Day Three: Journey to Africa
(If you missed the editorial note and first chapter, please start here: Chapter 1)
On 14 February 2011, we left the comfort of Amsterdam for the great unknown of Africa. Our itinerary would take us to Nairobi on KLM Airlines. The plan was to spend the night there before boarding a bus to our ultimate destination, Moshi, Tanzania, at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Navigating Schipol Airport in Amsterdam was relatively easy until we tried to enter “Passport Control.” Apparently, Delta Air Lines allows one checked bag and two carry-on bags. KLM was just the opposite. Back to the ticket counter we went to “check” our other carry-on bag. Finally, armed with our single carry-on bag and our three books on Mt. Kilimanjaro (one of them totally dedicated to altitude sickness and all the ways you could die on the mountain), we shoe-horned ourselves into our coach seats and settled in for the eight hour flight to Nairobi.
Our row-mate was a gentleman who was occupying the aisle seat. Thin, tall, dressed in black, wearing narrow designer glasses, I nicknamed him “Dieter.” As much as we tried, we couldn’t engage him in conversation. Now, for those of you who don’t know Debbie; She could be kidnapped by Al Qaeda, would be released the next day, getting a group hug from her captors, exchanging emails & phone numbers, and promising to stay in touch. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get “Dieter” to lighten up. More about him later.
Landing in Nairobi, we shuffled off to the Visa Control desk to buy our Visas. After filling out our forms and handing them to the lady behind the Visa counter, I asked, “what was next?” She responded, “Give me my money!” The cost of the Visas was approximately $30.00 each. I slid a $100.00 bill under the cage and she stamped our passports and slid our paperwork back to us. She motioned us to move on, to which I replied, “Give me my money back!” She smiled, as if caught red-handed, slid the $40.00 change back, and motioned us on. Must be the 401k plan for airport employees.
Exiting with our baggage, we were grateful to see a tall, black man, holding a sign with our names printed on it. For the rest of the story, I won’t describe anyone as being “black,” because, except for those few exceptions…….everyone was black. Anyway, Anya Beutler had come through. Through her contacts, she had arranged to have someone (Simon) meet us at the airport, drive us safely to our hotel, and put us on a bus to Moshi in the morning
Adam was flying to Nairobi from Heathrow Airport and would be arriving about an hour after us. Simon’s car was too small for the three of us and all our luggage, so it was decided that Simon would drive Debbie to our hotel, get us checked in, and I would wait for Adam. Watching them drive away, I tried to capture the moment in my mind, along with the license plate number. You see, I wasn’t totally convinced that I would ever see her again.
No worries. Adam showed up on time, Simon returned with the car, and off we drove to the Kenyan Comfort Hotel. On the ride to the hotel, Simon pointed out some of the landmarks of the city. “There, to your left is where the U.S. Embassy used to stand before it was blown up by the ‘Egyptian Islamic Jihad,’ killing over a hundred people in 1998.” Simon’s english was quite good.
Arriving at the Kenyan Comfort Hotel, we quickly realized that it had no affiliation with the “Comfort Suites” hotel chain in the U.S. Debbie greeted us in the lobby. The first words out of her mouth were: “That asshole Dieter stole half my fucking money from my wallet!” Actually, those were my words. What I actually recall Debbie saying was: “I think I lost half my cash on the airplane.” We decided to sort it out in the room.
Turns out the hotel had only one room for the three of us. At this point, we were happy to have it. After riding an elevator that had seen better days and going through two steel padlocked doors in the hallway, we made it to our room. We knew it wasn’t a good sign when we saw that all the guest room doors had external hasps for putting your own individual padlocks on.
It was agreed that “Dieter” had most probably opened Debbie’s purse while we were both stretching our legs by the lavatories. Since he was in the aisle seat, no one else could have touched her purse without him noticing. “Dieter the Stealer.” With a little help from the local ATM’s, we were back on schedule to complete the mission.
Our room was so small, that if one person wanted to walk around, the other two had to get on their beds to make room. Once settled in, we decided to go out and find a restaurant for some local cuisine. Stepping onto the street, we were hustled back inside by one of the hotel security personnel. “What do you think you are doing?” he asked. “Going to get something to eat” we said. “You can’t walk outside at night! It’s dangerous.” He said. Two healthy guys, we thought we could handle our own. And Debbie had her 6” folding knife, which she unkowingly carried thru security on the airplane, twice!” (SEA & AMS)
Two minutes later we were dodging traffic in the back of a taxi, on our way to a restaurant, or so we thought. Pulling into a gas station/7-11 type of place, the driver parked the car and said he would wait for us. Going inside, next to where everyone was paying for their gas, was an area to buy food. Picture “Hotdogs” on those hot rollers you see in the mini-marts. Luckily for us, they had just closed. We told the driver, and he said he said he had another place in mind. Hopefully it would involve “tables” and “menus.” Before pulling out of the gas station, our driver decided he needed gas. Guess he didn’t want to give up the good parking spot to “fill up” while we were at the gas station trying to buy food.
The restaurant proved much more liking to our tastes. The restaurant was part of a nightclub. We had our first introduction to Tusker beer, served at room temperature, and the food was quite palatable.
Returning to our hotel, we dutifully started our anti-malarial pills and then squeezed ourselves into our beds, secure in the knowledge that we were locked behind two steel doors, including the steel door locking the fire escape………….