for absolutely everything, which means my Starbucks was more than enough to hold me over for about 100 minutes of flight time. At least in economy I prefer this model, because I can pick and choose exactly what I want. More legroom is always worth it, and if I decided I want something to snack on, I can pick exactly what.

Arrived Salalah slightly late, and then it was off to immigration. The airport was very new and modern, despite only having a handful of gates, and had clearly been built with growth in mind. First stop was the visa on arrival desk, where I asked if I needed one. I’ve read several times that if you arrive from Dubai that covers both the UAE and Oman, but once again was told this isn’t true. Maybe that’s only the case if you have to pay the UAE for your visa? Regardless, the foreign exchange counter finally opened, which is where you pay for and receive a receipt for your visa on arrival. They were happy to take Euros at a pretty miserable exchange rate, and that done passing immigration and customs was a piece of cake.

My pre-arranged driver was waiting just outside, and took me off to my hotel for the few days, the Salalah Hilton. It’s located a few kilometers outside of town on a relatively quiet part of the beach. He agreed to drop me for a couple of hours to rest and have some lunch before heading out on our afternoon tour. I’ll cover the tours in the next post, and for now will just focus on the hotel.

Grabbed a lunch at the beach bar, which was service nice cold Stella:

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In the evenings, there was another lounge/bar which did a nice happy hour deal of a burger and beer for a very reasonable price. It was just cool enough that sitting outside in the evenings was nice, although the biting insects were pretty terrible. I ended up with bites that itched for nearly a week after I got home, which is pretty amazing. That said, the burgers weren’t bad at all, the the service was super friendly. Plus, can’t complain about the views:

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Especially once the lights went on, hahaha

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As a Hhonors Diamond member breakfast was included, and they had quite a nice spread. My favourite part was the guy who brought you your coffee. He was wearing an apron that said something like “coffee man” had had lots of little pockets on it that were filled with different tea bags. Definitely different. But the breakfast was tasty, and could be pretty healthy if you wanted:

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A few thoughts on the hotel. It was definitely not a luxury Hilton, but at the sametime it was a nice and well-maintained property. The staff was super helpful and friendly, and several times asked if everything was alright and if there was anything else they could do. The rooms felt slightly older and worn, but this is a beach property, and a bit of mustiness is to be expected. The AC wasn’t ice cold, but worked plenty well to get a good night of sleep, so points in that department. The rooms were also slightly larger than your average Hilton room, and the internet was quite a bit faster than I had expected.

A view from my pool/ocean view room, with the daily anti-mosquito fogging going on:

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All in all a solid property, and if you have Hhonors points to burn it’s an amazing value – some say it’s one of the best values anywhere in the world for using Hhonors points. Next up, just why did I come to Salalah, Oman, anyways? 😉

Dec 052014
 

Slept through my first alarm, and was running late in the morning. As I rounded the corner from my room, I saw the elevator there and people heading for it. I picked up my pace a bit and ran for it, putting my hand in the doors to keep it open…which caused a flurry of Chinese and some excitement from the already fully elevator. Given the earpieces and the way they all freaked out, I’m pretty certain I was in the elevator with President Xi, lol. You’d think they’d control the elevators so they don’t stop or something?!

Checked out, stopped by Starbucks to fuel up, managed to find the airport bus, and given the relatively early hour it was a nice quick traffic free drive to the airport. Check-in was pain-free as well, and I had a time for a quick snack in the lounge before boarding. I just had a small nibble at it, knowing there would likely be more in flight:

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Got to the gate just as boarding was starting, and was one of the first on board to grab a photo. I’ve actually never taken a business class flight before with herringbone seats, and was curious how I’d like it. Generally, I strongly prefer planes with all-aisle access business class so I’m not having to either climb over people or have people climb over me.

Air New Zealand flight 99
Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) to Tokyo/Narita, Japan (NRT)
Depart 9:45, Arrive 16:55, Flight Time 11:10
Boeing 777-200, Registration ZK-OKG, Manufactured 2006, Seat 4K

First thought, these seats look crammed in there and people are right on top of each other:

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I usually am very meh about amenity kits, but these came with awesome socks that matched my shoes. Everything goes better with bubbles:

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Jan 072014
 

Got through customs and immigration, and expected a driver to be waiting from my hotel…but there was none to be found. One other problem, there were no taxis at the airport at all. My hotel was only about a mile away and would have been walkable, but my body was far from ready for the humidity and was saying hell no. To top it off, nobody hanging around spoke any English…so because yo hablo Chipotle, I gave it a go. I finally found a guy about 20 minutes later who was a private driver for one of the big oil companies, and he said he’d be happy to give me a lift to my hotel. Yes, this sounds like hitchhiking…and to top it off, he refused to consider money. There’s still hope for humanity!

