Sunday, December 21, 2008

Week 20: Relaxing at Rio Longa & Flying Out

Dec 13 – 21, 08

Saturday was a quiet day at home – drying off everything that had been soaked in the flood, including all the electrical stuff. However, although one of the multiplugs worked after drying out, one didn’t & there is still no life in my laptop adaptor. Fingers are still crossed that a new adapter bought in the UK will bring my laptop to life again. Lots of people flew out for their holidays – we said goodbye to them as they left for the airport. The residential area was getting quieter by the hour!

Sunday wasn’t much busier than Saturday – I spent a couple of hours making the most of the lack of people around to try to catch photos of the birds flying around the grounds & the lizards that somehow survive the regular mosquito fogging. (Actually the big black slugs seem to survive that too). We were leaving early the next morning for our holiday at Rio Longa, so we organised breakfast & packing on Sunday evening so we would be ready to go on time.

We left for Rio Longa just after 8am on Monday morning & promptly got stuck in traffic. Our driver did a U-turn & then drove us out via the back roads & successfully managed to avoid the main traffic before we hit the main road south again. The trip was fast and easy, and when we arrived at the dock just by the Rio Longa bridge, the boat from the lodge was waiting for us already. We were taken to the lodge in a small powerboat, but the driver kept close to the banks so it was great for taking photographs – we saw a couple of goliath herons – they are such big birds & surprisingly well camouflaged in the reeds. As usual, Bill & I had reached a sharing agreement with the long lens – he would have it on the return trip as I had it on the trip in. It was a wonderful trip – we saw lots of birds & lots of purple flowers – the water hyacinth were all flowering (yes I know this is a noxious weed, but the flowers are really beautiful).

When we got to the lodge it seemed as if we were the only people staying there – we had lunch (they had got the message that we were vegetarian) and then took a kayak across the lagoon to the beach. The waves were really wild – it didn’t look particularly safe to either of us for swimming, so we took a long walk along the beach instead. Just like last time, there were hundreds of crazy crabs on the beach – running in & out of the surf. This time we didn’t see one with a feather – that obviously was a crab in thousand (or more – the beach is covered in them), but we did see a “crab of war” as two crabs were each tugging on opposite ends of a piece of dead fish skin. We saw the remains of a dead fish – almost totally stripped all the flesh of it. I can see now why whole dead fishes aren’t such a common sight on the beach – the crabs must reduce them down to bare bones in just a few hours.

After our beach walk we returned to the lodge & about 5pm we went out in the boat again – a couple of local women working a the lodge were taken up towards the village by the mouth of the river, & we came back along the banks of the mangroves looking for birds & any reptiles. Once again, no crocodiles, but we did see vultures and lots of herons & kingfishers.

Dinner was very tasty, but our solitude was gone as a big group of people had arrived in time for dinner also. Afterwards we retired to our bungalow to crash – Bill read for a bit with the headlamp (there is no electricity at all in Rio Longa, the lighting is all by candlelight).

We had planned to get up early, but it just didn’t happen. Instead we got up in time for breakfast – as we were walking to the lodge, I saw the cat (kept to keep rats away) playing with something at eh base of a palm tree. When I took a closer look, I saw it was a giant crab – the biggest land crab I’ve ever seen – it must have been close to 15 cm wide and was standing up maybe about 10 cm off the ground. Although it didn’t like the cat, it stood its ground & the cat soon got bored & left it. I took a few photos & then noticed the sand around the palms was tracked with what must be these giant crab tracks – there were a heap of them. I don’t know if they come out & walk around at night, or just very early in the morning – it was the only one we saw.

After breakfast we went out “bird stalking” in the kayak. This is something we have now perfected to a fine art – the person with the camera & long lens sits in the front of the kayak, while the other person does most of the paddling. When a bird is spotted, the paddling goes as quiet as possible & tries to steer the kayak as close to the bird as possible without disturbing it. Because the kayak is so quiet to move, this works really well for getting great shots of the bigger birds, but the little birds are always so small through the camera. We went up the side of the lagoon next to all the mangrove trees & were rewarded with seeing lots of kingfishers and bee-eaters. We even saw what we think is a “go-away bird” up on one of the palm trees. When we have gone past all the mangroves, we find a sandy bank, ground the kayak & then swap seats & do it all over again in the opposite direction. It’s a great way to spend the early morning & so cool to see so many birds up close.

When we got back from our paddling, we found Bora & Tina had arrived already – they are staying in Luanda for the whole holidays & we knew they would be coming for our second day at the resort. We hadn’t expected them so early though – they’d left Luanda about 6:30 & as a result hadn’t had any of the problems we’d struck with the traffic.

We had lunch with them & after lunch they sat and read on the veranda while we went for another paddle up the beach side of the lagoon, where we beached the kayak & then walked along the beach until we reached the headland at the south end of the beach. It was a very long walk – well over an hour to get to the rocks – which were essentially just shells stuck together with sand. We’d left our sandals in the kayak, and the sand here was burning our bare feet, so we had to retreat just meters from the actual headland. The beach is stunning – pristine clean, 2 – 3 hours to walk from one end of it to the other (at least) and not another soul on it except for us!

