Tuesday, November 03, 2009

part 2 - in flight

I'm going to start at the beginning here, and I don't know how long this is going to take to tell, so if you start to nod off just keep checking back until I get to the part that interests you.

We left on a Wednesday morning, the 23rd. Our first leg took us to Minneapolis, but let me back up a bit. The "we" on this trip mostly consists of myself, Mr. Bump, and our friends J&J. They were the instigators of this trip, and we were so grateful for their inviting us on it, and shepherding us through the complicated task of booking everything. It was, to say the least, an ordeal.

There was a good deal of nervousness about a close connection in between our flight to Minneapolis and the flight from there on to Amsterdam. The day before the trip we managed to switch (without fees) to an earlier flight (thanks to our friend J. who was extraordinary in managing all the flights. Really. She rocked it for over a year on all these details). Anyway our intended flight had been late 4 times in the last couple of weeks, which would have meant we would have missed our connection, with no great way to get on from there. So we managed to get on an earlier flight, which meant we had to be at the airport at 7:00-7:30. J&J picked us up at 6:30 so we could park their car and catch the shuttle and get to the airport, etc.

My contribution to the flight was some snacks--I made these and these, which ended up getting us all the way to Johannesburg. The food served on the flights drove me a diet of granola bars and chocolate through much of the next couple of days. I highly recommend bringing enough food to get you through on a couple of long international flights. We had a couple of edible bits of different meals, but not enough that combined would make a single meal.

So we get to Minneapolis, we have lunch at California Pizza Kitchen (this would be the last full meal I would have until we got to Mashatu on Friday around 1:30, basically I lived off all the non-hot portions of the meals and some granola bars for two days). The plane we would have taken later is late, and if we'd been on time taking off to Amsterdam, we would have missed our flight. But we were late taking off--there was a gate change and some other behind the scenes shuffling we weren't privy to. As we board the plane we part ways from J&J, who will travel the remainder of the trip in the luxurious lap of business class.

Aside from being too wired to sleep and relatively miserable with the normal plane discomfort, flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam is uneventful. I watched 3 movies, listened to music, and shift shift shifted in my seat. Mr. Bump slept most of the way on both long flights. He's found some way to almost immediately fall asleep on airplanes that is really annoying because I can't ever sleep much on airplanes. This particular leg of the journey lasts 8 hours and 20 minutes, give or take.

The next flight is pretty much a reeeaaally loooong work day in length (10 hours, 55 minutes) and in theory it would have been a good idea to stay awake through it, but since I've gotten no sleep so far, sleep of any kind seemed like a good idea. I took a Benadryl and managed to get a bit of sleep on this flight. Did I mention it was really long? Mr. Bump and I have different winners for worst plane trip, and I think this one was his pick. He was in the middle seat (the plane was three, three, three across) and I got the window, and I suppose that's part of it. (In case you're wondering, I chose the leg from Johannesburg to Paris, which is another post.) But either way, the seats were tight and uncomfortable, the food was awful (except for the little cup of ice cream--that was good), and it just kept going and going. There was too much cloud cover to see the Sahara, sadly, but our flight took us essentially the route you would take if you drew a straight line down from Amsterdam to Johannesburg. It was pretty much all cloudy, so we didn't see much of anything from the window.

Finally land in Jo-burg, get through customs (new stamp for the passport! yay!) and get accosted by friendly taxi drivers who want to help us get to our hotel. They warn us that the shuttle we're supposed to take doesn't come that often this late (it's about 9:30-10:00pm), but that they can take us to our hotel ("safely!") for 400 Rand. We say no. They say "ok, 300 Rand." We say no and walk on. Some gentleman in blue coveralls walk us over toward the place where we meet the shuttle, and halfway there we realize they aren't just being nice, they expect a tip when they get us to the shuttle pick-up point. Somehow we scrounge up some dollars but then they explain that because they have to exchange them we should give them more because it costs so much to exchange and so they won't get very much for it. We smile and say no, and our hotel shuttle comes and we go. There is a scuffle amongst the blue coveralled and the driver for who is going to lift our bags into the little trailer behind the van, which the driver eventually wins, I think. I don't know if it was because the international flights arrive around then, but there seemed to be a swarm of people not really begging but looking for some way in which they can earn your tip. When we flew domestically the next day, it wasn't nearly the same. We tipped as generously as we could with the rand we had. We got a guideline from the company through which we booked our travel within South Africa, and they said somewhere between 1-5 rand for porters and drivers. I think we tipped mostly 5 or 10 rand in these situations. Honestly I was so tired I'm not entirely sure, but I'm sure Mr. Bump will correct me in the comments if I'm wrong.

