Airline Flight Mix-Up Sends Couple To The Wrong Continent

Imagine hopping on a plane to go on vacation in Africa, taking a nap and waking up to find yourself in Bangladesh. That’s exactly what happened to one couple after an airline mixed up their flight bookings and flew them 7,000 miles away from their intended destination.

Sandy Valdivieso and her Husband Triet Vo had wanted to fly from LA to the African city of Dakar, Senegal, but mistakenly ended up on a flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh. It turns out the mishap all came down to the three-letter airport code airlines routinely use when making bookings or entering information on baggage tags. Instead of entering DKR (for Dakar) in the computer system, the airline representative entered DAC (for Dhaka), sparking the intercontinental travel nightmare.The couple, flying on Turkish Airlines, transited in Istanbul before joining their connecting flight to what they thought would be Dakar. They told the LA Times they didn’t notice anything was wrong, because they went by the flight number on their tickets. And the similarity in city names didn’t help matters. “When the flight attendant said we were heading to Dhaka, we believed that this was how you pronounced ‘Dakar’ with a Turkish accent,” Valdivieso said.

It was only after seeing a route map several hours into the flight showing their plane hovering over the Middle East that the pair realized something was wrong. Upon landing, Turkish Airlines actually tracked down the voice recording of the couple booking their flight to Senegal to confirm the bungle was in fact the airline’s fault, before finally putting the couple on a flight to the right city.

Africa’s Tallest Statue: The Monument To The African Renaissance

Flying or driving into Dakar, the capital of Senegal, it’s impossible to miss this imposing statue.

That’s deliberate. The Monument to the African Renaissance is supposed to make a statement. At 49 meters (161 feet), it’s the tallest statue in Africa. In fact, it’s one of the tallest statues anywhere, beating the Statue of Liberty by several feet.

When it was completed in 2010, this giant statue caused a giant controversy. Feminists complained about the secondary status given to the female figure. Imams complained about her scanty clothing. Some complained about its Soviet artistic style, seemingly out of place in Africa, and the fact that it was built by a North Korean company. Lots of people, especially in the West, complained about its $27 million price tag.

Yeah, like the West never wastes money.

Sure, it’s brash, it’s bold, and it’s more than a little out of proportion, but it makes its point: Africa has a big future ahead of it. You see it in everything from Africa’s towering skyscrapers to its lively cafe culture, from its newly paved roads to its growing middle class. As a recent editorial by Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina stated, Africa isn’t like its international image, and big projects like this help the world see Africa differently.

Love it or hate it, this statue has become a major tourist site in Dakar. You can take an elevator up to the top of the guy’s head and look out over the city. People are even photographing it as they fly into town, or by flying a camera on a kite like Jeff Attaway did to take the photo below.

Hopefully the next major statement by an African government will be built by an African company.

Top photo courtesy Laurence Thielemans.

Katie Spotz completes solo row of the Atlantic

Way back in December we told you about Katie Spotz, the 22-year old American woman who was planning to row solo from Dakar, Senegal in western Africa to the east coast of South America. This past Sunday, Katie arrived in Georgetown, Guiana, completing her journey, while becoming the youngest person to ever row solo across an ocean in the process.

The expedition covered more than 2817 miles of open ocean, requiring 70 days, 5 hours, and 22 minutes to complete. Reportedly, Katie could have shaved an additional eight days off of her time had she allowed a boat to tow her into shore as she neared her destination. While on approach to Guiana, strong winds and ocean currents conspired against her to make the final leg of the journey that much more challenging, but rather than take the tow, she elected to row an additional 400 miles northwest to Georgetown, where milder conditions allowed her to finish the trip under her own power.

While Katie did hope to set the new record for the youngest to row an ocean, and become the first American to row solo from one continent to the next, she actually had even loftier goals in mind when she set out. The entire expedition was used to raise funds for the Blue Planet Run Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding clean drinking water projects around the globe. For her efforts, Spotz raised over $70,000 for the foundation, money that will now go to improving the lives of others around the globe.

The 19-foot long, specially designed, rowboat that was used in the Atlantic crossing weathered 20-foot waves and occasional storms, but for the most part performed admirably. Fitted with solar cells to charge her gear and a desalination system to provide clean drinking water, the boat was Katie’s floating home for the past 2+ months. Aside from a breakdown in the original steering system, and a GPS device catching on fire, there were few technical setbacks to the journey.

Congratulations to Katie on a job well done. The rest of us would have, you know, taken a plane, but your way of crossing the Atlantic works too.

American woman prepares to row the Atlantic

Katie Spotz has big plans for the new year. The 22-year old American is currently in Senegal where she is completing the final preparations for her attempt to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. If everything goes according to plan, she’ll set out on her journey on the first day of 2010, and won’t step back onto dry land for three months.

The young woman from Cleveland, Ohio will depart from Dakar, and cover approximately 2500 miles, with the hopes of arriving in South America, somewhere along the coast of Guiana, in approximately 70-100 days. While out on the ocean, she’ll face huge waves, massive storms, and endless days alone on the water.

Katie will be making her journey on a specially designed 19-foot long rowboat. The boat has a small cabin that can offer some shelter from inclement weather, and specially designed hatches will help keep her gear and equipment dry. Two freshwater tanks are used as ballasts, while offering an emergency water supply, and the solar panels mounted along the deck will help keep Katie’s communications equipment charged, so that she can stay in touch while at sea. She’ll be making updates on her website, and sending back dispatches on her progress once she gets underway.

While the ocean row will be a challenge unlike anything that Katie has done before, she isn’t doing it just for herself. She is using the opportunity to raise funds and awareness of the Blue Planet Run, an organization dedicated to financing projects designed to deliver clean drinking water in remote places across the planet.

To follow along with Katie’s adventure stop by her website where you will find more information on her ocean row and read updates as she prepares to hit the water. Then return in the New Year to track her progress and watch her make an attempt on history. If she is successful, she’ll be the youngest person to ever row solo across an ocean, and the first American to row from Africa to South America.

Good luck Katie!

The music beat in Dakar: Another version of West Africa

Grant’s series “Into Dakar” brought back memories of my own travels there. For another intimate look into life in Dakar, check out, “The Songs of Senegal” a recent article in the New York Times. For me, reading the article was a trip back to an evening I spent in Farafenni, The Gambia, dancing to a live performance of Youssou N’Dour.

If you travel to The Gambia or Senegal without taking in the music scene, you’ll miss a vital part of each country’s vibrancy.

As Seth Sherwood, the article’s writer, points out, Dakar is one of the least touristed music centers in the world, but one of the most vibrant. This means for anyone traveling there, you can easily become immersed in a scene that is not meant for you.

Each year, the annual Africa Fête, a week long music festival that began on December 12 and ends on 19th, brings top notch groups together for a varied trip into Senegalese music landscape. The scenery is diverse. From folk style to pop to reggae, each music venue offers a unique flavor. If you have designs on a visit to Senegal, December is a terrific month to aim for. The rainy season is long gone, and the temperatures have yet to heat up to sweltering.

Sherwood’s article is an excellent place to begin a musical journey into Dakar even if your journey is not going to bring you much further than the music store closest to you. While you browse the West African music selection, imagine the images Sherwood’s words evoke.

For a taste of Dakar’s music scene, here’s a video of Youssou N’dour in concert. N’dour, however, could be heading your way. If you ever have a chance to see him and his musicians live, go.