Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On the road again

Dear Family-
Well, as expected, it does not look like I will be near any consistent internet access for the foreseeable future, so I decided to create some blog entries of my travels up to this point so I do not forget to tell you anything. 

Travel Day 1
We ended up leaving the villa in Kuwait at about 7:30 PM on the 6th as planned. At first it seemed like an excessive amount of time, but once we were dumped in to the chaos at the airport, I was glad to have the additional time. The last time I flew out of Kuwait, I flew on British Airways. This time I was flying Kuwaiti Airlines. As it turns out, flying on an American or European carrier makes all of the difference in the world in regards to how you get through the airport. The process for getting checked in this time was like a scene in the videos you see of third world countries. You know the ones, the ones with people with 500 boxes tied together with rope, the herd of goats and the cages of chickens. Okay, there were no animals running around, but you get the point. There were people pushing, there were people shoving, there were people screaming in Arabic and there were people who had really bad BO. As we made our way in to the airport, the security was corralling everyone along the way except for me and the guy I was traveling with. At first we thought this was cool until we got to the front of the line. When I got there, was told, “you stand here” and the security guard motioned me off to the side. We tried to ask why, but we got the “I don’t speak English” routine. About every 5 minutes we tried to sneak our way back in to the line again, but he would just motion us off to the side again. After about 25 minutes of this, a Kuwaiti military person came. The guy seemed like he was in a really bad mood for having to come out here. He looked us over and went over to the unused scanning lane. He turned it on and motioned for us to put our bags through. We ran the stuff through and were expecting to be searched further, but the guy simply turned off the scanner and walked away. We just stood there like, WTF? Sensing it was time to leave, I grabbed my stuff and got out of there as fast as possible. After all of this, I only had about 30 minutes until my flight left.  As I walked towards the gate, I just sat there thinking about what a dive this place is. It is dirty and very pretentious. Money can definitely not buy class or civility.

Once on board the flight to Dubai it was pretty uneventful except for the fact that we had to circle the city for a while. As I didn’t have my watch on, I did not realize that we were late for our landing. I only realized we were circling after I saw the same buildings over and over again.  I should have realized this earlier because how many left turns can an airplane make?  About 10 minutes after we were supposed to land, the pilot came on the intercom and announced that we were in a holding pattern. Really? I hadn’t notice that. 

The airport at Dubai was really nice. It was clean, well lit, and had a very modern look and feel. Once I was off the plane and walking through the terminal, I finally started to realize that the instructions I was given were not really clear or accurate for the situation.  I was told that all I had to do was check in at Terminal 2 for our connecting flight. After walking around and seeing that there were no signs mentioning Terminal 2, I began to think I had a problem. I walked around for about 15 minutes and realized that in fact I had a problem. So doing the un-guy thing, I asked someone for help. The lady was actually super helpful. She informed me that Terminal 2 was actually on the other side of the airport from where we landed. She took me to the taxi stand and off I went. It took me about 25 minutes to get there, but it also gave me the opportunity to see a little more of Dubai. Everything on the outside was as clean and well maintained as the airport. It was really night and day with Kuwait. 

We arrived at the terminal at about 2:30 in the morning. Let me tell you, at 2:30 in the morning Terminal 2 was a pretty deserted place. After walking around for about 15 minutes I was really lucky to find more helpful people that were able to tell me that I was in the right place for our next flight. Unfortunately, the check in didn’t start for 4 hours. So, I did my best to entertain myself. I watched about an hour of Cricket and I still do not get it. I went in to the bathroom to freshen up and realized there was a slight problem. Their idea of toilets and my idea of toilets are two different things. My idea of a toilet consists of more than a hole and a hose. You can see my other post for a picture. Aside from this, the time went fast and was pretty uneventful.

For my trip to Bagram, I was flying a carrier called DFS. DFS is one of the many companies that has sprung up as a result of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. For a carrier that does not specialize in passenger services, they did a pretty nice job. The flight was smooth and comfortable. I was able to doze off for a while and when I awoke, I got my first glimpse of Afghanistan. We were flying over what appeared to be farmland that was bordered by large snow capped mountains. It looked very rugged, but I found it to be much nicer in appearance the endless deserts of Kuwait.
We touched down in Bagram and immediately you knew you were on a military base. Chinooks, Blackhawks, C-130s, and F-15’s! We taxied over to one of the tarmacs and parked while they brought the buses, stairs, and assorted things to get us off the plane. Even on the plane you knew it was loud outside. The sound of an F-15 taking off is thunderous. We were finally given instructions to get off of the plane and we made our way down the stairs. Boy it was loud out there!
After a bit we were herded on to a bus to the terminal. Once we were there we discovered that there had been a small oversight. The people on the tarmac were supposed to have pulled me out of line and driven me over to the plane for Kabul. It seems that they completely forgot about that there were people with connecting flights. They really weren’t to apologetic either. It was like it was my fault that they didn’t do their job. I was told to go sit in the waiting area while they figured out what to do with me. Luckily, I remembered that I had bought those Afghan SIM cards in Kuwait. I got out my cell phone and plugged one in and it fired right up. I was able to call our PM in Kabul and let him know what was going on. After he got done laughing he said he would get someone to come get me, but that it would take a couple of hours to get to Bagram.
So, once again I got to cool my heels and wait. I am not good at waiting after having to do it a lot. I really need to work on that whole patience thing. After about two hours, the guys showed up to get us. They wanted to stop at the PX before leaving because they wanted to see if this PX had any peanut M&M’s The base where they are stationed has been out for a while. As someone who prefers peanut to plain, I was very supportive. Bagram is a really bustling and crowded place. There is an incredible amount of energy and activity in everyone you see. 

Upon leaving Bagram, it was a real adventure. The guys really knew what they were doing. I was informed you drive fast and always keep moving. The only real problem is that the road was 30-40% potholes. (This is the only road connecting Bagram and Kabul) It was like getting to drive in one of the desert races they have out in the Mojave. The ones where the dune buggies bounce from obstacle to obstacle.  It is pitch black outside and you are bouncing from pothole to pothole with only your headlights lighting the way. At times the road got pretty busy and we had play leap frog down the line of trucks to keep moving. It was really kind of neat and a exciting way to cap off 24 hours of traveling. Next time, Camp Phoenix, Kabul.

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