Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.
emo_snal

Guinea 2016 Part 4 - Airport Hell Odyssey



Saturday, July 30th, 0200 hours, Conakry, Guinea - "ready for your flight in five hours?" The message flashes in the dark. I shouldn't still be up but I'm not sleepy and after all I don't have to be anywhere in the morning.
   "Dad it's not for like 19 hours"
   "It says on the itinerary you sent us that it's in the morning, seven hours from now" Hmmmmm. In the Organization's office they had told me I wasn't flying out till 8:45pm and I hadn't thought to cross check it because, well, they've never been wrong before! So I scrambled for my printed itinerary. Right there staring back at me: 8:45 AM.
   Had the flight been changed?? There wasn't much time to find out! And no one in the office would be able to answer before the morning flight! Fortunately the Organization books with a major corporate travel agency that has a 24 emergency phoneline! Called them and they confirmed I was departing in just under seven hours!!
   Fortunately Daniel happened to be departing at 5:30 for a flight at that same time 8:45, actually the same flight as it turns out, and already had a ride arranged. So I dove into bed to sleep for three hours. Got up at 5:00 to pack in a mad hurry -- and apparently in so doing left behind my good northface jacket and one shirt which I wouldn't care about so much but my malaria medication was in the pocket. The hotel front desk wanted me to pay an additional $20 for the already-paid-for taxi they had arranged. That seemed like a raw deal but I was too tired to argue and figured I'd get reimbursed anyway .... except that receipt, which I thought I had immediately folded in half and placed in my lower left pocket, was utterly not to be found when I got home and looked for it... so so much for expense reporting THAT ):

   Arriving at the airport in time to be at the front of the line, it still somehow took them an hour to issue our tickets, and the flight wasn't going to the intended destination of Abidjan anymore but that flight had been cancelled and the aircraft rerouted to Lome, Togo, from where we were assured we could connect to continuing flights -- Daniel on to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and myself from there to Abidjan where they optimistically said I could catch my original flight to Dubai (departing there at 15:20). Also while waiting in line for htis extremely tedious ticket sorting I started to feel nauseous, something I had eaten the day before apparently wasn't agreeing with me. Just eyeing the utter non-movement of the line behind us in the hour it took them to sort out the first people in the line I predicted an 8:45 departure wasn't in the cards.
   Proceeding up to the gates, the guard at security made a half hearted attempt to solicit a bribe from Daniel, but he laughed it off and maintained his forward momentum (she used the old "what present do you have for me? money? hm?" trick). The 8:45 departure time came and went. 10:00 ... 11:00 went by. While idling about I was taken by the sudden need to puke by guts out into a nearby trashcan, and then some kind mzungu girl handed me a bottle of water. Daniel struck up a conversation with some airline employees who mentioned some interesting facts relating to France's continual grinding-of-Guinea-under-it's-heel -- apparently France or Air France owns the airport and charges such high fees on any other airline besides Air France that no one else will go there. Asky, the little airline we were flying on, keeps its airplanes on the ground there literally the least possible number of minutes because I guess Air France charges them by the minute or something? When our aircraft finally did arrive around 12:30 they had us crossing the boarding bridge as the offloading passengers crossed off on the other side of the glass wall, and we were off as soon as we were aboard -- the aircraft couldn't have been on the ground for more than 40 minutes (safety checks shmafty checks!)

1400 hours, Lome, Togo - At the transfer desk I found my flight to Abidjan was scheduled to already be boarding, so I bid a very hasty goodbye to Daniel and ran off to find the gate. As it happens Daniel would be stuck in Lome overnight and continue on to Addis the next day.
   My flight was... not boarding. and then it disappeared from the departure board. Then it reappeared on the board with a different flight number and gate (that is, the Asky flight to Abidjan did), so I hastily proceeded to that gate and found a big crowd of people around the gate desk. It seems they had recombined two flights, so now an aircraft would fly to Abidjan and then onward to Dakar. They needed to reissue everyone's tickets but somehow couldn't organize people into a line, so one just had to jostle through the crowd to the front and then get the attention of one of the three people behind the desk, who were taking people in no kind of order. Once you got one of them to take hold of your existing ticket they leafed through the tickets on their desk to find the matching name ... but their stacks of tickets didn't even seem to be in alphabetical order, the overwhelmingly obvious way to save time in a situation like this, so they had to leaf through all the tickets on hand. Fortunately this kind of incompetent tediousness really brings people together and there were plenty of sarcastic witticisms traded among the passengers (and by the way, I wouldn't think I'd need to note this, but I saw a hollywood movie recently where they visited an African airport (in Namibia) and most of the people inside in the movie were white, wtf. Just so you know, the ratio of Africans to westerners in west african airports is something like 200:1.)
   Predictably, this flight too departed 2-3 hours after its scheduled departure time -- even when we were finally boarding there was still a disorganized crowd of people trying to get jostle their way to the front desk and get their tickets reissued.

