BootsnAll Travel Network

In Africa!

I’m in Africa! Getting here from Bangkok turned out to be quite an ordeal, but I finally arrived in Moshi, Tanzania on Saturday afternoon after two full days of travel. My adventure started in Bangkok when about 10 hours before my flight I got an email from Ethiopian Airlines saying that although I had a confirmed booking, they had had problems with their online booking system and couldn’t guarantee my fare and that my credit card had not been billed. So there I was, booked on a flight later that night, and I had no idea how much it was going to cost me. I was a little nervous, to say the least, but after looking up the fares online, I decided that the most they could charge me based on the current fares was another $50 or so. I decided to take my chances.

That night, I arrived at the airport at about 10:00 PM, four hours before my flight was to depart. I went to find the Ethiopian Airlines office, and surprisingly enough they were still open. They pulled up my booking and the fare was only $37 more than my original fare. I said that would be fine (not like I really had any other choice by that time) and they issued me a ticket. I thought all was good until it was time to pay for the ticket and they told me they couldn’t take a credit card and that I had to pay cash since they didn’t have a machine to run the card through. I asked them where I was supposed to get 25,000 Baht (~$650) at 10:00 at night, and they said there were banks up stairs in the terminal. So upstairs I went again, trying to find a bank that would give me that amount of cash off of my Visa card. I finally found one that would, but their limit was 15,000 Baht, so then I went looking for another bank to get the remaining money. Luckily, I was able to get another 10,000 from the ATM machine, so I went back downstairs with the cash, got my ticket and was on my way.

I waited around the airport until the check in counter opened for my flight, and by 1:00 AM or so I finally boarded the plane bound for Ethiopia. The flight from BKK to Ethiopia was actually quite good. There were two good meals, dinner and breakfast, and I had the row of three seats all to myself, so I was able to stretch out and sleep during the flight.

We got to Ethiopia about 30 minutes early, and prepared myself for what I thought would be a 3 hour layover. I wasn’t exactly sure how long the layover was going to be though, because my orignal booking said the flight was at 9:30, the ticket said 11:00, and the monitor at the gate said 10:15. Hmmm….

They opened the gate about 8:30 or so, so it looked like we’d be off by 9:30. The airline staff brought food and drinks around for us while we were waiting at the gate, which was a nice touch and one that I hadn’t experienced before. By 9:30 we were on the plane and it looked like all was good.

Once I boarded the plane for Nairobi, things started to go downhill fast. When I got to my seat, I found I was seated next to an African woman who, at that moment, just happened to be breast feeding her baby and was not being at all discreet about it. Not to mention that her son looked old enough that he should have been weaned a long, long time ago. Anyway, it was obvious that she didn’t want me sitting next to her, so she said something to the man sitting behind her who was either her husband or another family member. I offered to switch seats, so he sat next to her and I sat behind them, one row back from my assigned seat. This seemed all good, until a flight attendant approached me and asked me if I was sitting in my assigned seat. I said no, and explained that I had switched seats with the gentleman behind me. She asked us to move back to our original seats, and the man and woman were not wanting to cooperate. As it turned out, they had not been sitting in the correct seats to begin with, so I had switched with them for no reason. We eventually got things sorted out, and once I got back to my seat I thought I was going to have another comfortable flight with an empty seat next to me. However, it was only a few minutes later that another large man came to claim his seat next to me. He made himself right at home, and had no qualms about hogging the armrests and taking up as much space as possible. I did my best to accomodate him, but also gave him a few subtle hints that he was encroaching on my space. Eventually we both got settled in, and I managed to get comfortable and went back to reading my book. It was only a two hour flight, and I figured I could put up with him for that long. Unfortunately, we had been on the plane for a good twenty minutes by now, and the plane showed no signs of going anywhere. Minutes turned into hours, and we ended up sitting on the plane for three hours before we actually taxied to the runway. It was 12:30 by the time we actually left Ethiopia, a full 15 hours since I had left my guesthouse in Bangkok the night before.

