Friday, January 06, 2006

Leaving Cape Town

Leaving on a Jet Plane... We were up at 3:00 am for a quick breakfast and our last shower outdoors or so I thought at the time. The shuttle was due at 4:30 am and our flight was scheduled for 7:00 am to go to Johannesburg. Patricia was up and went out to wait with us. She hugged both of us twice and we all started getting teary-eyed. The shuttle came on the dot and off we went waving good-bye to Patricia until we were out of sight. Twenty minutes later, we were at the airport, but not thinking, we only had 100 Rand notes. We were the drivers first run that morning and he could not give us change. Ron had to run in the airport asking everyone to break a 100 Rand bill. The driver was getting nervous about the time and I was getting anxious that Ron had boarded the plane. Finally, he reappeared and we gave the driver a bigger tip for the stress. This should have been an omen that some of our luck was going to leave as we left Cape Town. So, I need to regress for one minute, so please bear with me. Before we left home, a friend sent us a magnet that says "It is not the destination, but the journey." I held this thought as we traveled to test its validity. Some trips it is the truth, yet others leave you wondering why you bothered to leave your bedroom. As we left your home and our home away from home, I had endearing thoughts about the statement. Arriving at the Cape Town airport in those wee hours of the morning, we proceeded to check in for our Johannesburg flight; however, we were informed that our flight no longer existed. It was a South African Express flight that had been pulled from the sky a couple of weeks prior. Panic did not set in; the agent was so soothing about it, giving me this false sense of security. Our task was to be rebooked, their task was to send us away from their desk to become someone else’s problem. We were sent over to another desk with a lovely Indian woman typed our flight into the computer only so she could look up at me and go “Tsk, tsk, your flight has been cancelled.” Well, duh! Let’s move on to phase two here. Normally, this would not have been an ordeal except all flights were full until 2:30 in the afternoon. We were re-ticketed and given boarding passes: we now had a lay-over in Port Elizabeth. We were told to go to the Stand-by desk. The little voice in the back of my head said "DANGER, DANGER", but how often do people listen to the little voices unless they are in need of strong medication and/or under psychiatric care? The woman at the Stand-by desk was doing what you would expect: she was standing-by waiting for us to approach with some plea. In that well rehearsed soothing tone, she again told us there was nothing available, all earlier flights were overbooked. She did however tell us to check our luggage there. At the moment it seemed like a hospitable thing to do, she could not offer us a flight, but she wanted to make it up to us by taking the baggage off of our hands. This had the pleasurable feeling of African graciousness. But darn, that little voice was still screaming in my head. Perhaps I need to be medicated, but we handed over our luggage. Being Diners Club members, we had enjoyed the lounge in Johannesburg on our way down, so this was the perfect way to spend the time waiting from 7:40 am to 2:30 pm. We were able to spend productive time in heir lounge, smoking and drinking coffee by the gallons. However, the receptionist did not want to let me. I sinned by not having my card with me. Why be led into temptation with more than one card? I did have my account number, which she could have verified with Diners Club. She said, with a smug look, it was too early to call them noting the current hour and the time difference with the States. When I said that was nonsense, they have a 24 hour number, she let me in. It seems that making a phone call must not have been in her job description. She looked at the phone like it was a snake ready to lunge at her and waved me through. For one wild minute, I felt guilty not having my card, but that little voice reminded me that I pay dues yearly for privileges like this. We were booked at a hostel in Pretoria who was sending a driver for us at the airport for the original flight. I had no idea how long the drive would be to drive from Pretoria to Johannesburg, I called the hostel three times to let them know that we would be arriving late. At 6:00 am there was no answer. At 7:00 am, I spoke with a woman and explained what happened. She did not sound too confident with her English, so I suggested I could call again after someone else was there. She said fine, call after 8:00. When I made the 8:00 call, they had already let the driver know and they had other work for him to do that morning. This was really cutting into my coffee drinking and smoking time, but one must make sacrifices here and there, plus I was using my mobile and never left the smoker’s lounge to call. By noon, I could have flown without the airlines, but heck I had the ticket. Why waste it? Port Elizabeth is a small airport, but they also have a Diners Club lounge. Fortunately, I had not remembered until we were boarding our flight to Jo’burg. After all, how many airline lounge receptionists can I wrestle to the ground in one day. We arrived in Jo'burg finally at 5:00 pm; our luggage missed the flight. We stood at the luggage carousel chanting the late luggage mantra, but we must have missed an ooh or ahh somewhere, because it did not work. The fact that there were no other people waiting in front of the lost luggage counter gave me a spark of confidence. No people must mean few problems with lost luggage. It was either positive thinking or self pity trying to convert to positive thinking. We were told that the reason the luggage had not arrived with us was that it was too late to be put on the plane. The look on the woman's face seriously made me feel like I had missed calling my mother on her birthday for the last five years. I was fighting this urge to drop to one knee and ask for her forgiveness, but the distraction of the little voice screaming "I told you so, I told you so" had me a bit confused. I just stood there like a scolded child instead. It was the easy way out. To show there were no hard feelings, they promised that our bags would be on the next flight. As a bonus due to my humble behavior, they would be delivered to our Pretoria hostel that evening. By the time we were able to meet up with the driver for our ride, I said to him "IamRyannicetomeetyouIhavetogotothebathroom". I am not sure if it was the body language or the speed with which I said it, but he was under the impression I was fluent in some African language. Finally it dawned on him that I was making a straight shot to the Men’s Room. His charm wore thin when he immediately asked for his payment to transport us. We explained it was to be a courtesy pick up as arranged with Ashanti in Cape Town. We haggled for 10 minutes and then he agreed hesitantly to take us after I hovered over his head and gave him my best glare. When we arrived at the hostel, the owner was there and confirmed that the transport was indeed free since Ashanti booked it. Now it was my turn to have a smug look. Those opportunities are rare, so I savored the moment. Then I felt guilty afterward. The driver had been waiting at the airport for us since our original arrival time at 9:00 am, so he was really put out or thrilled to get out of work for almost the whole day, so he had to act put out for the boss. The desk clerk said to ignore him since he was told three times our flight had been changed and he took off anyway. Selective hearing? He must have had a long breakfast break. Eagerly, we were waiting for the luggage as if they were stolen pets waiting to be returned. The hostel owner suggested we go to dinner and the luggage would probably be there when we returned. They did not arrive by 7:00 pm as promised. Ten minutes after, I called SAA to negotiate the ransom since they were who was holding the pieces of luggage hostage. Their lost luggage desk closed at 7:00 pm. The next morning, we had booked a full day Soweto Tour. The situation was not looking pretty and neither would we without a change of clothes. There is a restaurant a block away from the hostel called Eastwoods. The food is excellent and very reasonable.

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