Tuesday, December 6, 2011 – Sunrise in Washington, DC
The past month: calls were placed to register us with the U.S. State Department’s Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP); to place a notation with the fraud and security unit of the banks that hold my credit and debit cards; to the local medical/travel clinic to refill anti-malarial prescriptions and to immunization up; and to apply for visas. Always the visas.
Talk to the neighbors and ask them to collect mail and watch the house; talk to the landlord; take out the trash; mail a few holiday cards.
Briefings with colleagues with numerous organizations as well as our own; clearing reimbursements; obtaining advances; step the brief to senior leadership; get the approvals, and of course, wait on the visas. All this can only mean one thing: Operation Tip of the Spear, or recon boot camp, begins. A reconnaissance trip; a recon mission; recon; a situation assessment; snap assessment; situation analysis; quick study; learn the drill; who’s who; who wants to be who; who’s on the ropes; who’s in the doghouse; can we position ourselves to be competitive; how can we do so?
Say one final goodbye to my daughter; and it’s on our way to Liberia. During the cab ride to the airport, we learned that we had lost our hotel reservation, and had to scramble to try to find something while on route. Can we actually arrange to find a place for us to go once we arrive at night? Can we do this while on route? What a pain. It’s customary for the senior member of the team to buy the first round of beers before going to the departure gate. Isn’t it?
Wednesday, December 7, 2011 – Sunset in Monrovia
Our plane, and us, arrived just in time to see the sunset over the western most point on the continent. Brazil lies just a few thousand miles across the sea. The plane was packed with Liberians returning to their homeland and families for the holidays. A packed plane meant luggage; and waiting, waiting. Jostling for position; stepping over bags left off the conveyor; stepping on toes; elbowing to move up the chain just to see if our bags came through. Hot and dirty, tired and cranky; almost two hours later, we had found our luggage and went through customs to meet our awaiting logistics consultant and driver.
Getting a last-minute hotel room was not easy, but our guys booked us into the swankiest villa on the beach, about 30 minutes from the airport. After suffering the last-minute panic of boarding a plane knowing that we had no place to sleep once we arrived the next evening, we felt we deserved the resort, at least for the first night. At least we had a place to stay. And what a place it was!
In retrospect, this was the first of three hotels we stayed in during this trip – lesson learned: there are now several choices of hotels available, ranging from the Chinese built and operated airport hotel China Gate, to beach front resort hotels, to a range in-between; mostly all within or at least close to a decent per diem rate. But make those reservations early and keep them!