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Saturday, February 20, 1999
Gatwick Airport, London, England

Minutes later, we landed at London Gatwick. Having been here once before, the drill was simpler. At passport control, I was given another 6 month visa, even though I had been given one just two weeks earlier!

The first thing I noticed was how to proceed directly to international departures without having to clear customs. However, I had already made up my mind to stop at the W.H. Smith store that had the 'Chronicles of Narnia' series. This meant I would have to clear customs. (There was also more restaurant choices outside the international terminal.) But just like the last time, this was a matter of walking through the 'nothing to declare' hallway and walking out into the main terminal.

The first stop was a McDonald's. (So much for the restaurant choices!) There I ordered two pancake and sausage breakfasts, and ravenously devoured them. I used US currency here, and gladly took the change in sterling.

Luckily, the bookstore was here in the North terminal, so I didn't have to take the train to the South terminal. I quickly located the 'Narnia' books, as well as 'The Butterfly lion'. (This was published by the 'Born free Foundation', which was here in England.). I bought these, and paid for them with my credit card.

Last stop before entering the International Departure terminal was the candy machine in the train station vestibule. Yes! They still had 'lion' bars. I bought 3 of them, which was as many as I had spendable coinage for. (I kept some British coins as souvenirs.)

I passed through security into the International Departure terminal, where I would stay for the rest of the time I was in Gatwick.

The first order of business was a restroom stop, and a long, long drink of water! I took many opportunities to drink water to combat the dehydration I was experiencing. Even though I was tired, and a bit queasy, the water was slowly making me feel better. Although plenty of food was available, I was not very hungry.

I had six hours to wait before my next flight, so I tried to make best use of the time. Despite having to carry my camera bag and the awkward box with the wood lion in it, I somehow managed to move around fine. (The books had now joined the film bag inside the lion box. Even paperback books are heavy!)

One store I checked out thoroughly was the music/video shop. I tried to locate a PAL copy of 'The Lion King' and/or 'the Ghost and the Darkness'. These would be for Njau and despite his owning a multistandard TV/VCR, my preference would be to send him tapes in his native video format. The store had neither title in stock. I briefly perused the music section, but found nothing outstanding there. Small shops like that one tend to focus on pop music, and not on classical or Christian.

I revisited the bookstore, as well as the toy store. They were fun to look through, but I wasn't at that point interested in buying anything.

I spent a long time looking at some of the interesting and unusual watches they had for sale in many stores. There was one especially interesting kiosk with a big selection of multi-function watches. I even found a watch with an altimeter, like the one Joyce had. It was even reasonably priced. I didn't buy it, as I was at my budget limit, and I would have to clear US Customs with it.

I visited the electronics store. I looked at their selection of minidisk recorder/players, as well as everything else they had. I'm now glad I didn't bring any audio recording gear on this trip, as there wern't a lot of animal sounds to record, except at Tarangire.

While in the electronics store, I ran into Larry. We looked around together for a few minutes. Then, we said our final 'goodbyes'.

The last item of interest I found in the electronics store was a battery-powered shaver. It was the Braun model that I had tried to get from Travelsmith (A mail-order travel supply outfit). Again, the price was reasonable, but I didn't buy it. I would not need it for probably a couple of years after I returned.

After thinking about getting something to eat, and deciding not to, I settled down in a seat and just did crosswords. I was really beginning to pick up the British word styles used in this puzzle book!

Finally, the gate for my flight was available. I quickly went to it and got a good seat in which to wait. Luckily, it was not a long wait, and soon we were departing England for the US!

The 767 was much roomier, and I was starting to feel better. Yet, the flight still seemed to take forever and ever! Again, I alternated between doing puzzles and trying to sleep.

The US customs paperwork was complex, yet not as bad as I thought it would be. However, there were so many different forms, they had to show an instructional video on how to choose the right one! It is a shame that the US has to have the most complex customs arrangements in the world! I was very close to the declaration limit. The limit was $400. I had $370 worth of foreign goods when I was done figuring.

When we finally started our final descent into JFK, I had no chance to take any Sudafed. As it turns out, I didn't need to, either. I was able to keep my ears completely open, a MAJOR blessing. Thank you, Jesus!

We first had to pass through passport control, just like in England. For US citizens, this was very simple. There were long lines for foreigners!

I got my bag in baggage claim. Now, things were cumbersome. Nevertheless, I was able to manage the bag, the box with the lion and the camera bag without a serious problem.

