Tuesday, July 12, 2011
At 5:30 PM, I left work almost on time. By 6:30, we were on the road, only ninety minutes later than our original plan. The trip to St.Louis was okay, though slowed somewhat by heavy rain. We check into the Crown Plaza near the airport to get the free parking for two weeks.
Libby did not sleep much (too excited, I guess), but I slept okay. I awoke by 6:45, though, and headed downstairs to the gym to exercise. I knew that I’d be doing a lot of sitting in the next two days. There was a “My Name is Earl” marathon on the TV, which I took as a good omen.
After a good breakfast, we just missed the 9:00 shuttle to the airport. However, the scheduled 9:30 left a little early when we did get ready, just for us. We had no problems at the airport check-in, but had a slight delay at the TSA X-ray, as I forot to remove my little leg-wallet where I had stashed my passport to keep it safe from pick-pockets… and from my own memory, as well, apparently.
Our plane from St. Louis to Dulles in Washington D.C. had a delayed departure, as it was late leaving Denver, but we arrived in plenty of time to reach the gate for our trans-Atlantic flight at 7:30PM. The South Africa Airlines plane was already there waiting, and so was Melissa, despite being re-routed on her own flight from Louisiana. She has been traveling since 2:00 AM.
It was great to have Melissa join us. Adding just that one person to our group doubled the fun of the trip. She is a party looking for a place to happen.
We thought our seats were in a “cross-over” row in the middle, with extra leg-room. They did have the extra leg-room, but faced a galley bulkhead, so no underseat storage was available in front of us. At first I was annoyed by this, as I had planned to get into my carry-on bag pretty often, and now it must be stored overhead. We did get a compartment right over our seating, our little row of four. The extra space in front of us proved a Godsend, as mechanical difficulties forced a 2-hour delay in our departure from Dulles, and the air conditioning was non-functional for much of this time. We were able to stand and stretch and fan ourselves, and most other passengers were not.
The hours of sitting had already begun to tell on me. My back had been a little sore at home, and this wasn’t helping. The longer I sat, the worse it got. Short walks helped some, but I was awfully glad to have the extra room to get up and stretch occasionally. When we landed in Dakar, Senegal to refuel and re-crew after 8 hours across the pond, I used the space to lie down on the floor.
Our immediate neighbor on the plane included a Bea Arthur type and a group of four friends who liked to tell jokes and riddles. Melissa is always a good audience when you need laughs, and we could use some. Again, while fine in flight, on the ground the air conditioners were non-functional. One of these folks was a Scouter, just finishing his Wood Badge course (I was traveling in a Philmont t-shirt) and one was a former barbershop quartet singer.
The food served was quite good – tasty, good choices, plenty of it. Our first meal was 8:30 PM, Kennett time, about one hour after takeoff from Dulles, and about 12 hours since we had eaten breakfast. We had snacked on stuff from home, but no lunch. It was about this time that we started to think about making the adjustment to Zambian time, and set our watches ahead by 7 hours.
We landed in Dakar about 10:00 AM Zam time (and all future times will be Zam time). I had managed one hour of sleep, but read Water for Elephants, cover to cover, plus one Science News, and an Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. The buildings you could see from the airplane looked bombed-out, like Dresden after World War II, but we thought it might have been the architectural style. We were able to glimpse the controversial heroic statue (49 meters high) I had read about in the Wall Street Journal last year. The transition in re-loading and re-starting the airplane was smooth (other than the lack of air conditioning), and we were soon airborne again, with breakfast being served at 11:00 AM. After breakfast, I managed another couple of hours of sleep. I had not used the video entertainment options at all yet, but the rest of the folks were watching movies.
The next leg of the flight was to be nearly eight hours to Johannesburg, and the two-hour delay in leaving Dulles made it likely we would miss our connecting flight to Lusaka (capital of Zambia). Indeed, we did miss it by over an hour. While waiting to see what SA Airlines customer service would do for us, we saw our first sign that we were in Africa: a near life-size wire-basket elephant, advertising Amarula liqueur. It took about two hours to get situated and arrive at the Garden Court Holiday Inn where SA Airlines was putting us up for the night in Jo-burg.
Rooms were very nice. It was a very high-class joint, as they used to say in the movies. The in-house restaurant was a “Spur Steakhouse”, with an American southwest motif in décor: pinto-pony upholstery, cacti, little Indian boys out of the 1950’s. This seemed really weird. Though we had recently had supper on the plane, we ate again at the Spur, as the airline was paying for it, and our time sense was a little off by this time.
Friday morning, we were up relatively early. The hotel had a breakfast bar that was unbelievable. Décor was reminiscent of the Grand Floridian at Disney World. The buffet included fresh fruits, cold cereals, hot cereals, many hot entrees (including baked beans, which we later found to be a common breakfast food in these African countries), pastries and beverages.
A shuttle took us to the airport, and we had minimal difficulty in getting new boarding passes. We did not to have remove our shoes in the security lines at check-in. The Joburg airport is a huge, modern structure with lots of high-end shops, including a Ferrari store. It could be anywhere, except for the “Out of Africa” shops and others with native crafts, ostrich eggs, and zebra hides.