An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Fly 54O

It sounds like a tragic made for T.V. movie. I knew it, however, when given the option of safety or saving 9 times out of 10 I opt for the savings. My reasoning goes something like this:

“This one seems a LOT more reputable… ah, but this one is cheaper…”
“Yeah but, it’s only $40.” I tell myself.
To which I reply, “$40 can go a long way in Africa: 3 nights worth of hostelling. A bag full of exotic wood-carvings. 100 avocados the size of cantaloupe… 100 avocados?”
“But what good are avocados if you’re dead, Derek?”
Then I play the “chance” card. “Think about it Derek… how often does a plane crash? (A question I have no idea the answer to, but assume it can’t be high.) And what are the chances that you, one person, would be on that one plane, that one day in history… People take this flight everyday… Derek… EVERY-day!”

Well I can’t argue with that. Cheaper is better, despite the name of the airline alone, Fly 540 (yes that’s the name) has destiny written all over it. So I purchased the ticket: Nairobi to Kisumu, on “Kenya’s First Low Cost Airline”. There are two points I had forgotten about when debating safe or save. One being Mandi, my flight attendant friend who told me on numerous occasions the concerns of her captain counterparts for flying no-name African airlines (where apparently the safety regulations are not quite as high as in the States). Secondly, flying in Africa is always an adventure. Here are some examples:

Nairobi, Kenya to Blantyre, Malawi.
First day in Africa, Mandi and I arrive the Nairobi airport early to wait and purchase the tickets we were unable to online. With less than an hour to spare the ticket counter opens and informs us there there is no way to take a credit card for payment (in this the capital and main international airport of Kenya). So whilst, Mandi waits and makes sure no one forgets us, Derek runs all over Nairobi looking for an ATM, withdraws the maximum amount and spends most of the money on-hand for the ticket. We got on and while making one unexpected stop, we arrived safely.

Blantyre, Malawi to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
What should have been an hour ended up taking around five. While the tickets read direct, in fact we made two unexpected stops in two different countries to pick up and drop off customers. We arrived-tired but safely.

Dar Es Sallam to Zanzibar. Only a 30-minute plane ride but not uneventful. Everything seemed great as the packed plane took off. Cool, comfy, satisfactory. Then with in 5 minutes I see some thing fall from the luggage compartment on the person in front. Nothing big just something. I look closer and see a cockroach poking its germy disgusting face in and out of the luggage compartment ahead. I begin to look around and see them all over. One scurrying as the lady a few seats up, lowers her food tray. Then one peaks out of the magazine rack in front of Mandi (who as you know has sort of bug problem). She freezes. I swat, pretending I got it, then try not to freak as I feel it scatter to and fro across my foot and ankles. We arrive. Safe but disgusted.

Zanzibar to Dar. Return flight a few days later. Same airline as before but no bugs this time. That’s because it was much too hot for them. I think they decided it was more comfortable flying in a plane wherein the air con was not broken and all it’s passengers sweating profusely as they clinged to consciousness. We arrive. Safe but dehydrated.

Now, finally Fly 540 with service from Nairobi to Kisumu. I’ll admit it’s humbling walking by all these nice ticket counters looking for your “budget” airline. You stop and ask. “Who?” they say, then after a moments pause vaguely reply, “Oh… I think over there…(?)” I locate the counter, get ticketed, and spend the time waiting to board wondering just when the last time I told my mother I loved her was.

Walk across the tarmac. Climb the long lonely stairs into the “low-cost” airplane. I sit in my assigned seat and proceed to buckle my seatbelt. As I tug on the male end of the seatbelt, I notice something isn’t right. Specifically, it’s unattached. I walk might seatbelt up to the flight attendant, who follows me back, looks, and says, “You might want to find another seat.”  Yes… yes I might.

I do. In the back of the plane. Knees pressed firmly into the slightly dismantled magazine pocket on the seat in front. I give the seatbelt a few good tugs, but not too many so as not to undo anything intended to be done. We take off. I watch as we climb around thunderheads, dipping and dropping unexpectedly. Lightning flashes as fast as the memories of life. “Avocados…” I keep assuring myself, although eating was about the last thing I wanted to do at the moment.

Well as you know from the 1st person account, I arrived. Shaken and stirred, but safe. And an extra $40 bucks in my pocket. Now I had one thing to find: avocados… that and a phone to tell my mom I love her.

1 comment

1 Marie Infinito { 10.20.09 at 10:22 am }

Thank you, thank you, Derek. I’m a 68 year old grandma to 17. I will be flying alone in a few weeks from Nairobi to Kisumu. My destination is Bungomo, Western Province. I too would opt to save a few $. I’ll try to remember to take a trangulizer. No air conditioning? What are the airline options? From what I read On line Kenya airway is not fling to Kisumu right now. Thanks for giving me the visual. I just won’t tell my kids

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