I am starting to get ready for my next trip to central Africa, which may be as early as May, but will probably not start until mid- to late-June given the backlog at the passport office of the State Department and that it takes (how should I say this?) some time to get visas for various and sundry African countries.
Unfortunately, the time has come that I have to get a new passport. Technically, my current one doesn't expire until next January. But a certain east African country that shall remain nameless requires your passport to be good for at least six months beyond the date of intended departure, meaning that come mid-June, they won't let me in. So after chasing down the paperwork and photographs and talking to one of the least helpful customer service agents in the history of the world, I decided to pay the extra $60 for "expedited" service (the backlog is bad.) and now the wait begins. Here's hoping they get it to me in time for me to get enough visas to get there.
So it goes. I'm going to miss carrying my old passport. Sure, it's beat up and apparently so "damaged" that the consul at the embassy in Kampala had a fit last year after his staff went ahead and sewed new pages in for me. (Whatever. You try living in Africa for several months on three separate occasions (not to mention multiple backpacking trips to other places) and see what your passport looks like.) I've never had a problem getting back into the states, which is good enough for me.
My passport is cool - it has stamps from all the bizarre places I've been in the last nine years. Looking at those stamps always brings back great memories. A visa from my first trip to Kenya. A stamp from Lichtenstein, which cost money, but was worth every penny just so we could prove we'd been to Lichtenstein. Stamps from some of the world's great commercial and political capitols - London, Tokyo, New York, Paris, Johannesburg, Rome. I've carried it from the braes of the Scottish Highlands to the stunning hills of KwaZulu-Natal, from the sleepy streets of Yaounde to the slopes near Interlaken.
I don't imagine that the next ten years of my life will be nearly as eventful as the previous ten. That's okay. But my passport was a reminder of so many fun times, and I'm going to miss it.
Anyway, in addition to dealing with several bureaucracies, budgeting, and flight schedules, I was reminded today of one of my favorite websites: Sleeping in Airports. SIA is the ultimate guide to the conditions in most of the world's airports. Travelers post hints about hidden places to sleep (for example, there are little sleeping cubicles tucked into a corner in Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi - who'd've known?) and warnings (my thoughts on Kinshasa Ndjili used to be posted here. Apparently the words "hellish, unairconditioned nightmare" didn't go over so well.) SIA is also the only website I know that contains a review of sleeping in jails, which actually can be one of the safest (or only) places to stay in rural areas.