My Adventures with the Airport Taxis in Livingstone, Zambia

Where is Uber/Lyft/app rideshare when you need them?

I arrived in the Livingstone airport in Zambia without a planned pick up. The moment I walked out, I was fed to the wolves taxi drivers, who could smell a lamb to the slaughter. The trip from the airport to downtown is about 6 km/4 miles. I knew that $20 was not a fair price. It didn’t help that seeing a solo Asian female traveling, the pack of taxi drivers decided to start pawing at me (they were trying to grab my bags), insisting it was a fair price. Intimidated, I retreated from them, and retreated into the safety of the airport terminal.

This was a bad time for Google’s ProjectFi not to function. I was trying to get it to load a map of Livingstone, because I decided that I’d rather walk the 6km, than get ripped off.

Protip 1: If you travel with a lot of suitcases, it significantly reduces your bargaining power. I had a 28L backpack, and when I told the taxi drivers I’d rather walk than pay them $20, I meant it.

Eventually, one of the drivers broke from the pack, walked into the airport terminal, and agreed to my price of $15 ($10 is probably closer to the truth).

Protip 2: If you don’t want to get rip off massively (like 10x), do a search on Tripadvisor/Wikitravel or other travel forums before going to a place. You’re doing other travelers a disservice when you agree to ridiculous prices. I knew I was offering a more-than-fair price at $15 from research

My return trip was a lot cheaper, but no less eventful. Instead of taking an overpriced hotel taxi, I decided to flag a cab on the road. The official taxis in Livingstone are blue in color, and have red license plates. I was willing to pay up to $10 for the trip, but the first guy I got gave me a price of $8, which I agreed to immediately.

The cab was in quite a condition. The handles were gone, the radio was gone. Basically, it just had all the bare essentials for the car to continue functioning.

Cab condition aside, that’s when the adventure began. I asked to be taken to the airport, which I assumed was simple enough. That’s where communication broke down. Apparently, instead of airport, he heard air force. So, we pulled into the Air Force Base.

I started flapping my arms, indicating I was trying to get on an airplane. And that’s when he pointed at this decorative plane outside the Air Force Base which looked like something the Wright Brothers would have flown, and he flapped his arms back at me. Yikes

I asked him to give me a few moments while I tried to search where we were in relation to the airport (I knew we weren’t far). Thankfully, at this moment, someone from the Air Base walked out, told the cab driver that he had gone to the wrong place, and pointed him in the right direction (it was 3 mins away by car)

Travel always gives me a new story.

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Argentina: Parting is just sorrow, Buenos Aires to Rosario, 17 July 2016

Retiro Train Station Platform 7

Parting is just sorrow. This was the specter that was hanging over our entire trip, and now, it was happening.

This morning, we hustled from our hotel to the Aeroparque Airport for P’s long, multi-stop journey back to Seattle, while I continue my journey before starting a new job in Singapore. Finding the right counter to check in, getting his tickets etc. left us with very little time. The only time we had was a teary hug before he had to go board his plane. Our future was left hanging. (P.S. The tariff for taxis from airports is what causes taxi prices from the airport to town to be insane. I paid 3x the price to go back from Aeroparque)

After dropping him off, I took a taxi to the Retiro station as my train to Rosario was leaving in five hours’ time. I settled in at a café, and we continued to communicate via Whatsapp. I’ve always been the one handling all our travel details, and I couldn’t help but be worried about how he’d handle the three-country, five-city connection that’d take him back to Seattle.

At around three thirty in the afternoon, I sauntered towards the Retiro station. I made the bad assumption that I could purchase food on the train. For future reference, please do bring food on the train, there’s no food (for purchase or otherwise) on the train. Everyone else on the train seemed to have gotten the memo, as they brought picnic bags and generous portions of mate. (there is a free water dispenser on each carriage)

Pullman Class on Train ride from Buenos Aires to Rosario

The train journey was interesting. I don’t see myself necessarily wanting to do this particular route again, although if there are more scenic routes available, I’m open to trying them. The train system is slower than the bus, and actually, cheaper. My ticket in the Pullman class was 20 pesos cheaper than standard seats on the bus, but it took about two hours longer.

