Monday, May 12, 2014

Cape Town I: Alone in Africa

Just getting to Cape Town was something of an adventure. Maybe it's silly to experience so much wonder at a simple flight, but two trips to Europe and multiple domestic flights do not make one a seasoned traveler.  I realized on this trip that as far as international travel is concerned, I'm just a neophyte.

At Dulles, they seem to be piloting a less intrusive security system and I was randomly sent to a low-level screening line.  It was like going back in time to 1990, only with a guy shouting at you, "Do NOT remove your shoes.  Do NOT take the liquids out of your bag! I DON'T WANT TO SEE YOUR LAPTOP. The only electronic I need to see is a CPAP machine.  If you need to ask me what that is, THEN YOU DON'T HAVE ONE." People seemed a little confused (hence the constant barrage of shouting) which shows how conditioned we are now to doing a striptease through airport security.

It's a sixteen-hour flight from Washington to Johannesburg.  I was dreading it, but it turned out to be quite pleasant.  I think I'm learning to like long-haul flights, which are a little like a return to childhood, with mealtimes and bedtimes directed by the flight attendants, although there's that disconcerting moment when you arrive on the other side of the Atlantic, cross and bleary-eyed, and it's 1:00 am by your time and you're expected to eat a half-frozen blueberry muffin and prepare for landing.

I ended up with an aisle seat and the seat next to me was empty--extraordinary good fortune. Across the aisle was a very nice man and his son, traveling with a group who were on a medical mission to South Africa. They were delightfully geeky about planes, and we all admired the stupendously enormous Airbus 380 (double-decker, all the way back) that taxied past. We landed in Dakar, Senegal to refuel.  This isn't really a layover, and you don't get off the plane unless Dakar is your destination.  New passengers get on and I was worried that someone would sit in the empty seat next to me, but no one did.

The man across the aisle had made this trip several times and was kind enough to warn me an unpleasant happening, just before we took off for the second leg of our journey.  There was an announcement that by law, the plane must now be sprayed, and before you can say, "WHAT THE FUCK?" the flight attendants, each holding a spray canister over each shoulder, stride quickly down the aisle and fill the cabin with insecticide.

It was a bit hectic in Johannesburg because I had to collect my bag from the carousel and go through passport control and customs and then re-check my bag for the flight to Cape Town.  I stuck close to the medical mission people because they knew where to go, but then I nearly missed my connecting flight to Cape Town because the PA system at Tambo is unintelligible.  You get on a bus and are driven to the plane and in all the confusion, I wasn't entirely sure I'd boarded the right bus and somehow lost my boarding pass on the ride from the gate to the plane, but luckily found it again, or they wouldn't have let me on the plane.

It's a two hour flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town and then the cab driver didn't know how to get to my apartment.  Brigid had warned me about this aspect of Cape Town cab drivers.  I had the map I'd printed from my airbnb itinerary and we figured it out, and twenty minutes later, I was settled into a comfortable little cottage in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood.

Where I stayed in Cape Town

It was close to 10:00 pm and I was exhausted, although I took care to plug my tablet into its charger before getting into bed to read a while before I went to sleep.   But then I noticed the big, overhead light in my room, and thought it would be more pleasant to switch to the small reading lamp, which I'd unplugged in order to charge my tablet.  I attempted to unplug my tablet charger, met resistance, tugged a bit and suddenly there was a sickening sizzle of sparks and all the electricity went out.  I was mortified; a typical big, fat, stupid American, I'm in Cape Town for less than an hour and I blow up the electricity charging my big, fat, stupid American device.  I wasn't about to go groping for the fuse box in the pitch dark, so I crawled into bed and, reminding myself that the sunrise would solve most of my problems, fell asleep.


  1. I can't wait to hear about the rest of your adventures!

  2. The insecticide thing is just bizarre.

    Looking forward to the next installment...

    1. I think it's because of the malaria. The plane was open at both ends for an hour, with all kinds of people coming through.

  3. They spray for a variety of insects, testse fly for example, but not malaria. Most countries used to do this but have stopped - it's probably quite useless, but harmless to humans.

    I guess you didn't take note of the taxi driver's name or company but it's unacceptable that he didn't know Bo-Kaap as it is a well-known suburb.

    Enjoy the rest of your holiday, hope the dry weather holds for you!

    1. It's NOT harmless to humans, though! I have a friend who would have gotten very sick from directly inhaling insecticide. They should at least provide a warning and some masks.

  4. What a "shocking" start to your hols.
    They spray going into Singapore as well.
    Looking forward to the next installment.

  5. I hope that you will have some excellent adventures during your trip.

  6. Wow. So much I never knew about travel to South Africa. Sprayed down! Not patted down!
    Once I rode a double-decker plane. It remains the height of my travel experiences.
    I'd have made the same error in judgment with the electricity.
    Keep the travel tales coming!