What a ride it has been!
12.26.06 0 °F
alskdfljasdl;jEntry # 30C – The Last Days in South Africa
Monday, November 20 – Last day in Joburg, maybe! Strange energy in me today and lots of little obstacles that showed me that I was to slow down and chill out!
I woke early in order to get my laundry dry and found that even at 7am, the dryer was in use. I have been frustrated by the automatic key gremlin both last night and today and every time I left my room, my key no longer worked. This meant lots of trips up and back to the office (usually in the rain) to have the key remagnetized or replaced. Finally the manager came with me and the key would behave itself. (Little Creep!)
At this point, I decided to take myself to breakfast (yes the potatoes had the little faces again, and no I did not get a picture) and then sit with my laptop in the laundry room in order to be there when the dryer stopped.
After an hour of proofing my blog entries and still no stopping of the dryer, I asked the housekeeping staff member who was ironing in the room how long the dryers took. She said that the towels were most likely dry and unloaded the machine. I loaded my little bit in and she said come back in 30 minute. I took my shower and was a few minutes late getting to the laundry and found her folding my dry laundry. What a nice lady.
I packed up and was ready to check out and leave my bags at the desk until my shuttle at 3pm to the airport. Just as I was checking out, the power failed, so they were not able to process me out. I sat on the couch and read my LPSpain book and drank tea. After an hour, still no power. I decided to walk across the street in hopes of power and lunch and to do a little last minute shopping. Power was on, shops had what I needed and I had a fabulous last lunch at Kauai, the wonderful health food chain that I first found in Cape Town. YUMMY. I hope we get them in the US soon.
Back to the hotel to find the power restored and my bill waiting. I blogged a little more and then it was time for Nigel, in his wonderful silver Camray, to whisk me off to the airport.
I arrived by 4pm and immediately went to the VAT inspection area. I handed him a huge pile of receipts that I had organized the night before and figured out all the VAT. He asked me to show him several of the things in my luggage, all of which I found with no problem. He kept finding all the candy and ice creams that I had on the bills and asking if I still had them. I said, no not even the sticks.
Then I went off to find the post office that was in the basement of the international terminal. I bought 5 of their mailing boxes and proceeded to unload my second daypack and my smallest rolling suitcase into the boxes. Within two hours, I had all the boxes mailed and they began moving slowly across the globe to the US. I find I am still running around madly my last day doing posting things, but with the tax refunds needing to see the items before you leave the country, there is no way around it.
I could not check in my bags until 6:45, so I had some time to kill so I ate a late lunch and then got in line. This will be my first time on Iberia Airlines, the official airlines of Spain. My two bags were 27kilos, which was over, and there was some hushed discussion about me needing to pay extra, but as the trainee did not bring it up immediately, they did not charge me. I left with my stuff and then found I could not find the gates. I had to go back and found that the hallway to the passport control was directly behind the ticketing desks. Using your eyes can be a good thing.
Passport control, no problem, security, no problem, passport stamping, no problem and I had 2.5 hours until I had to be at my gate. In the JoBurg airport, you don’t go to the gates until you are ready to board. At least that is what the sign said, but when I followed the sign, I found that everyone else was already at the gate. One busload had already gone to the aircraft so I stood with my Suduku book and waited. We were told that there would be a 15-minute delay. After a short time, people began filing back into the waiting area from the debarkation doors. They had unloaded the plane because there were mechanical difficulties and because I was close to the door, I heard that we would not be flying tonight.
The time was now 11pm. We followed the staff person back through the convoluted terminal and had to go back through passport control. There was one lone person at the booths. I was number 2 through the line. The first woman was an American, Marla aged 41, who was making a connection. There was some confusion at the passport desk and they asked us all to come back. At one point, the man said that even though we had been stamped back in, because the immigration man had not received written notification from Iberia about the problem, we would have to be unstamped and them stamped again. A woman went off like a siren and the arguments and angry voices began. Marla and I pulled away from the group and continued to discuss her mother’s cancer and her years as a Big A women’s basketball coach.
