Wednesday, April 13, 2011

That's Why They Call It Mad Air

So now that we were leaving at 9 pm on Sunday, that morning we headed out to the Pere Lachaise graveyard, the place where everyone famous from Moliere to Edith Piaf is buried. Maureen had been upset with me for 11 years because I hadn't taken a picture of her at Jim Morrison's grave back in 2000. So now we had to find it again. For my part, I got my picture taken at Rossini's grave (Chopin would have been too obvious). Walking along through the streets of Paris for our last afternoon, it was hard to imagine that the next day we would be in Madagascar. Around four we moseyed back to the hotel to collect our baggage, with Maureen freaking out that we would be late for the airport. I kept telling that I had done this beaucoup times, and sure enough we were dropped off at Terminal 2A at ten to seven. I strolled in to find the Air Madagascar check in line. Once again CDG proved maddeningly opaque; there were no obvious signs for which line was which. And even when I asked each line what they were waiting for, Air Mad was never one of them. Finally someone directed us to a knot of people standing around. Strange. Then I was found a little Air Mad sign in a concealed office. A befuddled girl who was standing there smiled lamely and said that there was no plane. Oh. Now what? She didn't have a clue. Oh. Another airline that serves Madagascar, Air Austral, was nearby. They didn't have a spare seat for at least the next week. Oh. About 20 minutes later a young Croatian guy named Adrian, who seemed to be a lot more on the ball, came in and started furiously pecking away at a keyboard, trying to figure out what was going in. It turned out that our plane was in Guangzhou, China, for some reason and had blown out a tire. But since Madagascar hasn't had any sort of recognized government for the past two years, Air Madagascar, owned by the state, couldn't just get a new one. So the plane was stuck in China. Oh, and by the way, Europe's two week Spring vacation started tomorrow, which meant that flights and hotels everywhere were fully booked. Never to mind. We would be put up at an airport hotel while they sorted this out. Which couldn't possibly happen before Tuesday. And then maybe not, either. So off we went on the shuttle service to Terminal 3, where an Ibis hotel sat. Ibis is owned by the same company that owns Motel 6, and it was a slight upgrade from that. At $150 a night if we had been paying. Plus we got meal tickets. I have always assumed that the French cannot make bad food, but when we got to the buffet I was proven wrong. Then up to our sterile bed in our sterile room, where we used the free wifi which was only vaguely, barely usable. The next morning, after another great buffet, we ambled back over to Terminal 2A to see if Adrian had come up with anything. He wasn't there, so I left Mo to wait for him whilst I trundled down to Europcar to see if I could rearrange the rental that I had already booked for our return. If Madagascar fell through, Plan B was to drive to Switzerland, then to Portugal, and then back. In the midst of Spring Break. Never to mind. When I got back to Mo, she informed me that Adrian had informed her that Air Mad had chartered a plane from no name Air Italy, and we would be leaving at 10 am tomorrow. Hopefully. Back to the Ibis and more meaningless buffet meals. At dinner I happened upon an acquaintance from the night before, who offhandedly told me that the flight was acually leaving at 9 am. So at 7 am we were back at Terminal 2A, at the long end of a line of passengers. When we got to the front, the girl looked at Maureen's passport, saw that there were fewer than 6 months on it, and said that she had to get approval. A long, anxious wait. Just as I was getting up for the Swiss Alps, they said it was okay. The plane was in the air at 9:40. We had to skirt Libya because of some no fly zone. Then it was south through Egypt, the Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. I must admit that it was pretty cool to look down upon the Sahara, Lake Aswan, the Nile around Khartoum, etc. When we went past Nairobi I was really looking forward to seeing Kilamanjaro from the air, but it turned out that the plane through smack dab right over it, so we never saw anything. Night had fallen when we reached the Tana airport. It was pleasantly chaotic. For some reason they had done away with charging for visas. Maybe they're hoping that this will increase tourism, since nobody ever comes any more due to that pesky lack of government. I had booked a certain hotel ahead of time. One that the LP had raved about. But since Saturday I had sent them three emails without a response. So on Monday night I had gotten on Trip Advisor and found an alternative. They had emailed back immediately saying that they had exactly one room and that they would hold it for me. Great. And now that we had cleared Customs all I needed to do was to change some money and negotiate with one of the ravenous cab drivers. But while I was looking for the bank office in the middle of a field over there, Maureen noticed that there was a guy standing there holding a sign saying, 'Michael Folz'. Damn. I had been waiting for that to happen my whole life, and I had missed it. Turns out that the cab driver the first hotel had contracted for had kept coming out to the airport every time the plane was supposed to arrive. A really nice guy, too. So we had him take us into town, to the first hotel. But when we got there at 10:30 pm, it was a horrible dump. Not that I haven't stayed in worse, but now I had a lady to impress. So I called an audible and had the cab driver take us to the new, second hotel. Sure enough, our room was waiting. Yes, it smelled like crap since they had just varnished it two days ago. But it was clean and modern, with all kinds of cool bathroom fixtures. With Maureen continuing to worry that we would be bitten by a malarial mosquito on the first night, we went to bed.


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