At the next station, I had to present my customs paperwork. The agent stamped it, and sent me on through. There was one final station where I had to present my stamped paperwork. This was the point where I would learn if I had to be fully inspected. All the agent said was 'Is that all the luggage you have?' My reply was 'I have learned to travel light!' He let me through. I was FREE! I was HOME! I had survived US customs! Praise the Lord!

Unfortunately, customs turned out to be the easy part of JFK!

As I made my way to the front door of the British Airways terminal, I was too busy rejoicing to have seriously considered using the courtesy baggage transfer station that British Airways had provided. This turned out to be a MAJOR boo-boo!

I stepped out the door into total chaos! There were all manner of buses, taxis, and other vehicles picking up and dropping off passengers. There was such total confusion that the lone police officer there could hardly keep things under control. Speakers blared out instructions as to which bus to take. I found written instructions that were a lot more complete on a display board.

My bus finally showed up. It was a mad fight to get on board. Everybody tried crowding on all at once. I had additional problems with the bulky luggage I was carrying. In any case, I had to be just as impolite as everyone else was trying to get on board.

The bus was packed, and I had to stand with my luggage. I was eventually able to find a place where I could set it on a shelf.

JFK is unlike any other airport I had ever seen. It consists of six or so main terminals, and a bunch of smaller terminals scattered over a huge area. A series of buses transported passengers between them. I was riding one of these buses. There were so many airlines served by JFK that it took a couple of minutes for the recorded announcement to read off what was available at each stop. There was every airline I had ever heard of, and many more! I was looking for the Trans World Express terminal, as that was the name on my ticket. This involved riding almost all the way around the airport. At least, the number of passengers in the bus dropped dramatically. Apparently, British Airways was one of the major pinch points on the route!

I got off at the Trans World Express terminal. It was a modern, but well-used terminal. I got in the long line and waited my turn to check in. Boy, would I be glad to be rid of this heavy duffel bag!

When it was finally my turn to check in, I was informed I would have to go to the Delta terminal to check in, if I wanted to check baggage. Even though the flight was operated by Trans World Express, it was handled through the Delta Terminal.

Dismayed, I got back on the bus, and rode almost all the way around again to the Delta terminal.

The Delta terminal was quite different from anything I had ever seen. JFK was Delta's hub, and this terminal was huge. People were everywhere, and always crowding to get one place or another. It took a lot of looking around to finally figure out that I was on the 'arrivals' level. (Everything was underground at this point.) I stopped and asked for directions at an information desk. They could not give me anything more than vague instructions. The most important thing I learned is that I would have to go upstairs to get to 'departures'.

Every route upstairs was either closed, mobbed, or required you to pass through security. Since I hadn't even checked in, this didn't make sense.

Finally, I found an elevator going up. Although the lines waiting to use it were not too long, the elevator was very slow. Here, too, you had to be downright rude to get into the elevator. Finally, at long last, I squeezed my way into the elevator, and took the short ride to 'departures'.

I was greeted immediately by a security checkpoint. Seems at Delta, you go through full security, then check in! (The first security check in Nairobi was only partial. If you had no luggage, you proceeded right to the check-in window without going through the metal detector. The full security check was done when you entered the gate holding area. Contrast this to the Serengeti airport, where there was no security at all!) The security people were courteous, but you could tell they had been having a long day.

I finally found an open check-in window. I had to wait here in a long line. Finally, another window opened up, and I made sure I was the first person to it.

The lady running this check-in station was the first really friendly person I had met at JFK. She symphasized with me about all the hassles I had experienced passing through this airport. In any case, the duffel bag was checked through to Rochester.

The next order of business was to find my gate, and a place to eat. I found a map showing where the food court was. It was right next to my gate.

After a long walk, I found the food court. It was boarded up! Seems it was closed for renovations. The only thing open was a small sub shop, and of course, the bar! I didn't see any sandwiches there I wanted, so I settled for a piece of chocolate cake and some milk. I then made my way to the gate, which was conveniently accessed through a side door from the food court.

I saw all sorts of commuter flights listed to many cities, but I didn't see 'Rochester'. I asked at the check-in counter and was assured I was in the right place.

The lion box was now beginning to become quite flimsy. I had to adjust it several times to keep it from falling apart. I had tried to find a store that might have shipping tape as I had walked to the gate. There were none.

I found a nice window seat, away from everyone else and the blaring TV. There, I could watch the airport traffic, even though it was now after dark. I did my daily bible study, and some more crosswords. I don't know how I could now manage without the crossword book!

