Friday, June 27, 2008

The Banality of Travel

Up at 4:00 am. Midland-Odessa to Houston. Sprint to catch my plane since we were delayed on the ground in Midland. Worry about luggage transferring. Houston to Jackson. Chill on plane. Jackson to BWI. Late by more than half an hour. Luggage takes forever to come out, which has me nervous as I have two hours to get to Dulles, which is where I'm leaving from for South Africa. (Dumb booking, don't ask.) Let Super Shuttle clerk convince me that the normal $74 shuttle may not get me there in time because of multiple stops so I should book the $128 solo trip, which she promises will arrive to fetch me in ten minutes. I'm convinced if wary. Catch shuttle. (Seventeen minutes later.) Get to Dulles with more than enough time to spare. Wonder if I'd have been ok with regular shuttle. Wonder if concerned shuttle clerk gets kickback. Wonder if it makes me a prick not to tip the guy more than the $2 that I do given the cost of the trip and the fact that I otherwise only had twenties.

Smooth sailing with South African Airways. Until we board. There is some failure in electric system. Delay. Temps rise. It must be 100 degrees in the cabin. At least there are only two of us in the four-seat middle row. Chat with seatmate, a South African with whom I share some interests. Flyflyfly. watch movies and tv shows and read and eat and have wine. Land in Dakar, where I've never been. Yeay! Do not get to leave plane. Boo! More electric failures. It must be 125 degrees in cabin. Go to door of plane, which is open and where we are allowed to look out on the forbidden land. Dakar is remarkably cool outside at 6 in the morning. Airport seems a bit isolated, except the to my mind nightmare security risk of a settlement of some sort that appears to be separated from the airstrip by, well, nothing. Bet with seatmate as to whether someone will join us. I assume worst: Yes, and they'll be fat. I happily lose bet. Late departure. Nearly two hours behind. I hope the person picking me up at airport from my guest lodge sticks around. I wonder if I would. Flyflyfly. Try to sleep in awkward positions. Flyflyfly. Note to self: Ordering the eggs for breakfast on a plane was a bad idea. Don't do that again.

Arrival -- 90 minutes+ late. Passport control. Stand in line. (An hour passes.) Passport control: Still standing in line. New security guy comes, tells us all to move to another line if we are not South African citizens. His predecessor had moved us all over to this line. I'm next to go. Pretend I don't hear. Rehearse nakedly dishonest answer in Afrikaans. Person in front of me hits snag at counter. Security guy behind me. Passport control lady calls me forward. Phew! Luggage waiting for me. Phew! Guy from B&B waiting for me. Phew! Drive to Melville. Get into guesthouse.

Go out. Eat lots of seafood. have some beer. Get back to guesthouse -- much easier to do than woman who runs place made it seem to be. Supposedly challenging secret stairway shortcut not daunting for people capable of walking straight down or up a hill of stairs and ignoring smell of urine. I can do both. Cannot figure out tv. Figure out tv. Crash. Wake up annoyingly early. Eat.

You're basically caught up. Travel carries with it its share of banalities.

For my actual substantive observations of my first twelve hours or so in South Africa go see my extensive post over at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa Blog or Africa Blog. That's where I'll chronicle most of the trip. Time to brave those stairs . . .

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