South Africa Pt. 3
My final go around in South Africa was a short trip before my flight back to the U.S. The idea of returning to Ohio for the first time in over 4 years and reconnecting with everyone was definitely in the back of my head, but I still had a few days to go back to Durban and visit the good people at Aweh Africa Backpackers (shameless plug there). I had made sure to give them a second visit because I had been sick for most of the first one. The plan was also to use the time to act like I was in a home setting, no big excursions, no rush.
The trip from Windhoek to Durban took a flight and bus, and getting into town at 5 a.m. The ladies from the hostel were great though and came to pick me up. The rest of the morning we chatted together about what had been going on for the last two months. Some of the guests at the hostel were the same ones I met the last time around too. Two of them are long-term, basically permanent, guests and another one was from the group of Germans who happened to be passing through before. Almost nobody recognized me with my now long hair and beard-ish looking growth on my face.
The next few days were really chill. We watched movies, played video games, and generally hung out while having a few drinks here and there. A pair of young Germans were there and they, along with my friend at the hostel, were big metalheads, so a lot of metal was listened to also. One good story came from the time all four of us went on a hike together. The hostel owns a dune buggy that is used to drive guests around, usually for a small fee. The two German guys and I planned to go hiking with my friend being our guide. We chose Krantzkloof park for a nice, short hike around a valley. The drive there was in the dune buggy. A few notes about the buggy. It is yellow with flowers and happy insects painted all over, no top, the seat belts only exist in theory (since they cannot clip in and do not retract to fit the rider), the handbrake at the time was gone for repair, and, apparently, the regular brakes tend to lose brake fluid (which I did not know at first). Add in four fans of metal, the car took on the new name of ‘Doom Buggy.’ Especially after we went down a hill towards a stop light which turned red, but could not stop…at all. My friend went flying around the corner through the red light to a gravel driveway to slowdown and stop. At first I thought she was messing with us, but the look on her face was pretty much the same as ours. That took a few minutes to process. The ‘Doom Buggy’ was just a rolling casket, essentially. We were able to go back to a gas station we had passed and the attendants helped get more brake fluid in the lines. Then we made the amazing decision to continue going. Who knows what was going through our heads. Fortunately, the extra brake fluid seemed to do the trick, with lots of pumping of the brake pedal at every chance.
The hike itself was beautiful, even though it was shorter than we had planned on. We saw waterfalls and lots of beautiful trees and other vegetation, which was a nice change of pace for me after a couple of weeks in the desert. The whole trip only took about four hours, but we wanted to be off the road in the ‘Doom Buggy’ before dark.
The next day ended up being a bust when I decided to try to go to the beach. You can see the ocean and glimpses of the coast from the hostel, so walking down to the beach seemed like a nice way to spend a day. Nope! The road system in Durban was built with a major highway between the housing area and the beaches with only a narrow overpass bridge to cross over from where I started. I was hugely disappointed and frustrated. Beyond that I had had little to no plans for being in Durban already, so losing out on valuable beach time hit me hard. The last remaining days were pretty much dedicated to food, from a small market to sushi to experimenting with cooking at the hostel. There were some goodbyes and mixed feelings about leaving at usual, but I knew that this whole trip had to be wrapped up at some point.
Unfortunately, the adventure really gets started from there. The day before my flight out of Johannesburg I planned on taking an overnight bus from Durban, so I would arrive about eight hours early at the airport. Keep that in mind.
My last day in Durban started with wild news reports coming from all over town about protests and riots. The opposition party was demonstrating in the streets and minibus drivers had joined in. Things quickly got out of hand with people being beaten, some shot, and most major roads being blocked. All the while, the U.S. government was warning U.S. citizens to avoid major attractions in South Africa because of a terrorist threat. I was sitting there wondering whether I was going to be able to get to the bus terminal and out of Durban. A whole day of these news flashes and eventually things died down outside enough for someone to give me and another guy a ride to the bus terminal. I got my ticket and felt pretty relieved. Boy was that premature. Around 1 a.m. I woke up on the bus to see we were not moving, though I could tell where the source of the problem holding us up was, but not what it was. I fell back asleep until 4 a.m., when I realized we were in the same spot! Three hours without moving and I suddenly had to wonder if I would make my flight at all. I checked our location with GPS and found out the bus still had seven hours of driving left to get to Johannesburg. But my flight was at 2 p.m., so plenty of time if we got moving soon. We did not. No police cars even showed up until closer to 6 a.m., then we had to wait another hour for the road to be cleared of whatever happened. My nice little cushion between bus arrival and flight was gone. I was pretty sure I would miss my flight since I had to get my bag and take a metro to get to the airport in time. A friend helped me figure out how to check-in online, which I still owe her for, and others offered help too.
The bus pulled into Johannesburg close to 1 p.m. I managed to get my bag pretty quickly after I explained to everyone to back the F- up, not really but kinda. Then I sprinted with my twenty plus kilos (around fifty pounds) of stuff from the bus to the metro station, got on a train and transfered all while watching the clock eating away the time until boarding closed until it was all gone. I literally got to the Emirates part of the airport terminal five minutes late. But there was nothing to do except pay a (small) fee to change to a flight which left a few hours later. Which by my calculations would put me in JFK International Terminal with just enough time to spring over to the domestic side and catch my flight to Cleveland. I kinda felt like an Olympic sprinter running then resting only to run again.
The flight to Dubai and then the one to New York went well. I slept in shifts to adjust myself to a new time zone and watched lots of movies. When I arrived in JFK the clocks were still not being friendly to me and I figured there was not enough time to go through customs, check-in again, go through security, and get to my gate. But wait! My flight to Cleveland had been delayed! (the photo at the top of this post should help explain why) My walk turned back into a sprint and I went flying through every step, even getting so lucky as to catch a new check-in luggage stand opening at the moment I needed one most. My flight was delayed even further by the time I got to the gate. I was probably the only person in the whole airport happy about that. After the plane arrived from Cleveland and we all boarded, I could finally let it sink in that I was back in the U.S. I had a nice chat with a Canadian woman whose parents were coming from Pakistan to get her father some medical care, relaxed, and watched out the window to realize again how everything looks the same from that high up.
Landing in Cleveland was surreal, but my dad was waiting for me and we rode back to his apartment. The rest will have to be told in the next blog post.