2000 hours, Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire - At the transfer desk here they were flabbergasted that I had managed to miss my connecting flight by five hours. In contrast to how helpful everyone had been last time Asky marooned me here, this time the transfer desk guy bruskly escorted me into the check in area to where he saw someone he could hand me off to, who kind of grunted upon receipt of me in a manner that left me not entirely sure he had actually accepted the mission, and as he kept walking in the direction he was already going I really wasn't sure, but tagged along. He led me into a back hall of the airport and pointed to a door down the hall, and then left. I proceeded to that door and found it locked and knocking or listening did not reveal any signs of life. My escort had left, and I ran to the door he had led me in from but it had locked behind him. I was stuck in empty back hall of the airport!!
   After about ten minutes of me being quite consternated there, much to my surprise someone from Asky DID actually show up to enter that office. I had written them off. He seemed marginally competent, I mean like, he seemed to barely be able to work out the obvious facts, that they'd made me miss my flight and they should put me up in a hotel until the next day and arrange for my ticket for that flight the next day. After some coaxing he did manage to conjure up the driver from the hotel they'd put me in last time... though he wouldn't issue me the usual paperwork to make transfer lodging official, just saying it was worked out. I had to take his word for it but since the driver was right there for the conversation it seemed promising. Also I asked him what time the flight the next day was and he said 12:00. I said "not 15:20 like it was today?" and he said "no it's 12" and I said "like leaving at 12, so I should be here at 10??" and he glared at me like I was being really annoying and said "sure"

   There were no problems with the hotel, and the manager was glad to see me again, he was the same young fellow who two weeks prior had issued me the invitation to come work in Cote D'Ivoire. (Note to self for future reference: this is/was the Hotel Ile de Maurice). I had been feeling vaguely nauseous all day, and had eaten literally nothing because I just couldn't stomach anything. As soon as I got in to the hotel I conked out on the bed.. was awoken an hour or two later by the manager knocking on the door saying my dinner was ready and why hadn't I answered the phone. Went down and stared at the dinner (grilled chicked, and onion salad, same thing I had two weeks ago that was actually pretty good. And the amount of food was huge, like half a chicken), tried to eat a bit if only to be polite but I really couldn't stomach anything at all and had to excuse myself.


Sunday, July 31st, Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire - 10:00 was at the airport promptly at 10:00 the next morning... only to find that grossly incompetent nimrod had lied!!! The flight was not at 12:00, but at 15:20!! As I had entirely expected! The Asky flight to Lome was at 12:00 which is probably what the utter baffoon had been thinking of.
   I tried to go check in but Emirates wasn't even manning any check ins until three hours prior to their flight. I went back up to the Asky office but either they said I needed to talk to Emirates first or maybe they just weren't there at all, all I remember is I ended up having to sit in the outer part of the airport for two hours, the area where arriving passengers are emerging from the baggage claim and being greeted by whomever is waiting for them, and people are hanging around trying to sell them in country phone cards or ask if they need a taxi. So as it happens I was able to at least find a seat in this area and was rather bored ... and I took note that one of the girls working as a greeter for one of the hotels was quite attractive. Her duties happened to take her upon occasion right past me since I was between the area where arriving passengers emerged and her hotel's desk. I've gotta give my friend Trent some credit here, since I was talking to him on facebook messenger and he encouraged me to talk to her after I noted her high level of attractiveness to him. I was just conceding that "well maybe" I would when she seemed to disappear. Oh well.
   12:20 - And then it was time to go check in, so I got up and started walking towards the check in area, which happened to take me past her desk.. and as it happens she stood up behind her desk as I went past, I hadn't seen her behind it there. I walked a little further and looked behind me, and I couldn't say for sure she was looking AT me but she was looking in my direction. I thought for a moment and then slowly turned around making a wide turn with my wheeled luggage behind me like trailer, and proceeded directly up to her desk, where she was waiting expectantly with big pretty eyes.
   "Do you speak English?" I asked
   "A little" she answered, blushing a bit
   "Ah. I just wanted to come talk to you because you're so beautiful" I explained -- no point beating around the bush. She blushed deeply but really I almost felt like she'd been expecting me.
   "Do you have whatsapp?" I continued, and just like that she was giving me her number (Whatsapp is the messenger app that everyone in the rest of the world (except the US and Australia as far as I can tell) uses instead of texting), I had actually neglected to get her name until I had to ask what to put her in my phone as (Chantal, it turns out). I then explained I had to go check in, "but you'll come back here after checking in?" she asked with a tone of real concern. What a sweetheart.

