Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Out of Iraq

I've been back for over 3 weeks, so it's past time I write about my trip. My first priority was to post my pictures from the trip and that took much longer than I expected. You can find them either on my Facebook page or at I'm still working on the captions for them. So beyond posting the pictures, I'll just blame it on writer's block. Now that I've started, I'm finding a lot to say. This entry is all about getting down to South Africa. I'll write another two or three blog entries about my time in Africa.

I had a fantastic time on my trip, even better than I hoped. My luggage never got lost, every place I stayed was terrific, I didn't get mugged as I anticipated, none of the food made me sick (well, not for long), and every location was beautiful. I intentionally didn't worry about any money I spent while I on the trip. I figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip and not the time to be counting nickels and dimes (or South African rand even). After I got back home and checked my credit cards, I figured out I spent about $8,000. It was worth every dollar and I have no regrets about the cost.

When someone does a 1-year tour over here, the government pays for an airplane ticket anywhere in the world for the person's mid-tour leave. So the good news is the government pays for it. The bad news is you are dependent on the government to get you there. My travel to the continent took a little longer than I expected. The morning I was flying out of Iraq was very foggy. So I spent an extra 4 hours hanging around the passenger terminal, reading, and standing in Army formations. Apparently it's a natural instinct for Soldiers to fall into formation when standing in a group. Not quite so natural for an Airman, but I did my best impression of a Soldier. When we eventually did get to Kuwait, there was more standing around and formations. After some time, I got my commercial ticket and a cot in a large tent. The cot had a lovely green plastic cover, like you would have for a kid who wets his bed (no comment), but no linens. I was told a lieutenant colonel doesn't rate linens. Thankfully the BX was still open so I could buy a travel pillow and fleece blanket.

Other than shivering through the night, I didn't mind spending a day and a half in Kuwait. 1. I wasn't in Iraq. 2. I had time to make more of my travel arrangements (planning ahead is for wimps). 3. I didn't have a care in the world. It was a nice break from the usual frenetic pace of Iraq. The evening after I arrived in Kuwait, I took a 1-hour plus-long shuttle from the base to Kuwait City International Airport. So what did I do there? You got it, more waiting. My flight wasn't for another 5 hours and I couldn't even check my bags for another 2 hours. I went to Caribou Coffee, a place I frequent often back in the States, and enjoyed more time to relax.

From Kuwait I stopped in Dubai before making my way to Johannesburg. I was flying on Emirates Air and they are based in Dubai, that is why I stopped there. Dubai airport is huge! The bus ride from the airplane to the terminal was 20 minutes at least. During the ride, I saw the world's largest building that has been in the news lately, Burj Dubai. No surprise, it's big and it towered over the rest of the city. Inside the terminal was a multitude of stores and restaurants. The stores were the usual electronics, books, and clothes but there was even a grocery store. If you ever have the chance to fly Emirates Air, I recommend them. Every chair has its own entertainment center. I watched a couple of movies, including District 9 (it's set in Johannesburg, so I figured I had to watch it), during the flight down to Johannesburg. If you have money to burn, I recommend flying first class on Emirates. They have the newest chairs, the ones that lay completely flat and have a curtain you can put around yourself. My government-paid ticket wasn't nearly that nice but it did the trick, it got me to Africa.

During the next week (I promise I won't take another 3 weeks), I'll write about Johannesburg, Victoria Falls, Kenya, and Cape Town. If you have any questions or if there is something specific you want to know, please let me know in the comments.