Daily Archives: 08/08/2016

The Long trip to Madagascar

”I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” – Bill Bryson

Oh how I love this quote. It really does describe that feeling of not having a clue what’s going on down to a T!

The Long trip home!

Ready for the long trip to Madagascar

Ready for the long trip to Madagascar

Home is where our little family is, it isn’t a physical place as such, it is the sense of being together. It makes no difference as to what country or continent that may be.

Having spent a considerable length of time back in the UK, it was time to leave. All our suitcases were packed and ready to go. Mentally, we had been ready to go as soon as we found out we were moving to Madagascar! Our shipment had already been collected so the last part of the move was for us to leave the UK. Something which turned out to be far more difficult than we had originally anticipated! Mike (Cathy’s dad) and Tim (Cathy’s brother) had very kindly agreed to give us a lift to the airport. We were travelling with three x 22 kg suitcases and three x 8kg items of hand luggage. We had spent time meticulously rearranging and redistributing stuff in our cases to make sure we didn’t go over the 23kg allowance. Just as a useful tip; we always have our bags wrapped at the airport. not only does this protect our already pretty battered cases, but it also protects you from anyone placing any unwanted items in your case. There have been several incidents in which packages have been placed in peoples’ cases! We arrived in Manchester Airport in plenty of time, our first flight was at 15:50 to Heathrow, where we would then board the next flight at 18:50 to Johannesburg followed by the 10am flight to Antananarivo and there we would board the fourth and final flight to Toamasina which was a charter flight.

As our flight departure time grew closer and closer, all the board kept saying was that there would be a further update in 15 minutes, then in 30 minutes and so on. 15:50 hrs (departure time) came and went and still no sign of any gate.

Nobody around!

Nobody around!

Of course, we went to the passenger help desk but as you can see, there was nobody there. We tried to contact British Airways but there was no answer either. Manchester Airport did reply to my tweet….. eventually and there was soon someone there. Of course, they were absolutely mobbed. By now we were getting the distinct feeling we will be missing the rest of our flights. We were then informed that the plane from Heathrow to Manchester had suffered from some technical issues on take off and that our flight wouldn’t leave until at least 7pm (10 minutes after our flight to Johannesburg was due to take off). As this was British Airways cockup it was for them to fix it. There were no other flights to South Africa that night and no other connecting flights to Madagascar available so they booked us for the night at the Radisson Hotel in the terminal. They also paid for our evening meal too (shame it didn’t include drinks). We left departures area being escorted by a BA rep and had to collect all our luggage which had already been checked in, we felt like criminals who weren’t allowed to board their flight! We then had to wait a further 45 minutes while he sorted something else out. Before we left, BA’s representative assured us that they had now rebooked us with Air France for the next day and that we should pop into customer service the next afternoon to collect our tickets. Exhausted from doing nothing other than wait and argue with incompetent idiots, 7 hours after arriving in Manchester Airport, we were on our way to the Radisson Hotel some 500 yards from the terminal! We had a nice meal and headed off to bed.

There was something in the back of my mind which told me not to trust the guy from BA, so relatively early I walked back to the terminal to collect our tickets. The first person I saw was extremely rude and told me that this was British Airways, why am I trying to get tickets for Air France. After patiently explaining our predicament, she told me to go to their customer services desk. There, I was told that they had no details of any tickets for us and that the rep hadn’t rebooked us on any flights. While I was there, other passengers from the same flight as ours were having the same issue! After arguing my point that as BA had messed things up, they needed to sort it out I was then told that OK, we can get you some flights but on separate planes! Not quite believing what I was hearing I asked for a supervisor as I was getting quite tired of this idiocy! Eventually a supervisor found us new flights via Paris and on to Johannesburg. As the flights had been booked differently, It was BA’s responsibility to fly us to South Africa, not Madagascar. We also faced a different problem. Apparently, there’s only one flight per day from Johannesburg to Antananarivo, and that is at 10 am which is the exact time our new flight was due to land. Cathy and I have British Passports, Katja has a Bulgarian passport.  As Brits, we can get visas on arrival, unfortunately, Katja on her Bulgarian passport can’t. This meant we would have to face a 24 hour wait in the terminal upon arrival. Not much we could do about it. We informed school we would be arriving two days late and explained the situation in South Africa. I decided to go and have a long relaxing bath before we were due to head to the airport for our second attempt at 3pm. About 45 minutes after I had got in the bath and was starting to drift off to sleep, Cathy told me that we had been sent new flights and we had to rush off to the airport. Our new flights were from Manchester to Paris with Air France, then Paris to the Seychelles via Air Seychelles Airways and then on to Antananarivo with Air Seychelles. We rushed to the airport, checked in our 3 x 22 kg suitcases which weighed a tad more as they were wrapped but where still within our allowance and went through all the motions once again. This time we were a bit more successful as we boarded the plane to Paris and took off. here’s a video I took taking off.

