Well…. At least I did!
While the first leg of my journey in Africa was exhilarating, amazing, and so much more than I could have imagined, it was time to pack up and head over to Asia for the next portion of my adventure. Of course, in typical “Doki” style… I hadn’t applied for any of my necessary visas, since I hadn’t decided on my itinerary in advance. SO!
I applied online on a Friday for e-Visas to Cambodia and Myanmar, and booked a flight to Bangkok, figuring I could use it as a hub to pop to either country via a cheaper local flight, or stay in BKK for a day or two waiting for visas (as an American, you don’t need a visa for Thailand).
The Monday after my applications, I scored both visas, so I booked a flight with a 3.5 hour turnaround time from Bangkok to Yangon, Myanmar.
Fast forward two days to Wednesday, the day I was leaving Tanzania! My Air Bnb was an hour from Zanzibar airport, so at 10:30am myself and another girl from the Air BnB who was flying out hopped into a cab and we were off!
I had my two bags, and also a box of my Africa souvenirs that we were going to stop off at the post office to ship out before arriving at the airport.
First problem…. When we arrived at the post office, we found out that it was Tanzanian Independence day and all businesses were closed! Drat!!! Gueeeessss I’ll be carrying this puppy onto the plan with me. Alright then!
I hopped back in the car for the rest of the ride, and as we got closer to the airport, the skies began to darken and it started to POUR!
We figured since we were so early, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal… until we got to the Zanzibar airport.
The roof is made of tin.
The tin is not properly soddered together.
Therefore, the Zanzibar airport leaks.
You read that right.
It was also too early to check in for our flights, so the airport employees found two chairs that were dry, MOVED THEM from a flooded area, and placed them where we could sit while we waited to check in.
As we waited, we watched these unfortunate airport employees battle the flooding airport with dustpans, luggage carts, and garbage pails. They would scoop the water off the ground with the dustpan, into the garbage pail on the luggage cart, and when the pail was full, wheel it outside to pour out.
Finally, it was time for us to check in. Kat and I were on different airlines, so I went to the Ethiopian counter and she went… insane. Her ticket was booked via Ethiad and there WAS no Ethiad counter. In fact, they told her that Ethiad doesn’t FLY OUT OF ZANZIBAR. An agent took her to the side to try and figure it out, while I got checked in. For some reason, my gate agent kept asking where I had come from… I tried “America” but that wasn’t right. I tried “Dar” and “Arusha” still nope. I tried, “Congo?” which also was incorrect, and finally the agent gave up on me. He printed my tickets, and I confirmed they were window seats, and I was told to go wait b/c I couldn’t go through the gate yet.
Kat was waiting for me, pretty hysterical, because they had INSISTED that her flight wasn’t out of Zanzibar. We walked around and found another agent, who figured out that flyDubai is a codeshare with Ethiad, and her ticket was fine. SHEESH. While we were talking to THAT agent, an Ethiopian agent hunted me down to tell me that I couldn’t go through immigration because their bag tag system was down and I had to wait.
I’m not kidding, we sat there for two hours, WHILE THE ETHIOPIAN AGENT HAD MY PASSPORT.
Finally, it was 20 minutes until I had to BOARD MY FLIGHT so I got up to ask what was going on.
Supposedly, their system was still down.
I said that was unacceptable because I needed to get through the gate, mail postcards, change money, oh, and, EAT, since I’d been in the airport at this point for about 4 hours.
The agent recommended that Kat and I go through immigration and then come back.
I walked over where Kat was guarding our things, we scooped everything up and trudged over to Immigration. It only took about 10 minutes, and then we walked back over to the Ethiopian Airlines counter.
They FINALLY had my bag tag printed…but they also had CHANGED MY SEATS.
I was now in middle seats.
I mentioned this and the agent seemed exasperated, but SO WAS I.
The agent ended up finding his supervisor, and handed me off.
Ten minutes later he was back with a window seat on my first leg and a bulkhead aisle on my second.
Annnnnnnnnnnnnd finally Kat and I were able to go through into the try waiting area.
First order of business was stamps for my poor postcards, which we were able to snag at a giftshop. Then we went around the corner to the café and snagged some airport samosas (read: barely palatable), and put the stamps on my postcards.
Completing that, I popped up to drop them in the mailbox, and then ask if there was any way I could go BACK out past immigration to change my remaining shillings.
The girl opened her mouth for what I was sure was a no, glanced at me again, and nodded, pulling me back towards the shop I bought the stamps at.
The friendly counter-guy there changed my shillings to USD for the ACTUAL exchange rate, not the crap buy/sell from the ForEx outside immigration.
I went back to tell Kat and share the chocolate bar I got with my few remaining shillings, and as we were snacking, my flight was called.
Kat walked to the gate with me, we hugged, and I hopped into the bus to drive me 50 meters to the plane (oh Africa).
Annnnnd here we go!
First flight-surprise, we’re stopping in Dar Es Salaam to pick up more passengers!
This is completely unheard of in the US, but on almost all of my inter-African flights, we’ll stop at least once to pick up and drop off passengers, like a gigantic bus in the sky. It’s super fun when Dar is a 15 minute flight away from Zanzibar. But hey, whatever.
So we stopped in Dar and picked up some more passengers, and then continued en-route to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I had a 6.5 hour layover.
Now, originally I had an 8 hour layover here, which comes complete with a hotel voucher and a transit visa, paid for by Ethiopian Airlines. However, my flight time changed and now my layover was only 6.5 hours… but I have a Sorority Sister living in Addis and I planned to have dinner with her. No big deal right? Worst case, I’ll pay for the transit visa myself.
