Tuesday, September 18, 2012
MAKING MY WAY BACK TO AFRICA-ETHIOPIA AND ZEME
WEATHER: 20 hours on the go-who care’s
HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: Finally getting to Addis-after delays
BUMMER OF THE DAY: The worst flight I have ever had out of 67 flights
WORD OF THE DAY: Are we there yet?
DISTANCE TRAVELLED: 6578km
Today I head back to Africa. I can’t believe that the time is finally here and it has been a long time coming that is for sure. I am sad to say that I didn’t hear a single squeak or zipper this morning from Shaz and didn’t wake up at all when she left at 5am. All the best Shaz for your final 12 days before heading home after a mammoth 15 months away from home. I know exactly how you are feeling and know how good it will be to see your friends and loved ones again. We are part of a very small group to be able to have the opportunity that we have and I know we don’t take a single day for granted.
Me-I didn’t have to get up till 10am, I had to airline pack my ‘monster’ bag and make sure I had enough time to get to the airport for my first flight to London. I decided I would just second the money and catch a cab, I couldn’t be bother lugging the bag around and I have a feeling it is heavier than 25kg now but I take some comfort that I will be leaving some gear in Phuket with Michelle and make this baby a little lighter and in turn hopefully more easier to handle. I left the hostel at 11.45am and pretty much got a taxi straight away for the 30 minute ride to the airport. It was cheaper going back than arriving and only cost me 16GBP-money well spent I think. I have to ready myself for my bag comments and they came one from the taxi driver when I got to the airport and the second from the check-in chick. You have to self- check-in, here I double check I have a window and then stand in the bag drop line where my bag was weighed and then I had to muscle the damn thing back onto the trolley and drop it at the oversized drop counter. I think I am now understanding what people see. I was right with the weight it was 26kg and the heaviest my bag has been all Odyssey. Holy cow-what the hell do I have in there? I am lucky that British Airways are on a piece system and not weight, so they haven’t battered an eyelid each time I travel with them with that kind of weight. I’m allowed 2 pieces of luggage at 30kg a pop with Ethiopian Airlines, my next flight from London-so I know I am at least okay till I get to Addis. I am thinking now I will just leave stuff with Zeme, as I will run into problems when I get to Singapore and connect on a Jetstar Asia flight as you have to buy weight from them to check your bag and I have only purchased 20kg……. I have a feeling they may not let 26kg through……. I wasn’t able to check my bag all the way through to Addis, I didn’t think I could, but it never hurts to ask. So once I arrive into London I need to collect my brick bag, change terminals and then re-check in for my flight to Ethiopia. I have 5 hours to do all this so I am not worried at all and it boy feels good to be on my way.
Edinburgh Airport has all the mod cons and is pretty swanky. I was early so decided to have an early lunch at one of the ‘English’ pubs they have before passing through security and I couldn’t help myself and had bangers and mash one last time. What can I say I am a sausage gal through and through. Security was very thorough and again it’s my Ethiopian bangles that don’t come off that is the issue. I have just resigned myself that the machine will go off and I will be frisked every time I fly now. This particular frisk was a little more ’frisk’ than normal and felt a little like a mini massage. She was very thorough indeed and then that spilled over to my backpack as well. They said my bag was too dense for them to get a proper scan, so we had to take some things out and rescan my bag. I must admit my small backpack was filled to the brim and I would think that in itself probably weighs 10kg. I have put my IPad and my laptop into my handbag for the ease of pulling things in and out in a timely manner and trying to get anything out of that backpack would be a mission in itself once I have it packed. There is no free internet here, so I had a look around the shops and then pulled up at my gate to wile away the rest of the time. As it worked out my flight was 45 minutes late departing for London, but again I am okay with this as I have hours to kill at Heathrow. You can see which passengers didn't have the same amount of time, they looked stressed and I am glad that I don’t have that problem. British Airways were operating what looked like a fairly new aircraft on this run an Airbus A320 with a seating configuration of 3x3. It was a full flight and we were watered and fed a bag of crisps for the hour flight arriving into London Heathrow T1 at 4.15pm. We are lucky we made up 20 minutes in the air and ended up only being 25 minutes late, but you could see people were just busting to get off the flight as we were weren’t even at our aerobridge yet, still moving and people were out of their seats reaching for the overhead lockers and there were even a few angry words exchanged when a small bag fell out and hit someone and he told her correctly ‘that she shouldn’t have been out of her seat yet’ to which the lady replied ‘don’t you tell me what I can and can’t do’. Well. Do you think they may have had a connecting flight or was she just a bitchy person by nature. I wonder if everyone made their connections or not. I am happy to just sit in my seat and wait for people to start moving before I will even get out of my seat these days. I am not sure what people achieve when they all elbow each other to be the first off the flight when they still need to wait for their bags at the carousel anyway.
