The Travelling Trooper Lives Through A Hellish Travel Nightmare

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Normal Uri

Uri at the airport

This is the story of how Trevor and I made our way from Zimbabwe to Kuwait. At the end of the day, this is a success story. It’s a success story because I didn’t murder anybody. I count that as a victory.

So the story goes like this:

On the evening of the 10th, as my hosts were getting ready to go to sleep, I asked for the easiest way to get myself to the airport the following morning. Andrei and Pauline live way out of Harare in a beautiful, quiet suburban neighbourhood. It’s the Bel-Air of Zimbabwe. When the taxi rolled up to their house on the first night, I felt like Will Smith in the opening song of Fresh Prince. It wasn’t that swanky, but it certainly was in relation to the rest of Harare. Teachers get treated very well in Zimbabwe apparently.

But since they live so far away from the city, Andrei suggested I get a cab with G Taxi to get to the airport. He said they were very reliable and pretty punctual. And so, I went online and booked an 8:00 am taxi, since Andrei said that, with traffic, it could sometimes take up to an hour to get to the airport in the morning. My flight was at 12:15, so a 9:00 arrival would be perfect.

The following morning, I sat outside of the gate with my bags at 8:00 sharp.

Fifteen minutes later, I made my first attempt at calling them. I wanted to make sure the cab was coming, but unfortunately, there was no answer. I probably called a dozen times over the next half hour. As 8:15 became 8:30, and 8:30 became 8:45, I became increasingly frustrated and concerned with every unanswered phone call.

The thing is, I HAVE to be at the airport three hours before my flight. I don’t feel comfortable unless I have that three hour window. In my mind, missing a flight is tantamount to watching somebody set fire to a mountain of my own money, so I want to avoid any possibility of that happening.

Plus, the thought of wasting so much time waiting for another flight drives me up the wall. I love travelling, but I hate airports, I hate the airline industry, and I hate the power that they hold over us–the erratic way prices fluctuate, their tendency to overbook flights just because, the wonderful sunny dispositions of people at customs and security–I once saw a man in Philadelphia berate a poor Asian woman because she couldn’t speak English!–I just hate all of it. I’m a very optimistic and loving person, but when it comes to the airline industry, I would gladly take the CEO of every major airline, lock them in a room with a gun and a single bullet, and tell them that nobody is leaving that room until one person is dead. That is how much hatred I have for the airline industry. And so, I try to minimize the amount of time I spend at airports by getting to the airport early enough so that if and when something does go wrong, I’ll still have enough time to catch my flight.

Needless to say that when I finally got a hold of somebody at G Taxi at 8:45 and the woman on the other end informed me that there was no taxi coming, I was not very happy. Supposedly, their website had been down for maintenance over the weekend–she had no idea how I even managed to make a booking, let alone receive a confirmation number. G Taxi didn’t have any cars on the road that morning.

Awesome.

Unfortunately, because Northwood is so secluded, you can’t just hail a taxi out there.

So with the very last of my phone credit, I managed to call another company. I explained that I was all the way out in Northwood, and that I needed a taxi to the airport as soon as possible. The guy said he could have a driver there in ten minutes. Just before we could confirm the booking, though, my phone credit ran out.

Crap.

I figured he had enough information that there should be a taxi coming. If anything, he could just call me back.

Sure enough, in a few minutes, I got a call from my driver. He said he was heading my way, but he asked me to send him my location so he’d know exactly where to go.

Ten minutes after that, he called me again. He said he couldn’t open the pin location I sent him, but that he was at North Ridge.

Unfortunately, North Ridge is not the same as Northwood. They’re about 20 minutes apart.

Instead of hurling my phone at the ground, I asked a woman who happened to be passing by if she could give the guy directions.

