Sunday, 29 October 2006

The Amazing Race 10, Episode 7

Kuwait City (Kuwait) - Plaine Magnien (Mauritius) - Grand Baie (Mauritius) - Case Noyale (Mauritius) - Bel Ombre (Mauritius)

Viewers of the latest episode of The Amazing Race got a reprise of two travel lessons I talked about two weeks ago.

The travellers set off from Kuwait City after midnight, with the last of them heading out just after dawn in the desert. On the way to the airport, they pass a sign by the road showing the temperature as 37° C at 5 a.m. That’s a temperature every traveller should have memorized, and immediately recognize, even if you think in Fahrenheit: 37° C is exactly equally to 98.6° F. The only fever thermometer you are likely to find in most of the world is a Celsius (Centigrade) one, on which 37 degrees is what to look for as “normal” body temperature.

From Kuwait, they had to fly to the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius. Air Mauritius is an excellent little airline, with routes connecting points all around the Indian Ocean as well as in Europe. I’ve sent a lot of people to Mauritius. Like the racers, many of them had never heard of Mauritius, but they agreed to make a few days’ stopover if that was the best way to get between Eastern or Southern Africa and Asia or Australia. It’s an attractive place, comparable in some respects to Fiji in size, ethnic and racial diversity, and mix of agricultural and tourist economies. No one has ever told me they regretted the stopover. On the contrary, I’ve known people who planned to stay only a few days, until the next weekly flight to their onward destination, who have changed their plans once they arrived in Mauritius and stayed for weeks or months.

But Mauritius is a small country, served by few airlines other than its own national carrier, and only three Air Mauritius international destinations have daily service.

The closest place to Mauritius with a large number of people rich enough to fly there for a vacation is South Africa. Unlike the “front-line” states and the rest of Africa, Mauritius never embargoed South Africa or barred entry to South African passport holders. For white South Africans, Mauritius was not just a vacation getaway (rather like flying to Hawaii from the mainland USA) but the closest place where they weren’t treated as international pariahs and could escape from having to think about apartheid and the “troubles” back home.

White English-speaking tourists (more of the European tourists are Francophone) in Mauritius are generally presumed to be South African. Johannesburg is the only place other than Paris Antananarivo, Madagascar (whihc is even harder to get to) with daily flights to and from Mauritius. At that hour, however, the racers would have had to wait around all day for the evening connections to overnight flights to Johannesburg via Doha with Qatar Airways (the way I got to South Africa last year), or via Dubai with Emirates.

Six days a week there are faster double connections on multiple airlines from Kuwait to Mauritius via Doha or Dubai and Mumbai, Delhi, or Nairobi. Perhaps the racers left Kuwait early Tuesday morning, when the fastest connections if price is no object really are via Europe. Or perhaps they left on another day, and the airline staff they talked to didn’t know how, or didn’t bother (having no incentive to do so, since they were going to sell them full-fare tickets regardless) to build the double interline connections manually, or look far enough down in the many pages of listings in the CRS display to find them.

You aren’t likely to beat a good travel agent at their own game. But if you want to try, the best of a mediocre lot of publicly-accessible free Web gateways to a subset of CRS functionality for international airline schedules only (disregarding availability and price), and the first one I would use from a cybercafe as a contestant in “The Amazing Race”, is . Keep in mind, though, that it isn’t much use for real-world travellers who care about price, and it doesn’t include all airlines — no one Web site does.

So the racers got up in the middle of the night in Kuwait, flew to London in the morning, spent the afternoon and evening at Heathrow Airport, and then got on a twelve-hour overnight flight to Mauritius. Fresh off the plane after two successive days and nights with no more sleep than they could catch on the airplane or in the airports, they got into unfamiliar, (left hand) stick-shift cars, and drove off in as much of a hurry as they could manage to the other end of an island roughly comparable in size to the Big Island of Hawaii. Roads in Mauritius are well built, as we saw, but they are mostly narrow and winding, as is typical of roads on crowded volcanic islands.

Sleep deprivation more than made up for any advantage of the road conditions over those in India where the racers got their first brief experience of driving on the left. If there’s any surprise, it’s that only one of the six teams crashed their car, and only one of the others stalled out and couldn’t get their car shifted back into gear.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 29 October 2006, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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