To Africa and Back
I remembered when I returned to the airport, I had seen an enormous plane that had two floors and all I could think was, Please don’t let that be my plane.
And now here I was, happy to be boarding that monster, or any plane at all for that matter. I was just relieved I hadn’t missed it. In 11
short hours, I would be in South Africa!
My seat had been tagged with a piece of tape, just like before, to denote that I had requested a vegetarian meal. I sat down, and the woman next to me quickly introduced herself as Lisette. She was smiling and cheerful, and we began discussing how we hoped no one would sit in the middle seat between us so we could put our bags there.
By the time the plane doors had closed, I had learned that Lisette lived in South Africa, but had just spent the past few months in Saudi Arabia. She was the first to notice that the doors had closed and we had extra room in the seat between us – we quickly loaded up the seat with our belongings.
Although the flight was long, talking with Lisette made it go by much faster. We chatted through dinner (which was served sometime around 1am,) and we were the last to finish so the lights could be turned out. We talked a while longer before shutting our eyes to get some sleep. By this time, I had been awake about 36 hours. And although I was exhausted, I couldn’t quite fall asleep more than drifting off for five minutes here and there.
The few hours of darkness on the plane while Lisette slept and I was unhappily awake seemed to drag on forever. I turned this way and that to get comfortable, but no luck. I thought that maybe if I just kept my eyes closed, my exhaustion would take over and I would fall asleep – again, no such luck.
The rest of the ride went by without being too eventful. Lisette was a great travel companion, and she made a hundred suggestions for me to see and do while I was in South Africa. When we finally landed and parted ways, she gave me her email address in case I needed anything. Unfortunately, I still haven’t been able to locate the paper I wrote it on – in any case, if by some chance you read this, Lisette, thank you for everything! I had a wonderful time in your beautiful country, and I’d love to chat again!
I had been up for nearly two days now with very little rest (I wouldn’t call my dozing off in the plane rest,) and yet, it wasn’t until the moment I stepped off the plane in Johannesburg that I began to feel unbearably exhausted. I struggled to keep my eyes open as I looked around for a place to eat. Maybe that would keep me up. I found my way to my gate (or, somewhere near it) and ordered some fish and chips. It wasn’t great on my stomach, and all the carbs made me even more tired. By this point, I could barely keep my eyelids open.
Customs was a nightmare. I had to have my passport checked and go pick up my enormously heavy baggage just to have it re-checked to Port Elizabeth. The line was considerably long for both tasks.
Finished with customs, I went to sit by my gate after lunch, and I struggled to stay awake to hear the boarding call to Port Elizabeth. The funny thing is, being in Johannesburg didn’t feel like being in Africa. Maybe it’s because I stayed inside the airport for my brief 3 hour layover, but even as I stared out the windows, it didn’t feel real. Where was the bushland? The mountains? Anything at all.
Where was Africa?
By the time I had finally boarded, I had never felt more tired. I fell asleep and woke back up twice before the plane had even taken off. Not real sleep, just the kind you doze in and out of. I have never fallen so easily in and out of sleep – ever. I fell asleep on the plane a few more times without even realizing it; unfortunately, it was during beverage service.
How do I know this? Before dozing off, I had seen the beverage cart behind me. When I woke up, the cart was about three seats in front of me – and everyone around me had their beverages.
Despite being under two hours, this was the longest flight. Every time I checked what time it was, only a few minutes had passed. I slipped in and out of sleep a few more times before we finally began our descent to Port Elizabeth.
The moment I landed in Port Elizabeth, I felt awake. Not bursting with energy, but awake. I thought perhaps it was a jolt of energy for finally having arrived at my destination, but I would later find out that Johannesburg is one of the highest commercial airports and my body was adjusting to the abnormally high altitude.
I landed earlier than planned, and when I walked outside to go into the airport, I was surprised at my surroundings. It was flat with a few trees and . . . nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that said Africa. Perhaps it was because I was at an airport.
I went inside to find that the sign for my shuttle to the hotel was for a Mister not a Miss, and the name was all wrong. I’m not sure how they got it so wrong, but when I said it phonetically, it sounded a bit like my name. It was only about a five minute ride from the airport to my hotel, the Beachwalk Bed & Breakfast. As we pulled in, I looked around at the homes, the streets, the ocean. The Indian Ocean.
Still, I wondered, where was Africa?