 

We landed in Paris and made our way to the Air Seychelles non existing office and eventually to the gate which acts as their customer service/ check in desk and picked up our tickets. We boarded the plane on time (I know, shock horror!) and made ourselves comfortable for the 10 hour flight. The plane had bits of trim coming off, seat covers which didn’t really fit any more but quite frankly, we were glad to be on our way out of Europe! We took off on time and it was a pretty uneventful flight….. just the way I like them! Not even a couple of stiff Gin & Tonics could help me sleep as it was pretty cramped so it was a bit of a long night. Landing on the Seychelles was pretty spectacular. I only wish I had had a window seats as I can’t find the correct words to describe the beauty that I could see out of the window. We landed in what can only be described as a glorified bus station and were soon boarding our next flight to Antananarivo. Funnily enough, this was a brand new plane! For this part of the flight, I did have a window seat, here’s what taking off from the Seychelles looks like!

The flight from Seychelles to Antananarivo is only 2:25 hrs so in the scheme of things, it is just a quick hop really. We landed in Antananarivo a little earlier than expected where we were greeted by a member of the meet and greet team which took us out of the long queue for immigration and straight to collect our luggage while he took care of formalities. Bag one arrived soon after, this was followed by Katja’s seat and our second suitcase. However, after approximately 45 minutes, it became very apparent that our 3rd suitcase had gone walkies! Our meet and greet chap took all the details and told us to leave it with him. Our suitcase did turn up……eventually……. 11 days later! BUT, as we had had it wrapped, it was just a bit battered but other than that intact, and all our contents with it!

The meet and greet chap introduced us to a taxi driver and we had our first experience of living in Africa!As we left the terminal it was packed with people, some waiting for passengers, other there to beg. Someone helped the driver for a nano-second with our case, of course, this meant he should get paid for it! As we attempted to close the doors of the car we had hands trying to stop us from doing so in the vain hope they would get some money from us. We did eventually close the doors without breaking anybody’s arms or fingers and we didn’t pay either, in fairness, we didn’t actually have any Arirary anyway, just US Dollars.

Our fourth and final flight was on a twin prop charter plane, we took off a bit late as we were waiting for a couple of people to arrive, we had 14 passengers (I think) which is all it could take. Here’s a video of us taking off from Tana en-route to Tamatave (French) or Toamasina (Malagasy).

We arrived in Tamatave and landed in a landing strip near the compound. We arrived to a very warm welcome, introduced to our driver and taken to our new house. We had a bite to eat and went to bed. It had been a long trip which worked out to be 53 hours from start to finish!

It’s lovely to be home!

 

 

 

 

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Leaving Qatar

Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.
Victoria Holt

Out of all the times we have moved houses, towns, cities, countries and even continents, this one seemed to be the one that just dragged on and on, and on! We have known since January that we would be moving, so it has been one massively long countdown!

I know I haven’t written much lately, it hasn’t been due to any other reason other than being tied up with several other projects as well as traveling and oh yes, having most of my stuff packed in boxes and crates!

