Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Africa: New Continent & Hello Summer!

At the Madrid airport, I met up again with Selvy who had spent the day sleeping in a hotel. I watched the flight to Tel Aviv board, including 5 guys in black hats and robes with two braids on each side. I was too loopy and wired to worry about openly staring at people. We lined up and I had that excited, new continent feeling. A few Aussie girls in line must have felt the same way, because one of them burst out to her friend "Oh, I am just SO exciyyted!"

The lady at the gate told me my seat had been changed. I was secretly a little panicked, because if I don't get an aisle seat, I can't crack my knee and that makes me feel very paniced and claustrophobic. Either a terrible mistake had been made or Iberia was impressed with my mileage because they put me in first class for the 10 hour flight. I couldn't believe it. I was such an idiot. Really? REAlly!? Oh my gosh! really!? Selvy laughed at me. He pointed back to coach and said "I'll be back there in the projects".

I sat in my extremely large and spacious seat, bursting with happiness. I played with the seat adjustment that lets you recline 10 different ways. I activated the seat massage. Keep in mind that I had been awake for far too long, and this just overwhelmed me that I was actually sitting in first class for an overnight flight. The lights were dim, and smooth jazz christmas music played. I got to choose between different types of cava (spanish champagne). I got to choose between several decent dinners. I had some nice white wine and some bailey's to conk me out. For the first time in my entire life, I might actually fall asleep on an airplane! And you know what, I DID!! And to think that some people get to do this all the time??! (KATHY) It was unbelieveable. Coach is fine and dandy if you are flying a few hours, but those 10 hour (or 13 hour) overnight flights are so bad.

Time spent in coach:

2003 - 43 hours (Greece and Peru)
2004 - 52 hours (Costa Rica and SE Asia)
2005 - 20 hours (Brazil)

so in case you can't tell - I was happy, really happy.

Sitting next to me was 50-something Dan, who did not share my dorky enthusiasm for first class. I think he flys it a lot. Dan, from London by way of California, was flying to Africa to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and go to the Serengetti. We did the travel talk again - where have you gone, what do you do... He had also been to Cusco, Peru and got so altitude sick he thought something was seriously wrong. So he was now on altitude pills and we talked about that, and about how English people like to play cricket, and how the game goes on for days, and how cricket players have to stop for tea... He was another stellar seat-mate. I like to think that fights to Africa are pre-screened for interesting people. I slept and the flight seemed to take only a few hours.

Humidity hit me at the Joburg airport. Humidity, the smell of b.o. combined with Oklahoma sweetgrass. South Africa really did have sort of an Oklahoma smell. I always really notice the smell of a new place. The Joburg airport was like a cross section of the world - people in every color, from Muslims to white backpackers, to people with features I couldn't place. It was calm but buzzing. I exited and looked for a sign with my name since my guesthouse was picking me up. A man was holding a sign "Sahar Shiehrmer" and I thought, that's my guy! I love the spelling of my name. You can just call me Sahar from now on. Tony (pictured above) was very nice and even took me to downtown Joburg right away to sort out my bus ticket to Malawi. He didn't have to do that, it was so far out of his way. He pointed out interesting sights along the way and tried to teach me some words in Zulu and Africaans, which exited my brain immediately. I asked him about where he was from, Soweto, and his family. He even escorted me into the downtown Joburg bus station so that I'd be safe and not get confused. When he dropped me off at the guesthouse, I gave him a big fat tip. He seemed surprised and happy.

I took a much needed shower and laid down in my nice room with a private sitting area with skylight at the 33 on first guesthouse. Thunder crackled in the distance and I woke up to the most vicious thunderstorm I had seen in years, with sheets of rain pounding so hard against the glass I thought it might break. I lounged in my sitting area, reading a new book (no touch Monkey!) and waited for the storm to pass. I wandered into town to one of the only open places, the cat's pyjamas, where I had two black label beers and some delicious spicy couscous (above). I was too tired to be social with anyone and just enjoyed another thunderstorm passing next to me on the balcony. It's summer here, so the air is humid and warm, everything is green. I went back to bed and fell asleep to "footballers wives" and enjoyed South African commercials. There is one I really like, for something called WTG, that has the Mary J Blige remix in it I like "baby put your hands up!! hands ups! dum dum dum!" It gets me fired up. They play that song on my internet dance music station I listen to at work.