Finally, our luggage arrived and we took our trolleys with luggage back into the ticketing hall to wait for hotel vouchers. The time as 12:15 am.
As the delays continued and no formal announcements were made to the group as a whole, tempers were short and patience was stretched. At one point, they had not found any hotels that were willing to take any of us. I asked if there was anyplace in the terminal where we could at least curl up or spread out over seats. None available.
Marla had an in at the Intercontinental at the airport that she was going to try and I stayed in line.
At 1:30 am, I was given a voucher for the Durial Grand hotel – which sounded like it would be a very nice hotel. A group of us that had just received our vouchers were lead by a staff member on a convoluted walk to where the shuttle vans would pick us up. Thank heavens a staff members escorted us because in our blurry state, we would have not found it.
At 2am, I arrived at the D’Oreale Grand at the Emperor’s Palace Casino and hotel complex near the airport. It looked wonderful and we would also be given dinner, breakfast and lunch and soft drinks.
PHOTO ROOM IN D GRAND
My room had a king size bed and all the niceties, plus WIFI in the room. I logged on and contacted my hostal in Madrid and told them that I would be late. I went to bed, exhausted.
Tuesday, November 21
I woke at 6:30 and got back to sleep until 8:30. When I called the desk, they had no news from Iberia so I took a shower and went off to breakfast. WHAT A FEAST! A luscious buffet with fresh fruit (including guava), breads, juices, eggs and all the fixings, cheese and deli meats, cereal and even a sushi option. I sat outside and indulged. YUMMY!
I went back to my room to read and fell asleep until the phone rang at 1:30. They said that we could get back to the airport and Iberia would try and reticket us. If we choose to stay, as we had missed the check out time, we would have to pay 100 rand an hour to use the room until this evening. I was packed so I went back to the airport.
I was reticketed for this evening, but still no guarantee that we would fly. I found a café and drank two iced coffee/chocolate shakes and internetted. I finally got my hotels straight for England.
I saw a line forming near where I was to check in at 6:45 so I joined it. I was behind a wonderful Spanish woman, Alice, who is a PhD, who had a hard night and was being given special consideration. She and I got an early check in which was lovely and we didn’t have to even stand in the line that was forming. She left to go back to the hotel and collect her hand luggage and have a nice dinner. I found that we will be sitting in the same row and as she wanted a window and I had it, I agreed to change with her. If possible, I may also ask for a window but I didn’t want to approach the line that was ever growing. If not, I will be happy with the aisle and my sleeping pill.
New EU rules for flying include putting everything from your carry one luggage that has any liquid in it in a large zip lock bag so that they can inspect it. The bottle of water that I had before I went through security was taken, but I can buy another one on the other side.
Alice had already rearranged so that she had a window by the time I met up with her at the gate. As we boarded I saw that we were in a 2 seats, 4 seats, and 2-seat configuration. I still had my window seat but with the plane absolutely full due to two days of flights in one airplane, there was no hope for more room to spread out. I got to my seat and found that the fabric panel that holds up the magazines was broken so that kept hitting my knees. The movies were the second pirate movie, 65 Minutes and something else that I missed. Dinner was fine, I took my sleeping pill and tried to get comfortable. It didn’t work, so I watched most of the pirate movie and then must have dozed off. We landed after our 10 hours flight and I was back in Spain, having not been there since 1977.
Thoughts as I leave South Africa
I am really glad I came. The information on South Africa had made me rather wary of what I would find. Generally, the literature is correct that you can go through South Africa with no problems. One of the reasons that I feel that I was successful is that I was ultra vigilant with my property and that I have the most amazing contingent of angels guiding and protecting me. As you read in some of my blog entries, not everyone that I met or lived with had the same experience that I did.
South Africa is probably one of the wealthiest and most western of all the African countries. That being said, there is still a lot of poverty, not nothing when compared with other African countries so I have been told.
I found the people to be a little standoffish at first, but friendly if you make the first move. I don’t feel that I really had a chance to get to know many South Africans, as almost all of the people that I stayed with were expats from other countries. Most of the staff at CARE was foreign, the staff at SANCCOB was Afrikaans, and the people at the lion park a mix of both.