   12:30 - the woman at the Emirates desk seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in giving me bad news. Her eyes danced with glee as she informed me the Emirates flight that day was booked solid and I couldn't get a flight until the next day. And then her face filled with pure joy as she announced I'd have to pay a $500 fee. She was vaguely dismiessive of my assertions that Asky should pay any fee, waving me off to go talk to Asky about that, in a manner dripping with her secret hope that they wouldn't.
   13:00 - Up at the Asky office I found there were actually three other Americans waiting in their office to get flights fixed, no doubt after their own missed connections. I haven't seen so many Americans in one place since the fourth of July in Melbourne! With typical Asky slowness it took at least an hour to get through these three before the one guy there could begin to look into my case. Long story short it concluded with him saying only his supervisor could authorize Asky's paying of the fees, and his supervisor wouldn't be in in the morning so he'd "call [me] at 10:00 the next morning." I gave him my number but was also careful to get his number as I had no faith in his actual calling me. Also he said they wouldn't put me in a transit hotel this time because I wasn't _actually_ their transit passenger any more -- Asky and Emirates don't actually have any agreement so they were two entirely seperate tickets.
   "But I was a transit passenger yesterday!" I exclaimed... which he easily parried with
   "Yeah well ... you shouldn't have been."

   Time to call the travel agent again! They confirmed that yes, they were actually two freestanding tickets, but kindly offered to book me a hotel (what fun travel agents are!), on the spot I couldn't remember Chantal's hotel (turns out it was the Marconi Ibis, which was one of the ones the travel agent had in her computer) but it so happened the cheapest one on their list ($114 a night after taxes for those following along) was one I recognized as having been about 200 meters from the airport so it sounded good. The travel agent made the booking and emailed me a booking number and all that.

   14:00 - went down and chatted with Chantal a little bit more before going out and catching the aiport shuttle. We made dinner plans before I left, though she was working till ten.
   The guard by the hotel shuttles spoke surprisingly good English, I was initially pleased with this but then it started to become a little irritating that he kept trying to interest me in one of his friend's taxis despite that I had a free shuttle bus coming to take me the 200m (hey I know you're asking why I didn't walk but the wheels on my luggage barely work and it was uneven ground the whole way), and then when it did come the guard asked if I had something for him and acted quite hurt and offended that I didn't. I don't mind handing a little baksheesh to someone who's helped me in some way but I hate it when people expect something just for the pleasure of their conversation.

   15:00 - Arriving at the Oronomo Hotel they couldn't find my booking, even with the reference number they couldn't find it anywhere in their system. I tried to check my bank statement on my phone to make sure they hadn't charged me already but Wells Fargo in their infinite wisdom has locked me out of being able to check my accounts online (though my cards still work) because they can't be convinced my every activity isn't fraud apparently. So I decided to just book the room anew ... and THEN I was informed that "well, actually the hotel is full" (!!!!) Seriously must _everything_ go wrong???

   15:30 - Fortunately I happen to have an inside line on a hotel! I asked Chantal how much the Marconi Ibis was and it was literally like only $3 more so I made plans to return to the airport and catch the Ibis shuttle (have I mentioned that I happen to love ibises? they're an inherently funny bird, always looking like they ought to be wearing a top hat), but as I got up to go the manager suddenly called out "wait! I think we have a room for you!" Okay... They showed me to a room and I really wasn't very impressed but a bird in hand is worth two ibises in the bush I suppose and was ready to be done running all over the place.
   The hotel had a really fancy looking lobby and restaurant area but the room was small and claustrophobic. Most of the other guests appeared to be flight crews. A big contingent of them I thought were Australian because they were dressed kind of like Americans but with shorter shorts than any self respecting American male would wear ... but then I heard them talk and it was just bizarre! South African apparently.

