Monday, January 23, 2012

Getting to Our Homeland

Thank you everyone for the wonderful response to my teaser post on our trip to Nigeria. So many of you online and IRL (in real life) have requested to hear more and have been so understanding of the fact that we're in the midst of a major move.

I'm taking a break from packing to put this post together...

With so many thoughts still swirling in my head about the epic-ness of our trip, I decided to just go ahead and go in chronological order. Makes sense, right?

Several of you have asked about traveling internationally with a toddler and while I'd like to eventually do a separate post about that (I've hinted at it before when Nia was a baby), I will intersperse some tips throughout but I do promise to do a dedicated blog post. 

On our way to JFK - we had a gorgeous departure day!
We left for Nigeria the day after Christmas in the evening on Air France Premiere connecting on our flight to Lagos via Paris. From Lagos we stayed on the same plane to Port Harcourt - a short 45 minute flight. Honestly, Mr. Love Bird had spoken so highly of what we were going to encounter by upgrading to Premiere that I was actually just excited for the flight itself for weeks!

A quick snapshot at Charles de Gaulle Airport
A look back at our plane once we landed in Nigeria; the plane from NYC to Paris was a double-decker - the first time I had  flown on one!
Outside Port Harcourt Airport
Uka's sister Nnenna flew with us to Nigeria and while the check-in desk warned us about a strike in Paris and how we were definitely going to miss our connecting flights by bringing carry on luggage, in the end there was nothing to worry about and we were fine. 

Nia in her Boba 3G that I won right before the trip while we wait to load up the van with our luggage.
I have to stop and say here that having the Boba 3G carrier was a dream come true! Nia was excited by the novelty of being on my back and we easily navigated Charles de Gaulle airport. Speaking of the airport, I spotted a LadurĂ©e on our way to our connection and instinctively wanted to run and pick up some macarons (you can read about my obsession here) but decided to wait on the return trip to do so. They were SO good!

Overall I found that staff and fellow travelers were sympathetic and helpful in general to our traveling with a toddler. Despite already being ahead of lines by flying Premiere we were whisked to front of lines virtually everywhere. It was a real blessing! Besides skipping the lines, the leg room, meals, lounge access, extra baggage allowance and attentiveness we received from the Premiere staff was fantastic. I don't think we'll ever fly economy for a long haul flight in the future!

Regarding total travel time, France and Nigeria are both 6 hours ahead and we flew overnight to Paris so counting layovers and in-air time, it was roughly 16 hours of "airportness." 

One aspect that didn't dawn on me until maybe a month before our trip was that it was hot in Nigeria (yes, I'm a bit slow!). So after getting over the excitement of flying Air France Premiere, I became excited about going to 80 degree sunny weather. Although we hadn't had chilling temperatures in NYC yet (we've since been hit with our first winter snow this past weekend), it was still exciting to go to a warmer climate. I made sure we were dressed in layers to strip down once we landed.

There wasn't a jet bridge in Port Harcourt and we deplaned by going down stairs. The first thing that hit me was the humid night air. And the smell of air very different from NYC. The air wasn't quite as heavy as Florida's muggy air that I had expected - I was trying to seek in my travel memory bank for something to compare it to. The smell was more country, but not in a "fresh country air" kind of way. NYC has a myriad of smells from block to block even, and throughout our trip I would make mental notes of the smells which I'll continue to touch on. For me smell is inextricably linked to my memories of our trip.

Once we arrived in Port Harcourt we met up with our aunt and her daughter. I had read that retrieving luggage in Port Harcourt was a nightmare so I was definitely prepared to wait hours for our luggage. Luckily it was a mere 2 hours before all of us retrieved our luggage. There was something like 15 pieces for the entire family!

Nia was exhausted and fell asleep pretty quickly at the hotel
Uka's aunt's brother and driver were waiting to pick us up, and we were so excited to be on our way at last! We stayed at a hotel about 2 hours from the airport and in the morning we had hoped to wake up bright and early but overslept a bit and left for a 3 hour drive to Ohafia, where Uka's maternal family lives. It was a real journey, but I loved taking in all the sights and sounds along the way . . .

An example of traffic - people and cars made it a bit congested at times!

Nia was a good sport during the long ride - and yes, there are no car seats/regulations for child restraints in Nigeria (more on that to come . . .)
Another busy street scene
Sellers of beverages and snacks would approach cars in traffic; it was SO welcome as sometimes we'd be stuck in traffic for a while. I'd imagine it was also a great way for keeping in shape as they'd sometimes run alongside the car!
As we moved away from Port Harcourt the landscape changed . . .

It was interesting to me to see this "Jamaica" shirt as Nigeria often reminded me of the month I spent in Jamaica; from the landscape to the music and food I can now see the strong ties between Jamaica and Nigeria!
So after departing NYC on the evening of Monday, December 26 we arrived in Ohafia, Nigeria the afternoon of Wednesday, December 28.

Part of the festivities we were there for was our cousin's wedding on Thursday the 29th and 30th. I will have fun details on that in the next post as well as how we settled into Ohafia.

Is there something you're itching to know about our trip? Let me know in the comments and I'll try to address it in upcoming posts.