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Saturday, February 6, 1999
Gatwick Airport, London, England

Just before landing, we were required to fill out a card with customs-related information on it. As soon as we were off the plane, this card had to be presented to an agent at 'Passport Control'. The agent looked at the card, and stamped a 6 month visa in my passport! Quite relieved, I looked for the way out of the terminal. On the way out, I had about $30 turned into British Pounds. This was fairly easy, but there was also a stiff commission. I was handed an assortment of notes and coins.

I then discovered I had to pass through Customs no matter what I did. (I had a room in a hotel just outside the airport.) There were two hallways: One for those who had things to declare, and one for those who didn't. Signs all over said that your personal exemption was only 135 British Pounds. This concerned me a bit, as my camera was worth considerably more than that. So, I decided I had to at least ask about declaring. So, I bravely entered the 'Items to declare' hallway and explained my situation to the agent there. He replied 'You're a tourist. You have nothing to declare', and waved me over to the other hallway (The hallways became common at this point.). Nobody even looked at me after that. It was then I noticed 9 out of every 10 people passing through went through the 'nothing to declare' hallway and were not challenged.

I was finally in the main terminal! I looked around for a few minutes. Things weren't so different here as I had envisioned. Of course, the language was the same, which helped a lot. Most of the types and brands of things I was used to in the United States were here, too. Even the fast food places were the same!

I started looking for the Hilton Hotel, where I had a dayroom booked. It turned out to be in the Gatwick South Terminal. This was easily reached by a train, which ran every few minutes. When I arrived at the hotel (Which required a modest bit of outdoor walking in near-freezing weather.), I discovered that dayrooms weren't available for a couple of hours. (It was only 7 AM London time.) I ended up waiting, half asleep, in the hotel lobby until a room was ready.

I used this time to look around. You would never know you were in England by the building's architecture. However, there was a wet bar in the lobby serving drinks even at that early hour. Many more people here smoked than in the 'states, and every table had an ashtray. People from all over the world were passing through here, and had on various forms of dress. After becoming bored from looking around, I started to fill in all the blanks in 'Travel Journal Africa'.

The hotel people were able to have a room ready early. I went up to it and crashed. Boy, did that bed feel good! I slept for about four hours.

When I got up, I spent a few minutes looking around. I noticed the dual-voltage shaver outlet, with it's special receptacle. All the other outlets were of a different, square-pinned variety. Every outlet also had a on-off switch mounted on it. They were 220 volts, of course.

I turned on TV for a few minutes, for no other purpose than to look at PAL flicker. (The television vertical scan rate is lower than the US standard in much of the world. When one from the US watches a set running one of these slower standards, they will see a noticeable flicker in the picture. PAL is one of these slower standards. The French SECAM is another. The US system, also used in Canada and Japan, is called NTSC.) There was little on that was interesting, anyway. For some reason, I couldn't tune in the one channel I really wanted to see. I shut the TV off.

After a shower, I took a walk back into the South terminal, where there is a shopping mall. One item in particular I was looking for was a washcloth and towel. I noticed that these were recommended for packing in 'Travel Journal Africa'. I never did find one. I thought about asking if I could buy a hotel towel at the lobby, but God told me not to worry. Of course, God proved to be right!

It was in the mall that I learned King Hussein of Jordan had died. This was a very sad thing for me, as King Hussein was probably the world's most famous amateur radio operator. A QSL card (Something hams mail each other to confirm a radio contact.), with his distinctive call, JY1, was a proud item to display on the wall of anybody's hamshack. You were very lucky if you ever got to work him, and only two other hams I know have enjoyed that privilege. It was like losing a friend.

The other interesting thing I saw in the mall were two British soldiers, with automatic weapons, patrolling the hallways. I guess we are very lucky in the US not to have to worry that much about security!

I ate lunch at a McDonalds. After finishing my exploration of the mall, I decided to go to the North Terminal and more fully explore it. In the train vestibule of the North terminal, I found a vending machine selling a candy bar called a 'Lion Bar'. I bought one and ate it. It was quite good. It is chocolate covered rice, like a Nestle's Crunch, but narrower and much thicker. (They were made by Nestle, as well.) After that, I used every opportunity to pass through there and buy another lion bar! I saved the wrappers because of the nice lion's face on them.

