The Baggage Hall: Traveller’s Purgatory

2 10 2008

Tag, you’re it!

Your flight was delayed. The cabin was too warm. The person behind you performed ‘River Dance’ on the back of your seat. You’d seen the movie. They ran out of your choice of meal and left you with the gluten-free sodium-free minced soy-substitute spinach stew, and your bladder is exploding because you couldn’t climb over your slumbering neighbour. All you want is to collect your bag and get home.

 

Remarkably, you breezed through Immigration in record time and you’re so close to a nice shower and bed that you can almost taste it.

 

You sprint for the baggage hall. You find your carousel, grab a baggage cart and stake out the prime position that provides you with maximum warning of your approaching bag and direct access to retrieve it.

 

As others crowd around, you position your trolley as a perfect buffer between yourself and the hordes. The buzzer sounds, the light flashes, the conveyor starts to turn and the first bag bounces down. You eye the tags as they rotate by to confirm that it’s your flight. The first bags have ‘Priority’ tags but you are confident yours will soon follow.

 

You happily watch the cases with rainbow straps, the large cardboard boxes and the items wrapped in industrial cling-film. You notice cases that have been torn-asunder and which drag trains of formerly-white unrecognisable garments behind them. You read the addresses on the boxes to distract your growing impatience.

 

You start to count the pieces. Your bag will be the 20th one down, the 25th one, the 35th one…

 

The crowd around you thins. The person before you at Immigration is long gone. Your palms grow sweaty. The seed of doubt germinates. Will you ever see your bag again? You begin to recognise the same items going around and around and around. You fidget and pace from side to side. The others have the same apprehensive expression. You are united in your forthcoming loss. There’s a baggage bonding between you.

 

The carousel stops.

 

There’s an audible gasp. You feel compelled to hurdle the belt, climb the ramp, dive through the rubber curtain and retrieve your bag yourself. Then it dawns on you there’s a very real chance that your bag is indeed lost. Self pity descends. Why you? You only want to go home. It’s not asking so much. There are half-a-dozen people around you. You try to remember if they sat near you, if you saw them check-in, you grasp for any logical explanation for the unlawful separation from your possessions.

 

Your shoulders slump. You start to prepare a mental description of your bag and its contents and steel yourself to complete endless paperwork. You should have bought insurance.

 

The buzzer sounds, the carousel starts. Everyone perks up. No new bags appear. Shoulders sag. The same boxes pivot past, their owners evidently sitting in some netherworld along with your case. There’s a swish from the rubber curtain and a bag tumbles down. Someone to your right grabs it. Then a second…and a third. Your fingers are crossed. Your breath is held.

 

And then it appears.

 

As if in slow motion it tumbles down. You run towards it and embrace like Heathcliff and Catherine on the moors. You take it in your arms and hoist it skyward like a father playing with his toddler. You kiss it, twice, continental-style, and place it on your trolley, all the while caressing it tenderly and wiping a tear from the corner of your eye. You race towards the exit, eyeing your bag tenderly, its strap looped flirtatiously around your wrist.

 

You no longer care about the bed or the shower. You have forgotten the torment of your journey.

 

You are complete.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Basic Swahili Words and Phrases

23 09 2008

Hakuna matata!!!                         (Sunset over Stone Town, Zanzibar)

Just as authors, adventurers and explorers of centuries past brought the cultural wonders and riches of distant lands to their fellow countrymen and women at home, so Elton John and Tim Rice enlightened much of the 20th century western world to Swahili. Well, not quite, but few people who hadn’t travelled to East Africa likely knew what Hakuna matata meant before ‘The Lion King’ was released in 1994.

 

Swahili is spoken by approximately 50 million people in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo. Although English is also widely spoken in most of those places and certainly anywhere frequented by the majority of tourists, it’s always nice to have a smattering of words and phrases to raise a smile, leave a good impression and avoid matata mengi! 

 

 

Hello – Jambo
Welcome – Karibu
Goodbye – Kwaheri
Yes – Ndiyo
No – Siyo/Hapana
OK – Sawa sawa
Please – Tafadhali
Thank you – Asante
Sorry – Pole
Excuse me – Samahani
No problem – Hakuna matata
What is your name? – Jina lakonani?
My name is __ – Jina langu ni _
Very good – Nzuri
sana
Where are the toilets? – Wapi choo?
I don’t understand – Sielewi
Sleep well – Lala salama

Buffalo – mbogo
Elephant – ndovu/tembo
Leopard – chui
Lion – simba
Rhino – kifaru

Many problems – Matata mengi

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Surf’s Up!

