Monday, January 5, 2015

The Long Road Home

When we embarked on our adventure to Tanzania, we knew there would be a bit of travel involved. But we didn't think much about it because the front part of the trip had all the travel broken down into more than one day, so it didn't feel like much.  However, the trip back home was another story.

When I was planning this trip, I really didn't want to take the small "lightweight" aircraft at all.  The only reason I conceded was because it meant we got an extra day of safari in, so it made better use of our time there.  But the trade for me was that we could drive back to Dar es Salaam for the trip back. Since our flight wasn't til midnight, we figured this was actually better use of our time since it was our understanding that the only flight out each day was in the early morning and we didn't want to have 14 hours sitting in the airport, especially the one in Dar es Salaam which is the smallest and least updated airport that we've ever been in - again, recognizing that we are in a third world country.

But anyways, that was our plan.  We arranged through the Tides to have someone drive us back to Dar es Salaam on our last day.  I was told it was about a 4 1/2 hour drive so we figured if we left in early afternoon, we'd still be early for our flight (way early) but we'd get there before dark which was important.  Only when I spoke to the manager to confirm this was all set, he said that the journey was actually more like 7 hours.  It turns out it's only 4 1/2 if you go thru Saadani park but that this driver did not want to (or perhaps could not because of the type of vehicle?) go thru the park and so it would be 7. 7 hours in a car is a lot different than 4 1/2, especially when you have a 9 hour flight ahead of you.

We were told that there was actually a mid afternoon flight back to Dar es Salaam that would get us in around 5PM.  Though it was the morning of our departure, our hosts called the airline (this is where being in a third world benefits us because communication is much easier in a sense for last minute things like this) to see if we could get a flight out that afternoon.  And yes, though it would cost us more than the drive, it was worth it to not have to sit in a car on a dirt road for multiple hours.  Even I, who does not like to fly, felt relieved that we could get this done faster.

But what to do during the time in between the flight arriving and our midnight flight?  The managers said there was a transit motel right by the airport that we could book for the day.  It sounded shady (having seen Dar es Salaam) but a better option than sitting in a non air conditioned airport for 7 hours before our flight.  So we secured that as well and by mid afternoon we were off...

We flew out of a different airstrip than we arrived on 9 days before but it had the same look and feel as the previous one... it was grass... and we were the only ones there with the exception of the "attendant" who promptly upon our arrival, opened the front door of the jeep and proceeded to lay down for a nap.

We have arrived at the airstrip

The runway

Waiting in the "lounge"

I actually feel sick to my stomach here, not from nerves but Montezuma's revenge... another reason to not want to do the 7 hour drive.

Liam is taking pictures

Our flight arriving


And we're ready to head home!

We made it to Dar es Salaam quickly and headed out to the taxi stand.  This was unlike any taxi stand I ever had seen.  There was a man at a desk with a massive journal in front of him where he wrote down what taxis were going where and how much they were to charge the customers.  We told him where we were going and he immediately said $10.  I felt it was a bit much given it was less than a mile away but also didn't feel that we had much leverage to argue since we were most definitely not going to be walking it (and not because we couldn't physically do it, but because of safety).  And so we conceded and I'm glad we did.

I didn't take any pictures but I wish I did.  The Transit Motel was in the sketchiest area I have ever been in, in my entire life.  No exaggeration.  I felt fearful and very uncomfortable.  We went from the main paved road down a pothole filled dirt road that was lined with people selling their goods on tables, ramshackle buildings and extreme poverty wherever the eye could see.  The people didn't seem to notice us which was fine by me but it made me anxious to see where we were going to end up for this motel.  I tried to google earth it to give you a better idea of what was by us, but I couldn't get a street view (or else I was doing something wrong which is possible too).

Thankfully the motel was in a gated area and while it wasn't the best place we've ever stayed in, the room was clean and they had free wifi so we could all take a nap and connect with our ipads, computers, etc until we had to leave for the airport at 10PM.  The power went out once, thankfully they had a generator as I could feel the panic coming up in my throat when the power shut off.  It was one thing to have no power in a secluded beach lodge, another in the city.  I had a lot of snacks still that I had packed in the Netherlands and that became our dinner as I was extremely concerned of the food in this motel and if we would get sick from it - yes, I know that's a bit extreme, but if you'd been there, you probably would have felt the same.  So granola bars and stale pita chips it was.

Finally 10PM came along and our original taxi came back to take us the short 1 mile to the airport. The market area was still bustling even this late at night which surprised me.  Checking in, we weighed our bags on an old fashioned scale that had hands pointing to the numbers rather than anything electronic. Thankfully our bag tags came from the computer though someone manually took the bags rather than them going on a belt.  Given there were only 6 gates in the entire airport, they probably didn't need to go very far.

Surprisingly we went thru security checks several times.  This was interesting considering how lax they seemed to be upon our arrival 10 days before.  Their technology still didn't seem as modern as what we have in Europe or the US, but the fact that they were on top of things was still impressive.

We still had a bit of time to wait for the flight and the kids had been amazing the entire long day but their patience was wearing thin.  When our flight was finally called, the last flight of the night, we were all relieved to know that our 20 hour day only had 9 (hopefully sleep filled) hours left to go.  Liam was asleep in moments and slept the majority of the flight.  Aidan watched tv for about 45 minutes before dozing off, also for the majority of the flight.  Josh and I slept in fits and bursts but nothing consistent - 9 hours is a long flight.

But by 7:30AM we were landing and we were home, back to the freezing cold but back to our "normal" lives with only 2 days to go until Christmas.  Having been near the equator in 90 degree temps with the sun shining every day, we almost forgot that Christmas was just around the corner.  So back to normal but excited for the next few days - vacation isn't totally over yet, right???


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