Sunday, May 10, 2009

The LONG Trip Out of Angola (And I Thought Getting Here Was Tiring!!!)

Whoever said "Getting there is half the fun" probably never went to Angola! I thought the trip IN to Malongo camp was an "Ordeal"! Well, turns out the trip home was even more trying on my aging body!! Just for fun and also to share with some of my loyal followers what it can be like traveling to and getting around in "third world" countries, I will summarize the step-by-step process of my trip home to Houston. Getting from point A to point B in most western countries is usually simple. In Angola .... well, nothing is simple. First let me say that I am grateful to my company to provide the infrastructure that exists to get us expats in and out of Angola in a safe and relatively secure manner. Despite all my worries, everything ran on time and took place as it was supposed to. Still, it was a convoluted process and here is what transpired:

Thursday, May 7:

1:25 pm Angola time (Houston + 6 hours): My friend and colleague Aby arrives at my room and collects me and my luggage and we go by truck to the Hotel Malongo where we line up with our luggage and await an inspection by customs personnel. Then we go through our local immigration check and receive a blue card that allows us to bypass the Luanda immigration/passport control fellows (one immigration check is quite enough, thank you!). Then it's on to the travel desk to pick up my plane ticket for the flight from Cabinda to Luanda. Then I formally check out of the room where I have been living for the past two weeks.

2:30 pm: We get on a bus (poorly air-conditioned) and we depart Malongo for what will be a hot, bouncy 50-minute ride to the Cabinda airport (pictured above).

3:20 pm: We arrive at Cabinda Airport (see above photo). Amazingly this is a newly constructed airport. Well air-conditioned and seemingly well run. Why isn't Luanda's main airport just as new and clean??!!

4:20 pm: Our Dash 8 twin-engined propeller aircraft takes off on what should be only a one-hour flight to Luanda. Unfortunately the captain radios us that we are number 6 in line for landing and thus must circle the airport almost six times before we are finally cleared for landing in lovely Luanda. Groan!!

6:00 pm: Our plane pulls up to its parking area .... right next to the World Airways plane we will soon be heading home on. We collect our luggage and cram into a bus that takes us to the arrivals hall. When we pull up to the arrivals area, all of us grown men and women suddenly scramble off the bus and, with luggage in hand (I have a 50 lb suitcase and a carry-on in tow!), we have a mad dash around and around the arrivals terminal, through the parking lot (!) and then into the departure terminal and line up to check in to the WORLD AIRWAYS Houston Express flight. The check in process starts at about 6:30 pm. As we wait, we enjoy standing in line (about 25 people are ahead of me already) in the un-airconditioned terminal area with mosquitoes as an added bonus. (PS: use DEET spray to protect yourself. I certainly did! I also took Malarone once a day, every day during my stay in Africa.) In addition to our flight to Houston, there are two other flights this evening: one to Paris and the other to Lisbon. Naturally there are over a hundred perspiring people all standing in various lines that wind around the check-in area. When my turn comes, I approach a security person who asks me about a dozen questions; then a suitcase check followed by the actual check-in after which I claim my boarding pass. Then I proceed through the immigration area where I flash the blue card issued to me in Malongo and bypass the passport control booths. Hey, I am felling good. Oh wait, now I stand in line for 5 to 10 minutes to go through the X-ray screening process. Next, a member of the "Financial Police" ushers me into a small room where a pleasant man in uniform asks politely if I have any Kwanzas (the local Angolan currency) and I say "NO" (since exporting Kwanzas is strictly forbidden). He says "show me your wallet"; I do - naturally. Seeing I only have $14 USD, he says "bye bye" and I leave and walk upstairs with my 20-lb carry-on bad in hand and head to the business class lounge.

7:40 pm: I arrive at the Business Class Lounge! Mercifully, this place is well air-conditioned! Although, with three flights taking off in quick succession to each other (one to Paris, one to Lisbon and our flight to Houston), this lounge quickly becomes packed full of passengers! At least I have a seat! I sip a few drinks and relax.

8:45 pm: My friend Aby arrives in the lounge. Since Thursday is the heaviest crew change day of the week, all the folks rotating out today cannot be accommodated on a single aircraft. Hence, two planes are required to get everyone to Luanda. Turns out Aby got on the second flight from Cabinda. His flight arrived in Luanda at 7:10 pm.

9:12 pm: Our flight - the Houston Express - is called and I leave the lounge and scurry downstairs to Departure Gate #2.

9:20 pm: I go through a thorough security check (everything in my carry-on is inspected along with my shoes) and wait in the un-airconditioned gate area along with about a hundred other sweating passengers. (Are we there yet??)

10 pm: I get on a bus (what, no air conditioning in the bus??) which takes me to the plane and I race up the stairs with a smile on my face!

10:23 pm: The plane's doors are closed!

10:40 pm Angola time: Wheels up and we're off!!! Yippee!

Friday, May 8:

7:17 am CDT: After 14 hours and 37 minutes of flying, we land at Bush IAH - almost 40 minutes before our scheduled arrival time!!

7:50 am CDT: I leave the airport with my driver (and all my luggage).

8:35 am CDT: I arrive at my West Houston apartment. Finally .... I am HOME-SWEET-HOME!!!! I unpack briefly and GO TO BED at 9:30 am after being up without any sleep for approximately 35 hours!! Nightie night!!

My next posting will present some of the photos that I was able to capture during my stay in Malongo camp in Cabinda. Turns out I was unable to photograph too many places inside Malongo since I was told the local authorities don't look kindly upon people taking pictures within Angola. [Seems the Middle East isn't the only place where photography can be a tricky hobby!!] Anyway, I shall share with you some photos in the next posting - probably in a day or so from today. Until then, have a close-up view of the fruit bats literally 'hanging' around:

4 comments:

John said...

Oh my! The ordeal you went through!

The circling of the airways is one of the things I hate when traveling. Although the plane departed on time, the arrival time can be more than 1 hour later than the expected arrival time.

bathmate said...

Thank you for your fantastic posting


Bathmate

cybertoad said...

My husband is about to take this trip (he'll be there for 3 weeks & you guys seem to work for the same company) and your detailed posts have been really helpful in preparing him on what to expect. Thanks for sharing!

AfriBats said...

Nice picture of straw-coloured fruit bats (Eidolon helvum).

Would you add this and your other bat photo as a citizen-science observation to the AfriBats project on iNaturalist?:
http://www.inaturalist.org/projects/afribats

AfriBats will use your observations to better understand bat distributions and help protect bats in Africa.

Please locate your picture on the map as precisely as possible to maximise the scientific value of your records.

Many thanks!