It was a glorious day, warm, but not excessively so making it the perfect day to do something different. A friend of ours, another ex-pat suggested we try the chair lift some time, claiming the scenery from the top was like none other in the city. We called one of my students, Balazs, who likes to practice is English with every opportunity. He admitted he had a severe fear of heights, but would join us anyway. This is a different Balazs then the nephew Balazs. We call this one “Junior”. The nephew arranged for this Balasz to be our year ‘replacement’ interpreter/translator/friend/nephew while he is in the States for a year.
Taking a detour, we have booked another trip to Africa. This year, we are going to South Africa, then Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and then back to South Africa. For all of my travel knowledge, I screwed this up badly. Our friend in South Africa had suggested a trip that starts in Victoria Falls on the Zambia side and then ends in Cape Town. When I contacted the agency, I was warned that a decision needed to be made soon, since it would be over Christmas and bookings are fill fast. With this in mind, we went to the travel agency to book our flights. Fly into Johannesburg from Budapest and then out of Cape Town. For my entire Internet searching, manipulating, and coercing, I could not beat the fare the travel agency had found so we bought the tickets.
Here is where the first blunder started. I should have checked more tour companies before buying the tickets. As it was, we did not like the tour suggested. It was short, more than we had planned on spending, and most nights were spent in sleeping bags on the ground. My last days in a sleeping bag were in Boy Scouts and I vowed then, never again. Prompted by foreseeable back pain, lack of sleep, feeling grubby and grumpy, I surfed the Internet in search of other tours.
What I could not and still cannot justify in my mind is how poverty-stricken underdeveloped countries can be so expensive to tour through. Many of the agencies I tried contacting sent a responder message. “We received your inquiry and will respond as soon as possible.” For some, they fell into that black hole, I never heard back from them. Others did the hard sell, but still with sleeping bags on the ground for hundreds more dollars than the first tour suggested. Now we had tickets and no tour within our budget, what to do? More hunting, more searches, more pleading for cooperation and a reasonable cost, but to no avail, we had to rethink this situation. Here is where my travel IQ went plummeting. All of the other tours we checked into started from Cape Town and ended in Johannesburg. The complete opposite of the airline tickets we had purchased, based on the first suggested tour.
Searching, hunting, inquiring, networking, and bribing, was no use. All of the other tours were backward for our flights. After flogging myself with wet travel brochures, we groveled, gave in and booked a 21 day tour that exceeded the cost of any trip we had ever taken, putting my moniker budgetnomad on probation.
We booked a tour that starts in Cape Town the day after we arrive, goes through Namibia, then Botswana, and on to Victoria Falls in Zambia, leaving us there. Unless we intended to hitchhike from Victoria Falls to Cape Town, we had to book another flight . We also had to book a flight from Jo’burg to Cape Town at the start of the trip. I can handle the sound of lions roaring outside my accommodations, but the sound of a cash register cha-chinging in my head makes my blood run cold.
Many, many dollars later, a hefty balance on the credit card, and raw nerves we were now set to go. We have tickets from Budapest to Johannesburg, tickets from there to Cape Town for the same day, one night in Cape Town and then we start our 21 day tour. We end in Zambia, where we have a flight back to Cape Town and two nights there before flying home to Budapest. Since we have lovely friends in Cape Town, this hardly seemed like a reasonable amount of time to spend there with them. Originally with a nine day tour, we would have had so much more time.
We returned k to the travel agency to see how much it would cost to extend our time in Cape Town. I had a bad omen when she asked if we wanted to pay for our tickets today. While holding my breath, I said they were paid for already and have appeared on my credit card. Clearly and slowly, I enunciated we ONLY wanted to check on the cost of changing our return for a few days later. She asked which date we were thinking of, but there was no 2007 calendar around. Using our mobile phone’s calendar function, we arbitrarily stated January 15th. Again, I reiterated, we do not want to make any changes until we know the cost and give it some thought.
Her fingers were flashing over the keys of her computer’s keyboard, faster than a jaguar after its prey. She rose from her chair and walked away, returning with two sheets of paper that she handed to us. “This is your new itinerary.” She pleasantly utters. With this, I asked “How long do we have to decide on this before we actually make the changes?” The difference was $311.00 for both of us. She looks at me quizzically and states. “I made the changes.” What? What? I told you twice that we did not want to do anything, but gather information. What was going on in my head is not printable. When she realized her mistake, she tried backtracking to the original reservation. Opps! The seats were gone. We would have to be waitlisted if we wanted our original flights back. Now we have worked with this agency long enough to know this is not a scam they pull. This woman’s English was not suitable for dealing with English speakers. It was obvious by her co-worker’s face that he was disgusted with her performance. Acquiescing, we went with the flow of fate and paid for the changes, will concerns that any further negotiating, we would not have seats on any flights at all. Back on track again, we traveled the metro to the stop where we were to meet Balazs, and then the three of us took bus 156 to the end of the line arriving at the chairlift. Tickets are only 500 Huf each way, making this a bargain. The lifts are just like you see in the movies at ski resorts, but since I do not ski, I have never been on one before.
Balazs and I rode together; three to a seat was impossible. The scenery downward was treetops and bushes. We kept estimating how much bodily damage we would have with this breaking our fall. It was peaceful once we could beyond fear. At the top is a lookout spot, which Ron was determined to climb up. The road was about a ½ mile up on a ninety-degree incline. It kept me from having a cigarette on the way up, but had one at the top to celebrate making it. Once at the top of the hill is a memorial building which is 100 years old. Balazs was not translating the many word-filled posters with photos of years gone by. Ron had to climb to the top of this too for the view. I thought the view was just fine, but followed anyway. Flying ant like creatures filled the air at the top. When they landed bees or wasps, I am not sure what they were, attacked them. This kept the bee things from leaving me alone. They must have liked the smell of my shampoo; they kept going for my hair.
We had choices for the way down, but I wanted to do the chairlift again, this time riding alone. It was so peaceful. We then took the bus to the cogwheel and stopped at an out of the way café for a coffee. An excellent day! But a bit of disaster was to follow this evening. Apart from spending more money than we had anticipated, it was a day to live in our memories for some time. I have some air shots of the chairlift ride, but have to download them from the camera yet. Tonight, we were watching a show via the laptop computer. I had the laptop plugged in, but could not figure out why it was not showing on the television. One of those “Duh!” moments, I did not have the cable from the TV into the computer. However, the screen looked dim to me and I bought this computer specifically for the high density lighting for photo and video editing. Still in my “Duh!” phase no doubt, I could not figure what was wrong, but since we were watching the TV, it did not matter. After fifty minutes into the show, the balloon popped up on the computer screen warning the battery was running dry. That was why the screen was dim, but it was plugged into the socket, so it should not have been running on battery juice. Vroom, the computer went out like a date on rohypnol. Ron went to check the plug, plugged it into another outlet, the lights came and went with the movement, but then hiss, spark, sizzle, snap, crackle and pop. The power cord was shot. The computer is only 4 months old, but in Hungary, after 3 days after the sale, you are in the hands of the WARRANTY people. I have the number for Tosiba’s authorized fixer upper, but was assured they do not speak English. Tuesday is coming and classes start, so I have ready access to translators once again. There is no way to tell at this point if it damaged the computer or not. It is one of those wait and see games. The middle of the day was so great. I have to remember the chairlift peace and drift baccccccckkkkk.