Saturday, October 10, 2015

Getting to Africa - Alrica

With only seven devices between the four of us, I frequently have to give up my computer for the greater good of the kid’s homeschooling. Thus, I’m very behind on my blogging. 

Leaving “home” was hard for all of us. Leaving behind known comforts and family and friends and easy communication. From the start, this has been my dream so the excitement far outweighs the sadness for me, but seeing Carver’s tears brought a few of my own, despite knowing how much he will get out of this. Luckily, by the time we reached the airport, the tears had cleared and the kids’ natural curiosity distracted us all. Seating assignments ended up being no problem, but there was some concern about our lack of return flight. Calls were made and questions were asked about our intentions and our understanding of visa requirements. In the end, they handed over the boarding passes. We talked about lift and airplane wings while we waited to board our first flight to Chicago.

A tail wind brought us into Chicago early luckily because we got to repeat the “no return flight” conversation and exchange our American Airlines boarding passes for British Airlines with not a lot of extra time built in. We got on board our flight to Heathrow with time to spare though. Each of us enjoyed seeing the lay flat Club Seats before settling into coach for the overnight flight. Erich took the seat across the aisle and I got the middle seat between each kid. We played with the in-seat entertainment while we waited for dinner and snacks to be served in the hopes that we would get some sleep that night.

Dinner included some British specialties that we enjoyed trying, including passion fruit posset. 2.5 hours into the flight, the lights finally went out and we tried to sleep. Some of us were more successful than others. When the lights came on again only a few short hours later, morning found us bleary eyed and dragging. The plan to head into London for the 11-hour layover was nixed as we headed off to find bathrooms and the “quiet area.” Settling into the airport gave us plenty to do. With our devices run down a bit, we did the rounds of charging stations where we found that they were either being used or not working. Seeing that other people were just using spare outlets seemed like a good idea, except they didn’t seem to work anyway; until we figured out that outlets in the airport come with switches. Lesson learned. We staked out a spot and played cards and other games while we waited for time to pass. I even got a short nap in there.

The last flight took us from Heathrow to Johannesburg. Checking in involved a final conversation about whether we were going to be deported in South Africa and a final showing of the kids’ birth certificates. We had luckily known ahead of time that birth certificates were required to enter South Africa. This flight found us in the four middle seats of the 747 and I happily got an aisle seat this time. Much easier to get in and out of. For the eleven hour flight, we watched movies, slept a little better, and got fed twice. Quite the novelty for a family that has mostly been limited to domestic flights that rarely include pretzels anymore.

Only slightly better rested, we arrived into Johannesburg Airport and made our way to passport control. After the Spanish inquisition experience regarding our lack of ongoing flights, we expected the worst and were trying to prepare ourselves for it. The passport control agent was friendly, looked at our documents, asked us when we would be leaving, and waived us through! Easy! From there we collected our backpacks and headed out to find an ATM and a Sim Card. The ATM was easy, the Sim Card was a bit confusing. Our first example of difficult communication between two people who are supposedly speaking the same language. We also found that there was no wireless at the airport, something we had taken for granted. We finished that and headed for the Gautrain (the local train that would take us to Park Station).

All of the reviews of Park Station spoke of how dangerous it was, especially to tourists. Carrying everything we owned, we definitely fit that description, and yet, the station was well lit and we took a bench near several families, feeling perfectly secure. There was an hour delay, which we spent snacking and chatting amongst ourselves, and finally we were able to board. The train picked up speed as it carried us on the way to Cape Town.

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