Thursday, 28 July 2011

Pre-Traveling West Africa - I Just Want to Board the Plane!

After a year of serving as Peace Corps Volunteers, Lindsey Dattels, Liz Adamo, and I decided to spend Ramadan discovering the rest of West Africa. Who knew finding more adventure was even possible?

The next few posts will tell stories and show beautiful pictures from our trek across Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, and Benin, but for now, let’s describe the journey (i.e. challenge) that it took for us to get there.

At Douala International Airport, we checked in without problems, but Lindsey was later stopped for carrying a 9kg bag. Though it fit within the carry-on bag size, the baggage man stated there was a 7kg limit. We stated that we already checked with the front desk and there was no problem to which he stated that there was. The second we replied that we would talk to the main Ethiopian Airlines office, he let us go and said that we were being too stubborn. We win.

Security went surprisingly well (which it never does for me), but right before the boarding gate, Lindsey was stopped again for her bag. We went through the same speech, but then I was stopped for having an over-sized contact lens solution bottle.

“Do you have an ordinance for this?” “Yes, I do!” showing my prepared note with my own personalized stamp. We win again.

After we sat down, another man came by to check our boarding passes and passports. Normal procedure…or so we thought.

“Ladies, you need to come with me,” he stated outside the waiting room after twenty minutes. “I cannot allow you to board the plane without a Malian visa.” And here we go…

“We will buy the visa at Mali’s airport as there is no consulate in Cameroon,” I easily replied. “Only direct flights require visas and we have to transfer in Ethiopia first, so it’s an indirect flight.” (Special shout-out to Travelindependent. You saved our life with that one!).

He continued to say he could not let us board; we continued to say that we could. Well, no need to explain that though we were nice, you could see the anger growing in his eyes and we were sent us to the main Ethiopian Airlines office. Interestingly enough, he wouldn’t give us his name. And so we retraced our steps and passed by EVERYBODY that stopped us before.

I explained the entire situation to Mr. Essaya, but he couldn’t understand my Americanized-French accent. I explained again in English, but he only spoke Cameroonian-accented English. Fail. Luckily, Lindsey explained everything. Again, he asked us if we had a “pre-arranged visa.” “We’ll buy it at the airport.” He laughed in our faces.

“We have already registered with the US Embassy. They know we’re coming.” You can always count on the US Embassy! After he made a phone call (which took what seemed like a lifetime), he simply hung up and said that we could board the plane. CHAMPIONSHIP WIN!

After all the back-and-forth, Ethiopian Airlines put us up in the swanky four-star Panarama Hotel where we spent the night’s layover in Addis Abba. Hot shower, air-conditioning, all-you-can-eat buffet, and free internet. Definitely some things PCVs lack in our lives and can appreciate!

Don't tell us that we don't know how to pack light for three weeks!

Every good trip begins with a pedicure!

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