Thursday, September 26, 2013

Breaking update: flight cancelled

Meskel is one of the significant cultural events on the Ethiopian calendar. In this deeply Christian country it celebrates the finding of the true cross, purportedly in the country's hills. On Meskel eve a great bonfire is lit, and the priests and participants dress in full regalia. The largest celebration is in Addis Ababa and is a colourful and vibrant affair, touted as the best place to be in the country. It's the kind of thing travel photographers look for.

However, I was scheduled to still be on my Ugandan safari. So I cut short the safari, abandoning plans to meet with a  friend upon the tour's return to Kampala, and instead headed to Uganda's southern border. The Rwandan capital of Kigali was half a day closer to me by road than Kampala, and I could catch a flight from there to Addis Ababa on the morning of Meskel eve.

Visas can be issued at Rwanda's land borders, but a letter of facility from the immigration department is required. You must request it online, and the letter is emailed. I waited nearly a week longer than the advised response time and finally tracked down the department on Twitter and obtained the letter. I caught a taxi to the border, walked across, got a 3-day transit visa, and piled into a packed minibus with 15 other people for the three-hour journey to the capital.

The only practicable flight was scheduled for 2am, which meant an eleven-hour wait at the airport. At least I am told at check-in that the De Havilland Dash twin prop has only eight passengers scheduled, so it should be a comfortable flight. But at 1am I'm advised that the plane, coming from Entebbe, has a flat tyre and will be thirty minutes late. Or not, as it may not arrive at all. At 2.30am it's confirmed that it isn't coming. Ethiopian Airlines may instead try to divert another flight to pick us up. But at 4am it's revealed this won't happen, and that we'll be put up in a hotel instead.

There is another flight at 3.30pm. However, it is fully booked. The following flight is at 11pm – well after the end of Meskel eve. I tell the guy from the airline, who is doing his reasonable best, that I'm a journalist on assignment to cover the festival and that I must be on the 3.30pm flight to reach it in time, as even that is cutting it extremely fine. For a little persuasion I pass him my travel writer business card, hoping the airline wants to avoid any negative travel press.

The hotel is reasonably nice, but fails to avoid complaint by a lack of hot water. Perhaps they knew a cold shower after just four-and-a-half hours sleep would wake me well up.

It turns out that I do get booked onto the 3.30pm flight and am waiting now in the same lounge I was twelve hours ago. Boarding time is in half an hour.


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