Preparing for my trips to Tanzania have become pretty routine considering this will be my 24th trip there since 2009. That being said , traveling in the time of this pandemic has become just a bit more complicated than one can imagine. The weekend before my departure, I had come down with what I was pretty sure was just a common head cold, but given the current environment, I was convinced to report my symptoms to the hospital, necessitating that I get a COVID test first thing Monday morning and wait to report to work until the following day. It was, of course, negative, proving once again my incredibly powers of diagnosis in the world of infectious disease – please know that I am kidding with all my heart as those who know me would be more than happy to attest. I stick to neurology. Given my upcoming flight on Friday, though, I knew that I would need to have another COVID test done within 72 hours of my flying. So, I arranged to have another test on Wednesday midday, knowing that it would result in plenty of time for my flight.
Meanwhile, Mother Nature decided to add just a little bit of spice to the Philadelphia region during the middle of the week with Hurricane Ida, now only a tropical depression making its way up to the Mid-Atlantic coast prior to heading up through New England. The forecast was certainly for lots of rain, but what I’ve come to learn living on a river is that it is not only important just how much it rains where you live, but is equally, or even more, important just how much it rains upstream. That’s exactly what happened with the Schuylkill River as the storm came through and sat over the counties north and west of us such that the river swelled to a near record flood stage of over 16 feet. Now, that would be really exciting if it wasn’t for the fact that my apartment buildings lobby sits lower than that as does the garage of my building. We were awakened at 5:45 AM with the building flooding and had to evacuate out the back of the building since the front was now submerged and cars parked on the street in front were also under water. For all of the damage that others suffered in the flood, though, ours was minor and living on the sixth floor was also a bit of a saving grace, though the elevators were out for several days, meaning I had to walk up and down six flights of stairs several times a day. I moved my car out of the garage and to higher ground before the water started coming in and other than slogging through the water to get my bike out of the bike room (yes, I rode to work each day just like I normally do) I came away pretty much unscathed.
That was on Thursday and my flight was on Friday night. Thankfully, one of the elevators was repaired in time so that I didn’t have to lug my two 50+ lbs. duffel bags down the stairs to get my Uber to the airport. I had everything taken care of in my apartment as I would be gone for the month with Marissa looking after my indoor jungle of houseplants at home. I arrived to the airport over three hours early thinking that I would sit in the American Express lounge after check in and have some dinner before my flight. Recalling my wonderful experience in Chicago last March with the passport issue, I now had my brand new passport in hand with extra pages so I wouldn’t run into that problem again. I handed over all of my paperwork to the gate agent who checked that I had everything necessary. Visa – check. Entry registration for my rapid COVID antigen test in Tanzania upon arrival – check. COVID PCR test here within 72 hours of ARRIVAL? Wait a minute, it had always been within 72 hours of DEPARTURE previously. The agent double checked for me and, in fact, the Tanzanian government had recently changed their rules (unlike nearly all of the other countries) which really made little sense as many of their flights are to distant destinations and often take over 36 hours to arrive and the timing of this requirement would be incredibly difficult.
I’ll have to admit that I was pretty calm about the whole thing as it become clear to me that I wasn’t going to be allowed to fly that night. Shades of Chicago once again. Thankfully, my travel plans this time were flexible by several days as I had planned to spend the weekend with Leonard and Pendo and their kids and would merely have to miss one of those days by rebooking for the next day. The supervisor was incredibly understanding and found me flights the next night that would be the same times. The only inconvenience was really that I would have to pay for another Uber round trip back to my apartment, and that was a small price to pay. So, I lugged my two huge duffels and camera backpack to the Uber pickup and headed home to water my plants which I hadn’t had time to do running out that evening. I would have to get yet another COVID test the next morning and pray that it would be resulted before I needed to check in the following night otherwise that would be a major problem. Things went smoothly, of course, and I was able to get my test done at 7:20 AM the following morning, which was surprisingly negative as were my previous two only days earlier. I arrived back at the airport the following evening, now four hours prior to flight just for safe measure, only to find that the American Express club had closed at 5 PM due to the pandemic. I spent the next several hours sitting at the gate, working on my computer and getting hungrier and hungrier as I was determined not to buy any overpriced food at the airport.
In most situations, that would seem like a rather normal response, but I will have to confess to everyone now that I had actually purchased an upgrade to business class the night before, which they thankfully honored on my newly booked flight. This meant that I would be wined and dined on the entire flight to Doha, Qatar, and would also have the opportunity to sleep in their lay flat bed that would be turned for me by the flight attendant. That is if had actually planned to sleep for I had actually decided to work for the entire flight, save for the time that I would be eating the fancy meals that were served to me and watching a movie or two on the large monitor at each seat. I have often told others that flying business class on Qatar Airways is like its own separate vacation and this upgrade did not disappoint. I had perhaps the best flight ever due to the constant attention of the flight attendants and it proved wonderfully productive as well with the work that I was able to complete. Given the opportunity, I would certainly upgrade again in the same situation.
I would have an eight hour layover in Doha, which for those of you who have not flown through this airport, is an amazing conglomeration of high end duty free shopping for just about whatever you can imagine and lounges that are equally nice as long as you belong to one. Thankfully, due to my frequent flying on Qatar, I have a membership to their business class lounge which means I can continue to enjoy wonderful meals where my flight had left off (see a common theme here?). In addition to the food, there are also showers and business facilities there to pretty much get done whatever you need during transit. With the pandemic, we can no longer leave the airport, where previously, we would visit the Doha Marketplace and spend the night. It’s unfortunately that is no longer available, though the trip is now about eight hours shorter as a result.
The flight to Kilimanjaro departed at the ungodly hour of 1:40 AM, and, despite my best plans to sleep, I could not seem to do so. As such, I landed in Tanzania pretty sleep deprived after two completely sleepless nights and promptly became comatose just afternoon at Leonard’s house, but slept for only three hours. I had planned to spend two days relaxing in Arusha, but I really think it was more recovering from the lack of sleep and didn’t normalize until the following morning when I drove to the airport to pick up the residents, which I’ll pick up on in the next blog.