13, 2008 - Monday - Victoria, BC, Canada to Johannesburg, South Africa
Today is my 56th
birthday, and it is also the day I leave for Africa - what a birthday present
this is! I am writing this entry as I sit in Vancouver Airport waiting for my
flight to London/Heathrow. I had to take a 1:30pm flight from Victoria; however
I don't depart for Heathrow until 7:50pm, so I have five hours to kill. I also
have another five hours to wait in Heathrow before I depart for Johannesburg. I
left Victoria at 1:30pm on the 13th and I should arrive in Johannesburg at
7:10pm on the 15th!
At least I don't have to clear security again here in Vancouver, however I'm in
the area where Air Canada's flight leaves and there are no shops open. At the
moment, it is completely empty except for the odd passer-by. It looks like the
Vancouver airport is being expanded in a fairly major way. Unfortunately, they
have turned it into a maze of corridors.
I just saw a woman packing her own pillow. I have to wonder if she is really
going to drag that thing along with her wherever she is going. Another woman was
wearing a small backpack which had a teddy bear in it. There appeared to be
nothing else in the backpack. She was busy on the Internet terminal doing her
email. Perhaps the teddy bear has a large circle of friends?
It was drizzling when we left Victoria Airport, and it is raining pretty hard
outside Vancouver Airport. It will be a welcome change to experience the hot and
dry climate of Northern Botswana. By the looks of the climate tables, it should
cool down a bit from the 40°C in Northern Botswana to the 25°C range by the time
we travel down the South African coast to Cape Town.
I had a hot meatball sub from Subway for an appetizer around 4:30pm this
afternoon after finding a food court about five minutes' walk from where I had
setup beside the gate. I am still in a secure area, so at least I don't have to
go through another security check just to have a meal. I'm not sure what Air
Canada will serve after we are onboard, since our 7:50pm departure is well past
the dinner hour. We are scheduled to arrive at London/Heathrow at 1:25pm local time, so
I expect they will serve us a meal before our arrival. The stories about how Air
Canada has cut back on in-flight services and meals makes me wonder what to
expect on the upcoming flight.
There are a few dozen people in this area with the food court and shops, but the
airport still looks pretty empty to me. There are only seven international
departures up on the notice board for this evening: Amsterdam, two to London,
JFK New York, Sydney, Taipei, and Hong Kong. I'm bored already, and I really
haven't started my journey. It seems everyone else is in the same situation:
bored and killing time until their evening flights depart. One bonus: there is
free Wireless Internet in the airport, so I can read and send email and browse
Google News and other websites. I just checked my weather website, and it is
raining at home.
It is now 6:00pm and I'm back at the gate. There are sensible stout women waiting
for the flight "home" to England (I assume). Almost all of them have a bag of duty free
goods, and some of their feet are already swollen. The shops in the gate area are now
open, so they obviously know there is little business when there are no flights
scheduled (like this afternoon). It looks like the rain is settling in, so I
will be glad to soon escape from this gray, cold and wet dreariness. I realize that my time spent
traveling is precious to me.
The holding lounge fills up by departure time. People are constantly after the
gate staff to change their seat assignments, and they seem to good-naturedly
put up with this endless parade. When I board there are no spare seats. I have a
window seat and the seat beside me is occupied by a woman from Victoria. I'm
happy she is quite small build, so we both have room to move. We will be over
nine hours in the same seat.
The aircraft pulls away from the terminal and then just sits there for about 20
minutes. The pilot finally tells us there is a mechanical problem, so we pull
back into another gate at the terminal and spend the next two hours sitting around while they
fix the aircraft. The crew and pilot keep us informed along the way, and we
finally depart two hours late. It's not a problem for me, since I have a five
hour layover in London/Heathrow, but other passengers with tighter connections
justifiably worried. We have a 100 knot tailwind which saves us a full 45
minutes, so we end up arriving just over an hour late at 2:00pm local time.
we had leveled out at cruising altitude, a nice dinner was served with drinks
included. I was peeking out the window regularly, and I noticed as we were
flying over the polar region there was a nice aurora visible. A couple of hours before we arrived,
a nice breakfast was served. Thank
goodness I managed to get a couple of hours sleep in-between.