And so, 20 minutes later, I was finally sitting in my taxi. The driver apologized and said that his boss sent him to North Ridge. I knew it wasn’t his fault. In fact, it wasn’t entirely his boss’ fault either. I had initially told the guy on the phone Northwood when he first answered my call, but then I ran out of credit before we could confirm the location, and so he sent the driver to the wrong place. Oh well…at least I was on my way.

On the way to the airport, I decided to check the status of my flight. I had to laugh when I read that it was delayed by an hour and 45 minutes. All of that stressing and worrying for nothing. I was going to have ample time to check in.

We arrived at the airport at 9:55, I thanked the driver, and took my bags inside.

It was probably the easiest check-in I’ve ever done. By 10:25, I was sitting down at a table, waiting for my burger and cider to arrive. Yes, I was eating a burger and drinking a cider at 10:25 in the morning, but after the last two and a half hours, I figured I deserved it.

As the hours went by, I kept checking the flights on the screen. For some reason, my flight was nowhere to be seen. At about 1:30, I went over to the desk and asked for an update on the flight. A staff member said that the plane should be landing at 2:00. I explained that I had a connecting flight in Nairobi, and he said that the airport staff in Nairobi are aware of the delay, and nobody is going to miss their connections. They will wait for us. I’ve been on planes when we had to wait for over an hour for people who were running late because their flights had been delayed, so I totally believed him. Silly me…

Sure enough, at 2:00, the plane arrived. By 2:15, we were boarding, and by 2:30, we were in the air.

The whole flight, I kept thinking, “Man, I wish I was sitting closer to the front. That way I could just make a run for it when we land.” Unfortunately, I was pretty close to the back.

As soon as we landed, I booked it to security. Of course, there was a line. I explained to a staff member that I was running late for my connecting flight, but she didn’t have time for that. “Get in line, sir.” There’s that sunny disposition I was talking about earlier.

I got in line, took off my belt and shoes, took everything out of my pockets, took off my sweater, and threw everything into a bin. I took my camera and laptop out of my bag with so much haste that I tore something off of the back of my laptop. (Don’t worry, she’s fine.) I passed through security, threw my laptop and camera back inside, and just picked everything else up. I didn’t bother putting my belt on or putting things back in my pocket; I just ran with everything in my hands.

I stopped in my tracks when I passed a monitor. KQ706–Dubai–Departed: 6:57. It was 7:07. My heart sank. Part of me didn’t want to believe it, so I ran to my gate anyway.

Sure enough, the plane was gone. I was directed to the Kenya Airway desk.

When I got there, there was already a nice long cue. Turns out I wasn’t the only one to miss my flight.

I eventually made it to the front, and was waved over by Jacob.

I explained to him that my flight had been delayed, and that I was told that the plane would wait. It hadn’t waited at all. The scheduled departure time was 6:55.

Jacob explained that because of the busy schedule of flights coming in and out of the airport, the planes can’t afford to wait around. He also informed me that since my agency only booked me through to Dubai on Kenya Airway, they would only be able to re-book me as far as Dubai. I was going to have to get myself to Kuwait from there.

I pushed back a little and said that it’s the airline’s fault that I missed my flight, and so the onus is on them to fix the problem. He insisted there was nothing Kenya Airway could do, since my flight from Dubai to Kuwait was with another airline.

I took a deep breath and said, “Fine, if you can’t help me, can you at least ensure that my bag aren’t put on the flight to Kuwait?” After three days in Kuwait, I was supposed to fly to Abu Dhabi anyway. I figured this way, I’d just scratch Kuwait off the list, and give myself an extra three days in the UAE.

Jacob said he couldn’t do that; the bags were going to Kuwait. But then he looked carefully at the monitor in front of him and pointed out that if I took the next flight to Dubai, I’d have a window of 55 minutes to catch my flight to Kuwait. I didn’t bother to stop and crunch the numbers. Had I done so, I would have realized that was impossible. My initial layover time in Dubai was four hours; if I flew out at 11:10, I would be flying out four hours after the original 6:55 flight. The numbers didn’t add up. But the thought never occurred to me. All I was thinking about was catching the flight.

