We are here! We have arrived! We are happily tucked into our hotel (corporate housing) in South Africa after a 30-hour travel day. The day itself was not without it’s trials and tribulations. I could write a whole blog post simply about our travel day but I’ll spare you all the details. I will share the highlights and lowlights, and also our first impressions of South Africa.
Long Travel Day
The journey to get down here was a long one. The steps were as followed:
- Leave apartment in Marbella in the rental car with 11 bags (4 checked, 2 carry on, 4 personal, 1 ukulele)
- Turn in rental car at Malaga airport, hoping they do not notice the enormous scratches incurred a few days ago but not too worried since insurance will cover it anyway
- Take local train to Malaga central train station
- Take fast train to Madrid
- Take local train to Madrid airport
- Take nightmare shuttle bus to Terminal 1 in Madrid using almost all the available seats for our suitcases
- Take almost empty flight to Rome
- Stay on plane while the entire population of Rome
invadesboards our plane
- Take now packed flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
- Get off plane in Addis Ababa and wait for new flight in terminal with absolutely NO services other than a bathroom. Not even an empty chair!
- Board not quite as full plane to Johannesburg, South Africa
- Arrive Johannesburg
- Get money at ATM and cell phone SIM cards at airport
- Take car service to corporate hotel
- Quick check-in
- Sit in chair and reflect on the last 30 hours…
I was actually expecting things to go wrong with the logistics. When you expect things to go wrong it’s less traumatizing when they do. Our layovers in Rome and Ethiopia were only an hour or so each. Perfect amount of time for luggage to get lost or connections to be missed. But alas, that was not a problem. We had unexpected problems, however.
In our obsession with the yellow fever shots, we overlooked the detail about arriving into South Africa on a tourist visa. Turns out they want to see your plans to leave South Africa within the 3-month visa window. Well, we definitely planned to leave but we hadn’t planned that far ahead yet. So when we go to check in at the Madrid ticket counter, the airline lady said sweetly: “And I need to see your confirmed booking for your exit…?”
Say what now? Under-breathe cursing ensues…
Unfortunately, we know this drill. Panama was the same way. Every 3 months when we would border hop we had to show them we had a ticket leaving the country. We got good at workarounds, including booking a reservation on Copa Airlines that allows you to reserve your ticket but not pay for it immediately and after 36 hours, the booking just cancels. But Copa doesn’t fly to South Africa. So after much searching for a “workaround” while sitting on the floor near the ticket counter, hammering away on his computer, Dan accepted our fate that we were going to have to produce a ticket, somehow someway. Using his last remaining megabytes of data on his Spanish cell phone plan (it literally ran out after hitting the submit button for the tickets he bought) he booked a flight from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. That was $1000 that we had not anticipated spending at that moment in time. But we planned to go there anyway. We just didn’t want to commit to any dates yet. But Dan is a thorough researcher (except when it comes to visas into South Africa, for which I also take responsibility for missing) and he does not like to be pressured into a decision. But you don’t always get what you want and now we have a trip planned to Victoria Falls. So yeah for that!!
The flights themselves were fine. The layover in Rome was spent on the plane, since it was the same plane to Ethiopia. The airplane was new and had all kinds of nifty TV shows and movies to watch. The seats were comfortable and the first flight had only about 20 people on it (in a HUGE plane with 3 seats on each side and 4 in the middle) so we had entire sections of the plane to ourselves. But our “private plane” experience changed in Rome. Dan kept saying, “How many people could there be that want to fly from Rome to Ethiopia?” Turns out… HUNDREDS!! Including the fussy babies who would make themselves heard the entire 5 hours to Ethiopia. Bundles of
The layover in Ethiopia was not too traumatic. But by this time Zoe was hungry and thirsty, having slept through all the food service on the flight from Rome, and having ignored my instructions to pack a snack in her carry on bag. We assured her we could get water and a snack in the Ethiopian airport. Yeah, not so much. We did not want to leave security and 1) have to go back through and 2) have a stamp on our passport showing we were in Ethiopia, which could kick off South Africa’s request for us to get yellow fever shots. And there were no food or drink options inside the secured gate area. So we denied Zoe’s request for food or drink. Haley offered her a granola bar from her carry on stash, though. And Dan sneaked Haley’s water bottle to Zoe without Haley knowing about it. What a good
The flight from Ethiopia to South Africa was also pretty full and about 5 hours long, but this time without the screeching babies. Unfortunately, Haley’s sensitive tummy and anxious brain got the best of her and she ended up making full use of two barf bags. She was proud of her aim and it actually was a positive thing. For the last 5 years Haley has lived in fear of throwing up. But now that she actually did it she found it wasn’t as bad as her brain has been telling her. So I guess there’s a silver lining there.
