Thursday, January 07, 2010

Travel Zen

I like to think that there is a special state of mind into which frequent travelers often descend. You will know these people by their irksome calm when they, in the same awful travel predicament as you, watch calmly as you lose your temper. Their bags might be missing, their flight delayed, or cancelled, the airline clerk being a heinous twat and yet they stand next to you with that placid look of acceptance and love for the airline clerk, and the airline industry - and universe at large.

Sometimes, I enter this state of travel zen. No, I don’t enter it…it usually descends upon me for no apparent reason and in those moments I feel calm – and somewhat superior. I’d like to think that most of my travels over the holidays I was in that state. Flight from Amsterdam cancelled…no problem. Flight to Boston cancelled…no problem. Flight to DC cancelled…no problem. I was the poster child for travel zen.

But now the universe is tempting my resolve. I am set to fly DC, to Amsterdam, to Nairobi, overnight and then take early flight to Juba. Everything goes badly from the get-go but my resolve cannot be shaken. Bags overweight…no problem just shift stuff around. Flight delayed an hour and half out of DC making it impossible to make the connection…no problem just overnight in Amsterdam. Zen, remember?

But then it happened…the small and seemingly innocuous travel blip that shatters the calm. Eight hour flight; in-flight entertainment system broken. It unravels from there. The Nairobi flight is delayed and so I make the connection in Amsterdam and get on the 9.5 hour flight only to find out that the entire planes in-flight entertainment system is working but my seat is broken. (For the record you can read two books in 18 hours). Arrive in Nairobi but no bags. The Nairobi airport is awash in bags – some looking as though they’ve been there since 1910 but no bags from Amsterdam.

Believe it or not, I have yet to despair. I wait in the hour long line and fill out my paperwork and know there is no way that these bags are ever going to find their way from Nairobi to Juba without me but that’s ok cause I’m going to get to sleep soon. Where? An interesting question because I haven’t made any reservations but assume that the guest house where I normally stay will have a bed for the now-six hours I get to sleep.

[A brief aside about Nairobi for those of you who haven’t been here. It’s filled with sheisters and isn’t exactly the safest place to roam around at midnight. People are routinely in horrible traffic accidents, robbed, mugged, and hijacked. I don’t know why there are so many sheisters here but when God was handing out conniving Nairobi folk got a double-portion. I don’t say this to denegrade the Kenyans – many of whom are wonderful friends of mine - but Nairobi, as a whole, is out to rip you off. Just bear that in mind.]

I approach the taxi stand and negotiate my ride. I should have been more wary when the smiley girl calls her ‘friend’ who isn’t actually a taxi driver but pulls up in the most ginormous land cruisers you have ever seen. Only if I had been wearing a pith helmet and knee socks would that safari car have been appropriate. It’s also a piece of junk. I drive land cruisers and know that this one is about to fall apart. But what can you do? We get in and go. Needless to say, the vehicle doesn’t even make it half way to town. No, not because it’s a piece of junk (which it is) but it runs out of gas. The driver is assuring me that he will walk to the nearby gas station to get some gas. I, in no uncertain terms, tell him I’m out of there. Except…it’s 11pm. In Nairobi, on the highway from the airport. Do I stay in the car or do I get out and hike? [It’s like a choose your own adventure book.]

I get out and hike. Cars are laying on their horns cause they can’t see the broken down heap of junk and the driver is jogging along beside me as I stomp down the dark highway promising to be back in 5 minutes. I do (mother? Danielle? Are you listening?) realise that this all was a very bad decision. In fact, the further I walk into the darkness (but luckily without my bags!) the more I realise what a bad decision it is.

I finally get to a dark street corner where there is a tree and by the tree is a guy with a car.

‘Hi,’ I say. ‘Are you a taxi?’

‘Yeah,’ he says. Cause he’s not an idiot.

‘Are you crazy? Or going to kill me? Or is your car going to break down?’ I ask – having learned my lesson and wanting to do due diligence.

‘Uh, no?’ he says.

I can’t be that easily convinced though. ‘Really?’ I ask. ‘So if you’ll take me to such-and-such I’m not going to end up dead in a ditch somewhere?”

‘Uh, no?’ he says. ‘But it’s 1000 shillings.’

I would have paid anything at that point. So I get in and we go. Slowly, cause his car is also a piece of junk but it gets us there. And there’s a room available…so despite not having clothes, or shampoo, or mossy repellent, having to get up at 5.30 in the morning and having bad travel documents that probably will get me expelled from Sudan tomorrow I’m thinking that travel zen is just about to return.


Any minute now.


Danielle said...

Yes, i'm listening :) And you're right--bad decision. Or good one--you might have been killed had you stayed with the first ride. Funny thing about life--once you chose your adventure, you never get to read what would have happened had you chosen differently. Regardless, we are always praying for you and your safety.

Sara said...

Where is Princess when you need them?

Alfredo Zamudio said...

Hey Kelsey, you forgot to tell about those signs at the traffic lights "If you stop here, you are likely to be robbed", although the one outside Kenyatta university, where some years ago I read one, meant for the late evening students, going home after the last class, "Beware of the two legged dogs". Oh my, Zen is an art of living. Or worse, my friend. Promise your readers that you will not do that one again? Go posh, call Hilton! :)