As irony has it my bag was one of the first out, so I grabbed a free trolley and pushed that baby right out of there leaving all the elbow pushers and seat jumpers to walk in my wake. T3 is walking distance from T1 by an underground tunnel they call The Trolley Trail. It’s hot down there, with travelators to move people, I was lucky today it was moving my way. It was like hundreds of busy ants all on a mission some with bags some without bags as we all had somewhere to be and we were all travelling somewhere. The tunnel walk is only around 15 minutes and it is all well signed, it is old, like stepping back into the 80’s, but it all works and I found myself at T3 just after 5pm. Most check-in counters won’t open till 2-3 hours proper to a flights departure and Ethiopian were no different. My flight was scheduled for 9pm and they opened 3 hours before. So I had an hour to kill before I could even get airside. There is always helpful staff at Heathrow and one came up to me to ask if he could help. I asked if there was somewhere I could sit till my check-in counter opened and he told me to take the life to the next floor and there are seats and restaurants up there for me to rest up. So I did just that and most of the seats were taken, but there was a nice spot near the window and I was happy to sit on the floor, so I pulled up some space moved my trolley close and proceeded to update my blog and diary for the next hour. These are the times I take to work out the stats of my trip and today is day 526 since I started my trip on the 27th March 2011, taking out my time at home in June and July I have been actually travelling for 480 days- that seems unbelievable to me and I really don’t feel like I have been gone that long. I have now been back on the road for 26 days recharged and for a shorter amount of time away this stint and now with Ethiopia in my sights I am in a good place right now.
6pm rolled around, so I gather all my things, back down in the lift, rechecked on the TV monitors which counters Ethiopian were located at and made my way there. It was only 6.10pm and there were already like 10 people in front of me. What I did notice was there was a staff member in the check-in queue weighing people’s luggage. I wasn’t sure what it was all about till I got to the check-in counter and I threw my bag on to be weighed and it was 27.4kg. I guess like all scales they will all differ a little bit and between Edinburgh and London it had gained 1.7kg. It is not an issue with Ethiopian as they let you have your full 30kg so I didn’t have a drama getting that monster bag checked in. I was handed a piece of paper though that stated I could not take more than 7kg of hand luggage on the flight including any duty free purchases (there goes my alcohol purchase) and if you are over they will charge you 10GBP a kilo and take your bag and check it and you won’t see it till Addis. WOW- talk about tough measures and I have never seen an airline be so strict before about weight. Bag sizes yes and possibly on a very busy flight I have had my hand luggage weighed once on Singapore Airlines but this seemed extreme. I even had to sign the piece of paper with my name and also my seat number once I had my boarding pass acknowledging this. I know I am in a little trouble as I rekon my backpack is at least 10kg and my handbag is heavy as I have my laptop and IPad in there, but if I have to pay then I will have to pay and hope that they will let me keep my bags with me at least. Just before I was about to leave the counter I heard the check-in guy next to me tell his passenger that the flight was delayed coming in and that we wouldn’t be boarding till at least 9.00pm (that’s when we were supposed to be taking off) and to keep an eye on the TV monitors. My chicky wasn’t going to tell me this IMPORTNANT piece of information and secondly my 5 hour transit has been blown to at least 6 hours if all goes to plan with the plane still not landed yet at Heathrow. Dang it makes for a long day.
Passing through security was a 20 minute wait, but where was I rushing off to? So to keep me occupied I pick a line and then pick someone out of the other line and see who makes it to the scanner first…. It wasn’t me with Gran and Pops in front of me pulling out all kinds of liquids and gels that were over 100ml-they were dresses in cargo’s and fishing vests and I wonder where they are going dressed like that? My guess is somewhere in Africa and it would be funny if I saw them on my flight! My bangles were an issue and another frisk-is it a bad thing to say that I may enjoy them? My bag wasn’t an issue here like it was in Edinburgh and I was finally through to airside. It was busy. There were people everywhere. I couldn’t really do any Duty Free shopping so the next best thing to kill some time is to eat. So I scoped the whole departure lounge and there was a choice of around 10 food outlets/restaurants so plenty of variety and I chose a pub and got a serve of carbonara and garlic bread as my choice of food. I am thankful they didn’t have bangers and mash as I rekon I would have gone that again if it was on the menu. No free Wi-Fi here either-so with my IPod plugged in and a few rounds of solitaire it was time for me to give up my seat as there was a queue forming for tables and I was back out in the wilds of the departure lounge. That successfully killed 1.5 hours, so I pulled up a seat and found a Wi-Fi network where if you joined up they would give you 15 minutes for free which is all I needed so I could get a message to Zeme to tell him about my delayed flight and new approximate arrival time.
