Monday, April 2, 2012

Day 17,18,19 - Tanzania, Kenya, England, Home

Day sixteen on this trip and it starts out just like yesterday with me headed for the bathroom. Man this is rough! I'm really concerned now because I'm getting ready to get on a plane to fly all the way to London, total time in the air, 11.5 hours. My flight leaves Kilimanjaro Airport this evening at 7:40pm and is a short hop to Nairobi's Kenyatta International airport only 60 minutes away. I arrive at Kilimanjaro airport with the same fear I had first arriving at the McCarran international terminal on day one of this journey. I can't have them make me check my carry-on bag. I know it's heavy but it contains precious cargo that I really do not want to let out of my sight. I'm questioned about the bag at check-in and it's put on the scales. Of course I'm told it has to be checked but I once again plead my case about the fragility of the contents and eventually I win the ticket agent over with my charm.....or something like that. Now it's time to go through customs to leave the country and I'm given a strange look as I hand the woman my passport. It's been eighteen days since I've shaved and I apparently no longer look like the guy in the passport photo. Eventually I'm allowed to pass and I sit waiting for the flight. A young British girl takes a seat beside me and we start talking about our trip. It turns out she's headed home a bit earlier then she expected. She was coming to Tanzania to work at an orphanage and was supposed to be down here for two months but there was a mix-up with the organization that is funding her trip and she's headed back home to get it straightened out after only two weeks. She's not the first young girl I've met while here that is down here doing good work like this. In fact there were several others at the hotel that were also doing charity work. It makes me think about the selfish purpose of my trip for a while. Eventually we board the plane but she's sitting up front and I have the back row so we go our separate ways.
  Now we are landing back at my favorite airport and my opinion is not much different then when I first flew into it. Very much a third world airport but I make my way to my next terminal like a seasoned traveler this time. I've got a couple hours to wait here before I board my flight for London and I can tell by the way the waiting area at the gate is filling up that it's going to be a packed flight. As it nears the time to board we are once again forced to go through a security checkpoint and that feeling creeps in again that they are going to make me check my bag. As it turns out for this leg of the flight they do not even question it as we go through the secure area and wait to board.
  Once on board the plane my suspicions are realized, it's packed. In fact I can't see an empty seat anywhere. At least the flight is comfortable with almost no turbulence and I do manage to find a position that allows me to catch a couple hours sleep. Overall I'm very impressed with Kenya Airways, it truly is a top-notch organization. I wouldn't mind flying them anywhere in the world. After eating, watching a movie and sleeping for a few hours I'm awake just in time to notice that we are flying over Naples, Italy and I look out the window to notice the coastline. It's really dark but I decide to give it a try with the camera and I snap this shot. You'll just have to trust me that all those bright squiggly lines down there are the lights of Naples.

For the camera geeks - ISO 6400, f4, 4 seconds - braced against the window, that's why the engine is fairly sharp.

A little while later and before you know it I'm watching sunrise over Paris.

Same specs except this one is only 1/6 second instead of 4 seconds.

Now it's time to land and make my way through customs. I'm landing at Heathrow Airport around 5:45am but I do not fly out until tomorrow morning at 11:20am out of Gatwick Airport. From the research I did planning my flights I was under the impression it would be impossible to get through customs, transfer to Gatwick and make it to my gate in time so I have a full day lay-over here in London. I've made arrangements at a quaint little B&B near Gatwick called the Corner House Hotel.
 My reasons for picking this location were proximity to Gatwick and shuttle services to and from the airport. In searching online I found at least 50-60 such places. They all seemed very similar to the Corner House but their reviews on swayed my opinion. Apparently quite a few locals that are flying out of Gatwick in the early morning hours choose to stay overnight at such places because traffic near the airport can be quite messy.
 My plan is to get through customs here at Heathrow, hop on the National Express shuttle bus to Gatwick and then call the hotel for a pickup. As it turns out I breeze through customs in no time flat and I'm out the door to catch the shuttle by 7am. I end up at Gatwick at 7:50am, plenty of time to catch that 11:20am flight so I head to the Virgin Airline counter to see just how much a ticket change would cost me. As it turns out, the ticket change would cost me $450.00 plus I would lose the 50% deposit I've already paid for my room at the Corner House so it looks like I'm staying the night.
I call the hotel for the shuttle and as luck would have it they are en-route to the airport to drop off customers so I make it out to the van just in time to hitch a ride back to the hotel. It's not even 9am now so my room is not ready but I settle into the lobby area to wait. Around 10am my room is ready and I'm shown upstairs. and lead into my closet for the night. I joke that it's a closet because the rooms are very tiny. In fact, my feet hang off the bed several inches and the LCD TV that's mounted on the opposite wall is a 17" model. Everything is tiny but I'm fine with that. I'm only here for one night so I really don't even bother unpacking, just grabbing what I need for the day and my clothes for the flight home tomorrow morning. But first, a shower. A real hot shower with real water pressure. It really feels great even though the shower stall is so cramped I can hit all four walls with my elbows. Still, it's great to really be clean again since the shower at the Springlands hotel, although hot, lacked any serious pressure.
 After the shower it's time to head down the road into the town center of Horley. It has a very old, small-town feel to it and I find a spot for lunch then head back to the hotel to rest again.
Dinner this evening is in the hotel restaurant downstairs and it's great. mmmm, Lamb chops, mmmm.
The morning comes soon enough and I'm outside waiting for our driver to take us to the terminal when I snap these two shots, my final images in England.

