Saturday, March 14, 2020

St. Louis - Toronto - Frankfurt - Nairobi

The big day had arrived. Time to fly to Africa! I’ve probably washed my hands more in the past week than in the previous 12 months. I try to remember not to touch my face but it turns out that happens a lot. Also I wear contacts so I'm legit touching my bare eyeball multiple times a day. One reason that we didn’t cancel this trip is that Air Canada wouldn’t allow us to because things weren't quite bad enough yet. Oh don't worry, they would be bad enough pretty darn shortly after our departure.

Our journey began in beautiful St. Louis Lambert International Airport, formerly known as Lambert–St. Louis International Airport.

I think people can probably tell I'm from real St. Louis from the mean look in my eye.

First stop: Toronto airport Plaza Premium Lounge.

They had one tap: Molson Canadian.

Cheers to you, Canada.

One of my coworkers married a Canadian woman recently and was regaling me with tales of this Canadian delicacy: maple salmon jerky.

I had some time to kill so I bought some for her highness to try.

She was not pleased.

I could instantly feel the protein coursing through my sinews. I don't talk about my sinews nearly enough. It's funny for a weirdo like myself this is probably not the 50th time I've eaten fish jerky. 

WIFI was out in the whole airport. Turned on my cellular data and in no time AT&T sent me a text that I’d just spent $100. Awesome. 

We hiked around the airport quite a bit to complete our exercise rings. It’s a nice project to work on when there isn’t a damn thing else to do. People-watching was even better due to everyone’s haphazard protective gear. We saw a couple of kids with snorkel masks on, some women wearing trash bags as shirts...

...and my favorite, someone with a sleeping mask strapped to their face... it didn’t even cover her nose. The official wisdom at the time was that masks were only necessary for sick people. A lot of the logic in those days was clearly flawed. My understanding is that this disease can be asymptomatic, so why would you hand out advice like that? Why is there so much emphasis on fevers and temperature taking? It's hard to tell if advice from health authorities is meant to be in my personal best interest in the first place. I got the sense that a lot of the "don't wear masks" talk was because governments didn't want there to be shortages. But if they don't work then why do we care if there's a shortage? Something is definitely amiss.

When we got on our flight we wiped everything down with alcohol wipes to combat cooties.

O Canada.

I spend a decent amount of time watching movies anyway. It might as well be while I'm hurtling through the air over the ocean. The Lighthouse was solid and very very strange indeed.

You know, when I was flying Singapore Airlines Suites Class I was somebody. But when you fly that close to the sun the trip back to the earth can be painful.

There was free wine at least. French even.

I convinced the flight attendant to give me some of the good stuff.

Jojo Rabbit will make you laugh then make you cry.

Very inappropriately after watching the nazi comedy movie we landed in Frankfurt.

It was nice to land in an airport that had friggin WIFI but then... I just got more bad news.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch website is apparently illegal in Europe. How are these people going to check their Cardinals scores??

We found a nice lounge to sip beer, eat pretzels, and take naps. I should get a t-shirt made with that on it. I think this was my maiden Schöfferhofer Weizen.

I spent a lot of my time in Germany, in between the naps and the multiple delicious pretzels, troll-tweeting at Air Canada. I was already annoyed at them for their stingy cancelation policy.

My hate tweeting had some of the following flavor.

"We noticed that our Air Canada flight to Germany was pretty empty (attendant said 200 empty seats), so we asked at the customer service desk about upgrades. They said their system is messed up due to a software migration but to ask at the gate. We asked at the gate and they said they can’t due to the software but that there were lots of seats available so since we asked we could sit wherever. Attendants on the flight told us that only the gate agent could help us, so we de-boarded the plane and walked back to gate and they told us no again like we were crazy. Air Canada is a trash airline... and they need to get their lives together. Checked on the website, there was a “click here to upgrade” button. You’re not going to believe this but.... it didn’t work! Got some error message. 

Air canada is the Carnival Cruise of airlines.

Air Canada has French wine in economy class. It’s sort of like an ugly girl buying you a drink at a bar. Thanks, but no thanks. You know?

If I ever have an unattractive red headed child I’m going to name it Air Canada.

Now when I stub my toe I don’t yell a curse word I just yell "Air Canada!".

Air Canada is the zodiac killer."

You know, that sort of stuff.

This eatery was called Goethe Bar and the center of the space featured a giant reclining statue of 1749-1832 German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Those Germans really know how to party.

