Saturday, August 11, 2007

Getting to Jo'burg

Well, I was supposed have a short flight on United from JFK airport in NYC to Dulles airport (IAD) in DC on Thursday August 9th, 2007, then a longer flight on South African Airways from DC to Johannesburg (Jo’burg), that took me into the afternoon of August 10th, 2007, and then finally a short flight on South African Express from Jo’burg to Gaborone (Gabs) in the late afternoon of August 10th, 2007, which was a Friday. Due to weather in DC, we sat on the tarmac in the plane at JFK for several hours, and then they finally let us off to get some food back at the terminals. I was only supposed to have a 1.5 hour layover in Dulles so I completely missed my 5:20pm flight to Jo’burg, and since I was sitting on the plane on the tarmac, and they wouldn’t let us off earlier, I also completely missed a 5:20pm flight from JFK to Jo’burg. I thought, well, I can do the same exact route a day later, since I had arranged to be in Gabs several days early to prepare for working. However, the South African Airways reservation agent told me the flight from DC to Jo’burg the next day (Friday) was completely full! And there was only one spot left on the Friday flight from JFK to Jo’burg! So I really had no choice to but to take that spot. It turns out later that another student was on that DC to Jo’burg flight on Friday, and said there was plenty of room! So maybe there were a lot of no-shows? I dunno. Anyways, another problem was that the flight from JFK to Jo’burg got there several hours later than the flight from DC to Jo’burg, even though they both left at 5:20pm. This was partly due to the fact that the flight from JFK to Jo’burg had a short stopover at Dakar. That meant that I would miss the last flight from Jo’burg to Gabs on Saturday late afternoon and would have to stay the night in Jo’burg at my own expense to catch the first flight out Sunday morning.

So on Thursday night, I waited about 1 hour for our luggage to get sorted and finally come out of the plane (most others were still waiting for the plane to get off the ground to DC, which probably was not going to happen for at least 8-9 hours). Then I waited about another hour for Super Shuttle to pick me up and take me back to Carol’s house ($50 round trip!). I didn’t get back until after 8pm, and emailed all the appropriate people saying I was going to be late, and started looking for places to stay in Jo’burg Saturday night. I was so tired Thursday night, I was falling asleep at the computer around midnight, so I emailed a few lodges, and decided to finish it up Friday morning. The super shuttle wasn’t picking me up until around noon. The next morning, I made arrangements at a place that was going to cost R550 (Rand, or ZAR – at the time, ~R7 = $1) that had 1 free airport transfer, and I think would have cost another R200 or something for the 2nd airport transfer. But then Kiona and Kristy, who I had emailed about my situation, emailed me about the Thulani Lodge in Melville, Jo’burg, where they stayed Thursday night, and it was R450 per night. So I switched to the Thulani Lodge. Little did I know that the airport transfers were not covered – they were R300 each! So I ended up having to pay a total of R1050 (about $150) for the overnight stay. Man was I pissed!!! I ended up having to fork over close to $200 for the delay. :( I guess that’s just international travel…

The flight from NYC to Jo’burg was long. There was a stopover halfway in between the 18-hour flight in Dakar. We didn’t get to get off the plane though. There was this super bitchy white South African woman (Afrikan?) who was supposed to sit next to me. I had the aisle seat in the middle row of 4 seats, and she had the seat to the inside of me. She seemed really nice at first… she was talking to the young undergrad on her other side and giving her all this advice about traveling in South Africa and Johannesburg and everything. She even gave out her phone number in case people needed help. She was basically super nice to everyone but the attendants and the black natives. Before the plane took off, she switched seats to an aisle seat and talked to this other girl from America for a long time. She practically became the tour guide of the plane – people started asking her all sorts of questions, and she was super super helpful. Very nice. But she sorta had attitude. She stowed her small carry-on under her seat instead of in front of her, taking up someone else’s space, but the African couple behind her didn’t have it in them to complain, I don’t think. The first incident that really got me disliking her was after we had a meal (i had like 3 meals on my flight! - 3 big ones!) and they took most of her tray, but for some reason she had the silverware left, so she threw it in a plastic bag with all this other trash (candy wrappers, napkins, plastic cups) and threw it on the floor where her seat was - she was sort of like that in general. Her trash was everywhere, like she expected to be cleaned up after. So her trash is on the floor and somehow makes its way out to the aisle, and a flight attendant comes by and picks it up, and says, whose is this (she had gone to the bathroom)? And the girl sitting next to her says it's the bitch's, who then comes back from the bathroom. The flight attendant says miss, I just want to let you know that the silverware is stainless steel, and we don't throw that away – we reuse it. And immediately she got very aggressive and angry for not a very good reason. I couldn't hear exactly what she said, but it was a very angry tone, and the flight attendant sort of got angry too and he said, well, it's stainless steel, and we don't throw that out, and she got more mad, and said something back, and at that point, the flight attendant, said whatever or nevermind or something like that and walked away. The bitch turns to the girl next to her and says something like "can you believe that man?" If I was that girl sitting next to her, I’d either say something rude back, or just try to ignore her from that point, even if she was very helpful earlier with travel tips.

