Welcome to South Africa

Johannesburg has one of the worst Passport Controls we have ever encountered in 43 countries. There are six lines for South African passport holders, three for other African states, and only two for all other countries. For heavens sake, this is a tourist Mecca, give us some credit here and have more lines for the rest of us. Strangely, they do not even want the people from most other African countries coming into the country, so why so many lines? Our designated lines were horrendously long, winding this way and that, taking over an hour to get our passports stamped. This is not unlike our experience from last year, so nothing has improved in a year’s time. After finding our little bags and one suitcase we will leave with friends in Cape Town, we walked from the International terminal to the Domestic terminal. We will continue on to Cape Town in an hour, so we make our way to the relaxed and well equipped Diners Club lounge. It is not only spacious, but beautifully decorated, and there is a well filtered smoking room. Due to Passport Control, we only had 35 minutes to enjoy it. Children are playing games on the two computers, so e-mails from here will not be going out. None of the porters that usually mangle tourists to assist with the luggage for a tip dared come near us. From the way I was clutching my bag, they must have thought I had a gun, not realizing it was cold hard cash. From Jo’burg to Cape Town, Gellé found us tickets on Nationwide Airlines based out of South Africa. The plane, a 737, was spacious for the number of people aboard and the service was excellent. The flight was close to two hours with a snack being served. This was an add-on flight because we had originally planned on taking a tour from Jo’burg, but that was three mangled tour plans ago and credit card balances changed a number of times from then to now. E-tickets are certainly taking hold. All of our tickets for short and long hauls were paperless. The only paper we had were our boarding passes. When there are lots of details involved with a trip, I get nervous that something is going to go wrong. I think of that old movie West World where nothing can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong… Thanks to Gellé at Go2Africa, we were met at the Cape Town airport by Elaine from Backpackers shuttle service to transport us to the Ashanti lodge for our first night. This new group that we are joining have already left Cape Town today. They all arrived last night and had their first night in Cape Town. Elaine had our names on a board and I had our voucher in hand, but she insisted it was all taken care of and did not need it. I chuckled thinking how in other countries, they would have wanted it in triplicate, and stamped with six stamps showing it is official. After finding her two other riders, we were on our way to Ashanti. We had stayed at Ashanti for a week last year and were impressed, so this year, we thought we would try their guest house, which is not in the main building. We loved the main house, but the party people can be too much after a long day’s travel and we have another long day in a car tomorrow. The tour company wanted us close in town or we would have spent the night with our friends Don and Patricia. The guesthouse is around the corner from Ashanti’s main building, in a historical monument building. There was no explanation on the plague imbedded into the wall near the door as to why it is considered historical, so I will take their word for it for now. The building has a wraparound porch from the front door to the right back of the house. The security-gated front door protected a sturdy wooden door with a huge brass knob. The entry hall has a magnificently polished golden amber floor with different rooms off of it . Our room, number six was the second door on the right. Beautifully decorated, in African motif, this expansive room was luxuriously comfortable; it even boasted a fireplace. One bed was king size with an additional twin. Even with two beds in the room, there was still plenty of living space. In one corner, there was a seven-foot high wraparound wall, which hid the bathroom and the shower. The shower was a small semi-circle, which the sliding door came off when it rounded the bend in the track. After being refreshed, we called Patricia and Don. Don came to fetch us to join them for dinner. We had met Patricia and Don last year for the first time, then they came to Budapest in May of this year. (See the archives in this blog for the day by day stories). Don wrote an article for GetAway magazine on the trip, the city, and our B and B. They exude the feeling that we have been close friends for years, and we always feel welcomed and cared for when with them. We finally were able to meet their son Gaelen and their daughter Romaney as well as her boyfriend Brent. All three are charming young people who are comfortable with all people is seems. They are as welcoming as Don and Patricia and are intellectual delights. Patricia made a splendid dinner and in spite of our exhaustion, we by being amongst good friends again was enough to recharge our souls. Don mentioned that he hoped we would not be amongst a group of 23 year olds drinkers on this trip, since trips like this seem to draw this crowd. I think my face falling was enough for him to add “You guys know how to separate yourselves from the crowd, so just do it.” Sounds like a Nike commercial to me, but it did add to my concerns about this venture. After much fanfare, Don drove us back again for a good night’s sleep. We have a taxing day tomorrow to catch up with the group.