The final leg of our journey to Kenya was on a pretty empty Lufthansa flight. There were enough empty seats that we could each have our own row.

The Lufthansa pilot was really funny. "I’m going to say some goodbye words. Thank you for flying with us during this special time." This is a pandemic not a Christmas outbreak.

My very own Ministry of Health Novel Coronavirus Travelers Health Surveillance Form.

Nairobi, Kenya. I did a little reading about Nairobi before I left in the failing liberal rag New York Times: "Nairobi has been trying hard to distance itself from its reputation as crime-ridden and dangerous; it never liked the nickname Nairobbery. But at night, exercise caution. You can use Uber, but after dark don't visit an ATM or stroll around."

Luckily I've also been reading Out of Africa which gave the both the city and the safari a much more poetic air. "Nairobi said to you: 'Make the most of me and of time. Wir kommen nie wieder so jung—so undisciplined and rapacious—zusammen.' Generally I and Nairobi were in very good understanding, and at one time I drove through the town and thought: There is no world without Nairobi's streets."

Shilling rain go away, that is what my haters say.

I think at the time we landed that Kenya had already begun canceling flights into the country. Our safari driver man did not meet us with a handshake but with a squirt of hand sanitizer in each of our hands. On our way out of the airport lot, the parking fee line was taking a long time. I asked if they were negotiating up there. He said in Kenya you can negotiate anything, even killing somebody. Cue nervous laughter.

I was impressed today and would be the entire trip of how much better this African nation was handling this safety threat than the US. In Nairobi, Kenya the schools were now closed despite having close to no cases.. St. Louis, Missouri bumpkin ass schools: open.

Our driver also gave us some bad news. Both the elephant and giraffe sanctuaries that we had planned on visiting were now both closed because public gathering places are being restricted. The elephant news was especially tough because we had "adopted" a rescued baby elephant for the night. Who will tuck in the baby elephants?!

We had booked a room at the Stanley Hotel. Established in 1902, it is the oldest in the city. It was named after Welsh-American explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley who famously uttered the phrase "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" upon finding missing missionary David Livingstone in western Tanzania. A fitting basecamp for our upcoming safari excursion.

Some other assorted Wikipedia stolen fun facts about the hotel:

"Since the early 1900s, the Stanley Hotel has been known as the traditional meeting place for those going on safari in Kenya.

The Exchange Bar, named for the Nairobi Securities Exchange, is the successor to the Long Bar, where local stocks were first traded in Nairobi.

The hotel was the first place to sell Kenya's Tusker Beer in 1922. The first ten bottles were hand-produced and personally delivered to the hotel's manager.

The hotel is known for having hosted conferences between world leaders, authors, and film actors, including Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, and Frank Sinatra. In 1952, the then Princess Elizabeth visited the hotel as part of a world tour, shortly before the death of her father, King George VI, and her subsequent succession as Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

The Stanley has influenced several authors. Ernest Hemingway stayed at the hotel on several occasions. In 1934, Hemingway stayed for several weeks while recovering from amoebic dysentery. During this time, he made notes for his novels The Green Hills of Africa and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Hemingway mentions the Stanley in these works, and is also credited with introducing the word "safari" to the English language. Hemingway returned to the hotel in 1954."

I liked all of the antique photos and artifacts strewn about the place.

After reading the... colorful language about the happening on the streets of Nairobi after nightfall we decided to order room service for our dinner.

The situation at home deteriorated making being far away in Africa not seem like such a bad choice after all.

I'm a real one so I ordered the

"Kenyan Beef Kata Kata

An old style braised diced beef in onion and tomato gravy served with ugali dumplings and sauteed spinach". Ugali is sort of like firm grits that's sliced. It's made out of white cornmeal and water. Lydia ruined my street cred by ordering a club sandwich with french fries. Lucky for me there weren't any Hot Pockets or bloomin' onions on the menu.

They were not messing around with the fruit platter. I was happy to see that this was a passion fruit country. I'm very passionate about that. The fruit pile was served with yogurt and banana bread.

Room service asked if I wanted my beer warm or cold. You want your tip small or big? The whole shebang was about 62 dollars. Whatever. The nice part about partying in developing nations is that they can rip you off by local standards and you can not really care by your own. Everybody wins!

I felt extra fancy having a lightswitch dedicated to my hotel room chandelier.

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