Although we’d taken water with us (& drank quite a bit of it) we were hot & tired when we got back to the lodge. We sat & read for the rest of the afternoon & then showered & changed for dinner. We had dinner with Tina & Bora again, it was nice company and it made us feel less “excluded” as the other guests were having a Christmas party and unwrapping presents!

We were the last to leave (we found out the next day that the party people had left early in the morning) & despite the lack of air conditioning, or even a fan, the rooms are more than cool enough for a good nights sleep. Once again though, we didn’t get up early & simply were in time for breakfast again (although we were earlier than the other two). We did the same kayak trip as the previous morning – out along the mangroves & this time we were lucky enough to see the pygmy kingfishers hiding in the papyrus – they are so small that despite their bright colours, they are really easy to overlook.

After we got back, we relaxed for the rest of the morning – reading old magazines & enjoying the breeze & the beautiful view. We had another leisurely lunch and got ourselves ready for the boat trip back to the bridge to pick up our bus back to school. Disappointingly, we had yet another crocodile free trip, although we did see several big birds.

The bus was waiting for us, so we were on the road back to Luanda very quickly. The trip takes just over 2 hours & we made good progress despite a truck having a tire blow-out just in front of us as we were going up a hill & a 10 minute break at the lunar lookout as Bora & Tina hadn’t seen it before.

It felt strange to be home – especially as we are almost the only people left living on campus. We had planned to have a big day trip the next day, but as we realised how tired we were from the long trip back, we decided to be kind to ourselves & just stay at home to pack & get ready for our flight out on Friday. We were very pleased that we’d gone to Rio Longa – the price is unbelievable, but everything is relative, & we felt that it was well worth the money to have such a relaxing get away. Certainly we couldn’t afford to do it every month, but a couple of times a year isn’t out of the question.

Thursday morning we slept very late (for us anyway) & when Bill went to cancel our trip was told that it wouldn’t have been possible anyway as there were no drivers! Just as well we hadn’t got up at 6am to go out for the day! We spent the day organising stuff we needed & just taking it pretty easy again. We are definitely in holiday mode!

Friday has to be the absolutely worst airport experience of my life. We had no water on Thursday evening & it hadn’t come back on by the morning, so we weren’t able to have showers before going to the airport. Our bus was waiting for us on time & despite some quite heavy traffic, as our route was through a busy shopping area, we made good time. We’d allowed ourselves heaps of time, so the slow trip into the airport wasn’t stressful - & it allowed us to really notice what was going on. Christmas is obviously a big thing in Luanda & we saw lots & lots of people by the side of the road with stuff to sell – either to passersby or to people in the slowly moving cars. Just to give you an idea of what was on sale – here is a list of what I saw (typical of any day I guess except for the Christmas stuff):

  • 2009 diaries
  • Apples
  • Babies car seat
  • Balls (soccer, basket etc)
  • Bananas
  • Bathroom shelves
  • Batteries
  • Beach chairs
  • Car tools
  • Children’s stickers
  • Christmas decorations
  • Christmas trees
  • Clocks
  • Dog leashes & muzzles
  • Electric fans
  • Fairy lights
  • Fake Rolex watches
  • Fishing rods
  • Gas bottle hose
  • Ice cube trays
  • Ironing board
  • Irons (not the same person)
  • Large mat
  • Large size calculators
  • Mangoes
  • Men’s jackets
  • Multi-plugs
  • Music CDs (probably pirates)
  • Netting (for screens)
  • Newspapers
  • Paintings
  • Pillows
  • Popcorn
  • Portable barbeque
  • Pots for plants
  • Rat traps
  • Remote controls
  • Steering wheel covers
  • Toilet rolls
  • TowelsWooden masks

We arrived at the airport just after 8:30 am (for a 2:30 flight) & it was already totally packed in the outer section where you have to queue & wait until your flight is ready to check-in. There were a total of 5 flights listed, but we couldn’t find a line for our flight – we waited for about an hour, during which time nobody seemed to go into the airport proper, & it just got more & more crowded. The tension just continued to mount as people were being held back & several flights got delayed. After about another hour, Bill decided to move us up to the front, where we were eventually able to push our way into the main airport when the security people weren’t looking. It was just completely crazy – people were screaming to be let in, the security staff weren’t letting anyone in despite how close it was getting in to the real check-in times & there was a big group of people like us that were just sneaking in anyway.

