This blog entry about the events of Friday, December 30, 2011 was originally posted on January 01, 2012.
DAY 1: “Trinidad?” asked the KLM agent reading my passport at JFK’s Terminal 4. She had a coffee complexion and her name tag read “Donna Marie M.”
“Yeah,” I replied. I’d heard this interest before; she was either Trinidadian or…
“Are you related to the boxer?”
“No,” I said, smirking. “I wish I was.”
“So you could get some of that money, huh?” She continued with the mildly flirtatious small talk as she checked me in for my three flights: JFK to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Kigali (Rwanda), which would refuel and continue to my final destination of Entebbe, the main airport about an hour out of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.
“Nah, he probably wouldn’t give me any [money],” I entertained Donna Marie M.
“Maybe if you were his brother.”
“Maybe,” I said. She took my bag in on the conveyor belt and printed out my boarding passes as I revised my answer. “Actually he wouldn’t,” I said. “He’d still realize what a scumbag I am.”
Donna Marie M. chuckled. “I need you to take your bag to number five,” she instructed me, pointing to the TSA baggage drop off.
I had hours to kill before take off, which I had planned as I like taking advantage of the Amex privilege of open bars in airport lounges (see video), sort of like George Clooney in Up In The Air. I wasn’t alone; coincidentally my friend Lana had just landed in New York from Seattle and replied to one of my last minute “Happy New Year"s texts, only to be in the same terminal as me. We caught up over wines and DIY micheladas while trying to come up with names for a company start up. Perhaps it was too good of a time because I lost track of the hours and almost missed my flight because of what looked like an hour-long queue at security; six flight-loads of people were to leave at once — including the El Al flight to Tel Aviv — but fortunately a KLM agent collected their last passengers to cut the line. (It’s in an airline’s interest to do so because missing passengers means time wasted to get their bags off, which ultimately leads to a delayed flight.)
“Happy New Year,” Donna Marie M. wished me as she took my boarding pass at Gate B24.
“Happy New Year.”
The red eye to Amsterdam Schiphol was quick — so quick that we arrived an hour ahead of schedule when it was still dark out. I went right back to the open bar of an airport lounge as if the flight over the Atlantic never happened.
“HOW ARE YOU DOING?” I asked the African man sitting next to me as we boarded the flight to Kigali, Rwanda (picture above). I soon found out he would be much more of a conversationalist than the empty seat on the trans-Atlantic flight.
“I’m tired,” he said. His name was Paulie and had also been in transit from a connecting flight from Spain where he had been taking a training course. “Are you going to Kigali?”
“Entebbe,” I answered. “You’re going to Kigali?”
“First to Kigali, then I stay there a night and then I go to Congo,” Paulie told me. “I am from Congo.”
I was intrigued; I was sitting next to someone from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country still with civil unrest just on the other side of the border with Rwanda and Uganda. “Where do you live in Congo?”
“Goma.” (It’s a peaceful town near the border with Rwanda, so I’ve been told.)
“How is it there?”
“[Eh, there is tension from Kabila in power,]” he said before going on a rant about the recent unrest in his home country, this time spawned from elections which international critics have deeded “lacking credibility.” Incumbent President Joseph Kabila won by a “landslide,” giving challenger Etienne Tshisekedi no chance of power — possibly because of rigging the election, or threatening in votes.
Now that’s a real scumbag.
“Right, you just had elections there. And now there’s tension?”
He explained that politics in his country werent so easy; even if the disliked party isn’t elected, that party is going to cause a stir up. “That’s the thing with African elections,” he told me. “[If they don’t like the result, there will be tension.]”
THE FLIGHT CONTINUED over Europe and then over Africa. We killed the 8 hrs in transit with food, movies, naps, and occasional conversation.
“First time going to Kampala?” Paulie asked me.
He’d been there and described it as an energetic city; not only has it been a haven for Congolese refugees, but has become a hub for travelers in the region. “[It’s a good time.] Very international. Lots of movement.”
Paulie got off at Kigali. We wished each other well before parting ways. I remained on the plane during refueling and was soon joined by young Englishman Dave on his way home, who raved about his stay in Kigali — one that mostly consisted of bars, restaurants, and a massage parlor. Our conversations were brief; the flight to Entebbe, Uganda was only 35 minutes — about half as long as it took to get through immigration and baggage claim. Dave continued on the plane back to Europe.