At 9.15pm our gate number finally came onto the TV monitor, so I made my way there to find that the queue to even get into the departure lounge was over 150 people long already-how did they know what gate it was when it only just came on the screen. Anyway it was a slow moving line and it gave me a chance to check out everyone else’s hand luggage and there were other people with 2 bags, not just me, so I felt ok that I was going to get through with no problems. I was wondering what was taking so long when I finally got to the front of the line and I could see the airline staff were weighing every single piece of hand luggage that people had on them. Every single piece. Uh Oh I was going to be in a lot of trouble here. The staff member would wave you to put your bag on the scales and then would wave you in a ‘pay’ line or the ‘boarding pass’ line. There were 2 gentlemen behind me that had asked if this was the flight to Addis when we were back in the queue and they seemed quite nice so when I saw what was happening with the weighing of the bags, I looked at them and neither of them had a bag at all, so I asked if they would take my handbag for me (sounds dodgy as I write it down) to which they said no problems and I was next up with my backpack. I knew this would be over just with that let alone my handbag on the scales as well, and I was right it was 9.9kg but when he saw I didn’t have another bag he waved me through the boarding pass line-thanks buddy and when I turned back and looked at my handbag and it was 8kg!!! Talk about dodging a 110GBP bullet. The guys gave my bag straight back and I thanked them for taking for me. Would I have done the same thing if I had of been in a position to help? Probably now that I think about it, I would say yes. It wasn’t like they were checking the contents of the bag, if that was the case I would say no-it was just a weight issue this time and I am forever grateful for them helping me out. When I had been scanned in I asked what the new arrival time would be for the flight and was told 7.45am-an hour later than originally planned. This was okay as I could let Zeme know, so I called him and let him know and it sounded weird that I could say I would be seeing him in the morning. That bought a smile to this very tired dial. I wasn’t even on my Africa plane and I had been going for 12 hours already……..Now we just had to weight in a non-air-conditioned departure lounge and it was interesting to watch the rest of the people weighing their bags and getting pinned for it, including the people I had seen in front of me. Sucks to be them. People still got mad when they got to the payment counter and I wonder if they had signed the form at check-in, if they did well then they really didn’t have a leg to stand on at the payment counter.
There didn’t seem to be a working PA system either so when it was time to board at 10pm he was just yelling out the seat numbers as they were boarding by rows, the smartest thing I had seen them do all day. I was the last row to board of course but due to the hand baggage crack down there was still room for my bag over head and I can see why they are tough, we were on a very old B767-300 and the overhead space was very small. When I first looked at my seat I thought there were people in my seat as the numbers overhead don’t line up with the seats and I asked them what their seat number was, so when we worked that out I moved 1 row back and there was a lady sitting in my seat and I had to ask her to move, no-one takes my window seat. Well I looked at getting in and there was not much room for me to sidle in when I realized that the people in front already had their seats reclined all the way back. So I asked them if they could move their seats back up as I couldn’t get into my seat, which they complied and then reclined them straight back again. WTF. This was going to be a long flight and as I settled in the seats were smaller and the leg room was small and I had a feeling this was going to be a hell flight of 7 hours and 20 minutes. The upside was it was a night flight so if I can try and sleep the whole way it won’t seem as bad. There were no in seat TV’s and the drop TV was 8 rows away and I had fat chance of seeing that. As it turned out it didn’t matter too much as the film was Flicker 3 and people were standing in the aisle anyway and even if I could see they would have been in the way. Riveting. It really was an old plane and I think the disappointment was added when I thought I may have been on the new aircraft that they just bought into service 2 weeks ago thinking London would be an obvious choice to operate it from-but alas no I was on a relic B767-300 and the safety movie was a reflection on the age of the aircraft when it told you to switch off all electronic devices and they were showing CD diskmans, Walkman’s and brick mobile phones and Nintendo handhelds from the 80’s. I am assuming they haven’t updated their safety movie for a long time.
