Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The long way home

Spoiler alert: we did not need to find room for towels in our bags. But that's okay. We will live. 

We had a slightly late breakfast this morning -- upstairs at 8:45 and as we sat there a huge rainstorm approached from the east and poured down. Amazing. We watched the water run down the roof, gather in the gutter, and roar down the downspouts. And seeing how quickly the gutters filled, and the amount of water -- wow. 

After breakfast we packed up our things, and considered digging out our Gore-Tex jackets so we'd have them if/when a shower returned while we wandered. I half-heartedly rummaged in both my big and my small bag, to no avail, and gave up... in part because of the STENCH coming out of my big bag. Ewwww. 

So out we went, heading past the food market and through the clothing market area, then stumbling across Quality, where I bought a box of tea. We started to head back, and as we wound through the narrow streets of shops, a drizzle turned into a downpour. We were following a "city Maasai" -- wearing traditional dress, but with a smaller walking stick, and talking on a mobile phone -- down the street, and when he hopped into a shop, so did we -- a shop selling football gear and other men's clothes. We smiled, they welcomed us, and we tried not to drip on anything for several long, silent minutes. It goes without saying that while we felt really awkward, the Maasai and the other local who ducked in felt -- or at least showed -- no discomposure during this time. 

It seemed to let up a bit, so we scampered out again, only to take refuge a few doors down when another wave of rain swept through. We were joined in the doorway by a local who, upon seeing an enterprising umbrella salesman, called him over to enquire about the price ... which, when quoted, seemed to insult the man, who waved the salesman away. 

Another break in the rain, and we hightailed it back to Emerson Spice, stopping briefly at Emerson on Harumzi (no joy, no towels), and then just relaxing in the Secret Garden -- and trying to dry out a bit. Russell saw us and said, "I told you you'd get a shower", with a smile. 

I love this quiet space -- even on days when we did have to share it with others!

We gazed up at our former room, Desdemona, with the two Juliet balconies and the tiny terrace.

It's the details, the textures of Emerson Spice that I will remember. From the walls of "our" table in the garden, to the remains of one of the old townhouses, to the flagstone floor of the patio, to the fresh blossoms placed in the fountain every day. A truly magical place, and I'm so glad we got to spend several nights there.

A few minutes before noon -- our pick-up time, we headed to the lobby, and soon we were being escorted through the streets of Stone Town to a taxi near Lukmaan's. I tipped the porters carrying our absurdly heavy bags TSh 5000 each, and left an envelope with a larger group tip at the hotel. They did look after us well!

Very short ride to the airport, where we grabbed a trolley in the parking lot and passed the first security check: three bored-looking men at a table in then walkway, asking to see our "tickets". We explained that the tickets were electronic, so they shifted to "flight information". So I handed over the overly detailed itinerary I had made, which he glanced at before waving us through. 

Then to the "airport security", where they scanned the bags, opened mine, looked at the luggage scale, and then asked about the shells. 

"Do you have a receipt?"
"I picked them up on the beach in Bwejuu."
"Shells are part of our heritage."
"I can take them out if you'd like."
"There's a procedure...."
"A procedure because they are part of our heritage."
[long pause, during which we just looked at each other]
"I want you to have a good memory of Zanzibar" -- and then he turned away and sat down. I zipped up my bag, still not 100% sure of what was going on. Wil gave the guard the "double thumbs up" sign, which the guard returned, so we left. 

Yeah, that was a shakedown. 

A gentle shakedown, to be sure, but he just tired of my willful cluelessness so waved me through. 

Then to check-in, where we waited behind one couple before one couple before it was our turn. It took a surprisingly long time, but once the clerk was done, she handed us boarding passes all the way to Seattle, and checked our bags all the way there, too. Well worth the wait!

Then immigration -- Wil was asked one question, I none. Though we did have our fingers scanned again. We left with new stamps in our passports and on our boarding passes. 

Then through "proper security", where the agents asked me to open my bag and looked at the camera before waving us through. I guess no one carries point-and-shoot cameras anymore!

Then a long wait in the departure lounge. When we arrived it was packed, but an earlier flight on a big plane boarded and left us nearly alone. As small airport terminals go, this is a pretty good one, with a mkahawa (coffee shop) and a couple of other stores to poke around.