The thing that I have mentioned before and what impresses me tremendously is that South Africa is growing and changing now that Apartheid is gone. Still young in their development, they are working very hard to do what is best of the country, with the understandable stumbles and lurches as they move ahead. The new government is doing its best and working to build houses for the poor and to bring some basics like water and electricity to all.
With unemployment over 40% within the black communities in the urban areas, there is still a need to help the people find work that will allow them to make their own way. Numerous college graduates aren’t able to find jobs within the country and there is large emigration from South Africa to places like Australia. I have seen people doing very small jobs like sweeping the street, selling things on the corners just to have some income. I heard stories of people being able to make more begging and panhandling than with a real job. We had been told to not give money to the kids on the street or in the townships as that encourages them to skip school (which is mandatory up until you are 18) to try and earn money.
The landscape is amazing and from the areas that are remaining of the bush that I saw, wonderful and exciting. The animals, of course, were the main reason for my coming, and they are as magnificent as you have heard. Many of them are making a comeback, but more still needs to be done to preserve their habitat and at the same time giving the people living off the land a chance to make a living. Not an easy situation to comprehend or solve, but necessary nonetheless.
I learned that the true natives in South Africa were the San and that all other tribes moved into the area within the last couple hundred years. The Bushman (formerly the San, I believe) are being shuttled between South Africa and Namibia. They are being paid to do nothing and live in little villages for tourists to see how they live. As most of the land is now “owned” by some concern or another, so that the Bushman can no longer be nomadic, therefore their livelihood is dependent on government handouts. The governments find them a financial burden and restrict their movements. One South African woman, of Afrikaans descent, said that they go every year out in the bush and try and meet with them. They are told by officials that they cannot see them without an appointment and some of the Bushman individuals will be brought in closer for the tourists to see. Going to the actual village is not allowed.
As I mentioned before, it is a country that is young and changing. There is so much to see and do here and the exchange rate is VERY favorable to us in the US. I know that I would like to rent a car when I return, but I also know that I will not drive in the cities.
Recommendations if you are planning to come to South Africa.
• Read as much as possible about South Africa and the Apartheid era that you can.
• Go on a township tour with a private guide if possible in order to spend more time there. The package tours tend to limit the amount of time you can spend at any one location.
• Go to any site that has history about the Apartheid time, Apartheid Museum, Hector Pierterson Museum, District 6 and Robben Island.
• If you want to see animals in the wild, go to one of the big national parks (Kruger or Addo). You may not see as much, but the animals will be native to that area and not brought in from other areas to lure tourists.
• If you go on a wildlife drive within the National Parks, make sure that you will have unlimited time at waterholes or at lookouts. If possible, stay overnight near one of those areas, which is where you will see the most animals at dawn and dusk.
• Try the African cuisine when you can. It is fabulous and varied and not as hot or spicy and you would think. There are plenty of options for western food as well, but treat yourself.
• GIVE YOURSELF PLENTY OF TIME TO ENJOY ONE SITE AT A TIME. I don’t recommend the Jane way where I had booked myself so tight, I had no opportunity to linger or retrace my steps. I WILL NOT BOOK MYSELF SO TIGHT AGAIN.
• I came in the late winter going into spring and summer. The summers are hot and rainy. The winters are cooler, windy and dryer. CAPE TOWN IS A WIND TUNNEL. Bring layers and dress appropriately.
• You will need malaria medication in Kruger.
• You should be able to drink the tap water all over. That being said, bottled water is available everywhere.
• Come and enjoy the best of South Africa and learn about these amazing people with their incredible capacity to forgive and move on.
Thank you South Africa, especially Nelson Mandela, Rev. Tutu, and all those that made the difference, sometimes at great personal sacrifice to move the country forward. I will return with more time to spend and lots more film in my camera. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading of your advances and successes in the future. Best of luck on the UN Security Council and please help all of us understand and remember what it took for South Africa to change from a nation of oppression to one of freedom.