2008 - Tuesday - enroute Vancouver to London/Heathrow to Johannesburg
is 3:45pm as I write this in Terminal 1 at Heathrow. We arrived at Terminal 3,
so I had to catch a shuttle bus to Terminal 1 and clear security again. Terminal
3 is modern, but Terminal 1 is decrepit by comparison. I can't find any Internet
connections - even if I am willing to pay. All I can do is wait around. They
don't post the gate numbers until 30 minutes before boarding time. When I'm in
strange airports, I like to find a gate early so I know where it is, but I can't
do that here. Posting to my blog will have to wait until I get to the hotel in
The woman with the teddy bear shows up at the gate for my flight to
Johannesburg. I hope she's not on my safari! There are a few empty seats on this
flight; however most people have spread out to take advantage of the extra space
so they can stretch out and sleep. The rest of us make do with trying to get
some rest in a single seat. South African Airways in-flight service is very good
- the meals are tasty, the cabin crew gives us good service, and the aircraft
appears to be brand new (unlike Air Canada). We depart on time, and arrive early
- what more could one ask for from an airline?
I rest fitfully throughout the flight, but I flip open the window shade
regularly to see what is visible outside. The Orion constellation is lying on
its side and is a pretty sight despite the illumination from the full Moon.
Toward dawn there is a beautiful sunrise over Southern Africa as I am served
breakfast just before our landing. The man sitting beside me is from Mozambique,
and regularly travels to/from Johannesburg since he is involved with airport
equipment. He is returning from a training trip to London.
2008 - Wednesday - Johannesburg
We arrived at Johannesburg airport a bit ahead of
schedule, however Derek from
Wilderness Safaris was there to meet me this
suggested I get some South African Rand currency from the ABM in the terminal
(which I did),
and then he put me on the shuttle to the Mondior Concorde Hotel. It was only a
15 minute drive from the airport. This hotel is part of a larger gambling
complex called The Emperors Palace, which is obviously a direct copy of
Las Vegas - including all the shops, the fancy concourses, and of course the noise!
The hotel is nice and quiet, and although they don't have any non-smoking rooms
available at 8:30am, I take a smoking room in the interest of getting to bed as
quickly as possible.
I had a four hour sleep before walking around the casino this afternoon - they
obviously took liberal use of the designs of Caesars Palace or the Venetian in
Las Vegas. I had dinner this evening at Squisto Ristorante in the casino mall
area. It was recommended by the desk clerk, since their own Oriana restaurant
was closed. I ordered a spanikopita (spinach & feta pie) to start and pescatore
(seafood) pasta as a main. They only had a red house wine - no selection, but it
was good (not too dry). This place reminds me of the Venetian in Las Vegas, except the prices
are about a third of the Venetian's. This evening's dinner cost about 180 Rand
(CD$23) including two glasses of wine and tip.
This evening I have to repack my two bags, since I will be storing the large one
at the Mondior Concorde hotel here in Johannesburg while I take the small bag on
the Botswana Safari. I'll leave my notebook computer and some of the bulkier
stuff here. All I need is cameras, clothes and my more compact electronic
technology while I'm off on safari. When I'm traveling in Northern Botswana we
will be transferred between camps in small aircraft. The maximum dimension for a
bag is only 9"x12"x24" due to the small cargo holds of these aircraft. It's a
good thing I purchased a new backpack MEC Fast-Track Roller from Mountain Equipment Co-op. It is actually two bags in
one: a rolling bag with a handle that also has shoulder straps, and a smaller
over-the-shoulder bag that is…you guessed it, only 9" high. The small bag is is
the one I'm taking to Botswana.
Speaking of technology, my power adapters all work here on the 220v 50Hz power.
The 2 prong conversion plug I brought along works fine. My Rogers cellphone
works from here - I called home successfully to check in with the family. I
expect the next time I can use my cellphone will be when I return to
Johannesburg on Oct 25th, since I'll be staying in remote bush camps most of the
next 12 days. Internet is not free from the Mondior Concorde hotel, but I
purchased a low cost plan and the wireless connection works fine from my room. I post
an update to my blog
JoeTourist- Victoria to Johannesburg, and I also post a few preliminary photos on my Flickr
Johannesburg to Livingston
Southern Africa 2008 <<< Previous