The move started back in April. In fact, we had everything packed by late March as we weren’t entirely sure when our shipment was being collected from our place in Qatar.

The Qatar Experience

Singing Sand Dunes - Qatar 2014

Singing Sand Dunes – Qatar 2014

Qatar is a fascinating country, small (bit of an understatement), but very interesting in many respects. Having said this, it is a place we never really warmed up to (despite the brutal temperatures). In my humble opinion, Qatar can be described as an insignificant soulless patch of sand sticking out from Saudi Arabia. It may be trying to make itself heard by meddling in any possible world affairs including hosting the 2022 World Cup as well as “offering shelter” to “Clock Boy”. If you are unfamiliar with Clock Boy, just Google it! But lets face it, it is a pretty insignificant place! In a similar manner in which the smallest dogs try and make the most noise just to get noticed, Qatar is trying to do the same.

We managed to see most of the sites worth seeing in a short period of time, yes, they are all very interesting and offer a wonderful insight into life as it used to be before mega-wealth hit the country and they all forgot how to do anything for themselves as they brought in foreign work forces to do everything for them. There are numerous places of interest worth visiting but once that is done, then there’s very little left. If you love shopping malls and go from one brunch to the other showing off how much money you have earned/ spent and how wealthy you are, then great. Quite frankly, not our scene. We met a number of interesting people who we have made friends with and look forward to keeping in touch with. But other than that, it is a country which didn’t make a lasting impression and one we could quite easily forget.

Katja had a wonderful first year, she had an amazing teacher and two great assistants. On her second year, she wasn’t quite as lucky. Her class teacher was an inexperienced unapproachable character who was very hard to like. Her teaching assistant was a lovely Spanish lady who made it a bit more bearable for Katja. Katja couldn’t wait to finish the year and start a fresh. She went from loving school to not wanting to go in. Even though there had been numerous complaints about this teacher by a number of parents, sadly nothing was done.

Qatar gave us the opportunity to do interesting things such as several camping trips to the desert which is a magical place. It was a lovely experience to watch the sunrise and the sunset in the Qatari desert, as well as visiting places like the Souq, the singing Sand Dunes, the numerous beaches (unfortunately most of them are full of litter and discarded food from barbecues) as well as the numerous opulent shopping malls. Having a Qatari resident permit also meant that we could obtain a transit visa and drive through Saudi. It was an amazing trip to drive through Qatar, Saudi and into the UAE and visit Abu Dhabi followed by Dubai and then onto Muscat in Oman. By the way, if we were to live in the Middle East again, the only country we would consider is Oman!

Packing up & Leaving

Portable Network Graphics image-CA102B33414F-1

Our lives in boxes!

As I said above, we packed everything in late March and our shipment was collected in mid April. We used a shared container to make it a bit cheaper. The removal guys in Qatar were excellent, very slick and professional. Everything was packed with great care and respect. A couple of days after our shipment was collected I headed off to the UK to train with Cycle Experience and do some cycling training in Schools. During all this I popped into Spain to visit my mother and catch up with friends as well as a chance to warm up a little bit as the UK was pretty chilly! In mid May I returned to Qatar to tie up some loose ends. I made my final exit from the country at the beginning of June and headed off to Bulgaria and then back to the UK to do some more cycling training. Cathy and Katja left Qatar on June 19th and we were all reunited back in the UK.

Whenever we are back in the UK it is always pretty hectic as we try and catch up with as many friends as possible. In the middle of all this we also popped over to South Wales for a week’s holiday too.

Our shipment arrived in the UK nearly three months after it had left Doha. We had to make a quick turnaround as it was being air-freighted to Madagascar so as soon as everything arrived, we checked through the boxes as to what to keep and what to forward and 6 days after it arrived in the UK, it was being collected once again and shipped off to a different continent.

As a family we can say we are glad we did Qatar, it was interesting to see a different part of the world and to explore places most people will never had a chance to see. We are glad to be out of this artificial and fake bubble and rejoin the “normal” world once again!