That wasn’t it with the bitchy girl either… so in Dakar, they tell everyone to go back to their original seats because it's completely a full flight. The girl decides not to, and to wait it out and see if somebody comes - which I sorta understand, i've done that too. She actually asked the flight attendant (a new one since they switched crews) if anyone was sitting there, and the flight attendant looked at her seating chart and said she didn’t think so, but there might be people flying stand-by that were going to have the seat, and said the girl might have to move if that happened. The girl basically said she wasn’t moving unless someone showed up, and the flight attendant rolled her eyes and basically let it go. But the girl did say she would move if someone showed up. People start boarding, and of course, this tall, big black guy shows up and says that it’s his seat. The flight attendant comes over and says she has to move, and the girls starts arguing! Can you believe her nerve??? She basically argued to the point where the flight attendant agreed to let her ask the other guy personally if he would mind trading seats with her (and he's watching this entire exchange by the way), so she does, and he says it's okay with him - but i'm sure he's just too nice to say no. He's also this big guy and he’s in this inside seat now. Plus, he's next to me, and he's so big (not fat, just big and skinny) that he's half into my space so that gave me a legitimate reason to hate her. :) That’s about it, but she really got my dander up. :)

The flight itself was pretty amazing though. The flight attendants were sooo courteous and there were so many amenities. Of course each person got a little bag of goodies (socks, toothbrush, night mask, etc), a pillow and blanket, and their own personal television. This television let you watch from a selection of like 16 movies, watch a number of TV shows, play video games (pretty hokey ones), and some other things. I ended up watching like 4 or 5 movies. One was Paris Je t’aime which was like 9 little vignettes about couples of all sorts in different quarters of Paris. It was an alternative movie, and sorta interesting at first, but it got tiring very quickly. There was no overall plot, but there were a ton of pretty famous people in it! Then I saw Blades of Glory with Will Farrell in it – it was just ok. I didn’t really even crack a smile until near the end, but it definitely had a few scenes at the end where I was totally laughing out loud. Then I saw Lonely Hearts with John Travolta, James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) and Salma Hayek, which was super good. It was about the couple that became serial killers. Very good. Then finally I saw Jane, which is about a real-life flirtation that Jane Austen had with some guy. They took a lot of liberties with the story, of course.

Anyways, so by the time I got to my lodge in Melville, Johannesburg, I was exhausted. I set up my computer and rested a bit, and begrudged my overnight bill of over $200. But I eventually explored a bit – it’s supposed to be a pretty Bohemian and safe area. I ate around the corner and had a huge steak at Melville grille for like R105 (like $15!). I didn’t realize it was going to be sooo huge! I ate all I could and it was like only a third of it – it was a yummy T-bone. I ended up giving the rest of it to the maid of the lodge. It actually looked like a pretty hopping area… girls were really dressed up in makeup, jewelry, high heels, etc and there I was in my jeans and t-shirt. Oh well. The room was pretty cool at Thulani Lodge too, too bad I didn’t get to enjoy it too much. The keys were these old-fashioned metal ones, but the outside door to the lodge had a real lock, so I wasn’t too worried. :) I didn’t stay up too late because I had to get up at like 4:30 the next morning to get picked up for the airport. My flight the next day was scheduled for 8:15am.

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