In March of 2011 I had the amazing opportunity to spend two weeks in South Africa on my first of many African photography safaris. Traveling to Africa has always been one of the biggest dreams of my life as photography is my passion and my career. Africa has so much to offer and is one of the last places on earth to truly see wildlife in their natural habitat in the backdrop of some of the most amazing landscape you will ever see. I will chronicle my journey to Africa and everything that it entailed here on my blog for anyone that might share my interest in Africa, photography, and what it takes to get there, have a great time, stay out of trouble, and just have the time of your life. I hope you enjoy......
Day One- "Getting There"
If you live in the United States, and especially on the west coast you can plan on it taking a very long time to get to Africa. I left my home at 3:30am to get down to San Diego International Airport for my flight leaving through Delta. I arrived at the airport and after dragging my three bags (one computer, one camera, and the other (my clothes/food/medical supplies) I made it to the check in counter at Delta. Being a Platinum Medallion Member I am used to having heavy bags checked at no cost, and believe me with the way my wife packed my bag I could have survived the apocalypse.
When asked to put my bag on the scale I was amazed at just how heavy it was.....110 pounds. Typically I get 70 pounds for free with Delta, but what I didn't know was that they won't accept anything over 70 pounds....at all. Frantic that I will miss the flight I ask the ticket agent for any recommendations. She says, "Well, we can put it in a spare box if we can find one and hope it makes it." Realizing I had no other options I said, "Great, let's do it." So she found a box that was way too big for my stuff but it was all we had. I opened my suitcase leaving it on the scale and starting throwing my supplies into the cardboard box and kept going until the scale read 70 pounds for the suitcase. She then proceeded to take security tape and wrap up the box like a mom wraps a baby in a blanket. After she finished with the box she asked me for my visa to South Africa and I responded by saying I didn't need one. She said, "I hope you're right." Now, I had checked over and over again and was sure I didn't need one, but now I was second guessing myself. She said, "You could get there and be turned back if you're wrong. But it's your decision if you want to risk it." I said, "I'm going."
I managed to grab this image with my blackberry....
This box was so flimsy it was either I risked it and got to Africa or missed the flight. I said a quick prayer asking that it would have some angel assistance in making it and headed to security. The delay with the box got me to my plane about 5 minutes before takeoff. Once on the plane they wanted to check my computer and camera bags which of course I refused which they didn't like. Typically I get on the plane first with Medallion members so I don't have an issue with overhead space. Since I was late that wasn't an option. A very kind man sitting behind me took pity on me (probably because my face was half swollen from an injury two days earlier), and offered to put one of my bags in his foot rest area. FINALLY, I was on the plane and headed there....already a small miracle.
My first flight took me from San Diego to New York JFK airport. I arrived at JFK and had a layover, got some food, bought a Samsonite universal travel electricity adaptor kit, arrived at my gate, and was ready to go. I even called Bank of America to remind them of my travel notification so they didn't block my card as they are infamous for doing. They assured me I would have no problems while traveling. I was happy and ready to take my next flight.
Well, that was before Delta did a gate change and didn't announce it. I was actually waiting in line to speak with the gate agent about my seat assignment when he said, "Sir, this isn't your gate, it's changed and our PA system isn't working for us to make an announcement. You're going to miss your flight because it's in an entirely different terminal that requires you to take a shuttle over the tarmac. You will have to stay the night here in NY and try again tomorrow."
I wasn't prepared for this and refused to believe I couldn't make it. So I ran with my bags to the shuttle and waited 10 excruciating minutes for it to arrive. It's amazing when you're in a hurry and you see other moving so slowly how it can just drive you crazy isn't it? So the shuttle took us over to the other terminal, and my flight was now supposed to be leaving in 5 minutes. I ran up the escalator to hear, "Last call for Amsterdam, doors are closing!" I yelled, "I'm coming, you better not close those doors!!" As I made it to the gate they took my ticket and I started walking through the jetway towards the plane. A gate agent said, "Sir, you need to hurry, the plane is leaving." I replied, "So stop talking to me about it, grab one of my bags and help me make it." He gave a look of dissatisfaction but did grab a bag and I made it on the plane.
