Ever been told you travel a lot! Or ever experienced this feeling that i have been in this hotel room even though you are in a completely new country and its your first time checking in that hotel.
Ever been accused of travelling too much. More often, when someone says, “you travel too much” with me, it normally comes out as a criminal charge and not a compliment. In some rare cases, it sounds like an achievement. I have been accused of this crime, a number of times. Makes you wonder, when does one “fit the profile” and deserve to be charged with travelling too much. Is it 3 countries, maybe 5, say 20. Who knows? Do cities count or countries are the unit of measurement?
Travelling is a very enriching experience. It opens up your world, removes personal boundaries and stretches your imagination. You are wondering where i am going with all of this. Dont wonder too much, this blog is about my first long haul flight and how i survived and lived to tell the tale.
My first long haul trip was 5 hour 50 minutes and it was from Swaziland to Nairobi, Kenya. Above is the first photo i took from Kenya in 2011. Its very shady and im barely visible. The most important thing about this photo is that i can see myself, (Please insert massive grin).
By the time i had to take my first long haul flight, i had been on a plane before, 4 times flying from Swaziland to South Africa via Swaziland Airlink. Its a short flight of 40 minutes and they only have one plane for this journey, and you can book a flight through this link https://www.flyswaziland.com/. They use the Embrarier ERJ 135,
twin-engine jet produced by Embraer, a Brazilian aerospace company. The Airlink fleet of planes is very old with no in flight entertainment, just your thoughts floating between 27 000 and 35 000 feet. The in flight magazine called SAWUBONA can be quite a treat if you read it the first time. However if you are a frequent traveler, lets just say bring your own magazines to read. Publications seemingly get replaced after 4 months on the plane and thats by my own estimation.
On my first long haul, i was still expecting a small jet with enough appetite to consume the journey from Johannesburg to Nairobi. On my first long haul flight, Airbus or Boeing might as well have been dinosaurs that got extinct 50 million years ago. By then, i had limited understanding of airlines, airports and planes. Now SAA has a fleet of 50 planes mainly the Airbus A319, 320, 330 and 340. The planes are in good condition and are very pleasant to fly in. SAA service is one of the best carriers in Africa with a sound reputation. The 3 major carriers with a good reputation across Africa are SAA, Kenyan and Ethiopian airlines. Do not by any standards compare this airlines with the Gulf carriers, i mean “service” here is being qualified in African terms. My brothers and sisters across Africa know what i mean…
This particular flight from Swaziland to Nairobi became a delayed flight and commenced from Matsapha International Airport which has now been converted into a military base. The flight was to leave Swaziland at 5.10 pm and by 5.50 pm we would have landed at OR Tambo. My connecting flight to Kenya was at 7.45 p.m. However we ended up leaving Swaziland at 6.00 p.m due to crappy weather as i was made to understand by the announcements on the intercom and landed at OR Tambo at 6.40 p.m. From the entrance of the terminal building at OR tambo to immigration control, was a full sprint and a lot of sorries, excuse me, maam, please and get the phu** out of the way. I was sprinting because i didn’t think i had enough time to make it to the boarding gates of the connecting flight. I had an hour to make it to the boarding gates and OR Tambo is quite a huge airport, i didn’t think ill make it.
When people think travelling, all they think and believe is this image below i took in the Geza pyramids in Egypt. Travelers dont want to even think about immigration controls, missing flights, and long lines to get your passport stamped. For a first timer about to embark on a 5 hour flight, such information might prove be a matter of life and death. Most bloggers share details about their final destinations, not so much about the stories inside airport terminals and making it a minute before they close a boarding gate.
So, after immigration control, i bolted to the boarding gates. For a first timer on his first international trip, getting the location of your gate is crucial and requires a well trained GPS specialist with enough Intel on locating coordinates. My coordinates were Gate A14 if my memory is still operating at maximum peak. Gate A14 at OR Tambo is hidden behind some shops and follows a narrow passage stretching for kilometers on end.
OR Tambo can be intimidating and thanks to the signs all over, you can always figure out where to go. There are information kiosk with immigration officers ready to assist passengers. PRIDE and EGO have been known to render such information kiosk useless. “If im good enough to travel, then im good enough to know my way around”.
