Early on Sunday morning, my kind friend Amanda drove me to the Nashville airport. I checked my two 28″ roller bags (all my goods for the next two months!) and proceeded to my gate. I was relieved that neither bag was over the fifty pound limit (44 and 46 pounds). My abstract plans from the last few months had suddenly become reality overnight. My jet lifted into the sky, and I felt the first wave of loss for the city I have loved for the last decade.
There are several good options for flying to South Africa. The very brave can take the epic 17-hour non-stop flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg. It’s one of the five longest commercial flights in the world! I opted for the same South African Airways route I used last November. From Dulles, it flies to Dakar, Senegal in around seven hours. After a brief hiatus on the runway, the same plane continues almost eight hours to Johannesburg. Unlike many international flights from domestic airlines, the Airbus jets on this route offer a wide variety of movies from which each person can select for display on an individual screen. From Johannesburg, one can select any number of flights to Cape Town.
How does one best cope with an eight-hour shift in schedule? The solution for many people on my flight was to retire for five hours after dinner. I try to stay awake just as long as possible so I will be completely exhausted once my flight arrives at Cape Town around ten P.M. I should note that I woke up on a Sunday in Nashville and went to bed Monday night in Cape Town. This time zone difference can also play hob with prescription medications that one takes each day.
Keeping your sanity through fifteen hours of flying on the same plane is a real challenge. If I am sitting by someone who doesn’t want to talk at all, I always feel like each shift of position or visit to the bathroom is an imposition. On the other hand, it’s rare that I want to yack yack yack all the way across an ocean. The fellow sitting next to me this time set a great balance. He was returning to Africa after twenty years in the States; with a family member, he was setting up a new business. I watched movies obsessively since I was staying away for so long. I try to watch the movies I care about first since I’ll actually be awake for them. My roster for the Dulles->Dakar flight included Trainwreck, Man of Steel, and Minions. I racked up another two on the Dakar->Johannesburg flight: Mission Impossible Rogue Nation and Mad Max Fury Road. Having an inoperable brain was great for the last three! I believe I dozed about two hours total on the two flights. [If my text sprawls a bit, keep in mind I am writing this draft at the Johannesburg Airport!]
After all the drama of acquiring the Temporary Residence Permit, I was a bit uncertain how matters would go when I entered South Africa. The first hoop through which I had to leap was an Ebola virus survey. Given that new cases for this virus have fallen sharply since my prior visit, the collections seemed entirely perfunctory. The attendant didn’t even glance at the piece of paper as I walked through. As I approached the head of the immigration line, a thermal imaging camera watched the passengers. I held my passport open to the visa for the immigration agent. She used a visa-specific stamp, wrote in the 2020 “valid until” date, and noted it was an exceptional skills visa. With that, I passed to the baggage claim. I was a bit worried about delays in customs afterward, since I had two rather large checked bags, but customs was altogether closed! I rechecked my bags for the domestic flight to Cape Town and passed back in through security.
Having spent a fair amount of time in airports, I really appreciate the attention to detail for the airports in South Africa. They were substantially rebuilt for the 2010 World Cup. They’re far nicer than are most airports in the States. They’re spacious and open in design, which gives them a real leg up over La Guardia. They also reflect post-2001 security design, unlike an airport such as the one in Kansas City.
Ah! There’s the boarding call for Cape Town! I’ll write about my first experiences as a resident of that city soon!