Pullman Class on Train ride from Buenos Aires to Rosario

The train wound through the countryside, and ghost towns for the most part. If you really want to check out the countryside, and see the stark comparison between life in the Argentinian countryside vis-à-vis the cities, the train journey will give that.

Sunset on the Train ride from Buenos Aires to Rosario

Hunting for my hotel at close to midnight was fun. I walked a block or two from the train station and finally found a taxi. But I might have stolen someone else’s taxi. He was nice enough, and because it was a female driver, I felt rather safe, so after his drop off at the Rosario bus station, I gave her the address of my hotel, and thus ends my long travel day.

USA: Rental cars are such a nightmare! ABQ – PHX, 25 March 2016

Sports is big at this Starbucks

A lot of time was wasted today at the Phoenix car rental. Payless car rental at Phoenix is now on my shit list of car rental companies.

11 00: While waiting for our flight, mister and I had a discussion about transportation options in Phoenix. When I first booked the trip, car rentals at Phoenix were exorbitant (~300 USD for 2 days). Apparently, last minute prices for car rentals are lower and more reasonable – ~ 100 USD for 2 days. We actually have about 9 Lyft rides, and 2 Uber rides between us, so we were still undecided.

11 30: Just as the airplane door was closing, we decided to just pre-emptively book a car rental via the Southwest app, because it was ~ 120 USD all inclusive on Payless.

12 30: After standing in the long Payless line for what felt like an hour, we got to the counter. The guy truly sucked. If I didn’t actually look at the paper work, and just signed, I wouldn’t have noticed that they changed our guaranteed rates from 120 USD to …. 300 USD. This was by a bunch of extra insurance, and extra fees that I did not need at all. When I asked the guy at the counter, he just hemmed and hawed. I don’t like bait and switch tactics. When I asked to cancel the reservation, his best argument? “Oh, but I’ve already filled it” (So what?) … “Oh, but you won’t get the credit card funds hold cancelled for another few days”. Seeya! We ended up renting at Firefly for ~150 USD.

15 00: That’s how long our car rental ordeal took. We arrived at the hotel (15 min away from the airport) only 2 hrs after touchdown. I was still sick, and I had a fantasy baseball draft at 7 pm, so we decided to take it easy.

16 00: Food run. Arizona Mills is pretty awesome for this. Mister also needed some allergy medication.

18 30: Fantasy baseball time. Hotel wifi cut out a few times (ARGGGHHH!). I ended up with Ryan Braun against my wishes (thanks, Sheraton!). I’ll live.

USA – Mexico: 8 Tacos bite the Dust, El Centro to Mexicali, 18 March 2016

Accompaniments to tacos al pastor

10 30: We (meaning he) drove to Calexico East, as there was no wait time. We breezed through immigration … so easy to leave, so hard to return!

11 00: He took me to his favorite taco al pastor place that’s by the junction of the street he lived. We killed 5 tacos al pastor each (18 pesos = ~ 1 USD)

Tacos Al Pastor 11 00 – 14 30: Mucho Mexican love. I sat like a deer in headlines (no habla espanol)

14 30 – 15 15: I got treated to a fun activity of how Mexicans find each other. They played car tag, where his cousin and him were calling each other and trying to find each other on the highway. That was an adventure.

15 30: 3 more tacos al pastor bite the dust.

16 00: Raspado. Some Mexican shaved ice thing – my stomach is officially hating me.

Raspado

16 30: More family time for him.

18 30: Time to go to Estadio B-Air. Oh boy, I do love the concession stand offerings there. There’s only so much overpriced hot dogs, burgers and nachos I can eat!

World Baseball Class at Estadio B-Air

19 30: Team Mexico kills Team Nicaragua. The mercy was so sick, Nicaragua fans in the stands were jeering their own team. 😛

22 15: Don’t ever go to Calexico West. We waited for 1hr 40 min to get to immigration.

