Thursday, May 29, 2014

Coming to Africa - the southern bit, that is.

Greetings from South Africa! I haven’t updated this blog in ages – not since we were last abroad, in Paris!  I’ve told family and friends to check here for updates on our travels, so if we haven’t chatted for a while here’s a brief re-cap of our life: Eric is still working in construction tech at Sundt, I finished my last year as a teacher, and we are expecting a baby boy in the fall.  I think that about sums it all up =) Oh yeah, and we’re in Africa on vacation.  

We are now on our second full day in Capetown, but let’s re-cap our travel days, shall we?  First off, there are two main ways of getting to South Africa by plane: Phoenix – London – Capetown, or Phoenix – Atlanta – Johannesburg – Capetown.  We chose the route with fewer stops, but both flights are LONG.  I’m not sure how I didn’t think about the fact that the longest travel time we have done previously is 15 hours, and that this would be more than double that: 36 hours from door to door.  We had a fancy plan to help us sleep on the planes and then be in great shape when we arrived at 10AM Tuesday morning and of course that worked out perfectly went to crap.  We had a few little adventures worth recounting on our way over. First off, flying pregnant is awesome and also it sucks.  It’s awesome in the fact that we were given SO many privileges: we got to pre-board, ensuring that our bags were immediately above our seats (one of our flights was oversold and many people had to gate check their luggage), the stewards and stewardesses treat you like a queen, you get free treats, etc.  It sucks because… you’re pregnant.  But in all honesty, the discomfort wasn’t too intense until the end of each flight. 

We found that flying British Airways was a nice experience – nicer than Southwest (go figure), but not nearly as nice as Air Canada, our reigning fave.  Again, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you choose the veggie options when you order your airplane food. The meat is often poorly cooked and nearly unrecognizable (Is this chicken? Beef? Raccoon?), but spinach and cheese ravioli is always yum.

We also managed to pack in carry a carry on again – go us!  I think we’ve finally mastered the technique.  As long as you have access to laundry, we bring 3 bottoms and 4/5 tops each as well as a sweater, jacket, scarf, hat and 2/3 pairs of shoes.  Everything has to go together, and nothing can be high maintenance (dry clean only, handwash, etc.).  Add some unmentionables, toiletries, and an umbrella and you’re pretty much set!   For me it helped that right now I can only wear maternity clothing anyway, so that helped to narrow my choices substantially (every cloud has a silver lining).  Once we are home I’d like to do a post outlining exactly what I packed and why, but since that’s pretty boring, I’ll save it for later.

Our first flight was largely uneventful, apart from the Finnish woman sitting next to Eric who found it extremely amusing that Eric’s reading light was on her armrest (it wasn’t), and she proceeded to toggle it on and off several times while giggling to herself (weirdo) as Eric tried unsuccessfully to sleep. 

Once we arrived at Heathrow, we had intended to head into Windsor via taxi to explore the city.  We decided we were too tired to do that, so we opted to catch a little shut eye on the ultra-comfortable benches, like so…

When we travel, I have a strategy (Me? Strategy? Who would have thought… ;)) for packing my personal item… I try to pack my personal item as a purse, usually a medium sized black or brown one, with another smaller purse inside the other.  I pack my wallet (emptied of everything but essentials, my passport (in a cute holder!),

Playing cards, a small book (I have yet to convert to an e-reader, I like to turn pages), lotion (after passing through security), an empty water bottle, my phone and charger, earbuds, earplugs, and a sleepy mask.  The last two are VERY helpful if you find it difficult to sleep sitting up. Or if your want to take advantage of the posh benches (insert sarcasm font here) at Heathrow airport. 
**If you are traveling through Heathrow and have a long-ish layover, here’s a helpful hint.  They don’t post your gate until 90 minutes before your flight, forcing you to hang out in their “mall” area in Terminal 5.  If you have time, head to Gate 55C (via the inter-terminal transit).  The C gates are usually dead, and there is a huge Starbucks there with multiple couches and pillows.  I was full of nap-regret upon seeing these and figured I’d help out a future traveler.  It’s OK, you’re welcome.**