Once out in the Entebbe’s airport arrivals area, there was a swarm of people, some holding signs for pick-ups. I had arranged with the hostel for an airport transfer, but could not find my name. Not a “Trinidad” anywhere. First things first though; I needed cash.
The first ATM only had the Visa logo on it. And my MasterCard-linked Citibank card failed to work. Same on the second ATM. And the next one.
Fuck, I thought to myself. Hadn’t I learned the first time? There are no MasterCard-based ATMs in central Africa.
A man in a blue shirt came to me and suggested I try another machine on the other side of the small airport. It too failed to work; I wasn’t too worried because I anticipated this and had enough foreign currency to last me a while. Fortunately, the fifth and final ATM did have a MasterCard logo (Stansic Bank) and I was in business.
“Do you need a taxi?” asked the man in the blue shirt.
“No I have a driver,” I said, convinced I was telling the truth. But after searching half an hour inside and out for a sign with my name on it, I realized that there was no driver. Avoiding all the taxi touts, I went to the official airport transfer desk.
“Do you know if there’s a transport here from the Kampala Backpackers?” I inquired.
They laughed in confusion. “Backpackers don’t normally send taxis.”
“But I have an email.”
After a little bickering and a failed attempt at a phone call, it didn’t change the fact that I needed a ride into Kampala, about an hour away. It was already almost midnight. “How much?”
“Forty dollars.” (About $5 more than the hostel was charging).
I was led down a dark pathway away from everyone, which seemed sketchy, but it was fine; it only lead to the lot of the official taxis. Soon we were out of the airport and into Uganda.
UGANDA LIES IN ONE OF THE CONTINENT’S TERRITORIES which was colonized since the 16th century — although most of Africa was colonized by Europe so that’s not much of a distinction. It was the British that claimed the area for the King, but in 1962 it was given independence and the nation of Uganda was born. The mark of the British is still present though, and I learn this immediately when I entered the taxi’s front passenger seat from the left side. The driver drove on the right side, on the left side of the road.
And the right. And the left. And the right, and the left again. That guy swerved in and out of traffic with the passing lane like he was in a race or something, leapfrogging through slow-moving cars, switching his high beams off an on as needed. What made it more thrilling was the fact that he was listening to a football (soccer) radio telecast at the same time, and the announcer was doing a play by play of players advancing the field over the white noise of crowd cheers and chatter.
In no time I was at the Kampala’s original budget hostel, Backpackers Kampala, and checked in at the desk, wondering why they hadn’t picked me up at the airport. And before I could say anything I pulled out my printout of the reservation and realized that I had failed to factor in the 24 hours of transit; I arrived on the 30th, NOT the 29th when I departed. I apologized over and over and fortunately, they did not charge me for the night I’d missed.
The hostel was grimly dead that late night; my room was humble but sufficient with a mosquito net. I got a local Bell beer and used a computer in the lobby, which initially only showed my Facebook feed in a non-graphical text format. The next morning things were looking better; the place was more alive with people coming, going, staying, or lounging around the hostel gardens and patios on a sunny day. I extended my stay another night.
“Trinidad?” said Evie, the lovely Ugandan woman of the morning staff at the desk. “Oh, so YOU were the one that was missing. We were looking all over for you, at the airport.”
I felt bad. Man, I guess I really am a scumbag.
Amongst the names of start-ups that Lana and I discussed, the most amusing was “Price Righteous, Inc.”
Next entry: The King and I
Previous entry: Getting Ready for the African Rainforest
More to come… Happy New Year!
Posted by on 01/01 at 07:18 AM
Next up: The King and I
Posted by on 01/01 at 07:29 AM
First! Looking forward to another exciting blog! Safe Travels!
Posted by on 01/01 at 08:48 AM
YAY, and Erik blog!! That looks like one of my rooms here in Khao Lak…
Posted by Noelle on 01/01 at 08:59 AM
Posted by on 01/01 at 09:37 AM
The King and I
Getting Ready for the African Rainforest
THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY
Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year.