0030: ZZZZ

Flight Review: AA1223 Dallas – Seattle (DFW-SEA) Domestic First

AA1223 DFW-SEA Dallas - Seattle First Class

Ah, the flight from hell. It really has nothing to do with the flight itself, except I was expecting to be back in Seattle by 9 pm, 31st Dec, but my flight wound up flying over Seattle downtown, just as the fireworks welcoming the new year started. It started out as a half hour delay, but the boarding time kept being pushed back. Apparently, there were issues with the tires, and they wound up having to change 3+ tires, before abandoning that plane, and switching to another plane. As the clock ticked away, I was honestly beginning to think I’d never get back to Seattle.

For domestic crappy premium flights, I honestly don’t see much value in paying the premium. You are really just getting a larger seat, a meal, and maybe feeling more special? But if you are my size (5″4), it has rather marginal value. I guess the larger space means that if you want to bust out the laptop and get some work done, you will have more elbow room. They also gave complimentary earphones, which they will sell to you for $5 in coach.

AA1223 DFW-SEA Dallas - Seattle First Class

AA1223 is a Boeing 737-800. In first class, they have 4 rows of 2-2. The leather seats are wider, and there’s a lot of legroom. The seat also has a power socket, but mine didn’t work (great!). Because I was changing time zones, right after the meal service, I simply passed out, so that worked out in any case.

For the meal service, they only had chicken with polenta, and eggplant parmesan. I pre-ordered the chicken. They ran out of the eggplant after like three orders, so if you are vegetarian, I’d encourage you to pre-order your meal. A vegetarian sitting one row in front of me wound up with just a side salad for dinner.

AA1223 DFW-SEA Dallas - Seattle First Class

The chicken was pretty gross. It was really dry and tough. I ate some of it, but left most of it alone. The ice cream sundae was strawberry shortcake. I’m glad they had that, because I needed my calories for the day. To top off my flight from hell, service on this flight was somewhat gruff. At risk of sounding like I suffer from Stockholm syndrome, I’d say I can’t blame the flight attendant too much. Serving annoyed flyers on New Year’s Even vis-a-vis spending time with loved ones welcoming the new year? I’m sure that’s always awesome!

A note on delayed flights

Several days after my flight with mechanical delays, I used this online form to file my complaint about the delay. I got a form response within half an hour, giving me 5000 AA points for the delay. It might work, it might not work, or you might not get what you want. But if you are dissatisfied with your flight, that can be an avenue for you to air your grievances.

Morocco to Spain: Marrakech to Madrid, 29 December 2015

Madrid

T’was a travel day. I’m mostly just getting my butt from Marrakech to Madrid. I stayed at the hotel until the noon check-out. I made the mistake of taking a taxi just stationed outside the hotel (read: tourist trap). It’s actually a short ride from the hotel to the airport (~2 miles), and the taxi ride should have cost, at maximum, 70 DH. But the taxi driver pointed at some stupid sign on his taxi, saying that he drove me from the further place (not true), and demanded I pay him 100 DH. I just told him that all I had was 50 DH, and 3 Euros, and he could take it or leave it. In retrospect, I’m still pissed that I even gave him the 3 Euros. It’s not a big amount of money, but I hate being extorted by dishonest people. More than that, it’s also the assumption that travellers are stupid, and deserves to be fleeced. Oh well.

Marrakech

After that, it was just a waiting game at the Marrakech airport. Marrakech airport is quite a small airport. They provide 1.5 hrs of free wifi, but you’ll get logged out every 30 mins, so you need to re-log-in every time. You can use multiple devices to extend the free wifi time. Food at the airport is rather pricy (~60 DH sandwiches), so if you are trying to save some money, you should pack some of your food.

Madrid

My Ryanair flight was delayed, so that kinda sucked, because I was already going into Madrid rather late (8+ in the evening), and the late flight meant that I was getting in even later. Fortunately, we did board eventually.