Anyone else out there travel through Heathrow regularly?  Maybe it’s just me, but my experiences there have all been dismal.  Security lines are long and more inefficient than any other airport I’ve been through (save El Paso because… El Paso.), and something odd happens to me every time (like being accosted by transients, or accidentally smacked in the head by large Croatian women – that’s a good story), and this time was no exception.  After our 8 hour layover, we finally get to the gate for boarding and are told that our plane cannot approach the jetway (are they arguing or something?), so we will be shuttled to the plane.  Serously – this is one of the best known and biggest airports in the world, and we are walking across the tarmac in the rain to a city bus?  

(This is the view from our bus.  We had to stop for a plane because this isn't a road, it's a runway - odd!)

Allllllrighty then. Once on board, we were delighted to learn that the plane was only half full, suh-weet!  This is like a happy accident where you paid for coach and got upgraded to first class, because everyone just spreads out to take up his or her own row so that you can lie flat or watch two episodes of Pawn Stars at once. Winning. This was our longest flight at 11:50, and we didn’t sleep much despite the extra space. Failing. We had a bit of an odd experience when about 2 hours into the flight they started paging any passengers that might happen to be a GP.  No Bueno. I’m not sure what the procedure is for sick people on planes but thankfully it wasn’t an emergency landing because I’m doubtful that quality medical care could be easily found in any of the small African cities over which we were flying.  This continued throughout the flight and upon landing they brought the paramedics aboard.  Prayers to whoever that was, and thanks to God that it wasn’t us – how scary! When we had to go back to our assigned seats for landing, we discovered we were sitting next to a mom and daughter who were coming to SA to do long term missions – cool!  Upon descent to the runway, she did say, “Wow, it looks like we’re landing in the Lion King,” so there might need to be some cultural sensitivity training there, but at least she was excited. ;)       

 After landing, our friends Dustin and Hallie who are living in SA for a time with their son, Graeme, drove us back to their home just outside Capetown in a village called Sommerset West.  The house have approximately 27 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms (just kidding… kind of).  They use it to house short term mission teams when they come over from churches that partner with their ministry (check out Orchard Africa!), and then in our winter (South African summer), the home will be used as an income producing B&B – brilliant idea. 

When we travel across multiple time zones we find it best to make ourselves overly tired on our first day so that we sleep well and are all ready for our second day.  This meant that when we arrived in Capetown, we were needing to go and do something active so that we didn’t fall asleep standing up while drooling on ourselves have to take a nap.  We headed out to the second oldest wine estate in South Africa, Veregelegen, for lunch, sightseeing and wine tasting. 

(The oldest camphor trees in SA - planted over 300 years ago!) 

(Saw this Gemsbok just running around - it's like living in the zoo!)

(Eric's meal - delicious fillet of beef and sauteed veggies)

(My meal - cold roast beef with caramelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes and marscapone on french bread)

This was followed by a trip to Woolworth’s Grocery, which I would describe as the more European offspring of a Trader Joe’s and a Sprouts, with a killer café and a mean cappuccino.  We picked up dinner ingredients and coffee (decaf, sadly). And after a monumental battle against sleeping on the ride home (I may have lost), we whipped up an easy dinner, and FINALLY collapsed into bed approximately 50 hours after our previous night’s sleep.  At least having a baby won’t be THAT bad in terms of sleep-loss ;)

Tune in tomorrow to hear about poached eggs, driving on the wrong side of the road, rain (that water that falls from the sky in places that aren’t Phoenix), chocolate tasting, and how we might just decide to live here forever (not really… but maybe).

Goodnight for now!     


  1. Hi April! Thanks for the exciting update on your travels to South Africa!! I'm so jealous as all I get to write about in my travel blog is how to apply travel rhetoric articles, essays and chapters to my own travels! (yawn)! The pictures and sarcasm are fantastic! Miss you! Love, Your #2 School Mom