London, England Blessed, Once Again, by the Travel Gods

So I’m on my way to Africa.

I woke up at 5 this morning with a lot of things to do. I left Melissa’s place in Seattle and raced across the bridge to clear out the remnants of my erstwhile Kirkland apartment. Ever notice how moving out gets harder toward the end? It’s like that old math class thing where you walk half the length of a room, then half the remaining distance, then half again and so on, never reaching the other side. You think youre over the hump once you move the big stuff, but friends, the hump is the little crap at the end.

Loading up the car took an hour longer than it should have and left me with at least a car load of junk still in the living room. I had an 8am doctor’s appointment to get shots and drugs for my trip, so I only had time to drop the one load off in my luxurious new apartment — a 7×10 storage locker — then head back across the bridge to Seattle.

The doctor asked when I was leaving. "Four hours," I said. She seemed unimpressed.

It turned out I had almost all the shots I needed from my trip last year — India is the vaccination equivalent of a full house to East Africa’s royal flush. We settled on some malaria pills, stuff for altitude sickness, a polio booster, tetanus shot, and one more just for the sake of stabbing another needle in my arm. I paid and got out a couple hours later, then raced back across the bridge again to clear out my apartment.

This just in: English food is still terrible.

By the time I had everything loaded in the car, my flight was leaving in 90 minutes. No time to drop the load off in storage. I had to leave my crap as it was in my sister’s driveway until I get back from my trip. On my fourth trip across the bridge, things very nearly came to an abrupt halt: I have a bad habit of making cell phone calls while driving. This is worsened by the fact that I’m a very bad driver, and compounded even further in this circumstance as my car was packed to the ceiling with furniture. But I had 10 minutes of phone use left before giving it up for the next two months and I had to straighten out the final payments for the job I just finished.

So here’s the equation: 2 hands, minus 1 hand spinning the steering wheel for a sharp right turn, minus 1 hand holding furniture from falling on my head from the force of the turn, minus 1 hand holding a cell phone, equals a very stupid near-catastrophe.

I got to my sister’s house, where Melissa was waiting to drive me to the airport. We raced over, said goodbye, and I ran inside with less than 30 minutes before my flight to Amsterdam.

So of course, I missed it. They close check-in an hour before departure on international flights.

Missing this flight, I suddenly realized, had launched a chain reaction. If I didn’t get to Amsterdam, I couldn’t get to London. If I didn’t get to London, I couldn’t catch my flight to Nairobi, and then on to the Seychelles. If I didn’t get to the Seychelles on the day I was scheduled to, I would miss the departure of the eight day liveaboard dive cruise I’d already paid a small fortune for.

After some begging and pleading, I was told I had an inflexible outbound ticket and would have to purchase an entirely new flight to London at a cost of well over $1000.

My fate was then handed over to Jim, the friendly homosexual. With a wink and a smile, he told me everything was going to be alright. A few magical keystrokes later, I was switched over to a flight out of Minneapolis that was leaving in an hour at no extra cost. Jim mentioned that he’s always wanted to go to the Seychelles.

Someday, and I dread even thinking about this, the fickle travel Gods will not see fit to bless my journey. I will find myself subject to the real consequences of my ineptitude. But not this day. No, not this day.

Airlines running trans-oceanic flights are now obligated by the FAA to play an air travel aerobics video at the start of each trip. This video is titled, "Things You Couldn’t Possibly Do With Your Body in Coach." It features three multi-ethnic dwarves in double-wide seats, stretching their arms in all directions while you sit with your shoulders pinned between your neighbors. In my favorite segment, they stick their legs straight out in front of them and wiggle them in circles defiantly. I didn’t have my headphones on, but I’m pretty sure they were saying, "Try this exercise, you gangly Caucasians! What’s that? You can’t? Your knees are pressed up against tray tables? Oh, too bad for you! You look like Kentucky Fried Chicken!"

For the eight-hour flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, I was scrunched in the middle of a row of five seats. To my left was a pair of frat boys, who I will call Chad and Doug. On the runway, Chad and Doug vocally discussed the terrible body odor coming from my direction. We all, the three of us, knew it was me. I’d been frantically moving boxes for several hours before getting on the plane and I hadn’t had a chance to shower. I had, fortunately, thought to bring deodorant in my carry-on, but I couldn’t get up to use it until we were in the air. So I got to enjoy the elaborate pointing and pillow-fanning for a good half hour. I also got to enjoy a great deal of their public ball-adjusting.

