Luxury in the Gulf

Trip Start Nov 01, 2007
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Trip End Mar 01, 2008


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Flag of Qatar  ,
Sunday, January 13, 2008

So yesterday I was still feeling pretty marginal, and after about an hour of pondering in the steamy internet cafe, I wrote the "buy a plane ticket home" email to my parents.  It was a little challenging with the time difference, but we eventually connected (sparked by an email from my dad to the US Embassy that I was cc'd on trying to track me down) and they got the ticket.  I had second thoughts that evening, and woke the hostel owner up at midnight to let me use his cell phone to call the US...I later learned that irrational thinking and anxiety was one of the side effects of the duo-cotecxin malaria treatment (from China and not available in the US, btw...in case you're debating whether to get treated in the US or abroad).

So getting to the Entebbe airport, I had a patchwork of 5 flights over the next three days to look forward to.  I was not thrilled, particularly for the first two legs of the trip that would be on Air Uganda, a 3 week old airline owned by the same consortium as Air Burundi and Air Cameroon, a dubious distinction.  Their tickets were hand written, but they took credit card, which was comforting and is more than I can say for Precision Air that operates in Tanzania. 

So after securing the emergency exit row for my flight in case I had to jump out during a crash landing, or something equally irrational, I began the journey home.  Everything went more smoothly that I ever could have hoped.  Air Uganda was actually nice (new leather seats masking a clearly aging DC-9), and we arrived in Dar Es Salaam 40 minutes before the scheduled arrival time!  This gave me more than enough time to get checked into Qatar Airways (and even gave me enough time for the security guard to escort me out of the departure area so that I could change my 70,000 TZ shillings back to dollars...I had to bribe him though...4,000 shillings...it was worth it).  The Dar airport is horrendous though...no air conditioning, and an exceptionally small departure area with no real shops to waste time. 

Finally got on the airplane, and I was in heaven....for one, the plane was spectacular (I'm not usually enthusiastic about planes...), I knew I was on my way to a fairly developed country in case I had a relapse, and I unexpectedly had the exit row, with more leg room than I knew what to do with.  The food was the best that I had eaten in 2 weeks too.  So needless to say, I enjoyed the relatively short (5 hour) flight to Doha.

Upon arriving in Doha, I had a nice 14 hour layover to look forward to.  I had heard rumors about good places to stay in Doha, but another one of my concerns was the Israeli stamp in my passport (they deny entry into Qatar for anybody who has been to Israel).  So I casually went up to the airline rep to find out if she had any recommendations for my layover...and this is why I love the extravagance of the Gulf states and their airlines....she gave me a voucher for a free entry visa, a free taxi, and a free night in a 5 star hotel...all part of the benefit of flying Qatar Airways (purchased the day prior, I had paid $780 for a one way ticket from Dar Es Salaam to Washington DC...other airlines quoted over $3,000).

So I decided to risk the Israel stamp issue, and lined up for immigration.  I got to the front of the line, and probably looked visibly nervous...I wasn't sure what they would do if they saw the stamp, etc...  So I was banking on the fact that she wouldn't notice it amidst all the crazy African visas (I think the immigration agents in East Africa are stamp happy).  After what seemed like a long time of scanning, typing, and checking, she opened up my passport to the Israeli page...but instead of looking down and noticing, she just stamped my entry visa...right on top of the Israeli stamp!  Seriously, I must have a pretty unique passport at this point with a Qatar visa overlapping my Israeli exit stamp.

So I got a cab, and went to the hotel...it was incredible, especially after the foam mattresses and tents in East Africa.  They give this to everyone who has more than an 8 hour layover...honestly, Emirates must be some tough competition because I just don't see how they can make money.  In addition to the hotel, I was informed that I would receive dinner (it was 11 pm at this point, and I'd already eaten on the plane...but I couldn't turn down a delicious steak and salad) and breakfast.  After eating, I just crashed on the big, super comfy bed, and realized the 3 days of flights wouldn't be so bad after all.

The next morning, I got on the plane for the long flight.  A brand new 777 (they had only been running the DC-Doha route for a month) with 13" TVs on every seat with 150 different movies, and 500 other channels.  There was nobody next to me either, and the 14 hours went by like a breeze.  I watched 5 movies, looked out the window as we flew over the mountains of Iran and Afganistan, and ate like 4 meals.

Had to spend another night in DC, and after another super comfortable night, I got on the last flight...next stop SF!  I love Virgin America...live TV, good food, and empty planes...had an entire row to myself.

Getting home was pretty surreal, but the 3 days of travel kind of tempered any culture shock I think.  Driving home on 101 was weird, especially because I hadn't expected to be back for another year.  But it was soooo nice to see family, and stop at my Grandma's house on the way home for lunch.  Definitely a good choice, especially because the malaria headaches are still happening (and will happen for another 3 months or so when they'll just go away on their own).  So yeah, that's my sudden trip home.  I've never done that big of an alteration to a trip, nor bought a plane ticket that last minute, but it all worked out.  Off again on Feb 4th...this time, final destination Melbourne for sure!
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