lördag 1 september 2012

Trip to South Africa, Day 1: From Ransta to Grahamstown

Day 1, Friday 31st August. Travel from Ransta, Sweden to Grahamstown, South Africa
Struck by an intense longing to not leave my wife and children on the day of departure, the feeling was strangely enough lessened by the train being delayed in Sala. Most Swedes who commutes by train are used to this, so instead of the usual impatience you get from this, I actually experienced calmness – the familiarity of train delay…
I had made sure to not be short on time just for this reason, so I arrived 25 minutes late for Arlanda Airport, but well ahead of schedule. Check-in proceeded as usual, but for one thing. After checking in my luggage and passing customs you usually pass another pass control if you are traveling outside the EU. This was the case this time too, but in addition we had a second control of pass and boarding cards until getting to the final waiting room. The boarding was a little whimsical, but nothing unusual.
It was evident from the composition of my fellow passengers that I was going to the African continent, and in the plane it smelled of spices and they played African music, with some signs being in what I presume is Ethipoian. Another thing I noticed on this flight was the way people stored their hand luggage. First – most people had rather large luggage, which most assuredly should exceed the 115 cm LxBxH limit. Second – the storage was rather unstructured with bags going in whichever locker suited or not suited, but this was probably due to the large size of them. Oddly enough not even half the seats were in use when we departed for Addis Abeba, but this would have its explanation later on. The flight left at 21:00 local time. They first served a snack, then a meal, and a bit irritating, a snack again at 00:30 when most people had gone to sleep (even I slumbered fitfully). Anyway, the meal was fun as always. Oh, and yes, we also got breakfast. Ethiopian airlines seems very generous with food.
Then shortly after 02:00 the captain declared that we were landing in Cairo soon! I was indeed a bit worried by this, but managed to remain calm until after reasoning with myself and my fellow passenger I could conclude that this was an extra stop without leaving the plane, which I had missed I my flight manifest. And yes, after 30 minutes on the ground the empty seats was filled when new passengers flowed into the plane. Imagine the fun when I already thought the luggage compartments were full before. My new neighbor actually had a 20x30x50 luggage in front of him during the flight.
Waking and sleeping short episodes, it was a release to leave the plane after landing in Addis Abeba rougly 7:40 local time. It wasn’t clear at all were to go as a transfer, but helpful personnel simply caught up with us passengers one by one and directed us right. Well in departure hall and gate 7, the real fun began. There seemed to be people boarding but no call was made. Lots of other people was sitting still, so I had to assume it was business class, that’s usually the case. Problem for me was that after some minutes the TV said “Boarding”, so I was getting worried especially as I hadn’t gotten any boarding card in Arlanda but was supposed to get it here. I moved towards the desk for help but now it became unmanned for maybe 10 minutes, with personnel just passing and leading certain groups to (I assumed) my or other flights. Finally I and another few passengers got assistance and were hurried through several queues and onto a bus to the plane. I was actually the second last to enter the plane… pew. Well there, I got lucky and got a seat with an empty spot, much to me and my neighbors happiness. Aah…space for my legs.
The flight to Johannesburg had time for Simpsons and Arturian legend on the TV screens. Otherwise it was relatively uneventful, with me trying to catch up on some lost sleep (ie drifting away now and then and waking up beginning to drool or knocking my head in the seat before me…).

Johannesburg airport was fresh, and looks like any international airport with some African color added. I agree with my fellow passenger I overheard complaining the oddity of South Africa: having to check out your (ordinary) luggage and then recheck it when transferring from international to local flights. But it gave me the chance to try out the local fast food cuisine. Seeing no McDonalds I went with Wimpy (yes, I’m wimpy and lazy when it comes to eating alone abroad, haha) and a burger meny for 57 rand (~50 SEK). After that I got myself some dessert at Fournos Bakery adding two cups of welcome tea.

I’d like to reflect on something regarding international transfers. When I check in, it has for me, at least, been a bit unclear which company to go to. Should I go to the company listed in the flight number (like BA1234 = British Airways) or the company trafficking it for that company? It seems to me that it’s the company that’s most “dominant” at the airport you visit. So when I was at JFK in July, it was American Airlines and not the British Airlines as implied by my ticket. In Johannesburg it was the other way around. As long as you have some time to spare, it is really no big problem, as all receptions will check your departure time and your passport and then give you the correct way to proceed.
So, having eaten and found my way through a very lenient passport control (I could keep my belt on, for example), a familiar sense of relaxation took hold of me at the gate. I think it’s like when you run and the initial pain passes and you get into it, and then reaches a sunny spot or a downhill stretch. I sat down stretching my legs in a airy hall with a view of a summery airport (an unseasonal heat is coming to its end this Friday), well fed with the knowledge I have just a short 1,5h flight left. I still have to consciously avoid thinking about family, but I think that the adventure of being half around the globe will balance that soon.
At Port Elizabeth Ian and Jan had booked a shuttle bus which took me under a full moon to Grahamstown. As I understand it public transport isn’t that extensive in South Africa, but the motorway we used was very nice and was evidently undergoing improvements. Well at the hotel I was welcomed by my supervisor from Uppsala University, Professor Jan Boelhouwers, and it was straight to bed.

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