Friday, February 22, 2013

No Straight Road to Malawi

I left Orlando on Tuesday morning, February 19, 2013.  I flew to Detroit and waited 3 1/2 hours.  Then I flew 8 hours to Paris.  The plane was 3/4 empty so I got 4 seats to myself.  It was lovely.

I waited 4 hours then got aboard a Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi.  I'd have a 9 hour layover there before heading on to Malawi, via Zambia.

In Nairobi, I immediately headed to the transfer desk to get my boarding pass for the flight to Lilongwe. No problem.  Luckily, I looked it over carefully rather than stuffing it in my purse, which is what I usually do. I noticed the date was for Feb. 22 rather than Feb. 21.  No problem, they'd reprint it for the following morning.  But it wouldn't print.

That's when the guys at Kenya Airways realized their airline had cancelled all flights into Malawi because the airport were closed due to a government workers strike.  THE DAY BEFORE!

After two hours in the airport, trying to sort things out, I got a Kenyan transit visa and headed to a taxi for a hotel and a much needed shower and sleep.

But the driver couldn't find the hotel I'd booked (recommended by Challenges Worldwide, the org I'm working with).  We drove around for an hour and finally found it.  There was no check in process since it was now 1:00 a.m. and everyone but the guard was a sleep.  He just showed me the room and handed me the key.

Sadly, there was no bottled water available.  My fault for not bringing one.  There also wasn't a towel.  Or screens on the windows or a mosquito net for the bed but the bedding was clean and I crashed about 2:00 a.m.

The next morning I walked ten minutes to a small nearby plaza to get Kenyan cash and use the internet.  But the internet was closed.  I did get shampoo and deoderant, since mine were in the "big bag" which is being held at the airport.  Luckily, I brought extra clothes and stuff in my carry on.

I walked back to the hotel and made arrangements for a car/driver for four hours.  We went to the elephant sanctuary where they rescue baby elephants and rhinos.   No rhinos, but 20 young elephants, the youngest being 2 months.  So cute.  On the way, I took photos of monkees hanging around.

On to the the national park where I discovered that yes, we could drive through, but I would have to pay for myself, the car and the driver and to actually see any animals we'd have to get out and walk around the park, hoping to spot one of the big five.  Between the high price and thought of wandering around calling "Here, kittie" in the hopes of seeing a lion, I passed.

Instead we went to the giraffe sanctuary.  It cost about $15 to get in but I really wanted to see giraffes, since they don't have any in Malawi - they do have "the big five" there, so I'll see them near Blantryre.

A bit disappointing that the giraffe place consisted of a tower you climbed so you could be eye to eye with a giraffe.  I was given a handful of pellets and told to place them one at a time on the giraffe's tongue.  There was one giraffe being fed by about two dozen humans.  I fed him all mine then washed the giraffe spit off my hands.  It only took 15 minutes but was fun.  Plus, I got some photos of giraffes standing off in the distance and plan to pass them off as being in the wild.

On our way to lunch we stopped at a crafts place.  I am proud to say I just looked.  There were so many things there I wanted but prices here are not cheap and I have limited luggage space.  Plus, this was day one in Africa and I'll be here for 3 months.

I'd asked the driver about Kenyan food and asked if he could take me someplace for the real deal.  He so outdid himself.  He took me to a place where I saw no other tourists but a lot of happy locals.  There were about 8 grills set up cooking beef and goat.  I got a goat leg, which I split with Joseph, my driver. At his suggestion I also got one of the staples here, which is ground maize mixed with boiling water than pressed into a thick slab.  I also got another common side dish which was chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro and some kick ass chiles.  The food was delicious.  I couldn't eat it all so gave what was left (about half) to the nice desk clerk at the hostel where I'm staying.

Later, I spent way too much money to take a taxi to use the internet which was frustrating.  I couldn't get any information on the airport situation in Malawi and didn't know if I should head to the airport Friday morning or not.  Luckily, the staff at Challenges Worldwide were on top of things.  I asked them to continue checking and call the hotel to give me an update.

While all this was going on at the cyber cafe, I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me.  He's from India, here on business. He let me use his phone to contact Kenya Airways (no answer) and gave me his card and promised to help in any way he could.

Since they were also unable to reach Kenya Airways from Scotland, I headed back to the hostel, hoping to get a phone call.  Shortly after I arrived, I got the call but the connection was terrible.  I just heard "airport still closed...maybe Monday...check email."

This morning I used local transport through VERY crowded roads to get to a Kenya Airways office.  They checked and the airport is reopening in Malawi and I have a boarding pass for Saturday, Feb. 23, which is a good thing, since that's the day my transit visa expires in Kenya.

The plan is that I'll spend tomorrow in Lilongwe and then travel by bus to Blantyre early Sunday morning.  Assuming the buses run on Sundays.

The trip didn't go as planned, exactly, but I did get a chance to see a bit of Nairobi and I'm safe and sound.  All is well.

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