Zoe also wasn’t feeling so hot, probably Transition Stress and Sleeping Through Food Service Yet Again Stress and Why Is My Sister Throwing Up Stress. But a long stint in the bathroom with me singing Soft Kitty and rubbing her hair… viola… she was right as rain. By the time we landed in South Africa, both sisters were telling me about YouTubers and video games. Not now, kids! Mommy has to think!!! It’s Mommy’s turn to be stressed.
We passed through customs and immigration like rock stars. Passport checking, stamp stamp, luggage collecting and off we go. What!? Really? Nothing more? It was awesome. And I had persisted in convincing Dan that we should not wing it at the airport with our transportation but please, for the love of God, can we please have a car service pick us and our 11 pieces of luggage up. He obliged and there was a nice man named Trust holding up a sign with our name on it. I love Trust. I loved him even more when he said “If you’d like to get some coffee there’s a cafe right there and I’ll wait for you.” I have a new best friend. Too bad Dan couldn’t do math fast enough and tipped him only $2.60. New money is confusing when you’re tired from a 30 hour journey.
Daniel got 4 SIM cards at the airport. The process was easy and efficient. And the new phones we bought the girls in Spain worked here, which was not guaranteed. We love South Africa already.
First Impressions of South Africa
We may travel the world but we are not necessarily adventurous from day 1. We like to dip our toe in the water slowly. The first night we tested the service advertised in our hotel suite that offered dinner delivery from a zillion different restaurants. We used an app on our phone and ordered from 2 different restaurants and we were all so pleased with our food and the service. Total, including delivery and everything, was $35. We were so happy to stay in for the night and not go wandering around trying to find somewhere to eat. And have I mentioned the ENGLISH? Everyone speaks English! We love it! We’ve spent 2.5 years being somewhat confused despite our fairly advanced level of Spanish. Here, we are golden! Admittedly, it’s taking a bit of energy to get used to the accent but that’s a small price to pay.
After a good night of sleep, we wake up and decide to spend our first full day in South Africa at the mall. You may be thinking “You travel all the way to South Africa and you go to the MALL?” Yes, yes we do. We are here for 3 months, we have plenty of time to do all kinds of new and different things. Sometimes you just need to start slow and go somewhere familiar. Malls are a great place to explore, see new things but also see some things that are the same, get food from a variety of places and get a few necessary items like outlet converters and clothes that cover less of your body. This was pretty much how Dan convinced me that going to the mall on Day 1 was a fine thing to do. He was right.
The mall was lovely. It had a combination of international stores and local stores, it was filled with people who were all shapes and sizes and colors and languages and everyone was SO NICE. We all made a few purchases, had some lunch, picked up some groceries and happily came home to order from Uber Eats, which also worked out very well for dinner delivery. So far we are loving the restaurants and the many people who are available to bring the food to our door.
Here are some random things we’ve noticed so far:
- The weather is amazing. Low humidity, warm sun, nice temperature. Dan is QUITE happy!
- Uber works great. Drivers have very nice cars, are really close by and they are friendly. Traffic seems minimal.
- They must have a low minimum wage because there are a lot of workers in every store.
- The workers are so nice. They ask if you need help but they don’t hover.
- There are many black people, of course, and they are all SO PRETTY. They do really neat things with their hair and wear interesting clothes. Sometimes just Western clothes but other times something quite different. People watching is the best we’ve experienced so far on our travels.
- Driving on the left side means we have to get in the car on the other side, escalators are on the other side than we expect and mall traffic walks on the left. We kept messing that up.
- Prices so far seem to be quite reasonable for things like Uber and food. Lodging is a little higher but we hear that is due to the security requirements.
- The kids loved the bookstore with all the books in English and we checked out the movie theater too. No butter for your popcorn but they do have a lot of movie choices.
- We are still getting used to the currency. By the time we are done here our factors of 7 math will be on fleek.
- There are tons of food options. I have had gluten free pizza, Dan had a large slab of meat and the kids found chicken nuggets at the grocery store.
That’s really about all we can say at the moment. Once we dip our toe a little further into the water we will surely be posting again. But for now suffice to say that we have arrived, we are happy and it’s warm. All is well.