After the short flight, we landed in Nairobi, Kenya, at around 2:30 PM. Immigration and Customs went smoothly, but due to the late arrival I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get the shuttle I wanted that would take me across the border into Tanzania. So instead of getting to Arusha that night, I had to find a place to stay in Nairobi. Leery of the touts, I went to the “authorized” airport taxi booth, and asked them about getting a taxi into the city. I mentioned that I needed a place to stay and he said he would take me to a tourist information center where I could book a room and also book my shuttle for the next day. That sounded good to me, since I was tired from the long flight and layover, and just wanted to sleep. As it turned out, the tourist information center was really a tour operator/travel agent (all the tour operators call themselves “tourist information centers” to lure in suckers like me), but I wasn’t in the mood to argue with them. I picked out a hotel and arranged for pick up the next morning, and then found a taxi driver to take me to the hotel. During the taxi ride into town we happened into a traffic jam, and it took quite a while to get to downtown Nairobi. Even better, once we got downtown, it turned out that the driver didn’t know where the hotel was so we drove around in circles for a good half hour or more trying to find the place. After asking around a bit, we finally found the place on a small side street. The driver was very apologetic about not knowing where it was, but I didn’t really mind too much and was just glad to be there. After checking into the room, I realized that the tour operator probably took me for a ride, and that the $30 USD I paid for the room was way too much. It was a nice enough room, but with only a bed, small desk, and a bathroom, I probably could’ve gotten it for much less had I just shown up and asked for a room. At least breakfast was included in the price of the room.

After checking into the room, I went walking around the neighborhood to see about getting some dinner. While walking around, I saw very few tourists, and was greeted by strange stares in just about every place I went into. Since I wasn’t going to be in Nairobi very long I hadn’t thought about getting any Kenyan currency, but if I wanted to eat dinner I needed to get me some shillings first. Unfortunately it was 6:00 on a Saturday evening and there weren’t any currency exchange places open. I found a posh hotel that had an exchange window, but they wouldn’t exchange money for me since I wasn’t a guest. However, they were able to direct me to a casino across the street that would change my money. Again, when I walked into the casino, I got some pretty strange looks. I changed enough for dinner and some food the next day, and then went down the street to a chicken & chips place that looked pretty good. I ordered up some sausages and chips (fries) and they gave me a plate heaped full of chips. I don’t know who would ever eat that many chips in one sitting, especially without ketchup. 🙂 Anyway, after dinner, I went back to my room, finished the book I was reading and went to sleep.

My shuttle to Tanzania was supposed to pick me up at 7:30 AM, and my alarm went off at 6:15. After hitting the snooze button several times, I finally got up, took a shower, and got dressed. After dressing, I went to put on my watch and realized it was actually 3:00 AM and not 7:00 AM. I had set the alarm on my cell phone, but the clock had not automatically adjusted for the time difference between Kenya and Thailand. So there I was, all dressed up with no place to go. I did the only logical thing to do; I got undressed and went back to bed. When my alarm finally did go off again at the right time, I got up, got dressed, packed my bag and went up to the restaurant for dinner. At 7:15, just as my eggs were coming off the grill, the desk clerk came up and told me my ride was waiting. That was probably the first time on this whole trip that I’d had a shuttle be on time, let alone early. I didn’t want to keep the driver waiting, so I skipped my breakfast, downing my coffee and grabbing a bannana on the way out the door. Turns out I should have made him wait for me, since once we got to the shuttle stop to board the big bus for Arusha we must have sat around for a good 30 minutes before finally leaving.

The shuttle finally left Nairobi around 8:30 or so, and I got lucky on this trip, ending up as the only one on the bus with an empty seat next to me. These busses aren’t exactly roomy and it was quite a relief to be able to spread out a little and not be crowded in with someone else. On the way out of town we stopped twice to check a tire that apparently was low on air. At one point we pulled into a tire repair place which had a market next door, so we all got off the bus to use the toilet and go to the market while the driver checked out the tire again. Since I didn’t get to have my breakfast, I picked up a healthy selection of candy bars, potato chips and cookies to get me through the trip. A few minutes later we got back on the bus and were on our way. I never did figure out what the problem with the tire was, but the driver didn’t change the tire, and we didn’t have any problems the rest of the way.

There was a large group of Americans on this shuttle, all from Virginia, who were in Africa doing some misson work through their church. The leaders of the group, Wayne and Carol, had lived in Moshi back in the 70’s and early 80’s and had started a Physical Therapy School which had just had it’s 32nd anniversary. The group had spent the week putting a new roof on a vocational school that they were also involved with, and were on there way to Tanzania to see the PT school and also visit a local hospital. They were a very freindly group, and I visited with them quite a bit.