From time to time, I checked for a listing of the Rochester flight. It was never posted. Another check revealed that this was still the right place, even though the flight wasn't listed.

The time for the flight came and went. I asked about it one more time. Again, I was assured I was in the right place. Finally, 10 minutes after the flight should have departed, it was called.

I and the other Rochester-bound passengers went down a flight of steps to a waiting area. We were then informed that the flight was running late, and had just landed. After about 15 minutes, we were loaded onto a bus. We were taken out into the middle of the airport.

Suddenly, there was a transmission on the radio, which I could clearly hear. (I was near the front of the bus.) It was an order to bring the Rochester passengers back to the terminal. Seems that our flight had been confused with another flight. So, the bus driver brought us back to the terminal.

There, we waited for an additional 15 minutes. We were then loaded back on to the bus. This time, we were actually delivered to the airplane. We got on board the small commuter craft (Another Saab 340), and stowed our belongings under the seat. The lion just fit under the seat.

Then, the long wait began. We waited and waited and waited. Finally, the pilot came on the PA and told us they had overbooked the flight by 13 passengers. Since these 13 passengers were part of a group, that entire group was being 'bumped'. However, their luggage had already been loaded. So, the luggage had to be unloaded, the other passengers' stuff removed, and the luggage reloaded. Another 20 minute delay. (The plane only holds 25-30 people, so overbooking by 13 is a huge error!)

Finally, we were ready to take off. The left engine was started. The right engine wouldn't start! So, we had to wait until a maintenance crew came out to look at the engine. The problem turned out to be a circuit breaker for the starter that was partially open. Cycling the breaker fixed the problem. (This is not as serious a problem as it sounds, as an engine is started in flight by maximizing the pitch of the propeller blades and letting the slipstream turn over the engine.)

While this was going on, it occurred to me that service had been much better everywhere else I had been on this trip. What a shameful place America was becoming. One passenger who was even more frustrated than me finally shouted, half in jest, 'We're all gonna die!' Everyone in the cabin chuckled.

With both engines now running, we had to wait in line for takeoff. It was a long wait, maybe 10 minutes. Finally, it was our turn and we took off. We were now 2 full hours behind schedule!

Just like the same flight from Rochester to JFK, the return flight seemed to take forever. We were flying low and slow. More crosswords.

I looked out the window at one point and was pleasantly surprised to see the lights of Rochester below me. A few moments later, we began a wide turn and our final descent into the airport. A few moments later, we were on the ground.

My ears didn't fare as well on this leg of the journey, and they were stuck shut. They weren't stuck badly, and cleared themselves sometime the next day. I remembered this leg outbound hadn't been kind to my ears, either.

I was extremely happy to see my friend, Bob Shewell waiting for me outside of security. He had found out the flight I was on was late, and had waited until he had a good arrival time. After all of the frustration of JFK, things were starting to go right!

I collected my duffel bag at the baggage claim area, and walked out to Bob's car.

Things hadn't changed much weatherwise while I was gone. We had gotten a couple inches of snow earlier that day, so there was a nice, clean white coating on everything.

I rejoiced, and thanked God when I saw my house was still there. Bob let me out in the driveway. It was then that the lion-box finally gave out, and everything fell out on the ground and into the snow! I picked up the various items and got them inside as quickly as possible. I then wiped the snow off the wood lion and dried it off.

My cats were ecstatic to see me, and hardly left me alone! It was now after 11 PM, and I knew my parents would be sleeping. Nevertheless, I called them and let them know I was home safely. They were happy. I was happy (But still frustrated from all the problems I had experienced at JFK.). After I got off the phone, I realized that I had never wiped the snow off of the 'Chronicles of Narnia' books. By now, the snow had melted, and thoroughly wetted the books. I dried them off as best as I could, but they will always bear 'scars' of their 'spill'.

In the midst of all this, I had completely forgotten about the small lion wall hanging I had also purchased. It ended up sitting in the snow all night. I found it the next day, none the worse for wear. Whatever wood it was made from, it was oily. The oils had protected it from the wet snow.

Although I was hungry, I was also extremely tired. I decided to wait until the morning to eat. I went to bed. I promptly fell asleep. I slept nearly 12 hours! In any case, I had traveled to East Africa, and experienced it's grandeur. I had seen lions in the wild. (Praise Jesus!) And, I had returned safely. Already, I was thinking about plans to return!

Next: Lessons learned for next time!

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