The Joys of Travel


Travel Challenge #1
I wrote last week about the challenge I had getting from Memphis to Dulles airport, a trip that ended up taking fifteen hours and included several delays and a diversion from the planned stopover in Houston to Baton Rouge. Little did I know that would be the first of several challenges our team had during the week.

Travel Challenge #2
I also wrote about the suitcase that got lost on the way to Kombolcha from Addis, ironically the only suitcase we had to pay for because of the extra bags we had. Fortunately, that one came in the next day but cost Cassidy the chance to meet the mother of the child she sponsors.

I’ll come back to travel challenges in a bit. (insert cliffhanger music here)

We woke up early Saturday morning for a quick team picture before heading to the airport for a quick flight back to Addis Ababa. Last year, our flight back to Addis got canceled and we had to make quick arrangements for a long, adventurous drive that involved a driver who had been up all night and other adventures. Scroll back through this blog to see a description of that adventure. Fortunately, although there was a slight delay, we were able to make it back to Addis in very short time (it’s an eight hour drive, but a one hour flight).




Travel Challenge #3

As we were waiting for our luggage, a representative from Ethiopian Airlines walked over and started talking to Abigail. There was a look on her face that did not give me confidence of good news. And I was right. Because of the weight of the airplane, the luggage had been left behind in Kombolcha. It would be on the next flight, and we would have to return to get it.

When I heard this news, I laughed out loud. This week has been full of curve balls, and this was just another one. Fortunately, it was relatively minor as we didn’t have anything in the suitcases that we couldn’t do without for a few hours. We just hoped that the suitcases would indeed be on that second flight.

I’ll come back to travel challenges in a bit. (insert cliffhanger music here)

After a very light walk to the parking lot to be picked up in the van, we went back to the guest house for lunch and then drove to Mt. Entoto. Mt. Entoto is a high peak on the outskirts of Addis that used to be the summer home of the emperor. Since we didn’t get to drive back to Addis, we wanted to make sure the first timers got a chance to see a bit of rural countryside and not just urban areas. It also gave us a chance to get a break from the dust and smells of the cities as the air at the top of Mt. Entoto is noticeably cooler and cleaner. We decided not to go to the museum as we had dinner plans that evening and needed to return to the airport for our luggage. Instead, Zelalem had the van stop to let us out. He led us on a short hike down the mountain a bit. The path was rocky with loose gravel and we had to concentrate to keep our footing as we walked down a part of the mountain. Meanwhile, a few kids scampered quickly behind us, having no problems with the same path. I’m sure they were laughing at us (in fact, I’m quite positive they were laughing at us).
At the bottom of the path stood three armed policemen (armed with pretty serious looking rifles). A few women and their children were selling baskets and baboon hats, and three other women were running down the road with must have been 100 pounds each of eucalyptus trees strapped on their backs. We were warned not to take pictures of the women as they would ask for money if they saw you taking their picture.


Turns out the guards were there because there had been some problems with tourists being robbed, so we had no problem standing close to them! (We have a photo of Daniel being held with a similarly armed guard at the Addis airport in 2008.) The view from where we were standing was a magnificently framed view of the Addis Ababa skyline. It was a jaw dropping view, with the many high rises and sprawling city highlighted by the late afternoon sun. Max asked Zelalam if it would be okay to fly his drone. Zelalem in turn conferred with guards who said it would be okay.

Everyone around us were curious about the contraption as Max unpacked and prepared the drone for takeoff. I’ll never forget the squeals of delight and how quickly the kids scampered backwards when it first took off. We all watched, entranced, as Max guided the drone away to get shots of the city.

The hero of the day award goes to Zelalem. As we continued our trek down to where our van was parked, I stopped to take some photos. As I pulled the camera out of the bag, the lens cap fell off and rolled down the hillside into the bushes. I, personally, would have let it go as I had little desire to jump the couple of feet down off the road and hillside into the brush to retrieve it. Zelalem, though, without pausing, jumped down to get it. Thanks, Zelalem!!!





We got back in the van, drove down the rest of the hill to the airport, retrieved our bags without incident, and returned to the guest house.