After getting into Madrid T1, I followed the clearly marked signs to the metro station, which is located closer to T2. I got a ticket (5 EUR) on the metro for my station. Thankfully, my hotel is actually on the brown line, so it was one simple change, and a ride to the end of the brown line. I got into my hotel by 10 pm, and after a quick check-in, I went to grab some Burger King before turning in for the night.

Costs:

Transportation: 50 DH + 10 EUR

Food: 200 DH + 8 EUR

Accommodations: 27 EUR

Total: 250 DH (~25 USD) + 45 EUR

Morocco: Rabat, 26 December 2015

Rabat

I arrived at the Rabat International Airport sometime after 5 pm, probably closer to 6 pm. The passport control was a little bit slow, but not out of control. I probably cleared it within 30 mins, and after changing some money (1 USD = 9.6 DH), I spotted the airport bus parked outside, and was good to go. The rate at the airport is pretty fair, and the exchange doesn’t charge a commission.

Getting In

You should see an airport bus across the street from the airport. It costs 20 DH to get from the airport to the Rabat train station. It probably took about 30 min. If you want a drop off along the route, you could probably ask. From the Rabat train station, I took a taxi to my hotel Mercure Rabat, which is located in the residential quarter of Hassan (10 DH). The bus also stops in front of the tram line, so if you are on that tram line, you can always just hop on the tram (6 DH per trip, or per hour, sorry, was too lazy to read the whole thing in French).

Getting Around

I mostly used the tram system to get from my hotel to the medina. There are a couple of stops in front of the medina. I found this to be a painless way to get around Rabat, and it is cheap (6 DH), and hassle-free (i.e. no rip-off taxi drivers). The main sights in Rabat are also quite walkable – for instance, it wasn’t too much of a walk for me to go from Hassan Tower to the Kasbah.

Rabat

Rabat

After check-in, it was getting a bit late, so I pretty much just wanted to get some food from the souk before retiring for the night. Man, it was really crowded. I think I suddenly became very aware of how much I stood out, even in the crazy crowd. Apparently, being a single, East Asian female really makes you stick out. I started to be extremely aware of my surroundings.

Regardless, hopping on the station, Tour Hassan, it was about two stations to Bab Chellah. There, the glorious smoke from meat on the grill was epic, and I wandered towards it. I wound up getting a grilled chicken sandwich for ~15 DH. I’m pretty sure I got the foreigner tax, but whatever, it was pretty tasty.

Rabat

I strolled down the street, and eventually wound up in the souk. I am generally not much of a shopper, so while souks are interesting for me to see, generally, I really have no observations about the goods on sale. I did eventually wander into another Shwarma place, and ended up with a shwarma sandwich with fries (25 DH). My best description of the souk is, a Southeast Asian night market. If you enjoy something like that, this is for you.

Rabat

After walking the equivalent of one tram station, I walked up the street towards the Rabat train station – I figured I might as well check out some of the train timing, since my plan is to take a train into Casablanca the next day. There are some cafes along the street, and dividing the main road is a tree-lined pedestrian boulevard, which seemed popular with families. I do find the café culture to be very manly – it’s mostly males lounging at the chairs, sipping their coffees/teas, and looking on street life.

Rabat

After checking out the Rabat train station, I hopped onto the other tram line (they have two in Rabat), and went back to my hotel for the night.

Note about buying tickets on the tram

If you know that you are going to need a couple of them, you might want to buy them in advance. You don’t save money this way, but their machines can sometimes break down, or just hang. So, buy tickets when you find a machine that’s working, so you won’t be stuck in a situation where you are at a station, and cannot buy tickets.

Rabat

Costs

Transportation: 42 DH (20 + 10 + 12)

Food: 44 DH (15 + 25 + 4)

Accommodation: 68 USD (stayed at a 3-star hotel, regretted it)

Total: ~ 77 USD (for convenience, I’m just using the 1 USD = 10 DH conversion)