Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Africa - Part 1 - The Journey

It is time again for me to recount, record and reflect on a wondrous adventure. Those of you who read the blog version of our India trip last year may be curious as to how I coped with another trip into a third world country on an organised tour – but please, be assured, this time was equally as overwhelming but without the sickness and for different reasons. Africa and India are both absolute gems which must be seen (in my opinion) but their approaches, their colours, their attitudes vary and it would be like comparing apples with pears if I was to try and rank them in any way.

The route we took on our G Adventures tour

So, I won’t try to figure out ‘which is better’ on any kind of level. But I can tell you that a similarity which is fairly significant is that after visiting I am sitting here completely emotionally and mentally exhausted and trying to process the experiences we had. I am SO bloody lucky, in this limited time that we get on the planet, to explore these places and I realise that and try to appreciate it every day.

I admit, I was actually highly anxious about this trip in the weeks leading up to our departure, for a number of reasons, including the political situation in Zimbabwe, the fear of being mugged in South Africa, massive fear of being sick for the entire trip (akin to the India experience), anxieties about the size of the group (18 compared to a very lucky and awesome 9 in India), worries about being away from my beloved pup for this length of time and ongoing general concerns about leaving my new job at a critical point for one of my key projects.

Amidst all that, I was also hugely excited. This trip represented the attainment of a lifelong dream to go on safari. I remember as a little girl being entirely blown away by my Nana and Grandad’s holiday photos from Kenya – they went in the mid-80s which was a fairly unusual trip to do at the time. My grandad, bless his heart, had a video camera, a very early version, which must have weighed around 4 kilos but which he shouldered valiantly to document hours (and hours, and hours) of footage of the African plains from various game drive vehicles. We watched every minute intently, waiting for glimpses of the incredible animals….

So, many (30!) years on, it was our turn. We worked this trip around a need to be in Mauritius for my brother’s wedding in early September. An African safari holiday was always on our list and we would have got to it at some point, but this gave us the reason and the approximate dates. We booked it around a year ago, once we had the framework in place and it has felt like a long time coming.

I handled the delivering of our beloved pooch to his awesome adopted family pretty well, considering, (which means I avoided it completely and wept into my coffee at work while Stu did the actual drop off) and in the few days leading up to the trip I managed to feel like work was under control so I could legitimately stop the anxieties relating to that side too. I was actually pretty relaxed and happy and everything was under control as we set off for the airport on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I even had an ‘Africa’ playlist set up so I could provide suitable soundtrack at any given moment (Lion King, Toto, Shakira etc).

I should, of course, have realised that things were going far too smoothly and that this surely meant a shitstorm of some sort was around the corner. Hmmm.

At Adelaide airport, we treated ourselves to a platter and a glass of wine or two each and as the minutes ticked by we relaxed and got into holiday mode. We had arranged (because we had around 9 hours to kill in Perth) to meet up with some of our buddies from our previous G Adventures holiday and were stoked to be seeing them again to catch up, have dinner, see their new house etc. We were so looking forward to it we bought some sparkling wine and Adelaide treats (Haighs) to take with us on this first leg – we could get away with it because it was a domestic flight so the wine was not a problem.

We sauntered to the gate in time and raised an eyebrow at how quiet it was. Stu noticed after a few minutes that our flight was no longer listed at the gate, despite being less than an hour away. He walked over to the desk and asked and then he turned to me and waved me over and I could see, by the look on his face, that something had clearly gone awry.

For reasons we were never actually told, with less than an hour to take off, our Virgin Australia flight from Adelaide to Perth had been cancelled. All of the staff at the gate claimed they had not been told why. Our luggage was checked straight through to Johannesburg and we were now being told we would be routed to Melbourne first (in an hour or two’s time) then back to Perth and then on to Jo’burg. This caused us a number of problems, not least of all (and most disappointingly) we had to cancel our plans in Perth and also go and get refunds on the gifts we had bought for our friends. 

It was incredibly frustrating to turn what should have been a relaxed and enjoyable 9 hour layover into a staggered series of sitting-in-airport-twiddling-thumbs events. But hey-ho, we did at least make our connection at Perth and headed to OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg - a name which would very quickly come to represent airport hell on a whole new level (and if you ever read my piece on Heathrow you will know this is a huge attainment in my world).

For some reason, our flight from Perth had taken off around half an hour late and we then faced headwinds which meant the time was not made back up. We landed at Tambo to be met by a very long immigration queue and the news that we had to go and collect our luggage and check it back in for the next flight to Cape Town. Unfortunately, that flight was leaving in around an hour and 20 minutes and so we basically had to sprint from immigration to baggage, then from baggage to check in, where a completely disinterested member of staff who clearly hates their job informed us that our next flight had closed. We wilted.

At this point I had been awake for around 24 hours and it was 6am and I had just run across an airport to make it this far. Stu said some things (I cannot remember what but it had an impact) and somehow the guy agreed to check our luggage but told us unless we sprinted to the gate (on a different level, in the other terminal) we would not make the flight. Cue further sprinting, now with a fellow passenger from the same flight in tow. I am not in a good mood at this point, it is fair to say, but somehow I found the energy to follow Stu and get to the gate and by the skin of our teeth, we made the flight.

And so, we made it to Cape Town and the start of our adventure…part 2 will look at our time in Cape Town and Johannesburg and the start of our G Adventures tour. 

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