So I finally made it to South Africa! It feels so good to finally be off that plane! It took almost two days to get here, but it was totally worth it. How many people get to say that they’ve had the chance to set foot on the African continent? In my group of friends, I can only think of two.
I started my journey on 8 Nov from Los Angeles and landed in Dulles some time early the next morning. I had expected to be able to check-in my backpack at the South African Airways counter so I could easily explore our nation’s capital for a little bit, but to my surprise, they only opened at 13:30 and it was barely 07:00! The baggage claim for American Airlines also took FOREVER! I think most of us were there waiting for our bags for almost an hour and a half, not cool. I ended up having to lug my backpack with me to Washington, D.C. (Dulles is actually in Fairfax, VA) on the shuttle and paying for a locker at Union Station; it was a pricey $25 (doh!). I got to walk around the National Mall for a few hours, and surprisingly there were still a lot of tourists even with the frigid temperatures and all the restoration going on. It was nice getting to see the Capitol Rotunda, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and part of the GWU campus. Unfortunately they weren’t selling anymore tickets to go to the top of the Washington Monument.
My flight to Johannesburg via Dakar, Senegal took off later that evening; a short 8 hours to Dakar and then another 8 hours from there to Johannesburg. Not gonna lie, it was a LONG ass flight, but at least South African Airways had a good selection of movies and pretty decent food. The curry was pretty good.
We ended up landing in Dakar some time around 07:00, just in time to catch the last few minutes of the sun rising. My first African sunrise, that was something special, even if it was from the confines of the airplane. Being in the Sahel (the transition zone from the Sahara Desert to the rainforests), you could tell that it was already pretty hot, but for some reason they had the AC on full blast and it felt like we were in Greenland. From my window Dakar International Airport didn’t look like much, just a bunch of non-uniform airplane hangars and airplanes with no proper gate. I assume there was a proper terminal somewhere, but I couldn’t see it. A new wave of passengers started boarding the plane about halfway into our fuel stop. There were lots of Senegalese boarding the plane but also some Mauritanians. You knew you were in Africa because a lot the Senegalese passengers were dressed in caftans (I think that’s what they’re called) with intricate patterns. As soon as they were settled, the cabin crew came through the main cabin spraying bug spray up and down the aisles. There were maybe five or six crew each holding two fairly large canisters of bug spray. It was still pretty cold on the plane, so you could see a cloud of bug spray span the entire length of the plane for a few seconds. They said it was for sanitary purposes or something, but I thought it was kind of rude that they did that after the African passengers came aboard. Oh well, that’s their policy I guess. Only another 8 hours to Johannesburg…time for more movies and curry.
We finally touched down in Johannesburg around 18:00 local time. A total distance of 10,445 miles and about 32 hours of travel time! Disembarking the plane wasn’t a long process and as we entered the terminal, we were shuffled into a separate line from everybody else. Those of us who were aboard the SAA flight had to sign an ebola waiver form of sorts; Senegal shares a border with Guinea which is part of the Ebola Zone. The form wasn’t difficult to fill out, just your standard questions: What is your name? Where do you live? What is your nationality? and the all important: Have you traveled to Guinea, Sierra Leone, or Liberia in the past three weeks? Have you come into contact with anyone that may have been to Guinea, Sierra Leone, or Liberia? The answers obviously being no and no. As I finished filling out my form, a couple of Mauritanians came up to me and asked me to help them. They didn’t really speak or understand English. I didn’t speak any Arabic but I helped anyways. I figured Spanish might work because the Moors did rule southern Spain for a good amount of time, and it surprisingly did. Meanwhile, all of the Mauritanians from the flight were lining up behind them waiting for me to assist them. When did I become a translator??
After all that, I FINALLY made it to the immigration desk. The girl at the desk didn’t look like she was having a very good day.
“Why did you come to South Africa?”
Stamp and done. Well that was easy. Woohoo! Another stamp in my passport, and another traveler’s badge of honor. I waited for my friend Justin in the terminal with whom I’d been communicating on Couchsurfing. He’s originally from Texas but lives in Salt Lake City (Sal Tlay Ka Siti). I had posted in the South Africa forum asking if there was anyone willing to meet up while I was there. He responded and we decided to travel together as we’d be arriving on the same day and staying for about the same amount of time. O.R. Tambo International Airport would be where we meet for the first time. Crazy right? But that’s what I enjoy about couchsurfing and solo travel in general; you never know who you’ll end up meeting, but it more often than not ends up being really awesome.
We finally met and took the Gautrain (that’s pronounced ‘hau-tran’, it’s Afrikaans so you really need to hock that ‘h’ haha) to Sandton where our couchsurfing host, Ben, would pick us up. First impression of Ben is that he is a very tall Afrikaaner with a thick Afrikaans accent. To be honest, even though we all spoke English, Justin and I had a hard time understanding him because of his thick accent. After a stop at Nando’s for dinner, we made it to Ben’s house. It was storming and there were lightning strikes as we passed by the University of the Witwatersrand; Johannesburg is located in an area of Gauteng province known as the Witwatersrand. Ben let us know that he might not have power at his home because the grid has a hard time handling power surges. We met his housemate and talked about life in America and South Africa, and how even though life in South Africa isn’t completely up to Western standards, it’s on the up and up.
After almost two days of traveling, I’m glad to have a safe place to sleep and somewhat of a bed to sleep on. Greetings from South Africa!
*By the way, did anyone catch my reference to the Book of Mormon?