What did occur to me, though, was that Dubai International Airport is massive. Fifty-five minutes would not be enough time to check in all over again, go through security, and make it to my gate. I expressed this concern to Jacob, and he explained that he was going to send an e-mail to Dubai. The airline would check me in in advance and have my boarding pass ready for me when I got there. I’d just have to run to my gate as soon as we landed. Again, I believed him. Silly me…

I spent the next few hours Internet-ing and napping before we finally boarded.

I sat in my seat on the plane and looked at the monitor on the back of the chair in front of me. That’s when it occurred to me that you can always check the flight information on those screens. I looked at our estimated time of arrival in Dubai, and it was 5:47. My flight to Kuwait was scheduled to leave at 4:30.

What the hell, Jacob?! How are you gonna do me like that?! Fifty-five minutes my ass!

I spent the entire flight fuming and composing a fiery rant that I was going to unleash on an unsuspecting soul at Kenya Airway in Dubai. I was going to go off about how I’m a travel blogger with an international readership, I lived in the UAE for two years, I know many people who travel regularly between Africa and the UAE, and if they don’t resolve this problem, I’m going to roast them on my blog. I was going to tell all of my readers to never fly with Kenya Airway ever again.

Of course, this is all a lie–but they didn’t have to know that!

I honestly don’t remember if I managed to get in any sleep on the flight. I just remember getting off the plane and looking for somebody to unload on. I found a guy in a suit and quickly explained that somebody was supposed to be waiting for me with a boarding pass. He directed me to a guy in a Kenya Airway vest who was walking back towards the plane. I ran after him and started prepping my speech in my head.

I approached him and got as far as “Excuse me, I have a problem…”

Without any hesitation, he said, “Are you heading to Kuwait?”

Completely threw me off.

“Take this. This will get you your new boarding pass. Just follow the signs for connecting flights.”

“Uhhhhhh…thanks.”

And with that, the flame was out. The dragon inside me was slain. Nobody was going to burn tonight. Although I was very confused. Jacob had lied to me. He said that Kenya Airway wouldn’t be able to get me on another flight, since I was flying with Fly Dubai. That was why when he said I’d have 55 minutes to catch my flight, I assumed he was talking about my initial flight. Apparently he’d booked me on another flight after all. I checked my initial boarding pass just to make sure, and sure enough, that was flight FZ 69, and now I was on FZ 53 to Kuwait.

Whatever, I was flying to Kuwait. That’s all that mattered.

But as I was walking towards wherever it was that I was going, it occurred to me that I was going to have to check in. I couldn’t just board the plane with this piece of paper.

I looked up at the monitor, and found my flight. Gate F3. I picked up the pace, and kept chanting “F3, F3, F3, F3, F3” in my head.

I couldn’t find where I had to check in, so I just followed the sign pointing down a set of escalators towards F gates. The woman at the counter directed me back upstairs to some desks that would be far off on my left.

I ran back upstairs and was relieved to find that there was no cue. I got my boarding pass and ran back downstairs. The woman said that the shuttle to Terminal 2 would be there in half an hour. It was now 6:15. My flight was leaving at 7:00. It was going to be another race against the clock.

Thankfully, the bus came at 6:30. We took a long and winding ride to Terminal 2. When we got there, I was mortified to see the length of the line at security. I said, “Oh, hell no,” to myself, and just walked to the front of the line. I showed the woman at the front my ticket and explained that my flight started boarding fifteen minutes ago. She let me go through.

But that was just the line to get into line for the security check. So I tapped another staff member on the shoulder and explained the situation to him as well. He let me through to the front of the line.

Again, I didn’t even bother putting everything away after I got through security; I just ran towards Gate F3 with everything in my hands. I got to the gate at final call, and happily got onto another shuttle bus.