I went to the interline desk to tell them my situation, and I found out that it’s apparently, according to them, ILLEGAL to leave the airport in Addis with less than an 8 hour layover.
But…. Erika is waiting out there to pick me up for dinner!
The agent at the interline desk said he couldn’t do anything, but I should go to Immigration and see what they could do.
So I headed over to Visa-On-Arrival, and when they asked how long I’d be in the country, I said, “Oh, not more than a few days.”
Not a lie, right?
He passed me along to the desk for payment, I paid my $50 USD, and I was free!
Now, the problem of finding Erika. I don’t have an Ethiopian SIM and the plan was for her to pop into the arrivals lounge outside of Immigration and scoop me up.
Apparently they JUST CHANGED THE RULE and she wasn’t allowed inside. I didn’t know this, so I was wandering around, searching for some kind of WiFi and slowly panicking. Finally one of the transit hotel guys pitied me and let me use his phone for WiFi. I went to log in to Facebook gratefully and…. I got security coded for “new device” – DANGIT.
I identified five friends by their photos (thank you all for having easily identifiable photos!), and was able to shoot a message off to Erika. She told me she was outside, I got her mobile number, and then I logged out, handed the guy back his phone and PRAYED I could find Erika outside in the dark.
Luckily it’s easy to find an Asian girl and a white girl in Ethiopia, so we spotted each other quickly, hugged, and hopped in the cab. Erika’s other visiting friend was there, so she dropped us at a local restaurant and ran off to take her hubby BACK to the airport, since he was heading back to the states the same night. Erika’s friend and I ended up watching the cultural performances for about half an hour but then he decided that it was too loud, so he wanted to go over to a little bar next door. I didn’t want to be alone, so I figured, why not?
We walked in and it was definitely just the kind of place local people go for a beer and a meal – so that’s what we ordered! We ended up getting “tibs” which is sautéed meat on top of inerja, which is a sour, fluffier version of naan. You eat everything with your hands by ripping the inerja and scooping up the food from the inside (meat or whatever you ordered) and popping it in your mouth. Right hand only, please. (The left is traditionally used for bathroom purposes).
The tibs was great, the beer was great, and Erika rejoined us from the husband airport run and ordered another dish, which I can’t remember, but it was made of chickpeas and also the inerja, and I actually liked it even better. SO YUM.
After the food and a second beer, it was time to head back to the airport.
I walked through security and waltzed right back through immigration with no issues.
Illegal to be in the country for four hours? Says who?!
I headed over to my gate and boarded my plane without issue. Aside from the fact that I STILL HAVE THIS STUPID BOX. Erika offered to mail it for me from Addis, but said she didn’t think it would make it home….*sigh* On to Bangkok it goes.
The long flight to Bangkok was uneventful. I slept most of the time curled into a weird little ball since I didn’t have a window seat, but whatever.
Once we landed though, that’s another story….
I grabbed my computer bag and my shipping box and booked it for immigration, since I had to exit the airport in order to get my bags and recheck them since I was changing airlines to get to Yangon, Myanmar.
The immigration line took…. About an hour.
And when I got to the front, the girl told me I didn’t complete my forms because apparently coming from Africa there’s a HEALTH CHECK.
I’ve been to Bangkok MANY times… but I guess never from Africa.
She sent me TWO TERMINALS AWAY for a health check, which ended up constituting the question, “Do you have your yellow fever card?… ok good… *stamp”
I ran back and the girl popped me into an express lane and I was through in twenty more minutes.
Rushing to snag my backpack, I high tailed it up two flights of stairs to the Bangkok Airways check-in desk. I dropped my bag and handed the girl my passport, and she asked for my Myanmar e-Visa. I told her one second, it was on my computer and her face fell….
“I need it on paper,” she said.
After a moment of hysteria, she told me there was an internet café ALL THE WAY on the other side of the airport. Oh, and no, I couldn’t leave my bags with her.
At this point I’ve transformed from a relatively respectful traveler with a backpack into a disgusting, sweatball backpacker.
Well, time to work it. I ran as fast as I could (I’m down to 90 minutes now, and check-in for luggage closes at 60 minutes to flight time) to the internet café, which, of course, only takes Thai bhat.
The air mail office is RIGHT NEXT to the internet café.
I asked, and they were willing to take USD and give me change in baht.
I had to REPACKAGE my box in Thai Airmail packaging, write the address and customs forms five times, and finally pay…. And was rewarded with 150 baht.
Next I hopped back next door, forwarded my visa to the printing address, along with my Cambodian one too, just in case, and handed over 20 baht. The girl handed me two printouts and I ran BACK, this time WITHOUT MY CARDBOARD BOX, to the Bangkok Airways counter.
This time I was able to check in, with only a few minutes to spare on getting my bag approved. PHEW.
Now to tackle immigration, part 2.
Interestingly, this took about fifteen minutes and there were absolutely no hassles.
*and rainbows and glitter rained from the sky*
Once I was freed into the airport, I did what I always do, and headed straight for my gate. I found it after a few minutes, and then realized I had about 45 minutes to spare. I turned around to try and find somewhere to spend my 130 baht, and bumped into a café.
AND THEY HAD THAI ICED TEA.
I ordered, paid with EXACTLY ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY BAHT, received my amazing treat, and plopped back down at my gate with 30 minutes until boarding.
Boarding was on time for my one hour flight to Myanmar, and it went off again without a hitch – I arrived in Myanmar around 5pm local time, ready to grab a SIM card and a taxi to my hostel!