Monday, November 5, 2012

Journey to Kampala, Part II: The Flights

See Part I here...

That night I packed everything up and got ready for the next day's journey.  I woke up in the morning and started trying to get a ride to the airport.  The hotel quoted me $75.  I decided to try a cab for $52.  Turns out, NYC cabs were not available for airport runs due to extreme gas shortages and new restrictions on number of passengers in vehicles entering Manhattan.  I called the bellhop again.  Car service prices had risen to $90 in 25 minutes.  I sighed but said fine.  When he came upstairs he apologized and said the price had jumped to $120.  He was apologetic and genuine, and I am pretty sure this was city-wide.  (At least it was according to a few other people I talked to at the airport.)  He tried to find someone else to share the fare, but the timing didn't work.

The other hitch - my flight was at 6:45pm, and I couldn't check out past noon because the hotel was fully booked.  I planned to hang out at the hotel where it was comfortable for a few hours, but the uncertainty of the car availability made me choose to go to the airport earlier.  I knew it would suck for the cats, but it was better than not being able to get a car out at all.

We got to the hotel at 1:15 and had to wait until 3:30 to check in.  I found a quiet-ish corner and faced their carriers out the window.  After two hours we made our way into the line with some difficulty (three suitcases and two cats and just two arms made it a process, even with carts).  We got a sympathetic gate agent who checked them in without issues.  She never asked to see the health certificates, and the total charge was half what it could have been (long story that worked in my favor). 

Once we checked in, it was time to screen the bags.  We made our way to the TSA screening section, where they asked me to remove each cat from its carrier.  I was prepared for this.  What I was not prepared for was the baggage assistance woman shouting at me the entire time, "hold on tight! Cat gets loose, cat is dead.  We get a lot of dead cats that way.  Hold it tight!  Don't want a dead cat!"  After she shouted at me for the entirety of one cat and then wouldn't help bring the carrier back to me so I could re-load him, I lost it.  I told her I knew exactly what would happen, that I had lost a pet in transit before, and that her shouting at me made both the cats and me more nervous and more likely to drop.  She stopped shouting but still muttered on and on about dead cats while I wrangled cat #2. 

Once that ordeal was over, her counterpart told me to just leave the cart with the cats and he'd bring them to the plane when it arrived.  I didn't really like this arrangement, but he seemed to know what he was doing, so I said goodbye and moved on. 

The flight to Amsterdam was on time, packed, and uneventful.  My seatmates were Swedish businesswomen who had been in NYC for a conference and were stranded by the storm.  They had seen me checking in and were all excited about the cats, with lots of questions.  The flight attendant checked on the cats for me and confirmed they were on board, and I relaxed and zoned out.

I had two hours in Amsterdam before boarding, so I had breakfast, walked around, and tried to check on the cats.  Nobody seemed to know where they were, which was disconcerting.  They assured me it wasn't unusual.  I sighed and headed for the gate.  The gate agent agreed to check again for me, and she told me a few minutes later that my cats were at the plane and, as she said, "were happy and jumping around."  Ummm - those are clearly not my cats.  Plus, the flight attendant on that fateful flight from Frankfurt to Jeddah confirmed Hattie was on board and "hyper and making lots of happy noises."  I didn't take that as a good sign.  But at least I knew they were alive and in the right place.  (I worry about traveling with pets A LOT these days...)

A flight attendant confirmed the cats made it on board and were sharing the hold with some "tiny birds."  I can only imagine how that went!

The 8 hour flight to Kigali was pretty quick, all things considered.  I lucked out and had an empty seat next to me on a very full flight, so I could stretch out a bit.  I worried a little about the Kigali stop but tried not to think about what could go wrong.  We landed in Entebbe early, and I was met at Immigration by an expeditor from the Embassy.  He was very excited to tell me that my cats had beat me to the terminal and were all set.  I was thrilled!  We sped through immigration, and I almost ran to see my cats on the other side.  They were both a little shaky but alive and well.  I let myself relax finally.  The baggage people checked the tags to make sure I was the rightful owner (which didn't happen this summer in Boston!), we waited for my bags, and off we went!  I couldn't believe how easy it was.  Granted the Embassy had helped out with import permits ahead of time, but still.  I was so grateful. 

My amazing sponsor met me in the terminal along with the Motorpool driver, and we loaded in and headed to Kampala.  Traffic wasn't bad, and we arrived at around 11:15 pm.  After lugging the cats and my luggage up to my apartment, I bid them goodnight and explored my new place.  It rocks.  Completely.

But that's a post for another day.  Suffice it to say I'm loving life right now.  I also love that, after Skyping with me and learning that I was finally "all the way in Africa" (how we refer to it with my niece and nephew), my almost-six-year-old nephew made my mom download him an African safari iPad app :-). 

Photos to come soon!


Connie said...

Welcome to your new home and I am so glad this trip is over and behind you, and for the cats too!!

Nomads By Nature said...

So very glad for a safe arrival for both you and the cats. Was a bit worried with the silence. Looking forward to hearing about first impressions for you all!

Alex said...

Glad you finally made it. And man, judging by your FB posts it seems like you haven't stopped since you arrived. Glad the sponsors are helping get you acclimated and stuff.