We had mixed feelings about leaving Zanzibar. Of course we were eager to see our families again but we also knew we were flying from the frying pan into the fire as far as the global pandemic is concerned, and conversely from the tropics to the frozen North in air temperature.
We packed up our bulging suitcases, arranged a lift to the airport and showered the hotel staff with praise as we said goodbye to Stone Town. We enjoyed it almost as much as we’ve enjoyed our visits to Penang over the years.
At the airport our driver escorted us to the outer gate of the terminal building, and I dug the printout of our itinerary out of my tote bag. The stern gatekeeper lady shook her head no.
“What does she mean, ‘no’?” I asked. Our driver held a long conversation with her during which she became even more emphatic. Finally, he turned to us and said, “There is no such flight.”
Apparently, and this took some back-and-forth before it was clear, our flight was canceled and we were now booked on a flight six hours later. I checked our itinerary. We originally had only a 2-hour layover in Dubai. This change meant we’d miss our connecting flight.
Gatekeeper Lady wouldn’t let us enter the terminal because the check-in for our flight hadn’t opened yet. She directed us to an outdoor snack bar where we were welcome to wait the four or five hours until we could enter the terminal. That wouldn’t do, I argued, because I needed to rebook our Dubai to New York flight, which also affected our airport limo and our hotel in New Jersey. Nope. Not allowed in. And we had no internet to attempt the fix online.
For the next couple of hours I appealed to anyone who looked official until finally a security guard escorted me into the terminal and parked me outside the airline office (read ‘broom closet’) where I was supposed to wait until someone official — anyone, really — showed up. No flight, no staff. Occasionally someone would ask me what I needed and then tell me to just wait, the right person would be there “soon.”
It was the longest couple of hours in recent memory, but eventually the right person did show up, we were rebooked on a later flight, the rest of our itinerary was shifted and we were allowed to enter the terminal proper, check out with Immigration, Customs and Health and then the real waiting began.
Had we not been so out of practice on air travel we would have thought to check the status of our flight before leaving the hotel. Lesson (re)learned. It’s so different on a boat.
We spent the last of our Tanzanian shillings on snacks and eventually boarded the plane to Dubai. The rest of our journey to New York is a blur, except to say our seats in Economy Class on the Airbus A380 were the absolute worst we’ve ever had to spend 15 hours in. The flight was packed and we were in the middle two seats in the middle section. It was hell for us long-legged folks. Luckily I slept most of the way, but Jack was not so fortunate.
At JFK airport there was no health screening, no random testing, no Customs inspection, nothing, except for a routine passport check with Immigration. We had just arrived from Africa and Malaysia, countries the CDC lists under “Do Not Travel” and no one seemed to care.
As expected it was freezing in New York, and the wind cut through our thin fleece as we stood outside waiting for our ride. Luckily the driver Michael was friendly and funny and made the long, long trip from Long Island to Paramus, New Jersey, not only bearable but enjoyable. It was a shocker when the sun set over Manhattan at 4:30pm. We had traveled from 8°S latitude to 41°N. We are back in the Land of Long Nights.
We agreed with our family to isolate for a few days on arrival until we could get a PCR test and be assured that we’d all be safe from each other. My sister and brother-in-law booked us into a hotel not far from their house and when we arrived they were waiting for us, with warm socks, gloves, scarves, jackets and virtual hugs.
As anyone who’s sold their boat and traveled back to their own country after many years of cruising will agree, it doesn’t feel like home any more, but it’s sure good to see loved ones in person again.
What’s next, you ask? We still can’t answer that question. First up is finding a place to get a PCR test in a few days, and getting into some warmer clothes.