Saturday, July 19, 2008

Africa #4 Pt I: Nairobi to Kilimanjaro

To us, 5 o'clock seemed like an unnecessarily early start, especially given the fact that we were leaving the hotel at 6 am for an 8 am flight but at an airport that is only 30 minutes drive away. However, the efficient experience upon arriving into Nairobi the previous evening was completely reversed by what it took to get out of there again and having a couple of hours to make it to the plane turned out to be a good idea.

Queue number one was just to enter into a small, cramped terminal building, housing an odd collection of airlines. Once inside, it was hard to tell which of the two large queues facing us to get into next, but thankfully we guessed right: yup, the longer one of course. After 20 minutes we found out it was simply a make-work exercise to weigh your baggage before you get to the check-in desk where …. it all gets weighed again. No idea what happens if you fail to pass that test, but we didn’t and so earned the right to join queue number three for actual checking-in type duties.

One thing you tend to forget, but quickly remember once in transit somewhere foreign, is that wherever the British once were we somehow leave the population with an over-arching love of form-filling. In Kenya, that translates into entry forms to be filled in prior to arrival and exit forms to be submitted on departure, both of which seem to be exactly the same apart from one being white and the other yellow. You strongly suspect that nothing is ever actually done with the myriad of little forms this all produces, especially as they anyway electronically scanned our passports going in and going out.

So, now we are in the airport and duly standing at gate 5 where the monitors say we should be. Interestingly, however, although three flights are listed from the one gate, none of them happens to be ours. And of course there’s a queue, so naturally we join it. Turns out we are at the right place and it’s just, well, a mess; one gate, multiple exit points. And another queue, of course, so you can get your stuff x-rayed all over again. By the end of this trip my carry-on will glow menacingly in the dark. This laptop, for example, has now seen more radiation than a whole squad of Chernobyl road-sweepers did when the Soviet government asked them if they wouldn’t mind awfully cleaning up after a small incident that had inconveniently occurred at the local reactor site.

Ah ha – something is happening, but I’ve no idea what. Some sort of garbled announcement that I think included the word “Kilimanjaro”. Decide to believe it did in order to appear to know what the hell I’m doing. Next, an officious looking woman with a walkie-talkie comes and collects a vast, majestic herd of tourists who all proceed to sweep across the terminal without any of us having the faintest idea if this is our flight or not. Follow closely as she cuts through two other waiting areas and dumps us outside on the tarmac. I recognize the type of plane we are on so head over in that direction and hope it’s correct. Bloke next to me asks, “this is the line for Dar Es Salaam, right?” Nope, you’re screwed, and we're out of here.

Arrive into Kilimanjaro and catch a glimpse of the mountain peak as we are banking into land. Low cloud and drizzle await. Did we end up back in London by mistake? Likely not, especially since those are look to be banana trees by the side of the runway, but now there are of course more forms to fill in and more queuing to be done so best to stay alert in case there's a particularly tricky question this time around. Suspiciously, however, it seems the same information is required for Tanzania as was the case for Kenya, only this time it ends up on a pretty blue background instead. Why can’t they all just share this stuff fer chrissakes??

We have about 40 minutes drive in an old Toyota Land Cruiser/minibus with our guide, Komba (it means “bush baby”, apparently) to reach the hotel, and somehow we avoid death or injury to ourselves or other road users on the way, despite several jolly good tries towards achieving the opposite. Welcome to Africa!

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