South Africa a Personal Journey: On the Road to Pretoria

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While in South Africa, I visited many neighbourhoods and townships around Johannesburg as well as outlying towns. After our visit to Soweto, we waited until the next day for Pretoria. My personal journey was all too quickly coming to an end. My excitement during the entire trip was tinged with disappointment that the stay would end so soon.

But it almost got extended by a pretty significant amount of time.

After finding out a wealth of information from the first interview that D and I conducted, I realised that this part of the world, besides being a fairly dangerous place to live if you didn’t know the rules, was fascinating enough to give me material for several news stories. I relayed that information to the paper and they agreed that perhaps I should stay longer. DiMarkco just needed to check a few things out.

He left the issue open and said that we would talk about it after my second interview, which was scheduled the next day.

The second interview, revealed even more things that were fascinating and opened up many other avenues of interest. After that day had finished, L and I rang the paper on Skype to report our findings.

Speaking to DiMarkco, our boss, he asked about the possibility of extending my stay. Did I have anything to stop me from staying longer, he asked. I replied that the only thing necessitating a return would be my heart medication. But first I needed to see if I could extend my ticket. After trying to do it over the internet, I gave up and finally called the airline.

The answer was a straight forward no. There was no room for negotiation, you flew back on the original day of booking or you bought another ticket. Buying another ticket was an option that DiMarkco had thrown out there so I checked prices and found that a one way flight from Johannesburg would cost more than the paper had paid to fly me out and back.

I relayed the information to the big guy and he asked if I could stay till the middle of the month. By that time we would have our money in from advertisers to fund the ticket back. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t bring enough heart medication with me and I couldn’t afford to go to a private doctor and purchase the replacements in South Africa. I would have to leave and then come back.

That meant that I had one more day to see everything I’d been sent to see. It also meant missing out on one of the biggest interviews that had been set up. But that was my fault as I’d incorrectly said I was leaving on Tuesday morning.  I was woefully out of practise in the world travelling department.

For someone who had, at one time, travelled quite frequently; I made a few errors. One was reading my return flight information incorrectly. I had decided in my infinite wisdom that I would be departing Johannesburg  on the Tuesday, but, I was departing Monday night and arriving back in the UK on Tuesday.  Then I misread the ticket again, and decided I was leaving in the morning and not at night!

There were two incidents that gave all  those around me (and me especially) abject heart failure. The lovely people who put up with me for the four days I was in South Africa, C and L, had planned a couple of special events for my stay. A South African barbecue one evening and a traditional stew the next. I wound up missing both due to the long days D and I were putting in. I did get to sample some “left overs” from the barbecue and it was delicious, even after being warmed up in the microwave!

One of the heart attack inducing moments took place in these lovely people’s home. I decided to get all my things organised so that when I packed up, I didn’t inadvertently leave anything behind. As I gathered medication and toiletries, I decided to clear out my wallet except for some Euro’s that I’d purchased in Amsterdam.

My room during my stay.
My room during my stay.

As I went through my wallet, I noticed that my credit card was missing. I stopped and immediately started searching my luggage. It wasn’t in my suitcase or my toiletry bag. I checked my wallet, trouser pockets, shirt pockets and even sifted through my dirty laundry pile. I then remembered that C had offered to wash my travel clothes.

Eureka! I just knew that the card would be in those two items.

Wrong. They were not. L was getting very concerned, he told me if I’d dropped it anywhere whilst we had been travelling around, I needed to get it cancelled immediately, if it was not already too late.  My anxiety level cranked up another notch or two and I began another close scrutiny of all my clothing once again. It was when I bent down that I remembered one place I had not checked.

I have a place where I keep all my important things when I travel. Passports, driving license’s and credit cards. I checked and sure enough, that was where I’d put the card. it had been so long since I’d travelled that I forgot to look there when I couldn’t find it in my wallet. Calling myself many very uncomplimentary names, I went out to inform C and L that the daft old bugger had found his card.

The relief I felt was shared by all.

The second thing I messed up, as I mentioned above, was the departure day of my return flight and then the times that I needed to be at the airport. All in all, I think I impressed everyone with my overwhelming ability to be an idiot!

Luckily, my newly discovered idiocy did not extend to my work and that was done reasonably well. I went to all the places I was meant to and took well over 1,600 pictures. Some, I have used on my blog posts, and many more are being lumped into places and shared with the writing team.

On the last day of my personal and professional journey to South Africa, I packed my bags, said goodbye to one of my hosts, C as L had gone to work already. I then took myself and my bags out to the vehicle and we started on our way to  Pretoria.

To be continued…

View of Pretoria from the Union Building.
View of Pretoria from the Union Building.

