|AFRICA DAY 17 - MOSHI TO DENVER|
Monday, July 11 & Tuesday, July 12
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We could sleep in a bit today - so we set the alarm for 7:30am to get up for breakfast. I slept pretty well, and didn't even have to do battle with any mosquitoes overnight. After getting ready I went up to the restaurant where most of the group was already eating. The night before 11 of us had decided to head into the city of Moshi for a little while this morning before heading to the airport, so I made arrangements (working with the lodge staff) for a large taxi van to take us in (and bring us back). Shortly after eating the taxi/van arrived early, so the 11 of us squeezed into the 9 actual seats for the short ride into the city.
We got dropped off shortly after 9:00am and I talked to the driver to make sure he would pick us back up at 11am at the same location. I had collected money from the group as we were leaving ($3/person round-trip was what we had agreed upon) but didn't pay the driver yet - telling him we would pay when we got back to the lodge as a type of insurance to ensure he would pick us up.
A few people grabbed some money from the nearby ATM and the others scattered in small groups. Randy, Nikki, and I headed off down the road, stopping in a few souvenir shops and picking up a couple things. We all got what we were looking for - I got some magnets to complete my collection along with a map of Kilimanjaro marking the hiking routes and destination points that I plan to hang in my home office along with my completion certificate. Nikki and I had been looking at some Tanzanite stones - me as a gift for Crystal, and Nikki to set as a ring or necklace centerpiece to go with diamonds removed from a no-longer needed wedding ring.
Since Crystal was unable to come to Tanzania with me - I was hoping to bring a little Tanzania back to her. Tanzanite is a rare gem (some estimates place it as more than 1000 times rarer than diamonds) found primarily in Tanzania and is getting close to being mined-out.
We finally found a good place (following the recommendation from a tourist information center) and made a deal with the salesman, who then hurriedly filled out the certificates of authenticity (to certify as legitimate the Tanzanite - there is a problem with counterfeit stones) as we needed to get back to the meeting place. We were running a few minutes late, so Randy went ahead to let the others know we weren't far behind. The credit card machine at that store wasn't working at the time (a common occurrence) so we caught a quick ride the few blocks down the street with the salesman in his Land Cruiser to another shop they partner with to run the credit card. The shop was located in the building right next to our pickup spot so it was quite convenient as well. After getting the payment taken care of we walked the short distance to meet the rest of the group.
The group was sitting at an outside table by the bank with no taxi in sight to take us back to the lodge. It was now 11:10, and we gave him until 11:20 to show up. When that didn't happen, I negotiated another ride back with a taxi van that was waiting nearby ($20 total). This van was labeled "God is Great" across the top of the front windshield. All of the vans/taxis and buses seem to have names - some of them rather creative. We all crowded into this one (it was a bit smaller than our first van, but not that much smaller) and made it back to the AMEG in a few minutes time.
I paid the driver and gave $1 refunds to the rest of the group to cover the price difference. We had about a half an hour until our ride to the airport was scheduled to arrive, so I did some last minute packing and brought out the bags to the front to get loaded on the bus.
We took off right on time at just after noon. Although our flight wasn't until 3:30pm, Mike wanted to make sure we got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, given that some of his previous experiences flying out had encountered major delays at the local airport. We also finally got to see Kili (from somewhere other than actually on it) for the first time. On the ride to the airport for a few minutes the peak poked out between and above the clouds, towering over the horizon. It was nice to finally see it as it said goodbye to us.
When we got to the airport it was pretty empty, though we did end up waiting in line to check in for almost half an hour (it was unstaffed for most of that time, with no one from the airline seemingly concerned). After getting our boarding passes and checking luggage, we got our passports stamped by immigration and spent some time sitting around and looking in the shops before going through security. Leaving Moshi it was the same process as in London - security is just like in the U.S. but you don't have to remove your shoes. We reached the gate 50 feet later (only one gate was operational at the time so everyone left through the same door to walk across the tarmac to their plane) where I did some writing before it was time to board.
We got on the plane just after 3:00pm. Unfortunately, I had a seat on the left side of the plane, which meant I wouldn't be able to see Kili through my window as we passed to the west side heading north to Nairobi. The mountain was just visible through the haze above the clouds and I was able to catch a quick glance or two through the opposite windows. After the plane aborted its first landing attempt due to congestion on the ground (no danger - we were still several thousand feet up) and flying in a holding pattern for a few minutes we landed an hour after leaving.
We came in at Gate 3 on one end of the terminal (Gates 1 and 2 don't seem to exist) and walked to the other end past Gate 14 to what seems to be the only restaurant (really a cafe) in the entire airport. I dropped off my pack with the group and went for a short walk through the terminal, picking up a Kenya magnet and a bottle of water. I also changed my seat from the middle to an aisle to give myself a little more breathing room. I went back to take my turn as baggage sentry while a few others explored and changed their seats (it seems almost everyone in our group was given a middle seat).
I did some writing and got a bite to eat (an adequate but not that good turkey sandwich with roasted potatoes, but a pretty good apple pie and chocolate croissant a few of us shared), having now successfully killed about half of the seven hour layover. After doing a bit more writing I still had three hours to go.
