Sunday, February 12, 2012

South Africa 2012 - Day One (and Two)

Day 1 and 2 - Getting to Cape Town

You know it’s going to be a long day when you get up at 3:30 a.m. having gone to bed at 1 a.m. the night before. Actually it was going to be a long 2 days. We left the house at 5 a.m. with the proposition of 20 hours in the air and another 10 hours of layovers. However, when we left in the morning the family weren’t really aware of what lay ahead. I had decided to break them in easy telling them that is was just one long flight of about 12 hours with two shorter flights either side. On the way to the airport I revealed that the long flight was a little over 13 hours but it wasn’t long before they found out from the airline people that it was in fact four flights altogether:

  • Flight 1 - Houston to Washington Dulles - 3 hours
  • Flight 2 - Washington to Dakar in Senegal - 7 hours
  • Flight 3 - Dakar to Johannesburg - 8 hours
  • Flight 4 - Johannesburg to Cape Town - 2 hours

Needless to say no-one was enthused.

In Houston Barbara saw a pilot with an Eastern Airlines sticker on his bag. That was one of the first companies she had worked for and immediately they struck up a conversation reminiscing about the building where they worked and the people they worked with. I think she forgot that Houston is a pretty big airport and the likelihood of this being our pilot was pretty slim but she decided to continue to walk with him. It wouldn’t have been too much of a problem but he wasn’t our pilot and his plane was completely in the opposite direction. Hunter, Savannah and I just stood and watched as she walked further and further away down the terminal but when she started to turn the corner I thought I should send one of the kids after her. I tell you these youngsters just get carried away with excitement some times.

The trip to Washington was pretty much routine and we then had over 5 hours in the airport to think about the two long flights. When we boarded the plane we got ourselves settled. Barbara was going to hold on to her purse for the flight until we convinced her that no-one would steal it because essentially they couldn’t get away. As always the challenge on a 7 hour, red-eye flight in coach is whether you just watch movies the whole time or try and find a comfortable position so that you can sleep. Hunter wasn’t feeling good so he decided to sleep as best he could. Savannah and Barbara wanted to watch movies but then decided it was time to sleep. They had three seats between the two of them and spent the next few hours trying every conceivable position so that they both could lie down. I had never seen Twister on a plane before but it kept me entertained for hours. And that was just as well because as seems to be common practice now I got the seat where the entertainment unit was broken. I did try and sleep but the contortions of Barbara and Savannah and the occasional head butt to the gut made it difficult.

One of the interesting requirements for South African Airlines is that for every take-off and landing all pillows and blankets have to be stowed. Barbara had a blanket over her legs for our landing into Senegal and she was asked to fold it neatly and stow it under her seat. Meanwhile I would sit there with a computer or an iPad and nothing was said at all. I am pretty certain I would rather have a pillow or blanket flying around the plane if we hit turbulence rather than a computer.

In Senegal we actually did not get off the plane but sat on the plane for an hour while some people got off and others got on. I was then transported back to my time working in the Caribbean and flying on Liat. Prior to taking off on all Liat flights they spray the plane and ask you to close your eyes if they are sensitive. Despite the uncomfortable feeling of figuring out why they had to sanitize the plane with a spray it generally was not too bad. Just before taking off for our 8 hour trip down to Johannesburg they announced they were going to spray. And that was an understatement. Two flight attendants each with 2 cans with the sprayer broken off so they were just constantly releasing the disinfectant, walked the length of the plane. I have never seen so many people grab for their blankets and cover their faces. I, for one, still think I smell like a newly cleaned public toilet.

In Johannesburg airport we had another longer layover and so decided to grab something to eat. By this time I had had several plane meals and an airport meal in Washington. I really had no clue what meal I should be eating. Breakfast sounded good but apparently it was 5 p.m. As such we got adventurous and tried something authentically South African - Subway. I am glad we got this out of the way early because the sandwiches were terrible. This was also the first time I had spent money and was not quite ready for the bill being 119.00. Luckily this was Rand which works out to about $12 which for three sandwiches, two packets of crisps (chips) and 2 waters was actually a great deal.

The final leg of day 1 or 2 or whatever day it was, resulted in a drive from Cape Town airport to the Lodge where we were staying which was thankfully only 20 minutes away. Unfortunately it was dark when we left Johannesburg and arrived in Cape Town and so we didn’t get to see much of anything.

As I reflect back on this traveling experience I realize how blessed I am to have my wife and two kids. At some point during the trip one of us wasn’t feeling well, I know we were all tired and I definitely know we all just wanted to be there but at no point was anyone complaining. They just dealt with everything and got to laugh at a lot. Can’t wait to see Cape Town in the daylight.

Philippians 3:13 - ...but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.

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