Monday, June 16, 2008

Journey To South Africa: Getting There

Thursday, January 12th

We departed London, KY in unusually frigid weather, drove to Louisville, KY to fly to Baltimore with the expectations of a 6 hour layover before departing for London, England. Arrived in Baltimore to find out the flight was delayed another 4 hours. 10 hours later, we departed and began our 8 hour flight across the Atlantic (no smoking flights of course... a real challenge for Gary and I who are smokers ourselves). Arrived at London Gatwick International Airport to a rainy 42F day, went through customs, and caught a bus to London Heathrow International Airport to catch our connecting flight. Another 6 hour layover at Heathrow.

When we arrived at Heathrow, we were shuffled through customs to our departure area which resembled a nice sized mall. Plenty of stores and restaurants and YES! a smoking area!!!! About the English working in these stores and restaurants: I was very surprised and actually disheartened to find that these particular English don't like Americans. At first I thought it was my imagination, but sure enough - as soon as they heard our accents, you could almost see a dark curtain fall over their faces and some were actually rude. The only thing that made the 6 hour layover bearable was a friendly English gal who herself was waiting to catch a flight. In all fairness, she explained the "country" English are much friendlier than the "city" English. Six hours, many smokes and coffee, and a catnap or two later, we departed Heathrow (FINALLY) and headed to Johannesburg, South Africa.

It was a crowded flight with three people to a row. About 5 hours into the flight, I honestly thought Gary was going to lose it. He'd had enough with flying, sitting, and no smoking! I personally found it more challenging to try to sleep sitting up and getting through the "turbulence" as the pilot casually called it. But we made it through another 5 hours and arrived at Johannesburg International Airport on Thursday morning 9 am GMT, to a bright, sunny summer day! (Hard to imagine... summer in January.) We went through customs, which interestingly enough was scanned electronically (I never would have imagined the most high tech methods would be at Johannesburg International Airport), collected our luggage and made our way through a large double door into the arrivals area. To my surprise, there was a roped off section with crowds of people on both sides and EVERYONE looking in our direction! We stepped through the doorway and started walking down the "aisle." (So this is what celebrities feel like.)

A woman with flowers in her hand suddenly bolted from the crowd and ran up to us! It was wonderful to finally meet Alien (pronounced "All-Leen") the woman I'd come to be such good friends with over the past three years of exchanging email, videos and phone calls. This first encounter with South African hospitality was only the beginning. I have never met such a friendly group of people as these Afrikaners. And amid the group of friends who we were finally getting to meet was another who'd visited us here in the US last Spring, Andre Maritz. It was a great reunion!

We gave our greetings which is a challenge in itself. The Afrikaners greet with a brief kiss on the lips and consider a hug too intimate while we are the complete opposite. Thank goodness, we were all prepared from previous correspondence. I also had a good lesson in this when Andre visited us in the States. My "greeting hug" positively freaked him out. *LOL* Well, we were all forewarned this time.

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