Thursday, 6 June 2013

Will I make it?

My travel stories usually involve delayed flights, missed flights, spending unexpected nights in hotels, that sort of thing. Last week’s installment of the ever-growing ‘Claire’s Travel Misadventures’ took place earlier in the process. After 2 days of meetings in Addis Ababa, I was due to fly back to Nairobi on the 10:40am flight. A civilized time I thought, not requiring an unearthly start to the day, unlike so many of my trans-Africa flights. I was rather surprised therefore when the taxi driver turned up at 6:30am at the house where I was staying. I was still in bed, actually sleep, when my host apologetically knocked on my door. We weren’t expecting him for another 90 minutes! Seeing no real need to hasten my departure too much, I was up, dressed, breakfasted and packed within the hour, only to find that the taxi driver had gone off to do a school run! So, I was then waiting for him. We left before 8am, and all seemed well. The sun was shining, and here we were leaving in good time. The taxi was a saloon car, and lacked a number of features, such as seatbelt for the front passenger, and door handle…… The area of windscreen that you could see through was diminished somewhat by a dark band of film across the top, and a rather high dashboard. Whilst my window handle was gone, ventilation wasn’t too much of an issue thanks to the gap between both of the front doors and the rest of the car. This created a little bit of a problem on my side, when the door swung open early on in our journey.
The streets were full of people going to work, and children going to school, having enjoyed a public holiday (The Downfall of the Derg) the day before. We soon discovered that it wasn’t just pedestrians who were out and about in numbers, as we ran into heavy traffic, and came to something of a halt. Not to be perturbed, my driver veered off the road down a back street. “How good to be with someone who knows these alternative routes”, I thought to myself. However, what he perhaps hadn’t reckoned on was that where this road rejoined the main road, there was now a pile of earth and stones, and a van stuck in this, with its wheels spinning. Inevitably, there was a group of willing volunteers gathered around to help, in the hope of some remuneration, and they eventually managed to push the van over to the other side. It was then the turn of a 4-wheel drive, which navigated the mound without too much difficulty, and then it was us, in our rather low-slung saloon. With the pedal pressed full down, we charged at it, faltering a bit along the way. However, it was in the descent that things went slightly awry. To get back down to the road required dropping down a curb. Drop was the operative word, as the bodywork of the car beneath the front  passenger door, descended on the curb with a sickening crunch. I was imagining mangled body work, though the driver didn’t seem overly put off, continuing to rev, and with the help of the gang, continued onto the road. Phew, what a relief.
Next stop was a petrol station, though they seemingly had empty tanks. As it turned out did we, as the car glided to a halt a further 100 metres along the road…..  The driver by this point was clearly very agitated, and was asking what to do. Having seen a petrol station on the other side of the road a short distance away, going to see if they had petrol seemed a logical next step to me! So, off he went, petrol container in hand (I suspect that this wasn’t a first!). And I was left in the car, on a 6-lane road in rush hour traffic in Addis, observing life going by. Lots of pedestrians; a lady sweeping the road; 3 men just sat on a curb; a herd of cows;……
Lady cleaning the street

Piling into public transport - or just sitting!

Cows walking along the pavement towards downtown Addis!
The end of the story is really pretty unexciting. He came back after about 15 minutes or so, filled the tank from the container, spent some minutes then trying to coax the engine back to life, and then we were off and arrived at the airport, just with enough time in hand. (The lady at Immigration was gesticulating a lot, saying that my visa had expired. It took some while to figure out that this was what she was saying, at which point I was able to point her in the direction of the visa I’d got just a couple of days before, rather than the one she was looking at, from my February trip! Oh, and I must make a mental note to wear a non-wired bra when going through Bole International Airport – their scanners are very sensitive!!)
Both ways, I flew in the new Dreamliner, Boeing 787. Very smart! Electronic darkening windows rather than shutters; lots of room. I thought it was ironic that I had such a nice plane for a 1.5 hour flight, when the previous week, flying from Dakar (a total of about 10 hours on the plane), I was really squished, not able to retrieve anything from my laptop bag which was under the seat in front of me! Oh well!

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