Images and Narrative by Gene Taylor, 2021
The trip is set. Africa is a reality. It's for business, not a pleasure holiday, and it's departing in late October 2021.
It was supposed to happen a year and a half ago. At least that's when we made plans and arrangements. Fucking pandemic did a number on us. But here we are, somewhere over the Atlantic headed for the Mediterranean, then over the Arabian Peninsula to Doha, Qatar, then across Saudi Arabia to JRO, Kilimanjaro International. Thirty hours total flying time.
Thanks to the genius of the world's most incredible adventure travel planner, this flight alludes the usual pain of air travel, save the hassle of walking the back allies of Chicago's O'hare airport in search of Gate 11, which is the number printed on our boarding passes. After arriving from Phoenix, a clackity bus picks us up from the domestic terminal and drops us off at the mostly closed and deserted international terminal. Inside, we finally locate the miles-long row of gates that go from 8 to 9 to 10 to 12 all the way up to 24. There is no Gate 11 on a sign anywhere that we can see. Standing in the middle of the corridor, we can go either direction, back down to the lower-numbered gates, or walk toward Gate 24 in search of our Qatar Air flight. It's now 1:00 am, and there are no reader boards listing flights and gates in sight. So off toward Gate 1, we go. It seemed like the shortest distance to human contact. Our flight left Gate 24 with us on it. Out of breath and sweaty, but on our way.
AA business class across America, not bad. A Qatar Air QSuite, honeymoon edition to the other side of the world. Unbelievable! Our airline seats came with a privacy door and queen-sized bed as we jet toward East Africa! Seriously, Google it. Don't get me wrong; this is not an everyday occurrence but one we welcome. We've traveled to the African Continent more times than I can count, but not like this. The early days and even more recent trips did not come with midflight slow-roasted lamb chops dripped with a peppercorn sauce and finished with San Sebastian Cheesecake for dessert. The flight purser carefully made our bed while we redressed in the comfy pajamas they gifted us. We settled in for the 13-hour flight in total comfort.
The short three-hour visit to the Business Class Lounge at Qatar International is no different than the flight. It's the adult version of Disneyland for travelers but without the crowds, long lines, and bad food. It is a three-story visual spectacle with the same customer service as heaven. The thought that this is just the start of our excellent adventure is only surpassed by the knowledge that we have round-trip tickets!
Jo Ann set our brilliant itinerary at the basic cost of an economy ticket plus miles/points we earned through credit card purchases during the pandemic. Need to make travel plans? She's the only way to go.
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We land at Kilimanjaro International, which essentially looks the same as it did the first time we flew here nearly three decades ago.
With COVID protocols firmly in place, we navigate the entire system from the front of the line. Again, thanks to Jo Ann, we prepaid the small testing fees in advance through our phones and have digital docs to prove it. Passage is a breeze, and we exit the airport to the smell of fresh outdoor air for the first time in a few days. To us, Tanzania comes with the ambiance of clear skies and a sense of simple freedom. We're greeted by the welcoming face of a familiar guide, and we're whisked away through the heavy traffic of Arusha to our hotel.
We stayed at a small, non-descript hotel along the Usa River. We use the day to recover from our flight and wait for our guests to begin to arrive. During the day, we wander across the busy street to check out a neighboring hotel property that's also a family-owned wildlife sanctuary. We meet Zumi, the 3rd generation owner of a property that looks like a movie set out of the early 1900’s.
The property has a sizeable natural-looking pond directly adjacent to its rooms. I look across to the pond to see six water buffalo, a small cadre of Egyptian geese, and a zonkey! To say they look out of place is an understatement. The buffalo are from Asia, the geese flew in on their own, and the Zonkey is a product of a lone zebra that was inherited with the property and the donkey they brought in to keep it company. Anyway, it looks like a donkey with faded zebra stripes.
As guests arrive, we move to a different, more upscale hotel where everyone can catch up from their long international flights and prepare for our 10-day safari.
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Title: Sweet QSuite
Author: Gene Taylor
Contact: @GenesJourney, GeneTaylor.Me, GT@WalkingConnection.com
SMS Text: 623.800.3649
Company Website: iConquerAdventures.com | WalkingConnection.com