Checked in, got a regular room no upgrade, but it was perfectly clean and comfortable and cool, no complaints at all!  Grabbed a quick snack and beer at the pool, before crashing for the night.  The pool was rather scenic, and the warm weather reminded me I wasn’t in Minnesota any more!

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Up earlyish the next morning around 8, and went down to the lobby to see about getting to the city.  The one major downside of the Hilton (or upside, depending on your needs) is that it’s near the airport, and a few miles out of the city.  Not to worry, there’s an on-demand shuttle from the hotel, and he would take me into the city and pick me up again – no charge – whenever I wanted!  Wow!  Headed downtown, with about 2-3 hours to see as much as I could before my flight.

See, I’d taken advantage of the 24 hour stop rule for international tickets, and found out that I could get Equatorial Guinea for about 18 hours, Cameroon for about 20, and then head to Gabon…all for the same amount of miles!  I’m not one to turn down free countries.

First stop was the Cathedral of Santa Isabela:

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Jul 142012
 

The Barbados airport was several times the size of any one I had encountered yet on this trip, which meant I actually had to wait for my baggage a good bit…but it was an air conditioned area with “modern” baggage belts….unlike some of the previous islands whose baggage reclaim areas cum customs cum immigration areas felt like you’d traveled back in time many decades.  The Barbados airport felt modern, efficient, and decidedly different…aka everything the average tourist loves.

While waiting for baggage, I chatted a bit more with the guy who’d been sitting near me.  He was from Barbados, home for a month to visit during the summer, and would return to Canada for university in the fall.  He’d been in Grenada for business, so was back home now to enjoy the rest of his vacation.  I was offered (and accepted) a ride to the hotel, “as long as you don’t mind a few stops along the way.”  Hmmm, I was going to save a $25 taxi and have a fun adventure…why not?  In retrospect, yeah, it’s everything you’re advised not to do…but once again, taking a chance paid off!  After a quick, very bumpy, and bat-out-of-hell style ride in a jacked-up old Hummer, we were at his house where he swapped clothes and dropped off luggage while I waited.  Was nice being in an actual neighbourhood far away from what any tourist ever see, and to see how the locals actually live.

The next part I hadn’t expected.  It was a series of at least four or five stops to pick up friend after friend who was joining him at the beach party.  It was especially cool to get a real view into the diversity of Barbados.  People had come from everywhere, and everyone was some mix of different cultures that blended into something truly local and unique.  Eventually, there were seven of us in the car, and we were off to the hotel.  Right before dropping me off, I was told if I could hurry I should join them for the beach party.  Um, sure, why not!  Luggage dropped off, checked in quickly, and a quick photo from the room:

Back downstairs, and we were off for a five minute drive to the party on the beach.  I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever been to a sunset Sunday night party on the beach before.  It was a completely local crowd, everyone seemed to know everyone, and it was lots of dancing, rum, and just enjoying a Sunday evening.  I checked out after a couple of hours, because I had dinner plans at the Brown Sugar Restaurant near the Hilton.

It was a date for one….me, a good book on my iPad, and a delicious dinner.  Brown Sugar gets very mixed reviews online, but due to location I decided to give it a go.  It was exactly what I expected – not superb, but fun, somewhat local, and good food…even if I did have to sit next to a family from Jersey who kept complaining about things instead of focusing on the things they were liking about their vacation.  Enough said!  After multiple drinks on the beach, I was starving, so went with the Caribbean Jerk Porn appetizer.  Nothing fantastic, but it was tasty, and went well with the rum punch.  (Sensing a theme here?  I mean, I really had to compare how each island did them!)

Then, it was time for the main course.  I decided to go all out and get the Martin’s Choice, described as “A bountiful seafood platter with fried flying fish, grilled Mahi-Mahi Dolphin, breaded shrimps & a crab cake.”  It was rather tasty, but also rather more fried than I would have expected.  I still don’t know what “Mahi-Mahi Dolphin” is, but I’m gonna hope it wasn’t really dolphin.  It tasted like Mahi Mahi so I’m going with that.

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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!