We bought an overpriced cheese roll mkahawani (in the coffee shop), along with our last bottle of Stoney Tangawezi. I will miss you, Stoney. Then, to pass the time, we took turns browsing the shops. I bought some postcards, a tacky magnet soon to adorn our fridge, and some sweets ... but couldn't find anything I really wanted.

Finally it was time to head out onto the tarmac to our plane. I had mixed feelings -- I had loved our time in Africa, but was ready to go home and see the kitties. And, of course, I was dreading all the flying coming up. Star Trek promises me a teleporter someday...

Turns out our flight from Zanzibar to Kilimanjaro airport was empty -- we had a row to ourselves and most of the plane was empty. Short hop to Kili, where we knew we wouldn't be allowed off the plane. We had heard that this can be tiresome, as the plane heats up as it sits in the sun for an hour or so. But they kept the doors open, so it wasn't bad -- and only a couple of people got on the plane, so the next flight was empty, too. 

When we took off from Kili to Addis, we soon passed Kilimanjaro, poking through the clouds. And I BURST INTO TEARS. Clearly, I still have a lot to process about the climb and this trip!

It's really hard to believe that we got to the top of that on foot, and here we were flying next to it!

We were surprised by the amount of food we were served on these flights -- and hooray for the interesting vegetarian options (and for them not being vegan!). This meal was apparently personalized for me.

Then to Addis Ababa, where we had a few more hours to kill.

This time we emerged into the general area rather than the secured area, so we had access to SHOPS! RESTAURANTS! FIZZY WATER!!! We wandered and wandered and wandered -- watching as the airport seemed to empty, to fill up, and to empty again. We looked at knock-off athletic gear, cartons of cigarettes we had never heard of ("Lucky Panda"??), knew better than to buy Duty-Free booze as it would be confiscated in Europe, and avoided the area near the "smokers lounge" as when the lounge itself got full, smokers just stood outside it, puffing way. But suddenly we noticed that, oddly, all the security lines seemed to fill up and we realized we may have mis-timed our approach.

But we just slipped in -- semi-blatantly at one in the middle of the airport. And -- despite a hiccup where three wealthy women and their children pushed past all of us, despite having no idea how to navigate security, including the need to take of their heavy metal jewelry -- soon we made it through.

Then down to the gate, which was already heaving with people. We did a loop looking for a place to sit, before finally just shifting a barricade rope slightly and slipping in to a pair of seats behind it. Bold. And once we did it, we were joined by a woman and her son.

Time passed sloowwwwwwly, but then it was time to board. No pretense of using the "boarding groups" -- there was just a crush. Admittedly, we were well positioned to join the crush, so we did.

We were loaded onto a bus -- well, not just a bus, a COBUS3000 -- which took ages and ages to load. We sat there, jammed in, for a few minutes, and then the bus slowly lurched away from the doors ... and to a plane about 100 yards away. The closest plane.

When the doors of the bus opened there was a similar crush to get off ... and then a rush to the stair ramps, where there was a real "last helicopter out of Saigon" feel as people grappled with each other to get on the steps. And then, finally, we were on the plane.... which was, despite all of that, empty. Wil and I had a middle row to ourselves, but lots of people on the plane had entire rows to themselves. Sweet!

I don't remember much from this flight, other than that Wil slept while I watched movie after movie. And, finally, we landed at Frankfurt.

Frankfurt was odd -- super clean, lots of shops, lots of restaurants. We had pretzels for breakfast (hey, it was Oktoberfest!), were amused and annoyed by the staff at the snobbiest airport bar in the world, and walked and walked and walked. We were just so ready to be home at this point.

Our Lufthansa flight to Seattle was delayed a bit -- a strike in France and fog in Frankfurt meant that there were long departure backups. We were originally told it would be over an hour, but asked to stay close to the gate. Then suddenly they were letting us board as we had a tentative takeoff time. You have never seen a faster, more orderly boarding process!

Then more flying, more movies, more nondescript yet surprisingly spicy curries, and we landed at Sea-Tac. Thanks to our Global Entry cards, we were through immigration in under 5 minutes, customs in under 3, and we were out picking up an Uber 20 minutes after landing. CRAZY. We were home within an hour. Huzzah!

Home to happy cats and a cozy house, half wondering if our adventure had been a dream.

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