I collapsed in yet another chair on yet another flight, and chuckled to myself. The whole ordeal was finally over. I was going to see my buddy Zak and have a great time in Kuwait. I was going to have a good laugh over this whole episode.

That hour and a half flight was absolute bliss.

Upon arriving in Kuwait, I went to the Visa office, took a number, and waited for my turn.

When 627 was called, I walked over and handed over my passport.

The man looked up at me and asked, “Where were you born?”

I found this question weird, since it says Nicaragua right on my ID page.

“Nicaragua,” I replied.

“That’s in Canada?”

“Central America.”

“So you are from America?”

“No, Central America. You know Mexico? It’s below Mexico.”

“But that is in America?”

“No. Central America is below Mexico, but above Colombia and Venezuela.”

At this point, a nearby security guy walked over and handed me his phone. He asked me to type Nicaragua into Google Translate.

When I handed the phone back to him, he read it slowly aloud, carefully pronouncing every syllable. “Nee-car-a-gua.” He laughed and shook his head before looking up at me and saying, “We’ve never heard of this country before.”

The three of us all have a laugh at this, I got my passport back, and I moseyed on out of there and towards baggage claim.

By this time, everybody who was on the flight had cleared out. There were a total of four bags lying against the wall. None of them were mine. And once again, my heart dropped to the floor.

This was like that scene in every horror movie where you think the nightmare is finally over. The monster has been killed. The hero/heroine is covered in blood, and they take a deep breath as they stare off at the sunrise. Then suddenly, the monster grabs at their ankle and makes one last ditch effort to kill them. This was that moment.

I walked over to a very friendly looking Filipino woman sitting in the corner and I told her that my bags seemed to be missing. She asked for my boarding passes so she can look up my bags on the system. She says that most likely, they were left behind in Dubai after I missed my flight. If a passenger does not board a plane, their bags won’t be placed on there either. Makes sense.

But then a terrible thought occurred to me. “Does that mean my bags are still in Nairobi? Because I also missed a connecting flight from Nairobi to Dubai.”

A look of concern briefly crossed her face, but she immediately tried to hide it. “Let me just look in the system, sir.” Her final answer was “Let’s just hope your bags are in Dubai.”

I think after the last 24 hours, I’d lost all hope. I was all out of hope. My concern was that if the bags were still in Nairobi, it might take a couple days for them to arrive in Kuwait. It was the morning of the 12th, and I’m flying out to Abu Dhabi at 4 am on the 15th. By the time the bags arrive, I might be in Abu Dhabi. It might be easier just to send the bags from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.

The woman said she’d e-mail me as soon as they found my bags, and then we’d figure out what to do.

With no other options, I begrudgingly headed for the door. I put my backpack on the conveyor belt for security and gave my papers to the security guard. Just then, I heard the woman yelling, “Mr. Uriel! Mr. Uriel!” as she comes running around the corner. “They found your bags, sir! They will be here at 3 pm today!”

I let out a cheer and hug the woman. This didn’t please the security guard, who was still holding on to my papers. I ran after the woman to ask her where I go at 3 pm to pick up my bags, but the security guard yelled after me. “I am talking to you!” he says.

That’s when I remembered where I was: an airport.

Just to have a go at me, the man told me to empty my backpack. At this point, I didn’t care. I was in Kuwait, and soon, my bags would be too. The monster was officially dead. I showed him that I wasn’t carrying any weapons, drugs, alcohol, or pornography, and I ran back to ask the woman where I should go to pick up my bag. She says to just show the papers she gave me to the people at the gate, and they would let me pick up my bags.

As I’m walking out, a man asks if I want a taxi. Apparently, this particular taxi company has a monopoly on the airport. Regular taxis are allowed to drop customers off at the airport, but they are not allowed to pick up customers. The only way to get into the city is with this taxi company, which charges a hefty fixed price of $32 CAD.

The driver asks me where I’m going, and I tell him Sulmiya Block 10, Amman Street and 1st Street. Sounds simple enough to me, but apparently this isn’t enough information.

