Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jumping Ahead to the End

This is completely out of order, but before the link expires, I need to tell the story of my return trip:

My flight to London was scheduled to leave at 1:30 AM on Tuesday, so (after much discussion, in which I tried to explain to the travel agency that I needed them to tell me the hovercraft schedule, not make me guess what time there might be one) I decided to catch the hovercraft to the airport on Monday at 9 PM. Since I was already checked out of my hotel, I ate dinner as slowly as I could, but still arrived at the hovercraft station at 7:30 PM. Fine, I'm good at waiting, so I bought my ticket and started knitting.

As 9:00 approached, there was no sign of the incoming hovercraft (there's just one), so I figured it might be a little late. No problem--I'd left myself plenty of time. When 10:00 came and went without a hovercraft, people started to worry. There's apparently no way for the hovercraft to communicate with the stations, so there was no way to know where it was, if it was coming, etc, but there wasn't anything to do but wait. The hovercraft finally appeared at 10:30, and a rumor spread through the waiting room that the crossing had taken 2 hours (instead of 30-45 minutes).

I had been chatting with 2 women, an American originally from SL who had returned to visit her family and a European consultant who had been working there for the previous week, and they flew into a panic at this news. We'd miss the plane! Maybe we should stay in Freetown! What should we do!? I was pretty worried (and nearly cried when Kevin called my cell phone--more about phones later--to check on my progress) but I didn't have any choice about what to do: I'd checked out of the hotel, didn't have enough money to pay for the hotel even if I could check back in, and didn't know anyone to stay with: I was going to the airport, and I was going to stay there till I got on a plane, no matter how long it took. (I'm not sure what I was planning to eat during that time, since there's no city near the airport, and no food for sale in it.)

One of the women started asking random passengers what she should do, how long the trip to the airport would take, etc., as though they'd have a better idea than she did. She also spent some time yelling at the men unloading baggage from the hovercraft to hurry up, then some more time yelling at them to hurry up as they loaded our bags on. Finally, she cornered a member of the hovercraft crew, who told her that a fan belt had broken, but that the return trip would only take 45 minutes, no problem, and she'd catch her plane, so she quieted down for a while.

We hurried onto the hovercraft and set off. Things went well for about 45 minutes, till it because clear we were nowhere near land. Kevin called periodically and I moaned about how there weren't any more flights, I didn't have enough for a hotel (or a return hovercraft trip to Freetown, for that matter), etc. [I just need to defend my financial situation for a minute here: I sound really irresponsible for not having brought extra cash, but the literature I read beforehand was very clear about not carrying extra money, because of the risk of theft. I can definitely see why: the annual per capita GDP in in SL is something like $210... my hotel room cost $118 per night, and the hovercraft is $50 each way. One roundtrip hovercraft ride plus one night in the hotel = more than the per capita GDP. I'd have robbed me too.]

We finally reached the other side after 2 hours, just when the plane was scheduled to take off. With the broken fan belt, the hovercraft didn't have enough power to land, so it stopped a few feet out into the water and the crew carried everyone to land, piggyback or fireman's carry. The women who had been worried earlier screamed some more.

When we got to the airport (after a bumpy, pitch black return trip on the bus), it turned out that the plane was waiting for us (in fact, someone was waiting on the front steps of the airport to point us in the right direction and tell us to hurry). We rushed through check in (the gentleman checking passports took a picture of each one with a digital camera), security (no x-ray machines or functional metal detectors, they just riffled through the upper layers of our carry on luggage and patted us down), and onto the plane (incredibly clean, bright and air conditioned).

Back in London, on the shuttle bus from the airplane to the terminal, one of the other passengers called a friend or relative back in SL and we learned that the hovercraft had sunk on the trip back to Freetown. No one was hurt, and apparently they were able to raise it quickly, because yesterday, while looking for information about the sinking, Kevin discovered that later Tuesday morning the hovercraft ran out of fuel in the middle of the water. When another boat went out to refuel it, itcaught on fire! Luckily, everyone was evacuated safely. (I swear, I'm not making this up! OK, maybe I am--the link has expired already.)


Sister Anna said...

Who knew that hovercrafting was so dangerous....but luckily you escaped. Good to hear that you're back safe and sound. And hooray for Kevin for his Ironman finish. I'm a little behind. Honeymooning does that to you.

Knitika said...

Wowee, that's an impressive story. I liked your logic from the previous post, too, that you could swim better than you could fly. It's so great they held your plane for you. Thanks for sharing your stories, and glad you're okay!

Anonymous said...

Oh my! That's quite the adventure you had.

Annie said...

These stories are terrific. You should make a powerpoint presentation out of it. Add music!

Karen said...

My favorite bit:
"One roundtrip hovercraft ride plus one night in the hotel = more than the per capita GDP. I'd have robbed me too."

If you do a Powerpoint presentation,
remember to use lots of bullet points.

Baby Beth said...

OMG, and you wanted to take the hovercraft because you can swim. After hearing this story, I'm taking the helicopter if I'm ever there. Good lord!