My journey from Uganda to Indonesia was the longest transit of my year to date (and the first country transition that wasn’t buffered by a joyful stop in England!). The planned itinerary was: Entebbe to Addis Ababa, Addis to Dubai, Dubai to Doha, Qatar, Doha to Singapore, and Singapore to Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. The odyssey commenced with a 4 am flight out of Uganda on Wednesday the 20th, and the plan was that I should arrive in Bali at 7 pm on Thursday the 21st– just in time to play in the Bali Nusantara Cup ultimate tournament with a team from Jakarta.
I’m a little strange in that I actually like airports, so I wasn’t dreading this epic itinerary, but I was feeling sad to leave Uganda and already exhausted when I boarded my first flight. After sleeping during the flight I spent my three hour layover marveling at the sound and admiring the sight of Amharic, and trying not to stare too much at the very fit pro soccer team (I think from Algeria?) who were also lounging around waiting for their flight in matching green warmup suits.
My flight to Dubai was delayed two hours. After the wait we boarded, buckled out seatbelts, and then were told we had to disembark because the plane had a mechanical fault. We all filed out of the plane to wait some more. After another hour or so we were allowed to board again. Something about the white noise thrumming of airplanes lulls me to sleep so easily! That, plus several days of sleep deprivation, put me to sleep as soon as I sat down.
I awoke with a jolt to heavy turbulence. We were clearly in the middle of our descent, and all around me people were praying loudly. I was disoriented and definitely a little freaked out. As the plane made a bumpy landing, everyone burst into relieved applause and I think a couple people were crying. It was only as we were once again disembarking, for the third time, that I figured out what had happened: half an hour into the flight, the pilot realized that the mechanical error had not, in fact, been fixed. He tried to adjust our trajectory to land early in Djibouti, but realized that we wouldn’t make it even that far– so he turned around and flew back to Addis, apparently landing just in time to avoid a disaster. Phew.
Thankfully, Ethiopian Airlines fed us a buffet dinner. I hadn’t eaten anything since my last Ugandan dinner the night before and I was famished. I ate with a Namibian couple on their way to vacation in Dubai. The husband barely ate; he spent the entire meal entertaining me with stories of near-plane crashes that he’s experienced while traveling all over Africa. I asked him what kind of work he does, that he travels so often. There was a long and (I don’t think I’m imagining this) uncomfortable pause and then he replied, “I’m with the police.” I decided not to ask what kind of police work he’s involved in.
Finally, finally, we boarded a new plane to Dubai. We finally arrived at about 2:30 am. I had, of course, missed my connections to Doha and Singapore by this time. In Dubai I waited for two hours until an extremely helpful and kind woman (thank you!!) booked me a new ticket to Bali for the next day, secured meal vouchers, and shepherded me (by now I was in zombie mode) into a free room at the very very classy Dubai airport hotel. I slept deeply and gratefully and spent a large portion of the next day in bed, watching the BBC and snuggling with the down comforter, taking breaks to eat meals paid for by Ethiopian Airlines and take a blissful hot shower.
Is this the beach? Oh no, this is Dubai International airport, complete with indoor palm trees. Side note: my traveling outfit was the most ridiculous ever. Bright blue studded jeans, beat up running shoes the color of East African dust, an oversized teal and purple and lavender and orange jacket, teal sunglasses, and messenger bag with calabash (Ugandan drinking gourd) sticking out.
The Dubai airport is like a big glittery hypercommercialized playground. I played on the free computers, spritzed myself with duty free perfumes, bought a Bahasa Indonesia phrasebook and flipped through some magazines, and treated myself to ice cream from Coldstone (mocha ice cream with raspberries and Heath bar mixed in, for those of you who care about such details… yummm!).
For the record, Qatar Airlines is my new favorite airline. I simply love those personal entertainment screens, their meals have good fruit, and I got to stretch my legs in an exit row seat on the very long flight to Singapore. (Plus the whole journey from Dubai to Bali cost less than $500). I swapped seats with a guy so he could sit with his friends, which earned me two boxes of mango-mint Tic Tacs as a token of gratitude! I made myself an excellent playlist (consisting mostly of Rihanna, Fleet Foxes, and songs from the tv show Glee) and watched The Fighter and still managed a couple hours of sleep. Singapore’s Changi airport is also top of my favorites list. There are sculptures everywhere and a huge coloring table with free art supplies!
And then I was in Bali!! I bought my thirty day tourist visa, surreptitiously covered the still-protruding calabash so that no one would think to confiscate it, and walked out into the sultry tropical heat. Standing in line at the taxi stand I started chatting with a young Nigerian guy, educated in the U.S. and now working in finance in Singapore but taking the Easter holiday in Bali. After he learned that I didn’t have a hotel reservation (my plan was to get a taxi to the beach and find a cheap hotel once I got there), he invited me to come stay in the villa that he and his friends were renting for the weekend.
“You’ve traveled a lot, haven’t you?” he asked me after I agreed. “Most Americans who haven’t traveled much would think it’s crazy to strike up a conversation with some random person, let alone agree to stay with them.” Is that true of Americans? I don’t know. What I do know is that the occasions when I have accepted people’s hospitality have resulted in many, many more positive experiences than negative ones.
And so my long journey ended, 7,539 miles later, with me out to dinner with three new friends, enjoying a sample platter of different delicious and beautifully arranged Indonesian foods as my companions talked animatedly about their stressful finance jobs. For the second-to-last time this Watson year, I arrived safely in a new country, with minimal plans and so many unknown adventures ahead. Yalla!
P.S. the title of this post comes from this song, which I like a lot (shoutout to Scott who introduced me to it!)