To Africa: 40,000 feet up 13 July 2012

13 July 2012  Above WA, some 40,000 feet up!

I’m being projected through the air at Mach 0.83, not accounting for the westerly we are probably flying into, towards the coast of WA.  We left Melbourne on time and passed over Kangaroo Island heading for Kalgoorlie, we have passed her just to the north, and now Shark Bay is in the Captain’s sight, or is it the GPS and the auto-pilot that’s doing all the work?  Is the Captain and the rest of the flight deck all asleep up the back?

After leaving the Australian mainland there is a lot of Indian Ocean to cross before we pass over Colombo.  On the way I’ll keep an eye out for any refugee boats.  If I spot the lights of one, I’ll phone Julia, with a cc to Tony, just like these poor individuals on board are doing – to be rescued by our navy ‘from the perils of the sea’ and the appalling conditions at home they are fleeing from in the first place.  I think that might be a bit political, I don’t usually go in that direction as it is inclined to get me into trouble.  I’ll just stick to sex and religion instead!

Mach 0.83 is being achieved as the A340-500 is sucked, or is that pushed, through the air by four Rolls Royce Trent 553 engines.

Royal Royce engines power us through the skies
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This Etihad aircraft has a range of 15,800kms, around 600kms further than the A380’s of which Etihad have ten on order.  Their in-flight magazine indicates that there are a total of 63 new aircraft on order, including a staggering 41 Boeing 787 Dreamliners.  This is an airline very much on the move.

One is always reminded when flying in a NW direction away from the eastern Australian coast, just how big our country is.  Not much less than four hours have passed since leaving Melbourne and we still have not cleared our NW coast.  I think that equates to flying from Turkey or Greece to London.  I wonder how many countries you fly over on those journeys?

Dinner was quite good, a number of the dishes had a distinct Middle Eastern flavour.  For entre, I chose a Traditional Arabic Mezze which was a selection of Middle Eastern hot and cold appetisers.  I could have had a cold duck salad or creamy cauliflower and roasted almond soup with double cream.  The main course had four choices.  A seared fillet of snapper and salmon, corn-fed chicken, Arabic spiced kofta or, al dente tagliatelle pasta, were all on offer.  I chose the kofta meat balls.  Dessert consisted of a selection of cheeses, a Middle Eastern semolina (no not semolina!) pudding (read stodge), a lamington cake (which looked quite enticing when delivered to the guy in the seat across the aisle from me), seasonal fruits and providore natural ice-cream.  I had the cheese.

The seating arrangement on this aircraft is a bit different from other airline cabin configurations I’m familiar with.  All ‘pods’ face forward, otherwise somewhat reminiscent of BA’s one forward/one aft.  There are six rows across the cabin. It means that nobody has to trip over anybody else to get to an aisle.  However, if you are travelling as a couple, and want to be beside each other – (quite an assumption) you are restricted to the centre of the aircraft where there is absolutely no way you can see out a window.  Quite sophisticated except for the couples thing.  There are other drawbacks, firstly: the seats are much smaller than those on an A380 which by far are the best seats in the airline industry, and secondly: there is nowhere to put anything.  No little nooks and crannies to put boarding passes, passports, nowhere to put a bottle of water etc.  Quite cramped actually.

One really good thing is that the seat configures to a completely flat and horizontal bed.  I did manage to get some sleep but also drank much more water (!) than on previous flights.  This is since my kidney stone episode of a couple of months ago which I was told can be caused by not drinking enough water.  Although this means extra trips to the loo, it also tends to a better nights sleep.

I’m looking at the flight path we are taking on the quite large monitor in front of me and can’t help but notice our NW route.  After leaving the Australian coast we headed straight for Sri Lanka, across the bottom of India passing just to the south of Cochin where my Indian cooking adventure started in October last year, and now across the Arabian Sea directly for Abu Dhabi.  If I project this flight path straight on it leads me almost directly to Copenhagen and on to Reykjavik.  These are two of my next destinations after the African jaunt.

The approach to Abu Dhabi airport was through a dust haze that maybe gave some indication that it was already 34 degrees Celsius at 6am.  There is an incredible amount of development taking place.  Roads and roundabouts going nowhere but provision for expansion being built into these early constructions.  And the control tower at the airport – well that’s something else all together.

[Adu Dhabi:  Latitude: 24.467,  Longitude: 54.367,  Elevation: 6.3m (20.67ft).  The population of the United Arab Emirates is 4,621,000 (est. 7/08), and it has an area of 82,880 sq. km.]

I was last in Abu Dhabi in 1976 on my way to Europe for the first time.  I can remember it being the most palatial place on earth I’d ever been in, let alone being an airport terminal.  Most of the palatialness has gone, now being replaced with posh utilitarianism.