In going through a bookstore in the North Terminal, I found the British edition of C.S. Lewis's 'Chronicles of Narnia'. I also found a children's book called 'the Butterfly lion' by Michael Morpurgo. This was a book listed on the 'Lion Books' list on my internet website, but I had never seen it in the US. I didn't buy either, because of the weight and size restrictions I would have to deal with much later in the trip. I knew I would have time to pick them up on the way back. I did buy a puzzle book to occupy the times when nothing was happening.

I went back to the Hotel, and worked on 'Travel Journal Africa' some more. It was then that I discovered I had a couple extra hours in the room. I took full advantage of them and had a good nap! It was now about 6 PM.

After checking out of the hotel, I made my way back to the mall. After considering the various restaurants there, I settled on McDonalds again for dinner. There was a Kentucky Fried Chicken there as well, but prices were much too high for my liking at the moment.

I then made my way to the North terminal, and thence to the upper departure level. After checking in, I made my way to the international departures area. I was a bit nervous going through security, as London was the one spot on my trip where they were guaranteed to x-ray my film bag. Otherwise, it was the usual checking of tickets, passports, etc.

The international departures terminal was a most pleasant place, with an array of duty-free shops almost as extensive as the mall. I had several hours to explore the shops. Unfortunately, none of the bookstores there had either 'The Chronicles of Narnia' or 'The Butterfly Lion'. If they had, I could have avoided a passage through customs and another film x-ray on the way back.

While in the international departures terminal, I had the most fortunate luck to meet up with the same folks I had met the previous evening. We discussed all sorts of different subjects, and took turns watching each others' luggage. This way, everyone had a chance to explore the shops without the burden of their luggage. I kept an eye out for other travelers with 'Africa Adventure Center' duffle bags like mine, but did not see any. I did however, see one of the people I would later explore Tanzania with, but of course did not recognize him at that time.

One of the women on this trip had purchased the same type of camera I had. I ended up showing her how to make best use of it, and taught her 'SLR photography 101' at the same time.

London Gatwick (And Jomo Kenyatta, for that matter) use a little different system of boarding aircraft than i was used to. Flights are not called, but you are expected to head for your gate sometime in the hour preceding your flight. There, after a final check of your travel documents, you are corralled into a holding area where you wait until they actually start boarding the aircraft. Well, this holding area was packed! For most of us, it was standing room only. While there, I said final good-byes to the new friends I had met earlier. I also had a chance to talk (Through a person who could translate German) to a member of a team that was planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. They were dressed almost ready to climb, (Highly recommended in all the travel guides, as mountaineering equipment is hard to come by in East Africa.) which made them stick out of the crowd.

Finally, boarding began. The aircraft was a Boeing 747-400, the largest version of the largest aircraft in commercial service! The seats were 10 across, arranged 3-4-3 with two aisles. I had my usual window seat, just behind the wing.

Even though I was one of the first people to board, the two aisle seats in my section were already filled. After I was in my seat, I watched more people board...and more...and more! By the time everybody was on board, there was not a single empty seat on the plane! Apparently, Nairobi is a popular destination, or there aren't many flights going there.

It didn't take long for me to realize that, despite being on the world's largest commercial aircraft, it also had the least legroom. I have been on many commuter flights that were more comfortable. I would be cramped in that seat for the next 9 hours! The two people sitting inside from me didn't speak English, so it was tough to let them know you needed to get out of your seat. Fortunately, I only needed to get out once.

Other than being very cramped, this flight was very much like the transatlantic flight. The biggest difference was that there was more to see out the window. I recognized the coast of France when we left the European Continent. Over Africa (Which is a HUGE Continent), I could see cities and industrial facilities from time to time. These were most remarkable when were over the Sahara desert. Since it was nighttime, it was impossible to tell exactly what these facilities were.

The woman who I had helped earlier learn how to use her camera was practicing with it a few seats away from me. She was setting off the flash in the dark cabin, and annoying a lot of people. I ended up helping her again with her camera!

Next: First steps in Africa!

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