By the age of 40 you know absolutely the value of a good friendship. I have one particular friend; we’ll call her Rachel (because that’s her name) who I met on the first day of University. In the second year summer break we went on a life changing trip to Kenya. This is our story (I’ve always wanted to say that).
Scott (not his real name) lived on our corridor in the halls of residence in the first year at University. He was Kenyan Indian and his family lived in Nairobi. Rachel and I became friendly with Scott and a couple of his friends at the end of the first year and when they told us the amazing stories about Kenya we were hooked. We really wanted to go and he offered us a place to stay at his parents. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get to Kenya for as cheap as possible and we eventually found the cheapest and therefore longest way there. We were flying with Aeroflot (aka Aeroflop). People told us that international Aeroflot flights tended to be OK but the internal flights weren’t so good, i.e. they crashed. Not to be deterred by such over dramatic stories we booked. Remember this was before internet so we couldn’t Google Aeroflot which in retrospect is probably a good thing.
The first leg of our journey was to Moscow, on a jumbo, just your regular international flight. We had a couple of hours in the airport before getting the connecting flight down to Nairobi. Our plane broke down on the tarmac so we spent around 8 hours in the airport twiddling our thumbs, there was nothing open and in those days Moscow airport was far from what you would call modern. At one point in the night we were ushered to the airport staff canteen and were offered some stew. It goes without saying that Rachel and I were vegetarian (we were students), so we went hungry. More fool us. We finally got on the plane in the early hours of the morning and were told that we were now also flying via Larnaca in Cyprus before continuing to Nairobi. Fine, why not, it’s not like we’re late already, an unscheduled stop fits in perfectly with our plans.
As we approached Larnaca the wheels went down and we could see the tarmac as we came into land, just as we were about to touch down the engines roared and we took off again. Panic ensued, I was hyper ventilating into the air sick bag, Rachel was being sick in the air sick bag, passengers were screaming and shouting. No-one knew what was going on. The pilot eventually told us that the sea mist on the runway was too thick to land and that we needed to circle the Island until it lifted. So we went around and around and around, aiding Rachel’s nausea beautifully until finally the announcement told us that we were running out of fuel. We would try to land again and if the mist was still too thick, we’d make an emergency landing in an air force base to refuel. Breathe Katie breathe. Yes it was 20 years ago but air safety is air safety and has international standards even for Aeroflot, ‘Try again’, really? So we tried again and once again he pulled us back up, by which time there was pandemonium on the plane. I hid under a blanket and we held hands – Rachel was too sick to be scared.
A few moments later we were safely on the ground in an air force base. The engines had to be off to re-fuel and we weren’t allowed off the plane. The plane stank; no air conditioning, 100s of sweating unwashed passengers in 35 degree heat. They did open the doors to allow Rachel to puke over the side of the plane (the toilets were blocked by this point) which was very good of them. Once we’d refuelled we were back in the air, oh no, we’re not, we’re landing again, this time actually at Larnaca. Hooray we made it and we were allowed off the plane. Ah, the bliss of European toilets, food, hot water. After a quick stop we were back in the air heading to Nairobi. Or were we?
Djibouti. Where? Well at least we’d made it to the right continent. Apparently we didn’t have enough fuel to get all the way to Nairobi. What? how? why? We had been in the air up and down, up and down, up and down for around 21 hours by this point, we were beyond tired, dehydrated (did I mention the plane ran out of drinking water), and were prone to spats of hysteria. After a while they must have realised that it was actually dangerous to leave their dehydrated passengers on the plane in 45 degree heat so eventually they allowed us off . What a shock walking into the oven of the desert, pale young English girls that we were, we’d never experienced over 25 degrees. We were given some delicious sugary bottles of Fanta in the shack and then were sent back to the plane – no, please, not that plane again. That plane stank.
We shed a few tears as we finally touched down in Nairobi, as we left the plane we were all presented with a certificate and an Aeroflot badge, I don’t know to this day what the certificate says but I’m guessing ‘sucker’.
It had taken us 28 hours to get there and the worst part was we had to fly back. Still, at least we had our great Kenyan adventure ahead of us before that. We should have realised when Scott greeted us with, ‘you’re late, I was supposed to play football today’ that it was perhaps not going to be the adventure we had planned…