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

IMG_7901

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:

IMG_7903

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!

IMG_7905

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

IMG_7906

Wait, MENUS on a short regional flight?!

IMG_7907

IMG_7908

IMG_7909

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.

IMG_7910

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:

IMG_7914

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:

IMG_7916

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.

IMG_7917

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

IMG_7922

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…

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!

Continue reading »

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!