Sunday, March 09, 2014

Out of Africa....

"Excuse me, sir? Sir? Are you getting off in Qatar? Do you have a connection or staying in Qatar? Sir?"

What the hell had just happened. My head was sore, my mouth was dry and I hadn't eaten since Tuesday lunch. It was now Wednesday evening. I'd slept for the entire 15 hours from Melbourne to Qatar and all I can remember was the page over Melbourne airport saying: 'Mr Nash, could you please make your way to gate 22 as your flight is fully boarded and awaiting departure'. Maybe this was my subconscious trying to block out the memory of the poisonous stares coming from the passengers as I lumbered up the aisle, clearly inebriated, or the smells and sounds that must have been emanating from me as I lay catatonic for over half a day, 37,000 feet above the Indian Ocean.

Let's go back 30 hours. On Sunday morning I woke up to this:
My flight was in 12 hours. It set the tone for the day.

Let's go back 12 hours more.
Oh dear - maybe a full week.

I was in Melbourne for a week to see my new niece, visiting family and friends, and these two Muppets to your right. I'd timed my departure from the homeland to take in to account a final Saturday night with friends before a Sunday session: this is where things went pear shaped.

From memory a sizeable Saturday at the football turned into a rolling evening which involved my head being shaved to make me look like a carrot, a random warehouse party in suburbia, a bust up with a taxi driver in the remote warehouse area of South Melbourne and some how made it back to Gov's apartment for Sunday morning....when our friend Kate walked in in a full length ball dress, continuing from the night before - rude not to.

The problem with catching up with people you haven't seen for ages is that the old stories get better the more you celebrate them - so we did - and the stories got great!!

And then I found myself at the airport and I was on my way to another adventure...

But at that point, all I could fathom to tell the kind hostess trying to wake me was a mumbled sentence - 'Africa, I'm going to Africa.' Indeed, I was on my way to the cradle of civilisation clueless, rudderless and soon to find out, bagless.


Before too long - I finally ate something - we were descending in to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. I wasn't sure what to expect; a country torn apart by civil war and mass genocide only 19 years ago - would there be tensions, safe/not safe, war ravaged, what were the people like, what did they eat, could I get by with English? 

I had so many questions I wanted answers to....the first being where the fuck was my bag?

Reporting to the shack that was baggage services, I was promptly given a number and told to call with a reference number, but not for 24 hours.

With baggage services and Qatar Airlines both unaware of where my bag was, all I could do was go to my hostel and wait. Flagging (picking a driver who didn't mob me as soon as I walked out the terminal) it was a 10 minute drive in to the centre of Kigali. Now, I grew up in Pakistan and have traveled fairly extensively, so the calamity and due on motorbikes is something I've seen before. The girl. I was sharing the cab with was not as comfortable. Arriving in the walled compound I needed a shower. It was like ice. I recall saying to myself 'can't wait for a hot one'. Little did I realise it would be nearly a month before I got that wish.

Calling the number the next day my bag hadn't shown up. I was bound for Uganda, luggage-less, so I decided to go back to the airport to speak to the airline directly. Speaking with the representative there, who I shall name 'luggage pixie' such were the fantasies of returned bags he put in my head, I was informed the bag would be there no more than 3 days. So with a semi-relieved temperament I made my way to the Uganda border. I was spending two nights there to go trekking with the mountain jeans, trainers and a t-shirt I'd been wearing for nearly three days.


While Rwanda is referred to as the land of 1,000 hills, Uganda is when you leave those valleys and head into the hills. It's quite an stunning place; green, hilly and vast. Getting in late I bumped in to a girl called Cherie. While that in itself is not really that exciting, the fact that we had already met in London and my flatmate is one of her good friends was a lot more small worldy. 

We were off to find mountain gorillas the next day, and it didn't take long.

While it only took two hours to actually locate a family once we trusted our lives to the drivers getting us up in to mountains on prrecarious dirt tracks called 'roads', walking in 30 degree heat and 90% humidity through a jungle in jeans and trainers makes it a little longer. The first we knew of any gorillas was a slight movement in the tree....this guy.
Pushing through the undergrowth and bushes, slowly a baby emerged, followed by a second one and then movement from another bush announced the arrival of another female.
It wasn't long before a grunt, a shake and a massive silver back wondered out to see what the commotion was. From a far these big fellas look a decent size....limbering along about 2 metres in from of you they are even bigger!!! And they're not afraid to come close to let you know they are there - think bogan at a music festival without the smell. The gorilla that is.

...and remembering I've already explained about the hair!

We had about an hour watching these amazing animals before it was time to head back to the jeeps and the bumpy ride back in to town. A few beers, rehashing my absolutely filthy clothes in freezing cold water and wearing them again and we were headed back to Rwanda to pick up my bag.

Rwanda again

The next morning crossing the border it first struck me how friendly people are, but yet how often those from western countries are distrustful. While waiting in the immigration line, numerous people wanted to have a chat; just practice English really.

Saying that, about 10 minutes in to my conversation with 'Johnny' who wanted me to come to his village for dinner, he asked me quiet politely if he could touch my hair and if it was normal to have hair such as this where I'm from. When describing that I had been shorn whilst drinking he responded, in quite a condemned manner: 'ohh, I do not think that you ever drink again'.

I decided to take my leave and hope on the bus back to Rwanda. It was a stop and go trip back in Kigali. My bag still hadn't shown up despite promises to the contrary. However, all was in hand. The airline and Bag Fairy both promised me that they would reroute it to Nairobi in Kenya, before busing it down to Arusha in Tanzania and I could pick it up there. And not a moment too soon.

One of my travel buddies who I met in Uganda, Pete, had been kind enough to lend me some shorts. After several days in jeans it was appreciated! Three days later when Pete realised I didn't have any underwear it was a little less welcomed. But all was forgiven over a glass of banana beer....the single most disgusting liquid of all time. Well, it was kind of a solid, really.
But that aside - ahead of me was Tanzania. Safaris across the Serengeti, the mythical Masai Maria, the massive ngorongoro crater, scuba diving and frolicking in Zanzibar and after a couple of weeks... A KFC!!