I flew for 9 hours to Amsterdam on KLM (partner with Delta) and it was an enjoyable flight albeit the food wasn't very good. When arriving in Amsterdam I didn't want any further issues so I immediately went to my next gate and waited. I pulled up my computer, Skyped with my wife (kids were in bed), and waited. Well, in Amsterdam I wasn't aware that they do an entirely new security screening AT THE GATE. So, I got in line, went through security at my gate (that's a new one for me) and did make it onto the plane without incident.
I flew for another 11 hours to Johannesburg, South Africa. By the time I landed there total travel time was over 30 hours and it was around 11pm. My stomach turned as I went through passport control still nervous about the visa. The customs agent took my passport, asked me what I was there to do, and just stamped me in....easy as pie.
For the first time in my 30+ hours of traveling I had a HUGE smile on my face. I was actually IN SOUTH AFRICA!!! I grabbed a cart (trolley outside of the US) and looked for my luggage. When the entire plane full of passengers had retrieved their luggage and I was still standing there I became just a tad concerned. At this point it was past midnight and not much help available. An employee told me if I had anything fragile I had to check another carousel about 10 minutes away for my luggage. When I went over there I found my crappy cardboard box sitting there, still together, but clearly showed the wear and tear of travel with items hanging out the openings on the box only sticking to the security tape. I grabbed my box very relieved to find it, but still no suitcase. I went back to my original carousel and found a man who had grabbed my bag thinking it was part of a group. I was able to prove it was mine and off I was to customs.
With it being so late at night there weren't many people there and the customs agents were just joking around with each other. I was concerned they would look at my hideous box and have a problem with it. So as I passed them I did a little whistle to myself and they didn't even ask me to stop. SWEET! Off to my rental car!!
I had a reservation through Thrifty and everything was smooth until it came time to pay. Bank of America declined my card and of course they aren't open 24 hours a day. So using the phone at Thrifty I called the fraud line (which they tell you not to do unless your card is stolen, but it's the only 24-hour line offered by B of A). Something I love to do is make the banking agent stay on the phone until my charge is approved. I figure they have inconvenienced me enough so the least they can do is spend another 5 minutes on the phone so I don't have to call back. Once the charge went through I was at last relieved. The agent then asked what kind of coverage I wanted on the car. I told her the standard was fine but she said I should do the "SUPER" coverage. When I asked why she said, "Well, if you do the standard coverage it costs you less than the super, but we take a security deposit 5 times larger than if you do the super coverage. The deposit can take awhile to come off your card." I replied, "So you make it punitive for someone to choose the standard coverage so you can make more money with the super?" She actually smiled when I said that, almost admitting that was the case. I was reminded at this moment of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry was renting a car and got screwed. So when he was asked if he wanted the coverage he replied, "Yes I do, because I'm going to beat the ## out of this car." Thinking of this as I was talking to this young lady I smiled and said, "Yes, I will take the super coverage."
Well, Thrifty then told me they ran out of GPS units and they wouldn't have any until the next day. I showed her on my blackberry where it said I had one reserved and she replied, "I know, it happens all the time. When you make a reservation on Thrifty.com we don't get the GPS reservation requests on our end even though it shows on your end. We've told corporate and they can't fix it."
Flummoxed beyond all belief and exhausted I asked, "How am I supposed to find my hotel at 1am in a place I've never been?" She offered to write me directions which was nice and I proceeded to go to my car with a belief in myself that somehow I would find the hotel. I picked up my "Full size car" a Nissan Tilda which is a compact for US standards. I asked about an MP3 jack which all rental cars have in the US and was told that only the Mercedez Benz' had the MP3 jack available in South Africa. At that point I just needed to get to the hotel and sleep.
I left the airport driving on the left side of the road and after about 15 minutes of driving around found my hotel, The Airport Grand Hotel. I hadn't chosen a very ritzy place because I only intended on sleeping there for about 6 hours before leaving for Kruger in the morning. What I didn't know was that I'd be passing some "interesting" areas getting to the hotel with a bunch of teenagers wreaking havoc in the streets. I passed through the security of the hotel, had my luggage taken to my room, skyped my family real quick and went to sleep....
In all I left my home out of San Diego on Friday at 3:30am and didn't get to my hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa until Sunday at 2am. A very long journey even when you take into account the 10 hour time difference, with S. Africa 10 hours ahead of California.