enismirdal: (Bee!14)
[personal profile] enismirdal
I've noticed a few long-term LJ friends update recently after long hiatuses (hiati?) so figured I'd do the same as I've taken the day off work.

In the last few weeks, I've added 2 new countries to me list of visited countries, which has been interesting: USA, and Malawi

USA - I think it's unfair to judge a country this large based on visiting a single city (Orlando) so I think more sampling will be necessary before I decide what I think about the USA. It's quite fun but in some ways more different to many other places I've been to (which may be a Commonwealth thing to some extent).
Things I liked: Uber is very good in Orlando (it's still a new thing in our area here in the UK); the jambalaya was good; the craft beer movement is splendid; and the Harry P Leu Gardens made me very, very happy. The area around our conference centre was lovely for walking.
Things I wasn't so sure about: a good, fast public transport service across the city (i.e. local trains, trams or more frequent buses) would have been nice; pedestrian crossings are different here to every other country I've ever been to, in terms of the colours and signals, which is odd (but I like how they tell you how many seconds you have left to cross); most of the desserts were much too sweet; I'm sorry but I still think paying waiting staff much more as a basic wage and reducing the standard tipping rate to no more than 10%, service-dependent, would be better; it would be better if tax was included on list prices!

Malawi - is a curious place. I'd looked at the weather in advance, so packed for dry heat (31C by day and perhaps 15C in the dead of night), but what I hadn't appreciated was how windy it gets at this time of year. There's a wind off Lake Malawi and it's constant with some minor whirlwinds. Malawi is also very dry at this time of year (it rains intensely there for 2 months in about November and December, then next to nothing for the other 10). So this means there is dust. Big time. It gets in your nose, and in your clothes, and under your clothes. Driving around, you have the choice between cooking in the vehicle and opening the windows for a nice breeze but sneezing/coughing.
Things I liked: they have ugali, only they call it nsima; our hotel was pretty comfortable; people are nice; the biodiversity was cool even at this unpromising time of year (giant centipede; Amegilla bees; carpenter bees in abundance; cool Orthoptera); really good Nepalese restaurant just round the corner from our hotel; Lilongwe is basically safe so you can walk outside after dark (though bring your own torch as street lighting is patchy and pavements (sidewalks) aren't a thing yet); the graveyards were beautiful dry tropical/subtropical woodland that I would have loved to explore if it wasn't culturally taboo!
Things I wasn't so sure about: something I had on Friday upset my insides and while it hasn't been a real problem, it's taking a while to fully settle (possibly either the local greens or the kapenta fish)realise it's most likely to be my antimalarials that have upset my insides...; it's not their fault because it hasn't rained for ages, but the university campus only has running water for 1 hour per day (around 5am) so you have to get water from a bucket to flush the loo - it's OK but a bit of a faff; everything gets so filthy in the field; our hotel was this bizarre Chinese construction that looked more typical of Vegas than of one of the poorest countries on earth (and apparently the food was atrocious there - we didn't eat in except for breakfast so I never tested it). The trouble with a fancy-ish hotel is that it encourages Western consumption habits (e.g. long showers, constant loo-flushing and heavy AC use) - which aren't really appropriate to a water stressed country with electricity supply capacity issues.

Coming back from Malawi involved one of those travel hell nightmares. There are 3 sensible routes back to the UK from Lilongwe (probably numerous daft ones too, but keeping it to routes with a single stopoff...): via Nairobi (Kenya), via Johannesburg (South Africa) or via Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). Because of when we booked, I went with Johannesburg because it seemed to be the best option for getting me home a day earlier. Fine. The plan was to fly Lilongwe-Johannesburg at lunchtime on Saturday, then pick up a flight Lilongwe-London on Saturday evening, and walk through my front door around breakfast time on Sunday. Brilliant!

We got text messages from the airlines on Friday night saying "your flight home will be delayed". Yikes. Also, it's really not particularly reassuring when your airline knows you'll be late 24 hours before the flight is due to leave but apparently can't fix this. Saturday breakfast time, we were getting delay estimates varying from 3 to 4.5 hours. :-/ I let CRI know, reorganised taxis, grumbled a bit but went with the flow. Johannesburg airport is at least a fairly good airport (good facilities, wifi, etc.) so better stuck there than at Addis.

So when we got to Johannesburg on time, I collected my meal vouchers (£7.60, only valid in one restaurant, which has a menu in which all items except the sandwiches and salads cost more than that) and went off to waste some time. Our 7pm flight was now running with an estimated 3 hour 55 minute delay so boarding time of approximately 10pm. Turned up at the gate around then, waited a while. Announcement: "We're having an electrical storm, so the plane has been diverted to Durban." Sure enough the thunderstorm was fantastic, but our plane was now 500km away from where we needed it to be. "It'll refuel at Durban and then come over here." Great... (Though better than the alternative, like trying to send us to Durban to meet it!)

In the meantime, the shops all shut so I couldn't buy a South African plug adapter, and the gates only have local sockets (other parts of the terminal have international ones, but those parts of the terminal were now very quiet, far from the gate PA systems and a bit creepy late at night). My phone was running low on battery (South African networks send location data to your phone every couple of minutes, which my phone actually vibrates to tell me about...this was pretty resource-intensive!), and the wifi provider's server had gone down.

Plane took a while to refuel, then another hour or so to fly back. We finally saw an actual plane at our gate around...1am? It then took another goodly while to unload the exhausted passengers coming from London-via-Durban, replace the catering, refuel the aircraft *again*, clean it, etc.

We were told we'd board at 3am. We actually boarded closer to 4am. At this point, in the interests of balance, I'll add I was upgraded to premium economy + extra legroom at the gate, so there was a small mercy in that respect. And then as we sat on the plane at the gate, the ground crew came back and told the flight staff there was a mismatch between the number of bags on board and the number of passengers, so we had to wait a while to get that fixed.

We finally got airborne around 5am. We landed 9 hours late into London. The flight was OK - out of respect for how tired we all were, the flight crew seemingly skipped forcing a dinner service on us and turned the lights off for the first 9 hours of the flight, only putting them on for the last 2 hours for breakfast. (Though this meant we were sitting in the dark when our brains all said it was 10am and time to be awake.) Of course, having last eaten at 7:30pm, by this time I was pretty hungry.

My taxi company is amazing and somehow managed to find a driver to meet me when the plane landed. So I was back home as fast as could realistically be managed without a police escort...and just before sunset on Sunday. So I got a lot less relaxation time on Sunday than planned, and booked Monday off instead. Means I'll have to work from home a bit today and print some student work on my home printer, but I can live with that if it means I can take it easy otherwise!

Will try and share a few photos at some point. (Of the countries, not the experience of hanging around in an airport for 12 hours.)
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enismirdal: (Default)

May 2017


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