Out Of Africa

September 24

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Since I didn't want to miss today's departure from the camp I had asked Jim to wake me up properly, preferably not by pouring a bucket of water on me but by something more civilized, like kicking my feet. So it came that I woke up thinking that I am back in California, in the middle of a Richter 9 earthquake: Jim didn't kick me but the bed, with vigor - and it worked. For a second I looked for a flashlight until I realized that it's bright and that I am still in the Serengeti.

Packing was quite simple: open bag, aim, throw, squeeze, close. I still had some unfinished photography business so I didn't want to pack my photo bag quite yet, and everything else is quite throw-able. With bags packed and lined up for departure we enjoyed one last breakfast in Tanzania, full of SUGAR jokes and group pictures. We paid our honor code based bar bill and headed for the airport. While Derek failed to earn himself $100, he did deliver the last planned shot - zebras in tall grass. The fact that the picture sucks more than a warehouse full of Hoovers has to do with my technical abilities and lack of preparedness. But we got to see them.

We arrived at the air strip just as our airplane was approaching. Before landing the pilot had to scare off the vultures that were camping on the runway, as that's exactly where a poor antelope met the cheetah that didn't want to show. The ranger dragged the leftovers off the runway, the plane was unloaded of supplies for the camp, and we said our goodbyes. The plane was the nicest small plane I've ever been on, not that I have really all that much experience. While Valerie was fighting to keep her breakfast to herself most of us enjoyed the views of the landscape below, including of the Oldoino Lengai volcano that had erupted just earlier this year.

Click on the first image to start a slide show for this day (68 pictures)
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We landed softly at Arusha's small airport, quite a difference to KLM's controlled crash ten days ago. The Ladies went straight to the Departure Lounge as they were heading on to Mafia Island; the rest of us went on to the local Culture Center, which is a nice name for shopping center / tourist trap. It's of no real relevance what people were buying, but I shall mention the how: I ran into Graham at the checkout, just as he was trying to pay for something rather expensive. His (only) credit card was denied, even though it had just worked minutes ago. No problem, I offered my credit card. It was denied as well, surprisingly, since mine worked minutes ago as well. No problem, let's try my Amex. That one was neither denied nor approved - we got stuck in the approval process. At that point we were holding up our entire group, and so Graham decided that it simply wasn't meant to happen. To this the shop owner said: "You are with Thomson Safari? Here, keep it, and when you get back to the US then call your credit card company and make sure it gets approved." We were both quite speechless - there still seems to be a place where reputation and trust works. And make no mistake, Graham was buying something very nice.

With that story to share we went to the local lodge for lunch. It was buffet style everything, very fine food, ranging from soup to - you guessed - beef. Mmmm, beef! Just don't overdo it, since the next ... ah, 36 hours will be spent on airplanes and at the airport. From lunch we rode to the pre-departure lodge where we could freshen up and pack before departing. On that drive through Arusha we got to see more of this city and marvel at the many instances of Engrish as well as other cultural oddities.

Our day camp featured a room with everything that belonged there, including air conditioning - something we haven't seen in two weeks. It just would have been nice if the shower came with towels; one hour, three calls and one walk to the reception later and we were proud owners of towels and stormed the shower. With the laptop and iPod batteries charged we had a quick dinner and headed to the airport.

The security at Arusha is in a way even more obnoxious than at US airports. I don't necessarily mean better or worse - just more obnoxious. I think that you are more likely to bring a gun / bomb / Coke on board in any US city than here, but they do rub it in. And they weigh the carry-on luggage, which carries a strict 20 lbs limit. Fortunately, my photo bag was not weighed, but I was prepared to ingest most of it into my dorky photo vest, just as Andy did when his bag hit the scales. And the paperwork to enter and leave the country definitely helps employing tons of people - which means more here since people are lighter.

We boarded the plane in a very chaotic fashion on two stairs and joined those passengers continuing the flight to Dar Es Salaam. The friendly folks sitting next to me were also returning from a safari, they were even on the same flight to Arusha as I was; what a small world. But I didn't talk too much to them as I knocked myself out and woke up just before landing in Amsterdam.

In Amsterdam we had breakfast in two groups at different locations, after which we split up - Andy and I catching our respective flights pretty much right away, and the rest enjoying the rest of their layover at the internet cafe. Our flight to SFO was delayed for half an hour because a wrong bag was on the plane, and we sure didn't want that for security reasons. The real kicker was however my neighbor: a young Polish woman, sitting in the middle seat, traveling with her husband, sitting in the middle seat behind her. I selfishly denied her request to switch seats with her husband because this time I needed to walk around more than ever before, and with my action guaranteed myself a lot of entertainment. Passive entertainment, as I put on my headphones and turned on the iPod for the entire duration of the flight; the entertainment was in the form of the woman getting progressively drunk and flirting with the stranger sitting in the window seat, her husband watching in disbelief from behind. Good stuff. The humor was twice interrupted when she spilled her wine onto herself and I tried to save my Powerbook from making a trip to Donna's. But overall, thirteen hours of uninterrupted fun. Good thing I had four laptop batteries with me, too, as that way I finally managed to go through all my pictures and weed out all the awful ones - as in, most of them.

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