   22:00 - I walked back to the airport to meet Chantal when she got off work and we grabbed a cab into town. Unfortunately it was a bit late for most nice restaurants but between my list of restaurants from the tripadvisor app and her local knowledge she recognized one she thought was open, and we proceeded to a fairly decent cafe with outdoor seating that appeared to be a popular nightlight location, it was pretty hopping. Apparently it was open 24 hours. Chantal was a real trooper because I think she was really tired actually but was trying to be game.


This is her somewhat constrained face after putting up with my cameraphone failing to focus properly on her pretty smile for a minute or two. Also lol at the girl in red behind her wtf!


Monday, August 1st, Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire - 10:00 I began calling "Mr Binto" at 10:15 and continued like clockwork every 15 minutes until at 11:30 I actually got ahold of him. He said to come to the airport and talk to his boss Eric, who would sort things out. So I checked out and proceeded to the airport. Unfortunately Chantal was not there, having errands to do in the morning and not working until that afternoon.
   12:00 - I found the door to the Asky office locked again. Waited around for about half an hour till someone showed up and let me in, and then about half an hour later this boss man showed up. He barely spoke to me but got most of the story from the other staffmember in French, and from his tone it sounded like he (the boss) was making fun of me for the most part.
   13:30 - I was starting to be concerned that this wouldn't get solved today when another staffmember in a suit showed up and the boss character told me to follow him down to the Emirates office. With less than 100 minutes left until my flight was scheduled to leave I started providing my mom with the countdown, as I was talking to her on facebook messenger. I was getting seriously doubtful this would get sorted out this day. But then suddenly the Asky guy was counting out a very thick wad of money onto the Emirates desk -- he must have been bpaying the whole $500 fine right htere in cash! And then I had a ticket!!
   14:00 - I got all of about ten steps from there with my Emirates ticket in hand when the check in counter people wanted to see my Australian visa ... which was recorded in my other passport. All I could show them was electronic evidence of a visa for a different passport number, and a current flimsy temporary passport (recall the earlier passport shenanigans).. this seemed a big problem at first, but once it proved to be an unresolvable difficulty they seemed to kind of shrug it off and left me proceed. And then I was through security! And boarding the plane! At this point at every one of these ordinarily mundane steps I expected to run into some kind of obstacle, just the way things had been going. Flight was prepared to depart on time at 15:20 since Emirates is a gosh darn real air line, but "three people failed to board the plane after checking in so we need to find and offload their luggage" ... how do you get all the way through check in but ail to make it on the plane in such a small airport? I pictured one of the many sudden obstacles I had dreaded reaching out its bureaucratic tentacles and snagging these people as they blissfully walked to the gate thinking themselves home free, and thought to my self "there but for the grace of god go I!"


Tuesday, August 2nd, Dubai - morning? Really time has lost all meaning by the time you fly halfway around the world. Anyway only noteworthy thing I can recall about Dubai is someone had tipped me off that there's a Shake Shack in the Dubai airport, the famous New York burger chain, so it was my goal to find it! And I did! And it cost me $24 USD for a small albeit delicious burger!
   That and sometime within the following 24 hours apparently an Emirates flight crashed in Dubai and burned to cinders right there on the tarmac!


Wednesday, August 3rd, Melbourne, Australia - 05:45 I had been dreading a potential visa problem ever since the passport switcharoo, though I was optimistic that they had straightened it out in the system as I left. Turns out they did, it wasn't a problem, but then the passport control officer threw me a curveball -- "you're coming from West Africa.. do you have your yellow fever vaccination?" ... which I do but the documentation is with my old passport (which FINALLY arrived back today, the 9th of August). Yellow fever is primarily an East Africa concern so I hadn't even thought to worry about the lack of that paperwork on this trip! On my explanation that I did but didn't have the paperwork on me she grunted disapprovingly and wrote a note on my immigration card wihle saying I'd need to see the health officer ... but no one asked me about it again.
   From there without incident I took the shuttle bus back to Geelong and was picked up by my housemate, the end!! Total travel time, 89.5 hours spanning five days!!!!

Tags: africa, air travel, travel, travelogues, west africa
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