Once we got into the main part of the airport, our flight wasn’t listed at any of the check-in desks, so we ate our packed lunch (this is an airport with virtually no food facilities) & when our flight finally came up on the check-in screens, we were about 10th in line in the queue. You’d think that it would be almost over by this time, but each person who went up to check in took at least 30 minutes! There was no air-conditioning in the airport, the whole place was completely packed, & people were still trying to push in. It got really nasty – by this time almost everyone has been in a queue for about 4 hours (including children & babies) & there is no end in sight despite being so close to the check-in counter. We stood in that queue for over 2 hours before we finally got to the desk. Although we were Ok for time, it was obvious that the flight was going to be delayed. We asked about our connecting flights & they told us the flight from Windhoek would be held for us & that they would contact KLM to let them know that we would be arriving in Johannesburg late. The good thing was that they were able to check our luggage all the way through to Manchester, so when we finally left the counter, we were feeling reasonably optimistic. That was until we saw the queue for immigration – it was at least 4 people wide & stretched half way around the airport. It took about another hour & a half to get to the front of that queue to get our passports stamped & put our bags through the x-ray machines. By this time Bill’s shirt was completely soaked though – you could hardly see a dry spot on it - & our patience had almost worn out.

The scene in the departure lounge wasn’t much better than what we’d left, except that we weren’t in a queue – no sign of our flight boarding, so we just had to sit (on our cabin bags) and wait it out. People were smoking everywhere, the 8am flight that had been delayed still hadn’t left, and neither had any of the other flights for the day. We finally got on the plane about 6:30pm – we’d been at the airport for 10 hours!

Typically, Bill & I hadn’t been given seats together, but the flight to Windhoek is relatively quick & we were looking at the time & trying to calculate if we could still make our KLM connection in Jo-burg. We thought that if we left really quickly on the Jo-burg flight, we might just make it, as it didn’t leave until midnight. However, when we got into the Windhoek airport, there was a lady calling for all passengers transferring to Johannesburg. All my initial optimism was crushed – they’d let the flight go & we had to stay the night in Windhoek & they’d put us on the 11 am flight in the morning – well & truly too late for our connection!

We went through a special fast track lane in immigration & then collected our bags (at least they didn’t get lost like some people’s) & proceeded to the passenger services. The initial lady we spoke with had told us that they would help us arrange new flights for the connections we’d lost, but when we actually got to the window, the women only wanted our details to confirm our Air Namibia flight in the morning & wasn’t prepared to do anything about our onward flights. That’s when it got nasty – we were tired & had had a hell of a day & this was literally the last straw. Bill demanded to see the manager, & after rather too long, he came out to give us the same story – nothing they could do, wait for tomorrow morning to try to get onward flights etc etc. Bill got angrier & angrier, I got more & more upset, we knew that with it being so close to Christmas, the chances of getting seats on another flight weren’t going to be good & neither of us wanted to leave it unresolved until the next day. Eventually, the manager took our tickets & offered to ring our travel agent (who is based in Namibia) to try to get new flights for us. That was the breakthrough we’d been waiting for – we didn’t have a phone that worked & couldn’t do it ourselves. After about a 5 minute wait, he came out again to say that the travel agent thought she could get us on the KLM flight the next day & would get back to us in ten minutes or so with a confirmation. It was a long ten minutes, but eventually she rang back (this was about 9:30 at night) to say we were both confirmed on KLM the next night, all the way to Manchester!

After that, we were taken in to the city (a 50 minute drive) to a hotel for the night. The hotel dinner buffet had stayed open for us to eat (there was a total of 21 people who’d missed their flight – including some who’d been bumped off the Cape Town flight despite reconfirming their flights). The food wasn’t great, but at least we were able to eat something as it had been a very long time since anyone had had anything to eat. Bill rang his mum to let her know we’d be arriving 24 hours late (hopefully) & then we both crashed for the night. Not a good day at all!

Saturday morning we had breakfast & then were transferred back to the hotel. The trip to the airport gave us a taste of how beautiful the countryside is in Namibia – we will definitely come back for a longer trip! Check in was a breeze (no comparison at all to the previous day’s experience) & they were able to check our bags all the way to Manchester again (a big relief). It was simply a matter of waiting for our flight, which left spot on time & then, once we arrived at Johannesburg, spending the day at the airport waiting for our midnight flight. Although it was a huge waste of time (we couldn’t pick up our boarding passes until 8:30 pm & therefore still a little stressful as we didn’t know for sure that we’d be on the flight) the airport has enough facilities that a long wait is bearable.

Queuing for our boarding pass was a bit stressful as the line was very slow moving. Interestingly, almost everyone in front of us had also come from Luanda & had similar tales of chaos to our own experience. But, once we got to the desk, we got our boarding passes (for both flights), our luggage details were processed & everything finalised. We were very relieved & then it was just a matter of waiting the last 3 hours or so until boarding.

The flight to Amsterdam was about 10 – 12 hours & all though the night. After the previous 2 days that we’d been though, we both were able to sleep quite a bit during the flight. Once we got to Amsterdam, Bill was able to ring his mum & confirm that they’d be able to pick us up at Manchester.

So, after more than 48 hours since leaving home to go the airport, we finally arrived in Manchester (with all our luggage) & we were able to put the whole experience behind us & start to look forward to getting ready for Christmas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One thing is for sure - I'll never complain about Khartoum Intl Airport again!