Our hotel is attached to a casino called Emperor's Palace, but we saw very little of any of it that night. We arrived late and our rooms aren't quite ideal. J&J's room had 2 single beds instead of a king, and ours had a smell in the bathroom (as well as some hairs that weren't ours). But really it didn't matter. We had to get up at 5:30 in order to make a 7:30 flight, so it was of utmost importance to get horizontal as soon as we could. And the bed was really soft and clean and not an airplane seat. And it was horizontal. Did I mention it had been two days since I'd had my head and feet at the same angle to the floor?

So I shower (I think I heard the angels singing), and go to bed. At what feels like approximately one minute later our phone rings for our wake up call. They were kind enough to give us a bag with breakfast to go for each of us, so we had some water, some juice, and a couple of granola bars. There is an apple that wasn't very good and some kind of mayonnaise based sandwich in there as well, but if you know me even a little bit you know that's possibly the last thing I would put in my mouth. So juice box and granola bar it is. Which were both good and fine. On to the airport again (we will become fairly well versed in the Jo-burg airport before this trip is done).

Our flight is through South African Airlink, which interestingly enough, is different from South African Airlines, and after a few false starts we manage to find the correct desk. We have to check our bags for this leg since there really isn't space for it in the cabin, and there is some confusion about our boarding passes, but eventually everything is taken care of on that end. We go through security, who don't seem bothered about water, or 3-1-1 toiletries, or taking your shoes, jacket, watch, etc. off. As as side note, this is what is so interesting about international travel. Every place seems to have some different theory about what's "dangerous." On our way out of Paris they made Mr. Bump take his lenses and camera out of their bag and run them all through separately. In Amsterdam we got off a flight, stayed in the same terminal, but had to go through security again before boarding (and dump our water). This also happened in Atlanta after we went through passport control--we had to go back through security, and if you had bought wine or something in duty free it had to go in your checked luggage. It's so odd and the more I travel the more arbitrary these rules seem to be.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. When it is time to board our plane we get on a bus, which takes us out to the tarmac where our plane sits. We attempt to take a picture of the plane but are told we can't do that. (We get one as we get off in Polokwane, since they don't seem to have the same kind of security concerns.) So the plane seats 27, two on one side and one on the other. The flight is bumpy but we have a lovely flight attendant who actually has a teeny little cart and does a beverage AND breakfast service. All the while managing to smile and not spill much of drinks she's pouring as we bounce around. In case you were wondering, the choice for breakfast was a chickenfish sandwich. I can only assume that it was tuna, but as none of was up for it at 7:30 in the morning I only have what my nose told me to go by. I think I'll call it chickenfish from now on.

Our 27 seater takes us to Polokwane International Airport, which has a newly built domestic terminal. However, we have to go through the international terminal, which consists of a small one room building which you walk through while your pilot fills out the paperwork for your flight.
Our pilot is a sweet, apple cheeked young gentleman named Benedict. Our plane is a little single prop Cessna with 6 seats. We will be flying this to Limpopo field, just across the border in Botswana. By the time we pile into the plane it has begun to rain lightly.

But all goes well, and we find ourselves at Limpopo International Airport, really just a dirt strip with a hut on one side. We have to wait for someone to come from the border crossing in order to stamps our passports. As we wait a Land Rover pulls up. This will be our vehicle for the next several days, and driving it is Justice, who will be our tracker. He drives us for about 45 minutes from somewhere that feels like the middle of nowhere to what can only be just over the horizon from the middle of nowhere. But even on this drive (which he is careful to point out is not a game drive, so we won't be stopping for every animal we see and we won't be going off road to follow anything) we see giraffes. We see all kinds of birds. I think we saw some zebras, too. After a long, drizzly (yes, it's still raining) ride, we make it to tent camp. And that's where I'll leave you for the moment. Actually, check out the video from my last blog post, and that'll get you settled in at Mashatu.

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