It was still dark and early in the morning and it was time to go. We had to take another ten hour long bus ride back from Arusha, Tanzania, to Mombasa, Kenya. When we purchased our tickets not a single seat had been reserved, so we chose two front seats and assumed the bus was typically empty on a Sunday morning. We had a number of things to carry onto the bus, and the seats across from us had some additional old dilapidated seat cushions stacked on top of them. It appeared to be a storage area so Elliott placed our sleeping bags along with the other things there.
Our inability to figure out the things going on around us had been somewhat of a theme during our time in Africa, and continued to be so during that last bus trip. Within a few minutes all of the seats on the bus were filled with passengers. One of the men at the front of the bus, who appeared to be an assistant to the driver, took one of the old dilapidated seat cushions off of the seats across from us and put it on the floor. We couldn’t figure out what he was doing until he motioned one of the standing women to sit on one of these cushions. It turned out that this man’s sole purpose during most of the bus trip was to organize and arrange old seat cushions, boards, and whatever else he could find in a comfortable manner for those who did not have seats.
“Those who did not have seats” comprised a surprisingly large group. On a short city bus ride back home, it is certainly common for people to be standing. But on a ten hour bus ride? And yet it was so. The seats were full, the aisle was full of standing men, and the small front area of the bus between us and the door and driver was full of seated women. I was in the aisle seat. At one time there were four people sitting in the 4-foot space between me and the driver and another three people in the stairwell! Needless to say, there was no “Maximum Capacity” sign in sight.
We sat back and enjoyed the ride. Other fun things that puzzled, amused and sometimes amazed us Westerners:
- We pulled in and out of gas stations four times without getting gas.
- As more and more people climbed onto the bus at each stop, my personal crowding experience went from having someone sitting about two inches from my leg, to having to squeeze my feet as close as possible to Elliott so that people in the aisle could spill a little into our seating area, to having to share my armrest, to having one man asleep and leaning on my arm while two other people were pressed up against me. Not exactly what we Americans call a comfortable distance!
- One woman had a desperate need at one point to relieve herself, so the bus driver stopped for her in a rural area. As soon as we were moving again, a male passenger argued he should be entitled to have the bus stop for him as well. The driver finally agreed and within moments 90% of the passengers (including Elliott) disembarked the bus to do the same. There was no actual bathroom in sight!
- The security checkpoint at one point consisted of sharp spikes jutting up across the dirt road. After we had garnered approval from the guard, someone literally dragged the row of spikes out of our path, and onward we went.
- No matter how full the bus appeared, we always made room for the next person we found standing along the road. At some point there was no more room on the floor, so a young man straddled the short rail in front of our seats in a way that did not appear very comfortable. While we were quite unsure what to with someone so close to us, he was very friendly, and launched right into probing questions about American life and politics.
- We stopped hard when we came up to a large truck blocking the entire road. It looked in need of some major repair and appeared not to be going anywhere for a long time. No problem! Some men jumped off the bus and guided the driver off the road, into some deeply rutted trenches along the road, and through the bush until we passed the truck. I think we held our breath the entire time, and clapped for the driver once we realized we were not stuck.
- At one point after a long stop in a town, the bus became unhappy. The men in the front did some looking underneath and then walked back and forth from somewhere they could gather water in a plastic jug. You may have guessed it already – they then poured it through a special compartment inside the front of the bus, into what we can only assume was an overheated radiator.
- We saw a herd of elephants as we were looking out our window at one point!!!
Whew! What fun. We made it to Mombasa, got off the bus and caught a taxi to the airport, where the fun continued. Since it was already evening and our flight left early the next morning, we had decided to sleep in the airport. We’ve done this a few times before; we simply find a place to sit with our luggage and we take turns watching it while the other person sleeps. We’ve found no one really seems to mind when people sleep overnight in airports, which is interesting. Let’s hope no one starts minding since it has saved us lots of hassle and money when we’re taking multiple flights. The Mombasa Airport was not the best airport to sleep in since it is open-air, and was super muggy and full of mosquitoes wanting to bite us. We coated ourselves with bug spray and did our best to sleep… I finally sacked out right on the floor.
The next morning we flew on Air Berlin to Munich, where it was suddenly bitter cold! There was even snow! How funny to go from being so hot in Mombasa to so cold in Germany. It was like ascending Kilimanjaro all over again, but without the effort 😉
I found the Munich Airport to be super cool. To me it signifies all the German stereotypes come true, in a positive way – it is clean, modern, state-of-the-art, practical, logical and spartan. My favorite thing was the way the bathroom doors opened like elevator doors every time I went in and out. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I also fell in love with the grocery store that sold enormous Milka chocolate bars for 2.45 euros. That may have been the best bargain one could find!
We arrived in Munich in the late afternoon, but our flight to Tel Aviv wasn’t set to leave until the next night. That meant another full night and a full day in an airport for us crazy kids who don’t bother with hotels when normal people would. Luckily, in my obsessive hobby of travel miles and points I’ve been able to collect a few free lounge passes, so we at least had access to a nice lounge during the day. The only trick was going to be getting to the lounge, which was on the other side of the TSA, with our baggage (which we would be unable to check until two hours before our flight). We had no problem taking our bags with us, but we knew the TSA might not like all the dangerous, big bottles of… LIQUID!
We didn’t feel like paying the five Euros to store our liquids with luggage storage either, so we tried to devise another plan. Elliott asked a ticket agent to agree to store our package for us behind the ticket counter to no avail. So we decided to make a game out of it, called, “Where can we hide the package in the airport?” Yes, a dangerous and stupid, yet fun, game, especially when you’ve been living in airports for the past 48 hours. As I sleuthed around looking for good hiding places, the thought occurred to me that there might be security cameras waiting to record my exact behavior. And sure enough, when I found the perfect garbage can lined with an empty bag under which I could stash my package, I looked up and saw staring back at me a nice big security camera. Maybe not the best hiding spot, I decided.
Elliott won the game when he found a huge scissor-lift in a corner. We looked around and observed that there was no active construction going on anywhere in sight, and the cleaning lady had already cleaned around the scissor-lift that morning. Betting on the hope that there would be no more cleaning for 24 hours, Elliott went back to the ticket agent and asked for a note in German to attach to our package asking people not to throw it away. At that point we were advised that the ticket agent “could not recommend” we hide the package in the scissor-lift. Hmmmm… we took his recommendation under advisement, stashed our package, and headed to our lounge.
After two full days of airport sleeping, the lounge was a paradise of comfy couches, free internet access, free snacks and free drinks. We showed our gratitude by taking several snacks for the road. After about eight hours of lounge-y goodness, we were ready to check in for our flight. Elliott headed back to look for our liquids, and there they were, right where we left them. SUCCESS!!
The terminal for our flight to Tel Aviv was a separate small building that appeared dedicated to flights to Israel. All the signs were in German, English and Hebrew, and there was much heavier security there than anywhere else in the airport. All the heightened security made me a bit nervous, but made Elliott feel safer. When it came time for passport control, the lady in the booth just laughed when she examined our passports. We had already been in and out of secured areas in the Munich airport several times, and had no fewer than four German passport control stamps that were less than 24 hours old. Even funnier when you consider we never left the airport! Once inside the lounge area of Terminal F, we saw four young guys engaged in a spirited game of foosball on what might be the world’s longest foosball table. Soon enough, however, we were bused out to our plane, and we were on our way to Israel.