Thursday, December 18, 2014

Puddle Jumper to Saadani

In order to get to our first lodge, Room with a View, in the Saadani National Park, we had to take a little puddle jumper, 15 seat plane.  Now, I’m not a good flyer on any day and this flight had me stressed from the moment I booked it.  But in order to squeeze in 2 ½ days of safari, it was necessary for us to fly instead of drive to Saadani (which takes about 4 – 5 hours from Dar es Salaam). 

On the way to the airport we were struck by the poverty in the area.  Not only tons of people crammed on buses, but many were also just sitting together under trees on the side of the road.  Buildings were run down as was everything around us.  It saddened me to no end to see people having to live this way.  Again, I wish I had taken some pictures but there never seemed to be the right opportunity.  Our driver did tell us that schools there often had 100 kids in a class – this is in the city!  And to do private school is very costly.  I don’t even know how it came up but regardless of how, this statistic is dumbfounding as I don’t know how any student can learn and hope to improve their situation when in that kind of environment.

Not to be dismissive (because I plan to come back to the poverty again later in another entry), but back to the flight.  Years ago, Josh and I went to the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas.  In order to get there, we had to take a puddle jumper from Miami to Grand Abaco.  In addition to the pizza that the pilot had on his dashboard, there were also crashed planes in the marsh right before the runway when we were landing.  That does not give one a warm and fuzzy feeling about flying in small planes. 

Anyways, I was definitely anxious about this flight.  We got to the domestic airport and just had to laugh.  I mean really, sometimes things can be so outside of your comfort zone that the only thing you can do is laugh.  We walked into the entrance and immediately were faced with a bag xray and the security gate to walk through.  We put our bag thru and no one even acknowledged us as we walked thru the metal detector.  It was like walking into a small government building in a sense though even those have more security than this did.  We walked the only way we could and came to a check in desk, old school style.  They wrote our names on a list and told us to put our luggage in a pile behind us and they would come and get it.  Now, this isn’t a big airport but there were at least 15 other people  and I didn’t need my luggage to go to the other side of the country.  So I made Josh stand by it til they came to tag it. 

The baggage area

Funny enough the waiting room did have AC unlike the international terminal.  And at 8AM, you most definitely needed it!  Talk about your intense heat here!  We waited about an hour for our flight (we were way too early in this case!) and finally walked out to our plane.

The waiting area

The AC unit in the waiting area

Pretty much the whole terminal right here...

It was little!  The kids didn’t seem bothered by it and even Aidan said “Mom, we all have to get over our fears sometime”.  Oh that kid!  But he’s right.  I didn’t think all the people in line would fit on this little plane but they did, seated shoulder to shoulder.  I was dismayed when the pilot told us that this flight would have 2 stops – the first in Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania, and then to Saadani.  Unfortunately for me, our stop was Saadani.  That meant two take offs and landings!!!  The whole trip would only take 45 minutes to get to make both stops though so at least that was a relief.

Our plane... yikes!

Liam thought the flight was "epic"

I squeezed my eyes shut for the take off and in all honesty, the first 10 minutes of the flight.  I was picturing in my head that we were on a 757 jet which made me feel a little better.  Eventually though, I couldn’t help but be tempted to look out the window, knowing we would be flying at a much lower elevation than the big jets do, and wanting to see the scenery around us.  Unfortunately that scenery was the Indian Ocean (which was incredibly beautiful though) which panicked me a little more because there was some fog and all I could think of was JFK Jr. and his plane going down over the Vineyard because of fog.  Fuck! 

Thankfully the fog cleared up (we did have some more on the way to Saadani) and we were awestruck by the beauty that is Zanzibar and it’s coastline.  We landed in a small local airport and within 5 minutes we were taking off again to Saadani, the four of us being the only passengers on board along with the pilot. 

Up close to the pilot... not much of a stretch given how small the plane was!


View of Zanzibar ahead

Zanzibar closer up... maybe a little too close!

I knew in advance we would be landing on a grass runway but nothing can really prepare you for the sight of it coming up in front of you.  It was less bumpy than I would imagine, but all I could think of was how are the wheel struts holding up to the impact on the uneven ground.  But we made it and it was the only puddle jumper flight we had to take during the trip so I’m calling it a victory. 

As we come over the coast near Saadani - notice no homes, etc - just wide open land

Do you see that clearing straight ahead in light green?  Yup, that's our runway!

Waiting for us was a safari jeep.  There were no buildings, no attendants, nothing.  Just a simple grass runway and a jeep.  Need I say it again… We’re not in Kansas anymore!  I knew it would be a small airstrip but I didn’t expect just a jeep.  We met our guide who told us that we would not be going straight to the lodge but instead would do a full day safari today including our river safari and then a game drive before returning to the lodge in the early evening (our original plan was a 1/2 day safari followed by 2 full days so they reversed it).

The airstrip

Our ride awaits

The "epic" safari jeep

I can’t say we were prepared to jump right into a safari – thankfully we were dressed somewhat appropriately (and to be honest, we never left the jeep so we really could have worn whatever) though had no sunblock or bug spray on and then needed to find our hats, etc.  So it was a little chaotic for a few moments trying to organize ourselves and then we were off to our next adventure!!  River safari here we come!!



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