Some things just can’t wait, so this post is a little out of order. However, I think (hope) you will enjoy it.
Our flights home consist of: (all times local times)
- Johannesburg to Addis Abada leaving 11:00pm arriving 5:05am – 5hr flight time
- Addis Abada to Seoul leaving 11:35pm arriving 4:55pm – 10:40hr flight
- Seoul to Seattle leaving 6:30pm arriving 12:40 pm – 10:10 hr flight
- Seattle to Vancouver leaving 3:05pm arriving 3:59pm – 54 minute flight.
What could possibly go wrong?
We arrive at the Johannesburg Airport with lots of time. It isn’t like Vancouver though. The check in gates are behind a divider and there is no indication of which airline is where. We ask the information desk where to go and he says “Go back and turn right at third opening.” Very helpful. We ask a military looking fellow and he says “Through here and go to desk 91” We’re at desk 27.
We get to desk 91 and he says – “Desk 99” so we line up behind 3 other business class passengers. (Did I mention we are doing this whole round the world flight on points in business class? Well, we are.) We wait, we wait and we wait some more. I have no idea, other than incompetence on the agent’s part why it took so long to process 3 people. When it is finally our turn (15 minutes later) I understand that the reason was, in fact, either a total lack of interest in doing the job or the aforementioned incompetence or perhaps a peasant mixture of both.
He asks our final destination and we say Vancouver. (Ed. Note: Should have totally messed with his head and said Penticton. Sigh, lost opportunity.) I ask if the bags will be checked all the way through to Vancouver, since we have an 18 hour layover in Addis Abada where we will be leaving the airport for the day. “Yes, yes of course.” He then prints off the luggage tags and affixes them to the bags. We notice they will only get as far as Seoul, so we ask if we have to pick them up since we only have 1:30 in Seoul. A little light goes on and he rips them off and prints out new ones with all the flights on them and getting them all the way to Vancouver. Let’s just say that Terry is highly suspect of that actually happening.
(Ed. Note: As we are checking in I look over to see a 60” TV box and a 58” TV box in line to be checked. The agent is on the phone asking what the size limit is now – it changes everyday it seems.)
Ethiopia Air has a great deal. If you are on two “connecting” flights but your layover is anywhere from 8 to 23 hours, they will put you up in a hotel, provide you with breakfast lunch and dinner (with a glass of wine included) for free. We ask the fellow about that and he says yes, but that we have to approach the transfer desk in Addis Ababa (A.A. from here on). And off we go to the lounge to kill an hour or so.
We find the second hottest (the first was in Cairo – so hot we left and went out into the general terminal) lounge we have come across. Terry is stripping off clothes and wandering around trying to find a cool(er) spot and finally finds one.
An hour later we board and find that our seats are up against the rear bulkhead and only recline minimally. This may be just a first world problem but its OUR first world problem.dammit. We ask if we can move to any of the other 4 empty business class seats and he very nicely says yes. Now the bulkhead is in front of us and there isn’t a lot of room plus, you know how they say put your seat in an upright position for take-off and landing? Well, when I do that and lean back the seat reclines. I keep waiting for someone to say something, but the flight crew is too busy chatting to notice anything like that. 5 hour flight – Terry gets 3-4 hours sleep, Geoff watches Mary Poppins and Aquaman (highly recommend both. LOL).
We arrive in A.A. and go to the transfer desk where there is one woman working and four or five chatting and having coffee. It is 5:15am. There are two men ahead of us. What appears to be African work ethic is on display. I swear she must have been playing solitaire on that screen because all she seemed to do was to stare at it. At 5:50, it is our turn. Remember when I said that we would get a free hotel? This is the place. One would think you look at the boarding passes, check a name print off the voucher and say have a nice day. No. Stare at the screen for five minute and then say “Where are your hotel vouchers?” We say that we were told in Johannesburg we would get them in A.A. “The system tells me you have them, that they were issued in Johannesburg.” We say no, that didn’t happen. A colleague of hers passes by and says Happy Birthday. I say is it your birthday? Happy Birthday. She smiles and says she can print them off for us. Catch more bees with honey…
We go outside and wander aimlessly for a few minutes before spotting where the hotel shuttle will pick us up. It is now 6:30. At 6:55 the shuttle shows up and takes us to The Skylight Hotel. It is now 7:05 and we are at a beautiful five star hotel, opened on January 27, 2019 so it hasn’t had time to deteriorate.
We attempt to have a nap – futile. At 11:45 we decide to go for lunch. I did a little research and the Merkado, largest open air market in Africa is about 30 minutes away by car. We manage to communicate with the concierge that we want to go and can he arrange it with a guide (strongly, strongly recommended). At 2:00 Ashu shows up. Now everyone has been telling us how big it is and they weren’t wrong. We first drove around the outside. I’m thinking it is likely 8 city blocks square and a total rabbit warren of “streets” lanes and pathways. Within it are vegetable markets, metal markets, tire markets, recycling markets, coffee markets, banana root markets, housewares markets, horse supply markets, spice markets, rent-a-donkey markets and thouands of people. But more on the Merkado later. This post is about transportation.
After the market, a shower and dinner we go to the lobby to catch the shuttle. We were told to be downstairs at 9:25. At 9:05 I see people with suitcases piling out of a van and the bellboy come to get a woman waiting in the lobby with a suitcase. I go over and ask if it is the shuttle. Yes it is and we get in. The woman is flying to Toronto and was told the shuttle would pick her up at 8:55. Go figure.
