The lists were checked and the bags were packed, repacked, and weighed after consulting airline policy. The countdown on my work computers Excel spreadsheet read 0 working days. It was go time. Rwanda was calling.
Our traveling partners for this trip, Mark and Bambi, pulled up in their SUV on a very cold Monday afternoon. Dad and I loaded up our bags and the bags of gifts and requested items for Danny, my brother volunteering in the Peace Corps. Along with our clothing we had a combined 4 extra bags for him totaling almost 200 lbs. We stopped at the bank thermometer to take a picture and say goodbye to the bitter cold (-1F/-18C)
We were flying out of Chicago O’Hare and we pointed the car south. Our first stop and last supper stateside was at the Brat Stop. I have been there a few times before but not in a long time. The building looked cobbled together and seemed to be expanded without a cohesive plan. I had a Polish sausage and one last Spotted Cow (“Only in Wisconsin”). The we navigated the cold road to the park and ride shuttle near the airport. As we got closer I could see in the night sky the wing lights of all of the air traffic waiting for the okay to land. At the park and ride I cast off my jacket, hat, gloves, and scarf – I wouldn’t be needing those where I was headed.
It was a long journey to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. Luckily Dad and I had the middle 3 person row to ourselves and I didn’t have anybody sitting in front of me to recline into my knees. I also didn’t have anybody sitting behind me so I could recline guilt free. Still, I didn’t manage to get much sleep on the about 9.5 hour flight. I did enjoy the Turkish Delight served after takeoff. I watched a few movies on the in flight entertainment system.
We had a short layover in Istanbul. We managed to find the gate for the flight to Kigali despite it being on the other side of the airport and in the basement, far away from the duty free shops and food court. I read somewhere that Istanbul is building a new airport which they could use because this one seemed really full. One thing that stands out was the way they moved people in wheelchairs around the airport. In Chicago people manually pushed them. In Istanbul the helpers stood on the back of a powered cart and zoomed around. I saw a few texting while navigating crowded hallways. It was surprising I did not see any collisions.
The flight from Istanbul to Kigali was long and warm. I was in the middle of a row. I ceded both armrests to the others and just concentrated on the destination. I did sneak in a small nap on my tray table and watched a few more movies. As we descended to Kigali I could feel it getting warmer and warmer. I was watching the live elevation tracker on my in flight screen. In my sleep deprived state I thought it was elevation above ground level instead of sea level so I was extremely surprised when we touched down at some 4,800 feet instead of zero. I blame the sleep deprivation. The flight continued on after Rwanda to Entebbe, Uganda so most of the people still had another hour after I disembarked.
Stepping off the plane marked the end of the flights and the beginning of exploring Rwanda. It was warm and muggy especially compared to what I came from back home. We only had one more obstacle to get overcome before we were free to roam – visas. We were the last ones through the visa line and we had some trouble getting in as we didn’t know the hotel we were staying at offhand. Using my phones internet I was able to get the information from my brother waiting for us outside. After paying our $30 USD we picked up our bags and found Danny outside with a “Karibu Team Horicon” sign. Karibu is Swahili for welcome. Danny impressed us with his Kinyarwandan (the language of Rwanda) skills in haggling for cabs to take us down the road to the Hilltop Hotel. It was about two in the morning when we checked in. Despite the excitement of seeing my brother for the first time in over a year and being in a new place I fell asleep fairly quickly (after securing my mosquito net).
The land of 1000 hills was waiting.