When we got to the Kenyan Border, that’s when the fun really began. We had to get off the bus and go into the Kenyan immigration office to have our passports stamped for departure from Kenya. We had been warned that we would be approached by scam artists telling us that we also had to go with them to pay a border fee or other such nonsense, and sure enough once we emerged from the immigration office we had several people trying to get us to go with them for one reason or another. We ignored all of them and went back to our bus, but we weren’t able to avoid the other hawkers trying to sell us jewelry, carvings, and whatever else thay had. One lady went so far as to slip a bracelet on my wrist when I wasn’t looking. They were all very agressive, climbing into our bus, pushing stuff in through the windows, etc. One of the passengers bought something from one of them, at which point the frenzy increased ten-fold. Thankfully, we were soon on our way and were able to drive a few hundred meters up the road into Tanzania, stopping again to be checked by customs and apply for our Tanzanian visas. Only this time, inside the Customs area, hawkers were prohibited and we were able to move on easily.

The drive through Tanzania and into Arusha was good, as the roads were much better in Tanzania than in Kenya. The scenery reminded me of the high desert in Eastern Oregon. We passed through several small villages, and saw several of the Masai tribe herding cattle in the fields or carrying goods along side the road. We passed by Mt. Meru, Kilimanjaro’s little sister, and Wayne told me about an old movie that was shot on Mt. Meru called Hatari which starred John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. Later in the trip we could start to see Mt. Kilimanjaro looming in the distance, but most of the two peaks were obscured by clouds.

After a short stop in Arusha to drop off some of the passengers, we continued on to Moshi. The Viginians were all staying at the Moshi YMCA, and although I had been given a name of a budget hotel to stay at, I had not yet made a booking so decided to check out the Y with them. I had had a good experience staying at a Y in New Zealand, so this sounded like a good idea and as former Tanzanians, I trusted Wayne and Carol’s judgement. It turned out to be a good choice. The rooms were pretty basic, but there was a nice cafeteria and sitting area with a great view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The rooms were pretty cheap ($13 a night for a double), the food was decent, and it was nice to have a group of people to hang out with. While I was checking in I also met a Canadian girl named Lisa who had been in Tanzania for three weeks and had just returned from an eight day safari. I joined the Virginians for drinks and dinner in the cafeteria, and then several of us went walking downtown to see if we could find an ATM and an open internet cafe. Being that it was a Saturday night, the town was pretty quiet, and we didn’t find much open, although we did get to stop and chat with some of the local police who were out walking on patrol, machine guns and all.

Sunday I woke up in time to get the last two sausages and a cup of coffee for breakfast. (Free breakfasts are nice, but if you want to eat you can’t sleep in.) At breakfast I ran into Lisa and we decided to go walk downtown and find an internet cafe and something more to eat. Moshi Town is almost deserted on Sundays and most of the stores are closed. The best coffee shop in town was closed, but we did find a good restaurant open so we had a bite there and then found an open internet cafe at one of the hotels. We walked around a bit more and found a small bookstore where I found a new book to read, and then headed back to the Y. I ran into Carol and Wayne again and spent the rest of the afternoon visiting with them. That night the World Cup Finals were on, so I had a couple of beers and forced myself to stay awake long enough to watch the game, as boring as it was.

I awoke this morning to rain and am beginning to think that I’ve been cursed by the weather gods. Seems like everywhere I go I’m followed by rain. I think the only exception was in Darwin, Australia. The weather in Moshi has been mostly overcast and cloudy, so what was supposed to have been a great view of the mountain was non-existent. But the advantage is that it is much, much cooler here than it was in Thailand. Today I’m going to do some shopping and then meet up with Donovan’s friend Zamoyoni to go up the Kimamboni house where I’m planning on staying until our assault on Mt. Kilimanjaro at the end of the month. It sounds like a beautiful place, nice and quiet and secluded. I’m looking forward to relaxing a bit after the difficult trip from Thailand.

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Tanzanian Countryside, Roadside Church, and Mt. Meru

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One Response to “In Africa!”

  1. Laura Says:

    sounds like your Oregon roots (rain) followed you all the way to Africa, eh?

  2. Posted from United States United States