Published: September 13th 2009July 30th 2009
I set off for Africa yesterday. I got through Heathrow fairly quickly although take off was slightly delayed. Our pilot was a very cheerful chap who chatted away to us over the loud speakers and gave us what was a cross between a guided tour and a weather report... 'now as we take off into the dark cloud ahead you'll be able to see Heathrow's new terminal 5...' As we finally took off and began the long flight to South Africa he kept it up... 'and to your left you'll see cloud and on our right is, well, more cloud, and rain, we're just surrounded by cloud now.' Eventually he gave up and moved onto the safety instructions including the rather humourous 'for safety reasons we do not recommend sleeping in the aisles'!
The flight was long and uncomfortable. Something had gone wrong with my request for a vegetarian meal so it took forever to actually get anything to eat. Since we were flying overnight I was at least looking forward to a good rest before arriving in Johannesburg but I wasn't so lucky. The man in the next row snored like a pig. A cliche perhaps but there's no other
way to describe it. He snuffled and wheezed and every few minutes gave a tremendous snort that woke me up even when I managed to ignore the rest. I finally jammed earphones into my ears, pulled my sleep mask down and wiggled under the blanket and managed to get maybe three or four hours sleep.
We were woken all too soon by bright lights and bustling cabin crew. I was slightly mollified by the sight of the sun rising on the horizon as we flew over Botswana, a huge red disc shimmering as it spilled light over the dark land. We eventually landed in Johannesburg, our cheery pilot wishing us a pleasant stay and hoping we got the shut-eye he didn't. I got through the airport smoothly. For once my bag appeared promptly on the carosel at baggage reclaim and I was ignored by security staff and practically waved through customs. As I walked out I was asked by a member of staff if i was being met by relatives or a taxi. When I said I still needed to phone my hostel he took the muber from me, called from his mobile and arranged my pickup for me! He
pointed me in the direction of Terminal B where he said my taxi would meet me and sure enough a bare 10 minutes later a car pulled up to take me to the hostel. As I made a move to pick up my rucksack the driver took it for me and a porter appeared from nowhere and wheeled my trolley away. I don't think I've ever had such an easy arrival to a country!
I got to the hostel and unfortunately had a two and a half hour wait until my room was ready for me. I slumped on a sofa in the living room area along with a French family dozing over their suitcases. I finally got to my room which is reasonable. I have the craziest bathroom ever. It is a tiny space by the door, barely three steps in and one across. It has a curtain instead of a door and the shower is placed on the wall between the sink and toilet. So when I want a shower I step in, pull the curtain across and switch on the water. The shower sprays across the entire space so as I wash my hair the sink and
toilet get a good lathering and rinse too! I suppose it must save time on the housework! As if that weren't starnge enough I also appear to have an ultra-violet light above the sink as it makes everything white glow blue. Not only does my bathroom clean itself it also gives me a disco experience while in the shower!
The worst thing about my room is it is cold. Although the weather is lovely and warm in the sun, it is the South African winter and the nights are cold. While I expect my room is a blissfully cool retreat in summer it's not very comfortable at the moment and I am wrapping up in my fleece indoors, even though the sun is warm outside.
I settled into my room and unpacked a bit, then decided to explore the local area. I walked to my door, turned the key... and the lock didn't open. I pulled and pushed, twisted and wiggled but I couldn't get the door open. I struggled with it for some time and craned my head out of the window looking for someone who could rescue me. When I realised no-one was in sight I decided I'd
just have to rescue myself and climb out of the window. It was quite a challenge! Standing on the bed I was only just able to get my leg up so high, and the window is really only just big enough for a reasonably small person to get through. While I was disappointed there was no-one around to rescue me I was relieved no-one saw me rescuing myself...skirt hoiked up around my waist, pushing the window open with my head while sitting astride the ledge one leg kicking at pillows in an attempt to push myself up and the other waving wildly out the window. Not one of my more elegant moments! I finally managed it, dropped to the ground below while the windowswung back down with a crash, and ran barefoot to reception for help. The man at reception returned to my room put the key in the lock, and the door swung open for him! There's definitely a gremlin in the works!
Feeling a little embarrassed I gathered my things and got a map from reception and set off for the local shops and internet cafe. The local area seems quite nice, well kept residential home seither side of a wide dirt road. However the fact that the hostel is surrounded by fencing and an electric gate, the nearby houses all have bars on the windows and barbed wire on the tops of the walls, and my map gives directions to local places with the note 'safe to walk in daylight' makes me wonder just what this place is like after dark!
The roads are quiet around here and all the locals seem to think nothing of strolling down the middle of the road. I probably looked a bit silly as I initially avoided the wide dirt streets and stumbled over the tussocks of grass which take the place of pavements. After I lost my shoe twice I walked on the road like everyone else.
I finally found the internet cafe and got a full hour for a mere 10 Rand. A mother wandered in with her two children, the younger tied about her waist with an old towel. As I emailed home the two children took an interest in what I was doing. The older boy stood on tiptoes beside me and kept saying in broken English 'press this', click here, yes, now'. Judging from the places he was pointing he thought I should be looking at adverts for South African loans!
I returned to the hostel and spent the last few hours of daylight in the garden before retreating to my room for an early night.