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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fly the friendly skies

I love flying. My dad has piloted various small planes since some time in the 70's. Cessnas, Piper Dakotas, Cirrus SR's, and more have carried his aviator glasses and flight logs around most of the US. A regular Saturday ritual would be a brunch flight with my brothers to ports around southern California. We'd pile in the Piper Dakota and take off, and take turns holding the yoke before Dad would land us in some remote outpost that was probably barely more than a hangar and a grease joint. We'd get a meal there, then return to Van Nuys airport then do whatever for the rest of the weekend before going back to my mom's. I've carried the ease of getting into a plane and enjoying the ride with me on my post-college career - I've logged commercial flights to over 40 cities in most states (a good number of 'em being in the great state of California). However, for my trip to Kenya, this would be a marathon of a trip - 17 hours of flying over 24 hours of traveling. I would leave my home airport on a jet plane and land in a 3rd plane almost 24 hours later. I'd better get comfortable. August 17 rolls around. My girlfriend's parents are awesome to give me a ride to the airport (thank you, guys!) and so I start the trip with no way to contact anyone once I got there. Let me back up - in all the packing and all the planning, one thing was apparent - either I'd have to get an international phone or just do without a phone for the trip. Heck, I'm going somewhere rather unconventional, so let's do the unconventional thing - do without! So I took off with only a few devices that needed electronics - my cochlear implant, and a brand new Motorola Android tablet filled with movies, music and eBooks. My entertainment center, if you will. The rest of my pack was clothes and things to give to my girlfriend when I arrived. Special things, actually. Picking mid-August to fly out was not a mere coincidence. International flying is no straightforward matter. When I landed in Chicago to change planes, I was also changing airlines from American Airlines to British Airlines. That necessitated changing airport terminals - going from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 - and trying to find out if I need to take my bags with me. Luckily, I had a pretty good amount of time reserved for the layover, so after straightening things out, I hopped over to the International Terminal and went through security... again. At every airport I switched planes, I had to go through another layer of security. I won't get up on my soapbox this time, but really this needs to be changed. While waiting for the British Airlines flight to arrive and board, I figured out a way to get internet access for my tablet while I'm traveling, and for a fairly reasonable rate. BOINGO internet access has WiFi at many many airports internationally so I could get on the 'net and send messages and travel status updates without having to go to a insecure internet cafe (more on this later). British Airways is FABOO. Blows the pants off of any airline experience I've ever had. Even flying coach, the food was fantastic, the seating was comfortable for me, the in-seat entertainment satisfactory (no captioned movies, but I had a lot of choices and ended up watching some English subtitled foreign films). I slept most of the flight from Chicago to London, pretty uneventful. I requested the gluten-free meal in adavance of my flight, and they served me first - so nice to be able to eat, finish, get it out of the way and onward to sleeping. Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that I hadn't slept the night before so I could avoid jet lag on this trip? I highly recommend it if you can swing it! In London, I got to see a GOREGEOUS sunrise as we descended over the city to Heathrow. London Tower bridges? Check. The London Eye? Check. The 2012 London Olympic stadiums? Check! After bustling from the plane and through security (again!!) I found out that they don't announce which gate your plane will be at until about 40 minutes before departure. Yikes. I got on the tablet and BOINGO and found out even in London I'm still some 5 hours behind Kenya time. With yet another 8 hour flight ahead of me, I made the most of my time in the airport by checking out the 2012 Olympics souvenirs - the Olympics closing ceremony had been just a few days ago and the Paraolympics were ramping up in a few days - nice timing to be between events! Next up, arriving in Kenya.....

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Kenya, kenya, kenyaaaaaaa

I took a trip to Kenya, Africa, 3rd planet from the Sun, Sol, Milky Way Galaxy, the Universe earlier this year. My favorite song about the trip: ;-) Actually, let me back up. This trip took a lot of work to plan and execute. I've been overseas off the continental United States two times prior to this - both were very straightforward, short trips to touristy destinations. My passport is pretty underused, and I've always been itching for a reason to use it. Heck I got it more than half a decade ago on the chance I would be just off the coast of America in the Island of Bermuda (assuming I didn't get lost in the Bermuda Triangle, of course). With my girlfriend there, I now had a reason to go exploring Africa. So time to dive into planning! It took several weeks of dialogue just to even nail down a couple of weeks when to be there. Apparently, no one in Kenya follows any kind of schedule or clock, so stuff seems to run on "someday" and "whenever." We took some good guesses and figured with some leeway, I could get into Kenya by August 17th and out on the 31st. This was maybe January or February and even then it felt like I was late actually ordering my flights out there and back. The cornerstone of the trip was to climb Mt Kenya, the 2nd highest mountain in the continent. This beast is nearly 5000 meters above sea level (that's some 16,300+ feet to us Yanks) and has to be summited over a number of days. The highest I've gone is 14,200 feet (Mt Lincoln in the continental United States) and even that only took most of a day to get up and down. So with that set, now we had to figure out what else we wanted to do. See the lions? Safari tours are quite a time commitment. Hit the Indian Ocean and the beach? It'll take a few days on some dangerous roads to make our way to the coast and back. Just hole up in a hotel and catch up? Romantic, but why come 8,000+ miles just to see the inside of a hotel room? We settled on at least heading to the beach for a few days after we summit, to celebrate our heady accomplishment. This still took several months of discussion and price shopping and collaborating online, but once we figured out what to do and what to pack, it was now just a matter of catching the right flights and heading to the dark continent! Next: The long flights....