When the drink cart came by, Chad and Doug both asked for Bud Heavies. Bud Heavies, they explained, are like Bud Lights, only opposite. Chad was particularly excited to be drinking, and asked how many he could get. The flight attendant explained that she is only allowed to supply one beer every three hours. Chad gave her a look that said, "How can you deny my winning smile and irreverent, man-child antics?" She gave him a look that said, "With very little difficulty." Chad then engaged Doug in a spirited discussion of the best outdoor beer-drinking locations in Minneapolis.

Amsterdam airport was nice, but here’s my problem: Their country is called the Netherlands, it is also sometimes called Holland, but as a people they are called Dutch.

Get it together, folks. There’s a war on.

I’m in the air now, watching a lightning storm over the Sudan. This is my fourth of five consecutive flights. I will have traveled over 10,000 miles, almost the entire equatorial circumference of the Earth.

I had a very good year. I got to write the script for a videogame based on an upcoming film, which is itself based on a series of children’s books.

I met a nice lady named Melissa who likes wearing fleeces and hiking with her dog. She also seems to enjoy reading my comic books, which I still can’t quite comprehend.

I put on a lot of weight. I fought valiantly to keep it off, but ample portion sizes, an appetite that knows no bounds, and a job chained to a computer are difficult factors to overcome. I’m hoping the backpacker diet will work its magic once again.

Aside from the occasional work trip to LA, I haven’t gotten out much since last year. There was the one incident getting caught sneaking into Area 51, but that’s a whole long story.

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So I’ve been planning this trip for a while. My contract job lasted nine months. Now that I’m done, I’m heading over to wander around Africa for two months — or until I run out of money, whichever comes first.

The first leg is the aforementioned dive trip through the Seychelles. I’m going to be counting whale sharks for the Shark Research Institute. The story there is that whale sharks are being slaughtered in enormous numbers throughout the Indian Ocean and parts of the Pacific. In one region along the coast of India, 1000 were killed in a s ingle year. This is because of the sudden, massive demand for their meat in Asian markets, where they have become a fad food. As a result, the whale shark population in the region has plummeted by 80%. There’s an effort underway to get them globally protected, but it’s hindered because no one has any idea how many there are.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world, growing to about 18 meters. It has an enormous mouth, but no sharp teeth. It feeds mostly on plankton and other small organisms. Given their scarcity and penchant for the open ocean, not much is known about them. The project I’m participating in involves tagging them to get an estimate of their numbers and, more importantly, to learn about their migrating habits.

It’s not currently known whether there is one worldwide, inter-breeding population of whale sharks, or several discrete groups that inhabit different regions and don’t ever mix. If it’s the former, the hunting in the Indian Ocean could severely interfere with their breeding and quickly wipe out the species. If it’s the latter, then the sharks living in other regions can continue once the Indian Ocean population has dried up.

This is what I know right now, and much of it may be wrong. I imagine I’ll learn a lot more in the next few days.

After the dive trip, I’ve got three more days of relaxing and dwindling my bank account on the Seychelles islands. I wish I could’ve done this part at the end of my trip so I’d have some pampering to look forward to, but the whale sharks only pass through in August and I couldn’t get them to reschedule.

After the Seychelles, I’m flying back to Nairobi and making my way to the coastal Kenyan city of Mombassa, where I’ll be meeting up with Andy, my friend and former coworker from Australia, and Sangeeta, his college buddy, a marine biologist living in Mombassa. We’re going to spend a few weeks kicking around Kenya and Tanzania, hopefully with a stop on the island of Zanzibar. In mid-September, we’re planning an eight day climb up Mount Kilimanjaro to the highest point in Africa. At 19,300-some feet, it’s the tallest non-technical climb in the world. I’ve been preparing for it for six months, but I honestly don’t know if I can do it. We’ll give it our best shot.

Andy and I will part ways after the Kilimanjaro climb, and I’ve got a few more weeks here to play around with. I’ve got some ideas of what to do, but financial woes will probably obligate me to find somewhere safe and quiet to lay low. Preferably an island with bad television, slow internet, shoddy phone service, and no qualities that would make it a targeted travel destination.

"With other men, perhaps, such things would not have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote."
– Herman Melville, Moby Dick

I am suddenly terrified to visit the Seychelles, as I have just read about something called the palm spider, which grows to 6 inches long. Worse still, coastal Kenya, which is home to a creature named — I’m not making this up — the golden starburst baboon spider. My understanding was there would not be any large arachnids in this region. Clearly, I was mistaken.

The plane is landing soon. Gotta turn my laptop off.