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Travel in the Time of Rona

It took sheer bloody mindedness and a dose of foolhardiness for Nicky to escape a tightly locked-down South Africa to return to her beloved Angama Mara in Kenya
An eerily deserted departure lounge at OR Tambo International, Johannesburg

It all began with a grand plan. Find a flight to Kenya, check in on the Angama family and then find another flight home. The first small hurdle was that our President had locked my home country and thrown away the keys. I had heard about repatriation flights sneaking in and out in the dead of night and I set to work researching if there were any to Nairobi. I must add here that I have the best, most patient, most reliable and most resourceful travel agent in the history of the world (thank you, dear David).

The following options – all only one way and eye wateringly expensive – were considered. Option 1: fly to Dar and on to Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania and then jump on a bus (the famous Divanu that we all used way back when in those good old CC Africa days) and drive to Nairobi via the Namanga border. Second small hurdle scotched that plan because suddenly Kenya and Tanzania had a spat about allowing people in and out of their respective countries (never got to the bottom of that but I am delighted to report that this is now a spat-of-the-past). Options 2&3 were similar: fly to Addis or Kigali and then work my way back into Kenya from either Ethiopia or Rwanda. Option 4 was to take a bus but the thought of a Corona test at every border post between here and there sounded like I might end up with a crater on the top of my head akin to that of Ngorongoro.

From the bizarre to the sublime; leaving Johannesburg and arriving in Nairobi

And then came the wonderful news that Kenya Airways had just posted a repat flight leaving in 10 days direct to JKIA – easy peasy. Or so I thought. How does a South African citizen repatriate to Kenya? Dig out a dusty investor work/resident permit and flash that about. It worked. Then started the paperwork. Reams and reams of questionnaires by the airline and health departments of both countries followed. Finally, I had to come clean with my family about my intended escapade – no need to detail how that went down. Hurdle number 3 was that any South African citizen coming into Kenya would need to go into a government quarantine facility for 14 days. And hurdle number 4 was how the heck was I going to get home again? These repat flights are as rare as rocking horse poop.

The day dawned for my great escape and armed with my (2nd) Covid test proving I was negative (anyway I had Rona way back in June – done and done that), all my paperwork and a large bag filled with books, Kindle, iPad, laptop and pyjamas in the event of a quarantine incarceration, off I set. To the airport I hear you ask? Reasonable assumption. No. Off to the Kenyan High Commission in Pretoria which is 50kms in the wrong direction to the airport. There I had to check in (on the sidewalk at a makeshift desk), board a bus and drive back 50kms to the airport. Absolutely no cars are allowed in the international section of the airport and I was feeling more and more like a refugee. All our luggage was removed from the bus and set in a long neat row down the middle of the road. Along came the sniffer dogs and thankfully no nasties were uncovered. It would have been mightily embarrassing in front of a huge crowd of masked onlookers.

The 'new normal' of travel?

The airport was deserted with only a quarter of the lights on. I know living in the time of Rona feels like living permanently in a twilight zone, but this was on another level of gloominess. It was at the security scanner that I stopped and stared in disbelief. Passengers dressed in head-to-toe in PPE with cloth masks, plastic visors, floor length gowns, covers on their shoes and funny hospital-type hats. Whole families setting off to who knows where? Outer space? The entire departures hall was in darkness except for one ray of light and this was a gentleman dressed in the restaurant uniform for Jacksons who stepped forwards to passengers as they spilled through immigration and offered them hand sanitizer. During the spritz down he had his chance to do a quick bit of marketing for his pop-up coffee shop. And there it was, laid out on the Jacksons coffee counter, an array of sweets, chips, instant coffee, an urn and paper cups all lovingly displayed on brightly coloured cloths. Who says a plan can’t be made to earn a few shekels in these dark times?

The flight was uneventful other than no extra services offered by the cabin crew all dressed in PPE to the floor. I hoped to sneak in a quick facelift, but they were having none of it. And now I will have to speed up this saga as I have nearly lapped my word budget for this story. I landed and fell into the safe arms of our airside meet and greet team at JKIA who whisked me through immigration without blinking and not a word of quarantine mentioned.

At long last, after 5 months of (im)patiently waiting to return to Kenya, to the Mara and to my family at the lodge, I was here. If it wasn’t for Rona and people staring, I would have kissed the ground.

How did I get home? That’s another story.

Note from the Editor

I am delighted to confirm that Kenya is very much open to tourism and no quarantine now required and South Africa reopens on 1 October. Please come back to Africa. We miss you.

Filed under: East Africa Travel

Tagged with:

Adventure Travel , Angama Travel , Covid , Travel , travel blog

About: Nicky Fitzgerald

After more than 30 years in hospitality, starting with a small hotel at the foot of Africa and followed by a further couple of Cape hotels, most notably The Bay, and sixty plus safari lodges across Africa and India, Nicky has served more meals, puffed more cushions, filled more beds, trained more staff and opened more properties than she cares to remember. Nicky retired as Angama's CEO in July of 2022 and remains an advisor and delightfully opinionated member of the Board.

Browse all articles by Nicky Fitzgerald Meet the angama team

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Join the Conversation (6 comments)

Comments (6):

RC Johnson

25 September 2020

Amazing story that really shows the love you have. Looking forward to the day I can return, hopefully sooner rather then later.

    Nicky Fitzgerald

    27 September 2020

    Hi Rod Thank you for your message and we very much look forward to your return to the lovely Mara. Warm regards Nicky

Francis Bagbey

22 September 2020

"As rare as rocking horse poop"......I will look for opportunities to throw that into conversations! An exhausting travel diary. Let's hope that vaccine arrives soon and after widespread vaccinations, we get back to "normal" and I make my first journey to Angama.

    Nicola Fitzgerald

    23 September 2020

    Hi dear Francis May that vaccine come quickly - we are ready and waiting to welcome you with our arms open wide Warm regards Nicky

Gillian Evans

22 September 2020

Congratulations Nicky on beating the system and returning to Kenya! What a feat of endurance ! How I long for normal travel from the U.K. to resume to Africa!

    Nicola Fitzgerald

    23 September 2020

    Hi Gillian Thank you for your lovely message - we all miss normal so much. never again will I say normal is boring :) Warm regards Nicky

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