Saturday, July 18, 2015

Travel Tales: The First Leg
Rather than foisting my observations and memories upon people who are  casually scrolling through Facebook, I thought I would spend more time writing details for me to remember, because, let's face it, my memory is spotty. So, I'm making this old blog alive again! Its' the early naughts again!

When faced with whether or not to make the (long) journey to South Africa to visit my folks, I had to think long and hard as to whether or not I wanted to drag a three year old along on those plane trips. I had some experience with how exhausting and long those trips were from when my family lived in Southern Africa back when I was in high school, and those trips were *rough* (think 16 hour layovers, sitting in Nairobi's sparse airport). When T was able to get the time off, then we bit the bullet and got some tickets because you kinda have to go, and not be scared off by temporary travel pain.

But, man, that travel pain was harsh. The good thing is that Will likes the plane, even though he doesn't really like: seatbelts; security lines; passport control lines; or being quiet and waiting his turn. can imagine. The other good thing is that we were flying Virgin Atlantic, which has the best video system ever (movies! shows! games! and you can choose what you want!), so screen time limitations were out the window and Will could zonk out on as much TV as he wanted. (Also, I actually sincerely liked the food on Virgin Atlantic...they always had garlicky cheese during dinners. Another random observation, T and I observed that they only seemed to hire people who could rock super slim cut suits with style...there were no uggos aboard working).

We left Saturday afternoon from Chicago, relatively chipper and eager to DO THIS. Flight from Chicago to London was pretty smooth, since it was an overnight flight and Will slept for the majority of the time, even if T and I didn't. Then, 13 hour layover in London and we had thought ahead and booked a hotel at the airport (Heathrow itself is like a small city, so it took us a good 45 minutes to get to the hotel). But, first, we had to go through passport control to pick up our stroller (because they decided to bring the strollers to baggage pick up this flight, which kind of missed the point of the stroller in airports).

This was passport control #1 of the trip.
(Passport control is usually kind of a pain since it involves general waiting, but passport control with a tired 3 year old is a whole other challenge since it combines general waiting with trying to rein an intermittently sulky and caterwauling creature. So, yeah, I dreaded them. And let's not talk about the security controls, where W would lose his mind about having to put his beloved toy trucks through the machines)

We got to lounge, nap and shower at the airport hotel, as well as sit on its fifth floor level overlooking the ground floor while eating Trader Joe green pea chips. I was feeling pretty good, confident even.

That all fell to pieces once we tried to board the plane to Jo-burg. Let me paint the picture of where we were before then. At that point, we had been waiting for the gate to open for at least an hour, and dealing with an increasingly exhausted kid. I was counting down the minutes till we could get him on the plane and lull him to sleep. And, we had already been waiting at the general waiting area of the airport for a few hours besides that beforehand. Despite the respite at the hotel, it had been a long day. So, by the time we finally came up to the agent to give our boarding passes, we were *ready* to get on the plane.


That is when the agent asked "Do you have your necessary documents?"

Us: "....You mean our passports? They are right there."

It took a little back and forth for her to communicate to us that there were *other* documents necessary to enter SA with children under 18 that included their birth certificate (and if you were only traveling with one parent, a whole slew of other documents, but at least we didn't have that situation). She shared that we would not be allowed into the country without a birth certificate, and that if we did fly over, then we would just need to turn around and fly right back (hahahaha...that is hilariously cruel and awful). I fully recognize that this onus of finding out about this relatively new rule was on us, who should have done a little poking around, but NO ONE had mentioned it until this point, which also seemed to flummox the agent to whom we were talking.

While she was communicating this to us, all while assuring us that we could get on the next evening's flight if we could obtain the birth certificate, my mind was flying, wondering: "whereisthebirthcertificate?-whocangetit?-whocanwecontact?-doIhaveInternet?-holyshitwhatifwecan'tgetit,thatisaveryrealpossibility." Outwardly, I believe, I managed to remain calm and measured. I'm pretty proud of that.

Then, we did our sad little walk to the connections counter where we made the mistake of waiting in the line in front of us (a collection of people from a flight to Dubai that was suddenly canceled, who did the same sad little walk we did). We waited in that line for a good 20 minutes before realizing that we could just step out and walk straight up to the Virgin Atlantic Counter. Doy.

Then we did another sad pass through passport control again, and then we paid a fricking lot of money for a hotel by the airport (there was a rush on them, what with that other huge flight also being canceled). All the while, frantically writing to friends back home who may be able to come over and search for the birth certificate.

Part of the hotel deal was a car to drive us to the hotel (a Mercedes! no wonder we paid so much), where the guy was nice enough but he also insisted on taking my backpack and putting it on a luggage cart on the way to the car, which we all promptly forgot to put into the car. So, as soon as we arrived at the hotel, T had to turn right around and go back to the airport with the driver, hoping that the bag was still there. In the meantime, W managed to run into the revolving door by himself and then stop the whole thing by getting his shoe (and himself) stuck in it. A kind stranger had to help me haul him out. Winning it all.

I cannot say enough about our friends, who rose to the occasion, and immediately went over to our house and waited patiently there until we got to the hotel and Internet access again since (of course) the birth certificate was not where I thought it was. At this point, I was reaching an actual panic point, since there was a very real possibility that they would not be able to track it down, and our entire SA trip would be scrapped (although, as T pointed out, we would then just stay in the UK, so not a total loss). Thankfully, a throwaway suggestion of where they could look turned to success, and as soon as I got the Facebook message from our dear friend, R, that stated "We have it," I felt myself relax.
Relax enough that I got my appetite back and tucked into a surprisingly good pork dinner at the hotel restaurant (poor T was trying to keep W from running around the very grown up restaurant and/or crawling under the table). At this point, I think we were all out of fucks.

Regardless, the awards go the our friends, especially R and J (J, who then drove to Kinko's to scan the certificate and then email it to us), who saved the goddamn day.

Beyond that, the hotel was quite lovely and comfortable (worth the fortune it was!), and we were relatively fresh for our flight to Johannesburg, which we boarded without issue with our necessary documents in hand. That flight (10 hours and change) was relatively painless as well, since it was another overnight flight.

Passport control again in J-burg (at least 30 minutes of waiting and significant coaxing and wheedling  of the three year old = more pain).

Then pick up luggage before checking it in again.

Then find out that someone in London effed up the booking up this last flight, so we could either call them and try to get them to fix it or we could pay $20 there and get it worked out. We were immediately $20 poorer.

Then security again. More wheedling of kid involved.

Then waiting two hours for flight. Wheedling. Coaxing.

Then board bus to small plane.

Then try to drag kid toward plane on the tarmac. (There were many points where I was ready to just abandon the kid where he was since he seemed to really be intent on not moving, and why-not-just-make-it-easier-for-all-of-us-and-give-him-what-he-wants?, but then I would tell myself that that would be not so good. This particular time, on the tarmac in front of the plane in J-burg, trying to pull the fighting kid toward the plane, was...not a high point).

Last leg was J-burg to Hoedspruit, which was a short flight in a tiny plane. T bit the bullet and sat with the kid, and I got to sit alone and pretend that I wasn't caring for a tired three year old.

Finally, we landed in Hoedspruit, where the airport was about the size of our house back home, and our luggage was brought from the plane by a tractor that pulled in front of us (efficient and quick!). There we met my Dad, our journey there came to a close, and our real vacation was beginning.

Reading that probably felt as long and as painful as the trip, but I really wanted to remember this for future reference.