After years of constantly arriving incredibly late, I decided this time would be different and left for the airport four hours before my flight. Thanks to the efficiencies of Hong Kong public transport I ended up at the airport one hour later. Airports are not fun places to hang out in. I think I prefer rushing in at the last-minute.
Ahead of me was an eight-hour flight to Doha, Qatar, a five-hour layover, and then another eight-hour flight to Kilimanjaro Airport with a technical stop in Zanzibar. A technical stop means the flight is essentially a bus but only those people actually disembarking are allowed to get off. The rest of us have to sit on the tarmac for an hour.
Doha International Airport
Five hours in Doha is not the longest layover I’ve ever had and I had a list of things to do while I was there so the time actually passed fairly quickly. Number one on my to-do list was to withdraw extra cash. So, I went in search of the ATM I knew would take my card. My bank requires that you authorize your card for overseas use and set a maximum daily withdrawal limit. I knew all of this was set so you can imagine my surprise when the machine rejected my transaction. To make matters worse, the rejection slip reason was in Arabic. A quick, very expensive, call to my bank yielded no results. Everything was set and they saw no reason I should have been rejected. Trying not to panic – I had visions of trying to withdraw cash in Moshi – I went back and tried again, this time for a very small amount. Still rejected and still the Arabic rejection message. Then it dawned on me, the machine gives you the option to withdraw in US Dollars or Qatari Rial. Maybe it was out of US Dollars. I tried my withdrawal in Rial and sure enough it was a success. A visit to a currency exchange and all was resolved. I do feel the need to write a letter to the Qatar branch of my bank and point out that 1) if the machine is out of one currency it should just say so or not provide the option and 2) if it is possible to use the machine in English then it should be able to print the rejection reason in English.
The Doha airport is actually quite nice – Free WI-FI and lots of places to recharge your phone. I found the gate for my second flight at the other end of the airport (of course) and a few hours later I was on my way to Africa.
Finally! Kilimanjaro Airport. I disembarked and boarded a bus that drove us all of 100 meters to the airport entrance. Prior to departure I had called the local Tanzanian Embassy to get my visa in advance and was told that it was no longer possible and I would just need to get one on arrival in Tanzania. There were a large number of families with small children on my flight so my plan was simple, fill out the form quickly and join the queue before they did. I had just finished filling out my form when a guy next to me asked if he could borrow my pen. Not wanting to be rude, I said yes and instantly regretted it. First that was my only pen and one that I happened to like. Second he was very slow, not organized and took forever to fill out a form that only required basic personal details and the name of your tour operator / hotel. As I waited for him to finish I watched large family after large family join the visa queue. My heart sank. My plan to quickly sail through immigration was completely foiled and I joined the back of what was now an incredibly long queue.
Getting A Tanzanian Visa
There are advantages to being slightly older when traveling. One of the main ones is the male officials don’t feel obliged to flirt with you. I watched as several young women in front of me were teased and joked with before being given back their paperwork and passports. When it was my turn they were all business and politeness – How are you ma’am? Here you go ma’am. Very nice.
The visa process at Kilimanjaro Airport is completed in two stages. Part one is a document and passport review. Part two involves a webcam being used to take a quick picture of you for the visa and a fingerprint scanning device that scans all of your fingers. The fingerprint device seemed to foil most people. You have to follow the image on the screen as it asks for first your four fingers on one hand, then you thumb, then the fingers of the other hand, and then the final thumb. In the end you get a pretty sweet visa in your passport that looks like this:
I had heard from many people about missing luggage at the Kilimanjaro airport and looking at the baggage claim area, I can see how easy it would be for things to go missing. Basically everyone’s luggage was just piled on the floor in the room immediately after immigration. Knowing this and not wanting to lose any of my stuff, I packed everything into one large backpack and one small day pack and carried it all on the plane. So, visa obtained, I headed toward the exit, put my backpacks on the conveyor belt for the x-ray machine, (Yes, that’s right, your luggage is x-rayed as you are LEAVING the airport), and headed out into Tanzania.
First Steps in Africa – On My Way yo Moshi
Now, I had been a bit nervous about getting picked up at the airport and had asked for the name of my driver in advance. Upon stepping out I saw lots of drivers with neat, printed signs with tour company names or traveler’s names on them. And then I saw my name, hand-written on a piece of paper with no logo. It wasn’t even my last name – and my first name is pretty common. Was this my actual driver or just some scammer hedging his bets that someone with a name like mine would be on the plane and looking for a driver? But I didn’t need to worry, I knew the name of my driver. I approached and asked him for his name. It was not the name I was expecting. So this was not my driver, then. He mentioned my tour company and looked at me expectantly. So this was my driver? Nervously I followed him toward his van, wondering if I was making such a classic mistake within the first few minutes of arrival. Ok, the door has the company logo on it. Feeling slightly less nervous now. I quickly texted the owner and verified the driver’s name. I was with the right person! Frank turned out to be really great, and very informative, providing me with information on local geography, agricultural, and history during the drive to Moshi.
Once in Moshi, we stopped at the tour agencies office so that I could pay the rest of the fees. After that it was a short drive to my hotel and some much needed rest.
For a great guide on how to plan your trip to Africa check out this post from Travel Stories and Images.