2 07 2008

Drake wave 1

Ever been to sea, Billy? (The Drake Passage)

My first nautical experience was on a rowboat, traversing a moat.

 

It was a fine Scottish summer’s day: the wind howled down the hills and whipped the water into a vicious chop while rain lashed our faces. Against a leaden-grey sky, the castle ruin was a foreboding silhouette that loomed higher the closer we came. The oarsman was hooded and hunched against the elements. He spoke nary a word and with a gnarled hand gestured for us to climb aboard, before setting off across the churning black waters. The soulless dungeons, glimpses of unexplained shadows and the mournful wind through the battlements were nothing compared to the prospect of the return journey across the Styx with the aquatic equivalent of the Grim Reaper.

 

I was 5 years old and nautically scarred for life…which is why many years later I was not exactly thrilled by the prospect of spending several days crossing the roughest seas in the world: The Drake Passage.

 

The Drake Passage separates the southern tip of South America from Antarctica. It marks the convergence of the Southern Ocean, the Atlantic and the Pacific and for centuries has been the burial place of ships rounding Cape Horn. The Passage is renowned for its massive waves, rolling surf and the huge storms that come from nowhere and batter for days. It is not a place for the soft of heart – or those fearful of rowboats.

 

Still, the lure of the Antarctic was just far too strong and I decided that the polar reward more than justified the torment that lay between.

 

Rowboats aside, my nautical experience was rather limited once you exclude ferries and pedal boats. I had once sailed through the Baltic on a Russian ship from Helsinki to St Petersburg and spent several days sleeping on the deck of a felucca on the Nile, but this was the litmus test that would once and for all determine whether I was indeed an old sea dog, or merely a landlubber.

 

Sadly, lack of worthy experience had left me clueless as to whether I was susceptible to seasickness and unwilling to find out the hard way, I applied a scopolamine patch behind one ear. The patches prevent nausea rather than cure it, in theory at least! All I was missing was a parrot on my shoulder.

 

We sailed from Ushuaia, Argentina late one evening. The Beagle Channel was calm and we watched dolphins ride our bow wave. Once the sun had dipped behind the mountains of Tierra del Fuego, we all headed below deck for dinner. About 2am I awoke to find us rolling wildly from side to side. The resounding slam of waves on the metal hull resonated through our bed and rattled our heads. I mesmerically watched our curtains swing like a pendulum until I realised that the curtains were hanging straight…and it was the ship that was swinging like a pendulum.

 

Drake wave 2

Ever go to sea again, Billy?

From the bridge we watched 30-foot waves crash over the bow as we rolled 35-degrees in each direction. The blue sky above belied the savage ocean below. Albatrosses wheeled and soared while more sledgehammer-blows of water pounded the hull and slammed against the portholes. We made our way around the ship like orangutans on a jungle-gym, hand-over-hand grabbing and grasping for ropes strung from the low ceilings and brass railings fastened to the walls. Dinner was served on wet tablecloths to prevent the plates from flying off and shattering, chairs were chained to the floor and soup was prepared in mugs instead of bowls. In our cabin, we watched our boots tumble from wall to wall with each roll and at night, despite the best efforts of the ship’s crew, we would lie in bed and hear bottles and glasses smash in the galley below.

 

More than half of the ship’s passengers disappeared below deck on the first evening and didn’t reappear until we’d reached the sheltered waters of the South Shetlands. The air was fresh and bracing. Whales surfaced alongside us, seals lounged on ice floes, penguins scampered across icebergs and all was bliss, peace and harmony.

 

After a week exploring the Antarctic, we turned north and headed back towards the open sea. While those who had suffered intolerably on the way down headed back to their bunks to suffer in silence, I applied a new patch and relished the lash of the salty surf and the invigorating air.

 

For the return trip, the sky was as dark as that which had loomed over the Scottish moat years earlier, but this time I was the hooded sea dog with the gnarled hands relishing every roll and mighty wave.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008