One of those longest days...

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End May 01, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hotel Dolce Vita Resort

Flag of Burundi  , Bujumbura Mairie,
Thursday, April 21, 2011

What a long day this has been. I woke early this morning and checked my e-mail right away. There was a schedule change for my Air Madagascar flights. I was supposed to have left at 10:30, had a quick turn-around in Antananarivo (often called Tana for obvious reasons), the capital of Madagascar, and then the three-hour flight to Nairobi. This was to allow me an 7-hour layover in Nairobi before the flight to Bujumbura, enough time to go into town for dinner with some church-member friends. The new schedule called for a four-hour layover in Tana, and then a four-hour layover in Nairobi – not enough time to go into town with reasonable assurance of being able to be back at the airport in time to complete formalities and make the flight. I sent off e-mails to let my Kenyan friends know I wouldn't be able to join them for dinner, and finished my departure preparations.

I left the hotel 3 hours before my flight, normally plenty of time to make the 40 minute drive to the airport. But there was a light rain falling, which snarled traffic quite effectively. It took me nearly half an hour to go the mile or so to the motorway (British English for highway). I wasted no time on the drive to the south tip of the island where the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (try pronouncing that a few times…) International Airport is located. I  wasn't going to arrive very late, but as a precaution, as I drove in I phoned the rental car company attendant to come pick up the vehicle at the departure unloading zone. He arrived on foot shortly after I pulled in, checked the car, and came to me with the signed papers absolving me of any harm to the car as I waited in line to check in.

I cleared departure formalities quickly and spent a short hour waiting in the departure lounge for the Air Madagascar flight to Tana. It was a prop-plane and fairly full, but we left and arrived on time, 90 minutes later at 12:30. Then I had to cool my heels in the rather bare departure lounge, where the snack bar didn’t open until 2:00 pm. It only offered sandwiches and chips to eat…. My connecting flight on an ATR smallish jet left at 16:30, arriving in Nairobi three hours later. The Nairobi airport is not especially user friendly, it’s quite old and wasn’t designed with its current traffic load in mind, but it is certainly exotic. Flights are announced to major cities on almost all the continents, and to safari destinations, war zones, and pirate dens (like Mogadishu). People of every imaginable variety move through the corridors, wearing among other things chic short dresses, turbans, ball caps, floor-length robes (these are men), shorts and flip-flops, hiking gear and boots, prayer beads, safari vests and more. They jostle each other, apologize in incomprehensible languages, purchase duty free items, drink Tusker or espresso or chai, pray and try to sleep on hard plastic chairs.

This is where I waited and started writing of this account, until just before midnight, when we were finally allowed to pull our luggage out across the tarmac to the Kenya Airways 737. The night was pleasantly cool and I could smell the nearby savannah (when the jet fuel wasn’t too overpowering) that brings back so many pleasant memories of rural Kenya and photo safaris. We flew 90 minutes across Lake Victoria to Kigali, waited nearly an hour on the ground and then made the short hop to Bujumbura, arriving at about 02:00 (with a time change). I took advantage of knowing my way around and filled out my arrival form as I was walking, so I was first in line to clear immigration. Suitcases, and taped up boxed and mail pouches and various other items rolled out on the conveyor belt. My suitcase did not. As I was waiting a uniformed gendarme walked up to me and held out a paper with my name on it. "Oui, c’est moi" I said. He continued in French “there is a driver waiting for you, I will take you to him when you have your suitcase.” I thanked him, knowing that if I let him lead me outside to the driver who would be openly holding up a paper with my name on it (impossible to miss) he would expect a “tip” for his invaluable service.

While we waited, an official came to the belt, stuck her head through the small door to look behind the scenes and then announced “that’s it, all the suitcases have come.” The belt stopped moving, Mine bag hadn’t come, so I walked over to the lost luggage desk and started giving my information to report lost suitcase. About halfway through the process, the conveyor belt fired up again and there came my suitcase.

I slipped quickly out before the gendarme could “help” me, and sure enough the driver from the hotel was there.  We drove through the dark quiet streets of Bujumbura to the hotel where, due the late (actually early) hour they simply handed me a key and let me go to my room. I’ll worry about all the formalities tomorrow.
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Thanks Mr. Meeker...fascinating account of your recent trip...I felt like I was there, watching & observing what's happening...

Ted Franek on

It's a delight to hear of your travels . The Savannah must have a very unique aroma to bring such clear memories to mind. Much like the smell of fresh baled hay brings flash backs of farm life. Thanks for your deligent efforts in sending these very detailed reports.

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