One of those "longest days"
Trip Start Feb 13, 2011
30Trip End Mar 14, 2011
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Where I stayed
Gold Crest Hotel
The dark streets of Bujumbura were empty as we drove out of town. I was able to get right in at the airport, and check-in went quickly too. There were quite a few people in the departure lounge, I assumed for different flights. My flight to Nairobi was scheduled for 02:40, with a boarding time of around 02:00. At 01:00 a garbled and unintelligible boarding announcement was made. I didn't move at first since it was way early for my flight, but then I thought better of it since one can never be entirely sure of anything.
It was the Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi after all. They were boarding very early, and in fact we ended up taking off almost an hour early! Mostly in Africa things are late, sometimes very late; but for them to happen early is extremely rare. I was happy I hadn’t decided to get some extra sleep and cut my arrival time close.
The flight to Nairobi lasted 90 minutes, during which there was no time to sleep, by the time we reached our cruising altitude and the crew came through with coffee and a light breakfast, which I skipped, it was time to start the descent. We arrived in Nairobi in the dark around 04:30. We deplaned and walked across the tarmac in the pleasantly cool night air to the terminal. I trudged up to the Kenya Airways lounge where I waited and finally had a little breakfast before going to the departure lounge for the 08:20 flight to Antananarivo, Madagascar. We had an interesting experience during the boarding process. At boarding time the agent walked us down to the tarmac and over the marked pedestrian walkway to one ond of the terminal area to where the plane waited. At least where she had been told the plane waited. When we arrived, she held up her hand to shade her eyes and looked all over. The line of passengers waited among the planes on our narrow walkway wondering what happened to our aircraft.
After a few minutes she told us that the plane wasn't where she'd been told it was, which of course we knew by that time. After a few more minutes, a bus arrived. After we boarded it drove us to the other end of the terminal where our missing plane had finally turned up. I hoped the pilot had a better sense of direction that the ground staff....
This flight lasted about 2 ½ hours, and I dozed on and off most of the way.
On arrival in Madagascar, we deplaned and walked across the tarmac from the plane to the arrival area. I looked for the transit desk, and saw one marked "transit," but no one was behind it. An official came up and asked for my passport and arrival form. I told her I hadn’t filled out a form, since I was in transit. "You must still fill out a form" she told me in French, “you will have to go outside to check in to your next flight.” I began filling out a form. Shortly after than another official came up and asked also in French “you are in transit?” I replied in the affirmative and showed her that I was filling out the form. She said not to bother, and asked my surname. She rifled through a small stack of boarding passes she had in her hands. Whne she found mine, she noted the number from my luggage tag for the suitcase transiting through. Then she did the same for two other passengers in my situation, who were going to Mauritius as well.
When all that was done, she and a security guard let us outside onto the tarmac on the aircraft side of the airport. We followed her over to the departure area and we all went in the out-door, so to speak, to the departure waiting area. We had successfully completed the transit formalities. While waiting, I read a while and then watched the people, since there wasn’t much else to watch. It’s been pretty much established by ethnologists that the original Malagasy people came from the area around Borneo (now part of Indonesia) something like 2000 years ago. What a canoe trip that must have been! They mixed with East Africans, so that the current Malagasy mix is about 50-50 with some later Arab thrown in. It is a very particular ethnic mix, and the effect can be quite striking.
Madagascar is in a somewhat tense situation at the moment. The democratically elected president was ousted by a coup in 2009, after the brutal handling of oppositions demonstrators, and was taken to safety on a CIA plane. He has since claimed he was kidnapped. He now lives in South Africa and tries periodically to come back. The new leader, a former disk-jockey supported by the army, won’t let him back in the country. The former president announced that he was going to try again on February 19th of this year, but the aviation authorities said he would be denied entry or worse. He’s been found guilty in absentia, by a court set up by the new president, of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to life at hard labor. So he went back home in South Africa to wait some more.
After another four-hour wait we boarded the flight for Mauritius, 90 minutes to the east.
Walking out of the airport, I walked from air conditioning to the heavy tropical evening air. And I felt myself relax. Mauritius is a vacation destination, used to tourists and quite safe. I won’t have to watch my back all the time here, or worry to the same extent about health issues. Street food would be pretty safe to eat, though I’ll still take reasonable precautions. I did see several warnings about Chikungunya in magazines and in the airport, though, so I’ll have to avoid mosquito bites as much as possible. Chikungunya is a mosquito borne disease (a daytime-biting mosquito, different from the one that spreads malaria) that really plagued Mauritius in 2005 and 2006. The name comes from an African language (from Tanzania and Mozambique) and means “that which bends up,” because of the crippling joint pain it causes for weeks, months or even years. There’s no cure, so prevention is the key.
I signed all the papers to get the keys to a rental car, and waited while the attendant hunted all over the parking lot for it. When he finally found it and I drove out I concentrated mentally on driving on the left side of the road. It takes a few minutes to get back into that habit, and even then I know that for at least several days I will be turning on the windshield wipers when I want to turn on the turn signals.
It was right at 19:00 when I drove out; the sun was almost down and the sky was a beautiful tropical mix of reds, yellows, and deep blue. I was checked into the hotel an hour later, dropped my luggage and walked quickly down the street to a favorite Indian restaurant for a decent if fast dinner. It’s been about 20 hours since I left the hotel in Bujumbura and I’ve had a total of two or three hours sleep in that time, so I should sleep well tonight.