We haven’t mentioned driving in A.A. but think insanitymultiplied by no driver trainingand them multiply that by “the Chinese should get awards for their driving prowess” and you get a rough ides of what it is like. There are marked lanes but think of four cars abreast in those lanes and the guy on the left right wants to make a left turn so he’s coming across while the guy in the third “lane” wants to make a right turn. It is mayhem. We come to a roundabout. In Africa they drive on the left hand side of the round so when you come to a roundabout, the traffic flow should tell you to go right. Not our driver. He turns left, avoid the roundabout and starts driving down the divided road to the airport. Only problem is he is driving down the wrong side of the divided road straight into oncoming traffic. It was like he had decided to do one of those murder-suicide things and we were the victims. Unbelievable. Terry was more than a little choked, but we arrive at the airport safely.
We get out and start up some stairs from the parking lot to the terminal. Nope, we cant go there – we have to go around and then we see why. There is a line outside the terminal with security just inside where you have your bag x-rayed etc. This is a first. Luckily there are two lines – the VERY lengthy economy line and the lengthy business class line and we are through in just under half an hour (after taking our shoes off which Terry detests, particularly given the state of floor cleanliness) and we head upstairs to the lounge. Before we can get there though we encounter airport mayhem like nothing we have ever seen before I have no idea how many people were in there, but it was more than Trump had at his inauguration! We manage to find the lounge. We might have stayed in the general terminal. Hot, no seats and no internet. Every few minutes an agent comes wandering through to announce what flight is boarding now. “Rome, Milan, New Delhi”, “Nairobi, Washington DC” “Frankfurt, Seoul” Wait that’s us. Our boarding pass says Gate 8, but a woman tells us “No, go to gate 22. We have a special gate” Okay, whatever the hell that can mean. We get there and lo and behold we have to go through a second security check. Poor Terry, she’s exhausted, hot and uncomfortable but trying to maintain a smile and calm demeanor. Nevertheless, she almost loses it when three or four people are hurried through by someone. We get through and are told to sit in an area. Then they start calling for business class passengers for “Nairobi” they go forward, get checked in, placed in an elevator and are never seen again. Then it’s the folks off to Rome and Milan. Finally it’s our turn. We get into the elevator, drop a couple of floors and get in a bus marked “Business Class”. Off we go to the plane. Apparently while we were being entertained, all the economy class had been herded up and loaded.
We drop into our wide, fully reclining, personal entertainment centre seats and are immediately offered champagne and orange juice. Aahh, flying business class, don’t you just love it.
I can’t wait to see if the luggage ever shows up.
What could possibly go wrong? Remember that early on?
Well the flight to Seoul was great – I got about 7 hours sleep with atavin and my happy pills kicking in nicely. Landed in Seoul early and then sat and sat and sat. Now we had a scheduled 90 minutes but with getting in early we added 25 minutes to that, so even with sitting on the tarmac for 35 minutes we still had loads of time, you’d think.
Then we are first off the plane. Aces. Then we run into four officious women who say we have to fill out a health form – we aren’t staying. No matter fill it out! Damn officious people.
Then we get to the gate. The less than capable agent in Johannesburg hadn’t given us boarding passes for the Seoul-Seattle leg –“Our systems don’t match. You will have to get it there.” So we go to the gate. “Oh we can’t give you a boarding pass, you must go to the transfer desk. This is third floor. Go all the way back down concourse and up to fourth floor. Look for Transfer Desk B.” By now it is approaching 5:35 – flight boards at 6:15. Away we go. The woman at the transfer desk very helpful, very friendly, but wants to see our previous boarding passes and the luggage tickets. Oh oh. We get back and here we are on the plane.
The purser is very nice and asks what she can do to help. I say “Single malt scotch.” She says “Really?” I say yes. She then misunderstands and brings one for me and one for Terry. Things are looking up. An atavin, my happy pill, dinner and 4 ounces of whiskey and I’ll be lucky to wake up in 10 hours in Seattle.
Still could be The Case of the Missing Luggage.
Here we are at Sea-Tac, – our 16th visit to an airport on this trip – just one more and we’ll almost be home. Flight was good, got lots of sleep. Feel semi-rested, but tired. We get off the plane and get to the Global Entry kiosk “Have you got all your luggage?” No – its been checked through to Vancouver. “You have to pick it up here and then recheck it over there.” Bizarre, so we go back to the carousel. At least we’ll know if it had made it this far. We wait. All the “Priority Loading” luggage goes past. Then the general luggage goes past and there is LOTS of it. It keeps coming and coming and finally, just when I am about to concede defeat, Terry spies hers! Then mine and then the last one! Hurrah! We take them, go through customs again and recheck them. Now we have to go through security again and- surprise, surprise they are slow. Plus we have to remove shoes and – a new one – ipads. Mine goes through and then the guy asks if my camera bag has a camera. Yes it does. He has to rerun it. Sigh. And now we are at the gate – the furthest gate in the world from where we started. We are waiting with everyone else – we aren’t flying business class for the last flright so no lounge for us! How unfair.
I am reluctant to post this since we could still have more adventures but I think I’ll give it a shot.
But here is a little treat for you and me. When we got on board the A.A. to Seoul flight there was a airline pilot in the seat next to me. We got chatting and he said that he was one of the three pilots on board – they rotate through in order to get some rest. Anyway, part way through the flight I look out and see the Himalayas. I ask the flight attendant if I could give my camera to one of the captains to get some photos and she says she will ask but comes back and says it is too late, we have already past them. Damn. A few minutes later though my new friend – Captain Girma Negash Lemma comes back to show me the photos he took on his ipad. He sent them to me and here they are – the Himalayas from the air on a spectacular day. He said he had never seen them looking so spectacular – and he’s been flying for over 35 years. Enjoy.
Next time: We return to safari land