We arrived at Gate 302, I don’t know how many Gates there are but 302 seemed to be about half way along the Terminal I arrived at.  Advisory boards notify customers that they should allow plenty of time to get to their departure point, suggesting that it might be up to a 25 minute walk to get there.  The Etihad lounge was very functional and provided for all my needs for the time I was there.  There are even complimentary 15 minute massages for head and neck, feet, back etc.  Maybe on the way back?

Control Tower, Abu Dhabi airport
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I had just on two and a half hours in Abu Dhabi before my connection flight to Nairobi – just another four hours and fifty minutes to go and just another flight with the usual food intake!  Somehow flight times and breaks fitted in well with my time clock as I didn’t feel overly stuffed!  It was good food too.

Entre on Etihad
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I’d tried to watch a movie on the flight from Australia – anything to help 14+ hours to pass, but either couldn’t work out how the remote worked or it was faulty.  I played In-flight Tetris instead.  On the Abu Dhabi to Nairobi leg I managed to watch the movie I had wanted to see earlier.  Salmon Fishing in the Yemen with Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt is a delightfully unassuming sort of story with the most improbable venture at its core, as the title suggests.  The storyline is relatively uncomplicated, with a love twist or two, but as a result becomes a bit more complicated than first envisaged.  I thought the filming was very good.  For me, it achieved more than just passing a couple of hours of the flight.

Arrival at Nairobi airport was uncomplicated with formalities just a formality.  I’d not attempted to get a visa before leaving home as one was available on arrival.  A one page visa application form was handed out on the plane (although I’d downloaded a three page affair before leaving home and had it all filled in – with photos) so I decided not to complicate things and just tended the one page version to the Immigration lady.  Had I proceeded with an application in Australia it would have cost me $155, in Nairobi it cost me USD20.  I think I’ll have an extra beer on that.

My name on a piece of paper was quickly spotted as I emerged from the terminal.  Andrew drove me to my hotel through the relatively new and modern industrial area of Nairobi.  One point of interest were some tall centre of road trees that were the nesting site of numerous Maribou (sp?) storks.

Maribou storks
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Spread your Wings
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Apparently they have chosen these trees as they are near a tip that they feed on.  The traffic was chaotic but moved at a pace that allowed much lane swapping and cutting-in.  It took 30 minutes to reach the fancy named Kivi Milimani Hotel.  It has a good address being in the Diplomatic area of town and just down the road from the State House where the President lives.  But, that is where any semblance of poshness ends.  Management must treasure and guard with their lives, the photo that is used in all their promotional material.  No doubt taken just after the last paint job and when the umbrellas around the pool were new, somewhere around 15 years ago, I would think, the reality is a little different.  The staff are all delightful, friendly and helpful and the rooms and surrounding outside areas are spotless.  All the concrete areas are being scrubbed down whilst all the outdoor, lacquered wooden tables and chairs are being wiped over as I write this.  I don’t know if this is a daily task or if it is being done because it is a Saturday.

It was around three fifteen when I checked in.  I was told that the switch for the hot water was just behind the door and that it would take 20 minutes to heat up.  They were right and I needed that 20 minutes to pass as fast as possible as I desperately needed a shower after all those hours in the same clothes.

Even after a lovely shower I was still stiff and sore after sitting around for so long, so enquired about a massage.  No, one wasn’t available in the hotel, but, yes, one was available at a neighbouring hotel.  Cornelius, the self proclaimed ‘Head of Security’ showed me where to go, so off I went.  Shiro was the masseuse who used plenty of oil and made me feel much better.  She had good strong hands.  A shower before I left removed some of the oil.  This I hoped would remove the possibility of me slipping and sliding and breaking my fool neck on the rough path on my way back to the Kivi.  It was only a couple of hundred metres but the possibility of slipping was very real, both from the oil and the condition of the path!

I just had time to replace some of the liquid my body was craving for before dinner.  It is Happy Hour from 5.20 to 7.20 so a couple of Tuskers helped to quench the thirst.  I remember them from last time.  They are quite a good beer, they remind me of Fiji Bitter, a great in-country beverage but one that doesn’t/won’t, translate to out-of-country drinking.  Dinner wasn’t served until 7pm so there was actually time for another Tusker before Happy Hour finished!

Dinner wasn’t flash but nourishing and filling.  I had a light Kenyan curry in coconut cream and a plate of fresh fruit. There were only two other people in the dining room, even so, we had the attention of at least seven out front waiters.  A cup of tea finished off the meal and it was off to bed to catch up on some much needed shut eye in a bed that wasn’t at 40,000 feet and that wasn’t moving.  It was only 8.45.


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