By the time i reached my gate, some lovely dark haired lady working for SAA had been blasting my name on the intercom threatening me with severe repercussions for delaying. This is the last boarding call for the Indigenous African Nomad. Airport emigration officials representing different airlines dish out threats all the time. The penalty is always the same, your bags offloaded and you negotiating with an airline representative to put you on the next available flight. Now thats a protracted negotiation. If you have ever missed your flight, negotiating to be put on the next available flight is one experience you dont want in your diary or memoirs. The experience of missing a flight has left a trail of destruction in its path; from broken hearts, missed weddings, delayed vacations, sleeping in shady hotels, airlines refusing with coupons, dodgy expensive airport hot dogs etc. The list is endless!
Back to me, in all this mayhem (rushing to make it to the plane), i was still excited and wanted to see Kenya, the heart of Africa. It was my first time so far away from home and i was going to make the most of it. Below is my second photo i took at the entrance of KICC in Nairobi, Kenya.
Having final made it to the gate, we boarded the plane and first thing i noticed was how big it was. I still have the boarding pass from that flight but I was lazy to look for it and locate the details of the flight i took. This would have helped me explain which Airbus we used from the SAA fleet. All i can share is that it was a huge Airbus, Okay! As i entered the plane following other passengers, i saw everyone kept looking up, and i also looked up. Seat numbers, perfect. Located mys eat and it was an aisle seat. The seat was a blessing and allowed me to stop the busy air hostesses and ask for toilets, water or anything. There was this one air hostess that took my fancy and wished i could ask her all sorts of questions, about her smile, her favorite colour, food, drink and if she would consider marrying me. Fate had other ideas.
This particular plane had no in flight entertainment on the back of the seats and I slept for the better part of the journey. Those annoying screens above our heads are just mean and im glad most airlines got rid of them. They are some ambitious airlines out there that still dont offer in flight entertainment. War unto you!
In Kenya, i was booked at the Silver Spring hotel and upon landing at JKA in Nairobi, after being done with the “What is the purpose of your visit questions”, I had to figure my way to the hotel. Now i had seen something along the lines of airport shuttle in the emails from the hotel and didn’t think much of it, till i saw a guy carrying my name as i exited the airport. I named that guy “god” and he worked for the hotel. He was my savior after all.
When you exit an airport terminal, noone tells you that, “hey there will be hundreds of people carrying suitcases and backpacks moving in all sorts of directions”. Also noone tells about the hundreds of other hotels with shuttle services carrying all types of names. I recall seeing Dick Williams in one of the placards. I wish someone could have said,”Nomad remain composed, walk slowly and look for the guy carrying your name when you exit an airport terminal”.
“God” carried my bags to the shuttle and off we went to see Nairobi. “God” started to explain to me about the traffic in Nairobi. This was on our way to the hotel. “God” said a lot about traffic, corrupt cops, potholes, ill working traffic lights and a lot of other funny stuff. I wasn’t paying much attention to what he was saying, i concluded that he was feeling chatty. I was busy peeking through the windows looking at Nairobi, her posture, her beauty, her old buildings that had seen better days. She was a treasure, recently found, waiting to be explained by archaeologists and historians. Who was she, how did she grow up, who ravaged her, who restored her, the governors who had cared for her and all the history behind.
“God”continued and explained along the drive that i was lucky to arrive at night when the traffic was kinder and it was easy to make it to the hotel. For a god though, his driving was okay for the most parts of the journey but sometimes plain reckless. Gods are caring creatures that are omni present and strive in protecting and or preserving human life. Gods driving was not preserving or protecting, it was close to taking away lingering on the famous 3 letters “RIP”. Anyways i have learnt over the years that Kenyan driving is shady at best. No respect for traffic laws. They just wing it based on the traffic in front of them. The scooters are just a nuisance in most cases.
So, before you take that first long trip, my advice seek “professional help” from the traveled too much brigade. Anyways Trip advisor and travel blogs are in their thousands now and can be very helpful.