I alternated "exploring" (walking) and reading Nikki's Newsweek magazine. We headed over to the gate area around 10:30 pm and sat for a while before going through security and boarding the plane. At the Nairobi airport each gate has its own security checks, though you can at least bring on water if purchased in the terminal. When we took off right on time I had the front row (with a lot of leg room) all to myself - though someone did come up in the same row after takeoff.
I tried to sleep on the plane but it didn't work out too well. Sleeping on a plane is never a great experience in coach - not even with a lot of legroom. I never could get very comfortable in the seat despite being quite tired.
I woke up for good just as we were over Italy, about an hour and a half from landing in London. I spent a good portion of that time just standing in front of my seat as I was tired of sitting uncomfortably for the last six hours. The flight attendants came through shortly later to collect blankets and headsets. After holding for a short while we landed at Heathrow right on time.
I was the first of our group off the plane and waited for the rest. Once we were all assembled we started the walk through Terminal 3 headed for Terminal 4 - which ended up being a very long walk followed by a bus ride to the other terminal. We then went through security again to enter the other terminal where we could check in for our flight back to the states.
As we were checking in we found out that our flight leaving London was delayed by over an hour - making it practically impossible for us to be able to make our next flight to Denver. In Dallas we need to clear Customs, get our luggage and re-check it (although going to Africa our bags were checked all the way through, on the way back the U.S. requires us to collect them and then re-check) and get to our gate which simply wasn't going to happen in only an hour. So we worked with the agents at the American Airlines desk to book us on the next flight to Denver from Dallas at 5:15pm (instead of the original 3:30pm), which would unfortunately mean we would get home quite a bit later, but would make it more likely we could actually make the flight. She didn't remove any of us from the original Dallas to Denver flight just in case we were able to make it somehow.
After getting all of that taken care of we headed to The Bridge restaurant Mike had recommended to get some breakfast. I had the "Hash Brunch" - scrambled eggs served over potatoes with tomato and avocado salsa and spinach - it was quite tasty. By this time they had finally announced the gate for our flight (it was now about 3:30pm - the originally scheduled departure time) so Randy and I headed to the gate. When we got there the plane was there, though the crew was still waiting to board so apparently it wasn't quite ready yet.
One annoying thing about the Nairobi and London airports was how the gates work. In the US, the "gate" is just a bunch of seats by the door to board the plane, but once there you can still use the restrooms, get food, visit shops, walk the concourse, etc. In both London and Nairobi the gate was a separated area, walled or roped off, from which once you entered you didn't leave except to board the plane.
We did board a short time later, but after everyone was seated and ready to leave the captain informed us that the delay was due to the plane arriving late and then the mechanics needed to finish up some paperwork. A few minutes later he explained that the issue was with the lavatory system and that it would now need to be fixed before leaving, and would take almost an hour to complete (to a collective groan from the passengers). This of course meant we had no chance of making our first flight to Denver and would need to take the later flight. We did finally get going around noon London time - 2 ½ hours later than originally scheduled.
The flight would take a little over nine hours to reach Dallas. I killed the time by reading a free copy of the Daily Mail newspaper I picked up in London and by watching the movies available on the setback screen - I watched "Limitless", "Barney's Version", "The Lincoln Lawyer", and a documentary about the Rift Valley in Africa. At one point the big guy next to me (flying from Baghdad) freaked out a bit when waking up - wondering where he was and what was going on. I talked to him, explaining we were on a plane heading back to the US, and calmed him down. He later mentioned he was former military and had taken an Ambien to help him sleep on the flight, so I'm not sure whether it was the drug or his military service (or both) that caused his issue.
We got into Dallas at around 3:20pm, having made pretty good time on the flight. The heat (it was 99 degrees) hit me as soon as we reached the jetway - it was much hotter here than anything we had felt on the Equator in Africa. Getting through Immigration was quick and I headed to baggage claim to get my bags. We couldn't check our bags all the way to Denver as the US requires bags to clear Customs at the first stateside entrance. Both of my bags arrived pretty quickly and I cleared the Customs check without issue.
I was then off to the American Airlines desk to check in for the flight (in London I didn't get an actual seat assignment) and check a bag. After completing that process I joined Jeff and Gail on the skylink to connect to Terminal C for our departure. I splurged on a pretzel and a milkshake at the gate (I had skipped the awful looking and smelling "pizza" they were serving at the end of the last flight), leaving myself with my last $2.75 in American cash (along with token amounts of British, Kenyan, and Tanzanian currencies). We boarded shortly later.
I had a window seat in an exit row - a pretty nice arrangement. In the aisle seat was a very tall man, and the middle seat was occupied by a very large woman who complained about how tiny the American Airlines seats were. Clearly it wasn't the fact that she was 100+ pounds overweight that was the issue - it must have been the seats. Our flight back was uneventful, and we arrived in Denver on time.
I met Crystal at the baggage claim and shortly later we were on our way home. We gave Nikki a ride back (she lives very close to us) before heading to the house. It was a great trip, but it's always nice to come home.
Mt. Kilimanjaro (viewed from near Moshi)
Mt. Kilimanjaro (Black & White)
(viewed from near Moshi)
Leaving Tanzania (Mt. Kilimanjaro Airport)
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