 No great art there, I just wanted to document the hobbit hotel as I jokingly refer to it. The three bags lined up against the van are mine.

 We are off to the airport and there in a matter of minutes. As I head into the airport I'm overwhelmed by the crowds. I can't believe the airport is this crowded and I'm glad I got here early. Eventually I make it up to the ticket counter to check in and at first believe everything is going OK. My two checked bags are under weight and accepted with no problems. I've already paid for that second checked bag before leaving on the trip and it cost me $48 each way, $96 total. Just when I think I'm safe I'm told that I need to have my carry-on weighed and now I know I'm in trouble. Really? 5 out of 6 legs so far without a hitch and now I'm going to get nailed for my bag. Sure enough, they insist it be checked and of course I'll have to pay for the third bag. I beg and plead but to no avail, it's gotta be checked. I ask if it's OK if I remove one item from the bag and carry it on board, the big lens of course, and they tell me it will have to be weighed first. They have a weight limit for carry-ons of 13lbs and the lens weighs in right at the limit. I'm allowed to bring it on board by hand so now I just need to pay for the extra bag. 90GBP or $140 U.S.! What a racket!
 Enough of this and I'm off to my gate to wait for my flight. Sitting at the gate it's only 9:30am and suddenly the building fire alarm goes off telling everyone to evacuate the building. Really? Yes, Really. We all get up and head for the nearest emergency exit door and eventually myself and the rest of the terminal ends up out on the tarmac with planes driving nearby. It's very loud but fortunately the weather is nice and we stand around waiting to be told we can re-enter the terminal. I'm curious if we are going to be required to go through security again but as luck would have it we do not. It's about this time I realize that in my haste to get the carry-on bag checked I've forgotten my noise-cancelling headphones and and my Kindle in the bag and it's now checked. It's gonna be a long boring flight if the TV's are not working like the flight over.
 On board the flight now it it seems just as full as the flight from Nairobi to London, not an empty seat in sight. At least the TV's are working and the entertainment is alright. Not much to choose from though so I decide on Moneyball. I know that might surprise some considering my complete lack of interest in any sports, including baseball, but I read reviews on the movie and decided to give it a chance. Turns out to be quite entertaining.
 Finally we arrive in Vegas and it's on to baggage claim before going through customs. It seems like forever before my final bag, the camera bag of course, makes its way through the carousel. Next stop customs and I'm out into the terminal lobby where Penny is waiting for me.
Home! Sweet Home! This journey is over.

For my faithful followers. I'm sure I've lost a few with the diarrhea stories the last couple days.
So even though the trip is over and I've now had the opportunity to share my adventure with all of you on a day by day basis, there's one thing I didn't share much of throughout this blog. The videos. Yes, I posted a couple of them but I actually shot quite a few more on this trip. So tomorrow and the following day I'll be posting "bonus" reports of sorts with just the video clips I shot. I had a little Flip video camera with me and I shot a fair amount of videos on the safari with my Canon S100 P&S camera. There's even a few amazing clips taken with my Canon 5D Mark II DSLR. These are just raw clips, straight from the cameras. They are usually no more then 30 seconds each with no fancy editing, music or narration but I will give a written description of each clip in the blog.
I'm going to break them down into two separate entry's, one for the time on the mountain where you'll all get a good laugh out of watching me try to carry on a conversation at 15,400'. I can barely breath...And the other entry will be all from the safari where you'll get a cool look at everything from the wide open Serengeti to the lion cubs tearing into the warthog. They do provide a slightly different perspective on portions of the trip so I hope you all will enjoy them.