Saturday night we went to a “cultural dinner.” Lori and I have done this before and as soon as Alex suggested it I knew the group would enjoy it. At the restaurant, patrons are served traditional Ethiopian food while being entertained with traditional Ethiopian music and dancing. If you have never seen Ethiopian dancing, look it up on YouTube. If you saw Black Panther, you’ll recognize 
some of it. There’s this thing the dancers do with their chests and shoulders that are pretty amazing. It’s very athletic (and exhausting just to watch). During one of the dances, Cassidy was picked to go up on stage to do some moves. She did a great job!

Finally, we returned to the guest house to retire for the evening.

On Sunday we attended church and headed off for shopping. Shopping included coffee, tea, berbere, and souvenirs. I’m not a big fan of shopping but we sell the coffee to help raise money for next year’s trip, the berbere was for a good friend, and I always find something unique in the souvenirs and also like bringing stuff back for friends and family. My suitcases will smell like coffee for a month! I’m surprised I didn’t get questioned about the amount I had as I was going through customs as you could definitely detect the smells wafting from my luggage.

Back at the hotel we had dinner, said our good-byes, and headed to the airport for a long and uneventful journey back to the United States.

Travel Challenge #4, in two parts

Leading up to me making reservations for the trip, I was working on the logistics of a) getting back to the U.S., b) moving Michael out of his dorm, and c) getting to Massachusetts for Allison’s graduation from Smith College. When I made the reservation, the plan was to fly to Newark on Monday, check in at a hotel for some sleep and move Michael out on Tuesday, drive with him to Massachusetts, and attend Allison’s graduation on Sunday (Lori and the three Tennessee kids would fly up Wednesday). Plans kept on changing until Michael’s schedule settled in such a way that he finished last Friday so had his girlfriend come down to help. Since airlines charge a lot of money to change a ticket (ahem, United), I still flew to Newark and am now on the train from the Newark airport to Springfield where Allison will pick me up. I tried to change my flight this morning, but the plane to Hartford was full. So, I sat at the airport, watching the Hartford bound plane pull back from the gate.

Meanwhile my New Jersey plane was delayed 45 minutes, which is fine as I had plenty of time, but given my concern about jet lag. I didn’t like not having forward motion.

The other logistic I was trying to work had to do with luggage. Turns out Michael has another exam tomorrow, but didn’t want to stay on campus for three days for that one test, so drove back to Massachusetts, returning this afternoon to spend the night on campus so he could finish up tomorrow. I had planned on meeting him at the Newark airport train station so he could take a couple of my suitcases, giving me two fewer bags to schlep on the train. There is a light rail that connects the airport to the train station so I headed there and asked one of the workers where I could meet Michael. She told me there is no parking or dropoff directly at the station. Instead I had to return to the last stop, the parking garage to have him meet me there. I hop on the train and at the same time call Michael to meet me at the parking garage. His first request was for an address, which I didn’t have.

Oh, and my phone battery was at 4%, and the train to Springfield is leaving in 30 minutes.

I get to the parking garage, send Michael my location, and ask a worker the best place for him to meet me. Her response that the garage is only for valet parking and if I want to meet Michael I need to go to the airport terminal. I explain to her the situation and she helps me find a place to meet. I give Michael new instructions. I also tell him that the train is coming in twenty minutes so if he’s not there in 12, we’re going to bag the plans and I’ll take all of the suitcases with me.

Battery: 3%. Screen goes dim to save power, dim enough that I can’t see the screen without covering it with my hand.

With about four minutes to go, Michael texts me that he sees the signs for the parking garage and in another minute Michael and his friend Ben pull up. I barely say hello and thank you, point at the bags that he should take, and run back inside the building to get back on the light rail over to the train station. 

Battery at 1%. Whew! And I made the train.
***
So, the travel wasn’t without its challenges, but every trip has had its travel challenges. I don’t think you can schedule a trip this complex without some unknown variables being thrown in. And even though it may seem I’m whining about the challenges, at the end of the day, they add to the excitement of the trip. I’ll also say that I would deal with challenges even more complex in order to get to and from Ethiopia. The long travel and every one of the challenges are more than worth it for the week I get to spend with these children and young adults who have benefitted so much from sponsorship. I can’t wait for next year!


This year's team.

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