“But where on Block 10? It is a very big area.”

“At Amman Street and 1st Street.”

“But what is the address?”

“Amman Street and 1st Street.”

“Are there any landmarks in the area?”

“The intersection of Amman Street and 1st Street.”

“Your friend did not give you his phone number to call him?”

“No, because he gave me the address. Amman Street an 1st Street.”

He dropped me off at Amman Street and 1st Street, and wouldn’t you know it, the building was right there. Go figure.

I would later find out that taxi drivers in Kuwait are severely lacking in navigational skills. It took me three attempts to find a cab that knew how to get to the Heritage Souks, which is a pretty big freakin’ landmark.

I walked inside and found the building’s security guard fast asleep. I explained to him that Zak had left a key for me. “Big guy,” I said holding my hand above my head. I showed him the small thumbnail of Zak’s profile picture on Facebook Messenger, since that was the only thing I could show him without Internet.

“Teacher?” he asks.

“YES! ZAK IS A TEACHER!” I was so excited.

He pulls out an envelope with my name on it.

“YES! THAT’S ME!”

He takes out his phone and finds a picture of a picture of me.

“YES! THAT’S ME! But with much less hair…”

The guy calls Zak, and I cannot express in words how happy I felt to hear that man’s voice on the other end. I’d made it.

I got the key, let myself in, dropped off my bags, and went to get a pizza. After the last 26 hours, nothing in the world would make me happier than eating pizza and watching my Green Bay Packers beat the Cleveland Browns and keep our playoff hopes alive. It was exactly what the doctor ordered.

I took a much-needed nap, and waited for Zak to show up from work.

Once he arrived, we headed out to take a cab to take us to the airport. We asked if he could just wait for us at the airport while I picked up my bags and then bring us back to Sulmiya block 10. That way, we could avoid the $32 taxi from the airport. He initially said yes, but we later realized his English was so poor that he didn’t understand what we’d asked him. With his limited vocabulary, he was able to explain that only that particular cab company is allowed to take people from the airport. I think it has something to do with the nearby military base, but I’m not sure. It’s just absurd that it costs $10 to go to the airport, but $32 to leave the airport.

We arrive at the airport, and I’m immediately disoriented. Nothing looks familiar. I definitely would have remembered a McDonalds outside earlier. Then we walk inside, and I’m even more confused. We were in what looked like a shopping mall food court. This was NOT where I walked out from earlier on.

I found a luggage desk and showed them my paper. They said that Fly Dubai is at the other airport.

Other airport? Kuwait has two airports?

Before we left Zak’s, the woman on the phone had said to go to Terminal 2. We assumed Terminal 2 was a part of the same airport. When we got in the cab, we didn’t specify Sheikh Saad Airport because we assumed there was only one airport.

A $20 taxi ride later (again, fixed price), we found ourselves at Sheikh Saad Airport. We told our taxi drive to wait, because I’d just be a few minutes. I stupidly assumed this would be easy.

I walked to the desk, and the woman said to wait by the chairs at the arrival gate, and somebody would bring me my bags.

After close to 20 minutes, I went back outside to tell the cabbie just to leave, because I didn’t know how long this was going to take, and I didn’t want him to charge me for waiting. He said he’d wait, and he wouldn’t charge more. (Who would have thought that the first person to be honest with me would be a cab driver?)

I went back inside and went back to the same counter. The woman calls the same guy again, and says, “Your bags are coming now, sir.” Now my bags are coming. Now that I came back to ask for my bags again, now the guy got off his ass to get my bags. At this point, every little inconvenience pissed me off.

Another ten minutes later, I finally had my bags. We hopped back in the taxi, came home, and had some delicious Iranian food for dinner.

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the full story of how it took me 26 hours to travel from Harare, Zimbabwe to Kuwait without killing a single person. If you managed to get this far, thanks for listening.

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