I wote up in the middle of the night in a complete panic about my bus trip on the 27th. Do I have my visas all squared away, Is it going to be OK? what am I doing taking a 20 hour bus (well, it's shorter that 30, anyway) from a shady, extremely smelly bus station where I clearly do not resemble anyone there? What if the Zimbabwe border crossing does not go OK? It may have been the malaria pills that made me paranoid (and gave me a wierd dry mouth) or just typical travel panic but I managed to go back to sleep and had some really odd dreams. At least I am better off than I was last year. Nobody lost my backpack. My wierd sore throat went away. Bring it on, translux bus company, bring it on Malawi.

You will hopefully hear from me next from Malawi in a few days. I called the bus company again to calm my fears about the Zimbabwe crossing, and today I'm going to try to squeeze as much fun out of Melville as I can on a public holiday. I saw an indian restaurant and a few promising-looking places. In fact I might wander around, Yanni-style...

wish me luck on that bus, I will need it.


sara said...

Every piece of South African money has a cute animal on it. The R100 bill has a water buffalo. The R2 coin has a gazelle. I am so entertained by the money.

sara said...

Forgot to talk about the enormous security fences everywhere. Every house and building has huge, 8 ft spiked fences and gates around them. Apartment decks have bars too. Some stores you have to be buzzed in, like a pawn shop. It's a little strange.

Kate C said...

I am so excited that you made it!!! I knew it would work out and that you would meet nice people. I am also so glad that they have Footballer's Wives. Wouldn't want to miss an episode of that ;-)

I can't wait to hear more about the trip. I've been checking daily to see when the first postings would be.

Have a great bus ride. Take a ton of pictures.

You could tell people you are related to Charlese Theron or her boyfriend and that she recommended places to you...perhaps you will get free stuff ;-)

Anonymous said...

Sahar! Welcome to Africa. I am beyond thrilled you got bumped up to first class - you deserve it after all your travels. I'd like to say it was the Hallway's Christmas gift to you, but I don't think any of us have that kind of pull! I am already fighting with Omaha today...Paramount though, don't worry (not that you would, or should...). I love the Yanni and Oklahoma references...makes me feel like you are here across the hall from me. Good Luck with the bus ride and may good luck continue to shine upon you on this trip. Miss you, Merry Christmas,
Your perfect cousin,

Kate Aseltyne said...

hooray schirmyvida is back! Today is the first chance I had to read your posts, I've been kicking it at home w/ my grandma and my great aunt who was a missionary in africa for 18 years. I was telling her about your trip last night and she was VERY impressed with how you were travelling on your own and not just doing an all inclusive tour. She said you would see the real Africa and you would not be dissapointed. She also wanted me to tell you it might be a good idea to check in w/ the American embassy when you get to a new place so they can advise you of any political uprisings...hope that won't be necessary!

Well, I am totally living vicariously through you so keep up the great posts. Click, clack, click. Kate

sara said...

I made it to Blantyre after the most interesting, crazy, insane, enlightning 38 hour bus experience of my life (I'd say bus "ride" but of course the bus broke..so we weren't exactly riding that whole time. I could write a book about the bus ride and the things I saw. Africa blows the mind, for sho! The internet here is BAAAAD so I will try but if not, I'll have tons of new posts from Nakhata Bay. I'm all good, in the nastiest hostel ever but I'm happy to be around other travellers again...

Kate C said...

Can't wait to hear about the bus ride. Don't be afraid to use DEET or whatever the stuff is that isn't approved over here to kill creepy bugs and other creatures...you don't know what kind of stuff you will run into in that hostel ;-)

Anonymous said...

Our currency is so boring! I want the dollar bill to have a giant penguin on it.
Glad everything is going well, and you are meeting lots of cool people. It wouldn't be a Sara vacation unless you stayed in shady hotel - can't wait to see those pictures. Don't forget to send photos of my new baby named knoc knoc knoc.

wiggie said...

Stumbled on your great blog, and although I live in SA, I soooo took our money for granted.
The R1 coin has a Springbok, the R2 coin a Kudu, the R5 coin a Wildebeest, the R10 note a rhino, the R20 note an elephant, the R50 note a lion, the R100 note an African or cape Buffalo - not a water buffalo, and the R200 note a leopard.
The smaller denomination cent coins have birds and plants on them.
Have fun it's wonderful continent.