Monday, October 23, 2017

The Amazing Race Mongolia

I've always enjoyed watching the Amazing Race show on TV. If there are any of you out there who are not familiar with the show, it is a race around the world where teams of 2 travel to far off locations and once there, complete some task or challenge against other teams to earn the clue to their next destination. I've always enjoyed watching the various teams struggle through the many challenges and tasks around the world, often thinking to myself, "I could do better than that!"

I've also sat there thinking, "If I were to compete on this show, who would I want to have as my teammate?" As I've gotten older the desire to compete on the show has slowly reduced. It's not so much because I enjoy it less or think that I can no longer complete the tasks (although ethnic dancing for a clue is not really my thing...), but rather because of the many travels that I've already had around the world shaping my idea of the "fun" of the Amazing Race.

In the last three months I've had the opportunity to travel to Africa from Mongolia two different times. There are several ways to get from Ulaanbaatar (why has the Amazing Race never come here?) to various countries in Africa, but usually the most affordable and most direct option takes me through the country of Turkey on Turkish airlines. My first visit back to Africa came unexpectedly and gave me a brief glimpse of the craziness that must be a part of the Amazing Race show.

I had to travel to Uganda because our MAF training base is located there, and I needed to do another of my check flights that is required of every MAF pilot every 6 months. Now normally we do not fly off across several continents to do these check flights. Normally, we have a check pilot who comes to Mongolia and flies in our aircraft with us here. This WAS originally our plan, but a couple of weeks before he was supposed to come here, our check pilot was riding his bike (pedal, not motor) and in a brief moment of not-paying-attention-to-where-he-was-going, he crashed and did substantial damage to his body. Long story short, he couldn't come. FYI, he is healing and will be ok.

Things like this normally take about 1 month to arrange. We need to apply for a visa from here in Mongolia, and when our side of the application is completed we send the information to the other person, who then has to apply for their visa from whatever country that they are in. This all takes time, which in this instance we didn't have. As a result, I found myself on short notice winging my way over a bunch of the "stans" as I traveled from Mongolia to Uganda. This trip was as close as I think I ever want to come to participating in a leg of "The Amazing Race".

 08:30: Arrive at airport for flight and check in
10:30: Scheduled departure time. Aircraft has not yet arrived from inbound flight.
11:15: Aircraft arrives (late).
11:45: I board the aircraft, find my seat, and sit down.
12:30: Still sitting. Aircraft not moving. Engines not even started. We are now 2 hours late. I have a 1.5 hour layover time in Istanbul. I haven't even left Ulaanbaatar yet and I've already missed my connecting flight. Oh boy.
12:33: Aircraft pushes back from the gate and engines start. IT'S ABOUT TIME!
16:00: Land in Bishkek, Kyrgistan for scheduled short 1 hour refueling stop.
17:30: Re-Board aircraft (we're even later now).
18:35(local time, after a 4 hour flight): Land in Istanbul. I look out the window as we land, where I can probably see the aircraft that I'm supposed to be on, taking off for Uganda. Sigh.
What feels like many hours later: I arrive at my hotel for the night. Turkish Airlines has put me up in
a great hotel for the night and have given me vouchers for meals while I'm there. Looking out from my room I can see the sea. Nice. I'll be here for the next 20 hours until the next flight to Uganda. Time for bed.

16:30: I am waiting for my shuttle vehicle to come and take me to the airport for my flight. It comes.
17:20: I have checked in and am through security and immigration at the airport. Waiting for my flight.
17:50: Aircraft is boarding. I get on and find my seat. I begin to relax a little bit.
18:40: We take off for Uganda. I relax more completely.

02:45: We land in Uganda. Even though it is the middle of the night I still recognize many things on the ground as we fly our approach into the airport, an approach that I have flown myself many, many times.
03:08: I find my driver, waiting for me. I am glad that he is there and I am there, at the same time. We leave the airport. It is much faster when I do not have any checked baggage.
04:00: I arrive at my accommodations in Kampala. I go to bed.
07:00: I wake up. Yay for jet-lag.
09:00: I walk to the MAF office and get a vehicle. I drive through the crazy Kampala traffic and make my way out to the Kajjansi airfield. It all still feels very familiar to me, even though it has been 2 years since we lived here.
10:30: I climb into the airplane and do my check flight. I am glad that I am doing it now in the morning before the jet-lag really smites me. It goes... ok. Better than I had been hoping for. If there was no tiredness or jet-lag, it would have been better. In Amazing Race vernacular, task completed!

01:00 (that's very, very, "AM"): I get into my waiting taxi to drive to the airport.
01:50: I arrive at Entebbe airport 23 hours after landing in Uganda to check in for my flight back to Mongolia. I go through security immigration with no problems. Check in is very easy with only carry on baggage.
03:00: I board the aircraft. I am flying out with the same crew who were on the aircraft that I flew in on. One stewardess recognizes me and says "Hello!". I can tell that she's wondering what brought me all of the way to Uganda for less than one day. I am impressed that she recognized me. I must look like a chewed up piece of meat.
03:40: We take off, heading back to Turkey. I settle into a movie. It is 08:40 in Mongolia, so there is no point in trying to sleep now. I can sleep later on when I am flying on my next flight.
10:00: We land in Istanbul again. I feel as though I have been here recently...
18:45: I board my next flight. I am tired. Very tired. so tired, sleeeepy...
23:00: We are descending into Bishkek again. I wake up and look around. I always look around when I wake up on an airplane to see if anyone is looking at me with that, "Finally, the snorer has woken up!" look on their face. This is even more true when I am the pilot (I am kidding. I don't sleep when I'm the pilot. Really. I hope everybody understands that I was kidding). As far as I can tell, nobody cares that I have woken up. Good.

10:07: We land in Ulaanbaatar (Why has the Amazing Race never come here?).
10:32: I decide to ride the bus home instead of just getting a taxi. Wow. I must be tired. What a dumb idea to take the bus...
11:45: I arrive back home. I manage to make it for a few hours before I crash on the couch for an hour or so. When I awaken, my kids tell me that I was snoring. I don't care.

Three continents, 7 flights (there was a short hop that I didn't mention), 6 cities, 14,125 miles, 97.5 hours. I am home and checked out so that I can fly for another 6 months.

I am officially glad that I only had one leg to do and not 9 or 10 more. I can only imagine how utterly exhausted and constantly jet-lagged the contestants on the Amazing Race must be after several weeks of running around like that. I can't imagine being so zonked out of my head with jet-lag, and then having to do those challenges which include getting taxis in foreign lands, language issues, culture issues, the challenges that they have to do, plus trying to remain civil with their running partner while just yearning for a pillow. Yep, I'm glad that it's not me. Watching them run around on TV is plenty good for me. I do have a better understanding of all of the bickering that happens on the race. Oh well, it makes good TV I guess.

I yawn.

Time for bed...


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