The configuration of the aircraft was 2x3x2 and it was like I had stepped back in time. I had to ask for an extender belt as there was no way the belt that was there was going around me which is always an embarrassing moment, but for the sake of some dignity I would prefer to be safe. So the comedy of errors continued from the hand luggage weigh in, people in my seat, the extender belt, the 2 hour late departure which we found out was from a flat tyre from their last destination and there wasn’t a spare handy for the repair and they just haven’t been able to make up any time, the safety card didn’t even fit into the seat pocket, it was too big. It wasn’t till we had taken off that they flashed up on the screen the new arrival time, which was an hour later than what I had told Zeme, well it is a bit late now that we are in the air!!!! Dinner took FOREVER; I have never seen a service that slow before. The Hostees all looked young so maybe they were new? By the time they got to us they had run out of chicken, so I had beef, no biggie and then they spilt a glass of water over on the lady sitting in front of us. Well maybe some would call that Karma for the seats reclining back? Maybe? It really was a flight from hell, I was tired, it was cramped and it was uncomfortable and I just could get myself settled. I don’t think out of all the 67 flights any of them were this bad. Just get me to Addis. Add to that I was feeling bad that my flight was coming in later, making Zeme wait outside in the car. Unless you are a tour operator or have a special permit you are not allowed into the arrival terminal at all. I am also now carrying a nasty cough, which I think is from my time sitting next to a camp fire in 5C weather for 7 hours and again I arrive into Addis with an ailment as I was sick the last time I was here and when I left my first time I got sick when I arrived into London. The arrival cards were handed out before they put is to bed and there didn’t seem to be a lot of people staying in Addis, they were connecting through to other destinations. I am just glad with the flight getting in 2.5 hours late that I am not in the debacle of rebooking missed flights, especially when there is more than half of the aircraft in the same boat. Good-luck with that peeps……
It is surprising my whole experience with Ethiopian Airlines often referred to as simply Ethiopian, is an airline headquartered on the grounds of Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It serves as the country's flag carrier, and is wholly owned by the Government of Ethiopia. From its hub in Bole International Airport the airline serves a network of 62 international destinations and 16 domestic ones, flying to more destinations in Africa than any other carrier. It is one of the few profitable airlines in the Sub-Saharan region and ranks among the largest ones on the continent. Likewise, Ethiopian is one of the fastest-growing carriers in the industry. The airline's cargo division was awarded The African Cargo Airline of the Year in early 2011. So it isn’t totally a dog and pony show. Maybe this was just an unlucky flight. I guess we will see as I do have a return ticket that I will eventually have to use, just not on this trip.
Finally we touched down at 8.40am. I had FINALLY arrived back into Africa making this my 3rd trip back to Ethiopia in 10 months. As we taxied in from my window I could see all these planes from other African countries all parked to the side of the runway. It was like a big parking lot of planes of all sizes and then I remembered I had seen on TV that the Ethiopian Prime Minister had dies a few weeks ago and today was his funeral. That explained all the small jets blazoned with Namibia, Mozambique and just about any other African country you could think of. It was interesting to see the newness/oldness of each aircraft depending on what country it came from and which ones had money and those who didn’t. Again people were up and trying to get their bags while the plane was still moving. They were told to all sit and when the plane stopped we had to wait a further 15 minutes to be towed the rest of the way and THAT took another 15 minutes and it hit me then that I was back in Africa and all things happen on African time and I am just going to have to get used to it. I don’t mind one hold up, but when they all just keep rolling there is a point where you could crack.
The nice thing about coming back to somewhere again is that you know what to do and where to go. There weren’t many people stopping, they were all heading to the transit counters to sort out their connecting flights but this was okay as I knew exactly where I had to go. The visa office is tucked away to the side, so I went straight in and I was 3rd in line. There is no rush in here either, but they do have a system, one person takes your money and gives you a receipt, the other person writes up the sticker and then is passed to the last person who puts it into your passport. All for the cost of 20USD. From there I went straight through immigration and the bags were still to come. So I used this time to exchange some money at the bureau that is right next to the carousel and by the time that was all done the bags were on their way out and 15 minutes later I had my monster on a free trolley to make my way out. There is a lady that checks your bag tag to your baggage receipt, your bags get scanned and then you are home free. I was pulled up here with the electronics in my backpack but I really wasn’t checked properly, they just asked if that what it was and let me through.
Even though I know that Zeme isn’t allowed in the terminal I always scan the sea if African faces all staring at me to see if he is there. I always feel like a little bit of a goose when I come out looking for people. Needless to say he wasn’t here, my UK sim card doesn’t work in Ethiopia and for all I knew he may have gone home with me officially arriving nearly 3 hours after my scheduled time. I had a lady come over to me asking if I needed some help and I asked if I could borrow a phone to call Zeme and she said fine but there will be a charge to which I was happy to pay. So we made the call from here mobile and Zeme was outside waiting for me and told me to just make my way down to the car park. When I hung up I asked her how much I had to pay and she told me not to worry about-she was so nice and gave me a little spring in my step. I exited the building and there were people everywhere, as no one without a special permit is allowed in the building, so they all have to wait outside, but I could see Zeme walking up the pavement and my heart skipped a beat and I knew that everything was going to be okay. I have so missed that sweet smile and now aware that I am back in Ethiopia we had a quick kiss and a quick cuddle and made our way to the car. Display of affections in public is frowned upon here and especially me being a farangee (white person)-we need to show special care.
So I was back for 9 glorious days with my man and I was looking forward to spending time with Zeme with maybe a trip out of Addis for a few days. We were so busy last time I was here, we have gone for the low key approach this time and I really am here just to see Zeme and if we do anything else then it will be a bonus.
Welcome back to Ethiopia.