Freeloader

Barbi in Spain, Kenya and Tanzania

There are many ways to see the world, one of them is the oft overlooked job as a flight attendant, aka stewardess (side note: that term is defunct fyi) and its travel benefits. I’ve been a flight attendant for the former America West Airlines, now US Airways, since, oh before the advent of the Internet, let’s just say.

Now, it does come with a bit of a downside: Standby. You must travel standby; always the last to get on the airplane and usually in the last row, middle seat next to the large, loud or smelly passenger. But hey, you paid a fraction of what your seatmate paid to fly half-way round the world.

With that being said, I have seen at least 111 cities in 10 different countries from a second class seat.

Two of my most memorable trips were to Pamplona, Spain to run with the bulls-yes, yes I did. And then to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro and see the Serengeti. Both trips were long in terms of traveling but so worth it once I got there.

America West Airlines didn’t fly to any of these countries and I had to go the long way around. Usually flying from Phoenix Sky Harbor to New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and then on to Heathrow or Gatwick in London and then…. I think you get it.

Following are excerpts from my travel journal.

SPAIN:

We made our way Pamplona (known as Iruna to the Basque speaking locals) in Spain for the Running of the Bulls! Background: La Fiesta de San Fermin (also known as Los Sanfermines) occurs every year from the 6th of July at noon to the 14th of July at midnight. The Running Of The Bulls through the streets (el encierro) occurs each morning at 8am starting July the 7th. We flew from London to Bilbao. We rented our Hertz-mobile, and then drove around Bilbao (unintentionally) for about and hour before finally finding the right way to Pamplona. We arrived there around 2am to find the party in full swing! After dumping the car on a crosswalk at the other end of town (no legal parking in sight!), we dragged our luggage to ‘La Perla Hotel‘ in the Plaza De Castillo, in the heart of the city. We stopped to buy my red sash and  hanky (total price of 1000 pesetas–around US$8) and then crashed for a couple hours before beginning the big adventures.”

The next day:

Got up at 6 a.m. for the  825meter (half mile) path from the corral to the bull ring through the streets of Pamplona. We started the run at the city hall that looks like a church, as seen in opening scene of the movie City Slickers, and walked slowly up around the corner to the Estefata street when we heard the rocket blast off to signal the release of the bulls! They galloped past us in two groups, both quite close. We had to sprint to the end in order to make it into the bullring with all the other runners. The police were slamming shut the gate at the last turn, but we forced our way past in what was probably the most dangerous moment of the day!

AFRICA:

So the trip was a bit better. I broke it up by flying to London and staying an extra day. My cost: $150 US.

The flight to Africa was a good one for me. I’ve now gotten accostomed to sleeping in tight spots. My advice, take your headphones, LOTS of music or books, sunglasses and drink a lot! That really helps with the tuning out of other passengers. Side note: If you are someone who becomes obnoxious when you drink, skip it and take an Ambien.

Excerpts from the journal:

We arrive in “Nairobbery” at 9am. A  little worried about getting a taxi into the city, but luckily there were a few friendly locals that operated taxi services into the city who were happy to help us. Actually, they swarmed all over us like bees on a hive as soon as we emerged from customs, grabbing our carts and steering us towards their stands in the airport.  I was blessed with frequent issues ever since starting my malaria pills (the nightmares they cause are a free added bonus!). We visited the Serengeti, slept in tents on Ngoro Ngoro Crater (where I could hear hyiennas  chomping on something). We saw every wild animal you can imagine.

The final leg of our journey was to climb Kilimanjaro. We had to take a six hour taxi ride from Kenya to Tanzania. Our destination was Arusha, the safari capital of the country. In Arusha we took a couple of safaris and then made our way to the base of Kili, as it’s known to the locals.

The climb took three days up and two down. We booked with Roy Safaris Limited. The trek was not technical but it was a workout. Our guides or sherpas as we called them, carried our larger backpacks while we carried a small day pack. Each of the three nights the guides would prepare the most delicious meals. I have no idea how they possibly carried all the fresh food and our packs!

The last night was the most odd. We arrived at the final camp around 1:30 p.m and due to the altitude could only eat a few tea biscuits and some broth soup. Lights out and in bed by 4:30 p.m! The final assent starts at 1:00 a.m.

I couldn’t sleep, I had the worst headache and really wasn’t sure it was a good idea to do this thing in the first place. Somewhere in the middle of the “night” I got up to go pee– I walked 20 feet and my heartbeat was at 190 beats per min! I remember thinking,”This is crazy! I may be young and healthy, but I’m sure I’m going to die of a heart attack!”

We made it to the top Uhuru peak without any altitude sickness (I think my years in a pressurized cabin helped with that) or injuries.

Being at the top was surreal. It seemed we took forever to get to the summit and was there for only a few minutes. I felt like really loopy and that I couldn’t focus too long on any one thing. I felt like I was really drunk. The amazing thing was that feeling disappeared rapidly with each step down toward the base camp.

We had a few mishaps on the way down. My climbing buddy was starting to get altitude sickness and was boiling. By the time we made it to the camp, all the others had started toward the next camp. After a nap of a couple of hours he was good to go and we made it to the next camp in time for dinner.

We made it home in tact with no permanent damage, except I still think I got frostbite on one of my toes!

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