South Africa My Personal Journey (Continued)

English: South Africa (orthographic projection)
English: South Africa (orthographic projection) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was asked to make my personal journey to  South Africa by my employer in mid conversation while we had been speaking of our News Editor’s preparations to fly to the country from America. I had sent my boss, DiMarkco Chandler (co-owner and founder of the Las Vegas Guardian Express newspaper) an email a day or so earlier stating that despite my recent heart attack, that I would be happy to fly over and assist the editor if needed.

While we were discussing the exorbitant air fare, DiMarkco stopped and asked me, “How much would it cost for you to fly over to Johannesburg?”

“Probably about what it costs to send Graham,” I said. There was a short pause, and then DiMarkco said, “Find out for me how much it will cost and get back to me. I may send you instead.” I told him that I was on it and we ended the conversation.

I called one of the “cheaper” flights websites. Amazingly, it was half the cost of the American flight.

I rang DiMarkco back and passed the information over to him. He said, “That’s settled. You’re going…if you want to, that is.”

Before I could answer enthusiastically that I would go, he interjected, “Is there any reason why you can’t go?”

I assured him that I had nothing to prevent me from just packing a suitcase and jetting anywhere in the world.

That settled it. I was told to purchase the tickets while he acquired the funds and began transferring money into my account. I rang to book the flight and was immediately told that the first flight would include an 11 hour lay-over. This meant that I would lose an entire day. I had interviews starting the next day, so that flight would not do.

The entire time spent in South Africa was only to be four days. The article that we’re writing is time crucial so I could not afford to lose an entire day. I asked for another flight and, thankfully, the booking agent found one. An almost straight shot via Paris, with an hour and a half layover at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. The flight was booked and paid for.

In just 12 short hours, I would be on my way to South Africa in my first “live” assignment as a proper news journalist doing the “groundwork” for an investigative piece for my newspaper. In that short time, I needed to arrange to get inoculations for the trip and quickly gather together my laptop and iPad; clothes and passports; collect my “walking around” money and get to London Heathrow from the wilds of East Anglia.

Not too difficult, I thought, but it actually turned out to be much harder a task than I could have ever imagined.  In fact, my own personal journey to South Africa started with one obstacle after another being thrown up by fate, or whatever you want to call it, that seemed determined to halt my trip before if ever got started.

London Heathrow, Terminal 5, London, England
London Heathrow, Terminal 5, London, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problems started with the one injection I required to visit the suburban and more urban areas that I would be visiting. Hepatitis A was the only shot I really needed and after hearing that I would be leaving that evening, the nurse “fit me in” and gave me the required injection.

I have had these type’s of injections before and never had any sort of “severe” reactions.

Not this time. The “Hep A” shot kicked my rear-end and the rest of me with big hob-nailed boots and it took me ages to finish packing and I ended up ringing the doctor’s office when I got “light-headed” and started feeling a bit disoriented.

The doctor could see me at five o’clock, I was informed.  I explained that by that time, I would be on my way to London to fly out. Their concession was to change the appointment to four o’clock. Accepting that time, which was still cutting things too fine, I finished packing.

Then, as suddenly as they’d arrived, the symptoms disappeared and I jumped into high gear to finish packing. I rang for a taxi to the train station and purchased my ticket to London Heathrow. The travel time was expected to be a staggering two hours and 39 minutes to the airport and it was going to be very close; but it could be done.

So I thought.

I hadn’t allowed for “Sod’s Law” or Murphy’s Law.” On the way to London, an announcement over the train’s PA system informed  passengers that some poor unfortunate person had fallen under one of the trains in London’s underground system (subway) and that apparently, British Rail was working on every underground train line in London.

I knew that I was  in trouble when I boarded the tube train at Liverpool Street Station in London for the transfer to Paddington Station for the Heathrow Express Train. The underground trains were moving at a snail’s pace as time sped by, seemingly aided by anabolic steroids or speed.

English: The concourse of Liverpool Street sta...
English: The concourse of Liverpool Street station, London, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got on the wrong train at Paddington, although it was going in the right direction. A very helpful fellow passenger, explained that the train following was the right one. If I got off at the next station, I could catch that one and get to Heathrow.

I had “checked-in” on-line at home before I left that afternoon. My luggage check in time was to stop at 1930 (or seven-thirty p.m.) and when I checked the time after catching the right train, it was 1922. There was no way that I was going to get my luggage checked in.

Once I got to Heathrow, another helpful chap told me to put my “work” gear in my small suitcase and take it on board with me. I quickly combined the contents of the two bags and started running for the lift (elevator) that would allow me to check in. After the lift stopped at each of the four floors to the sign-in desk, I leapt out  and, again, ran for the desk.

Two ladies stood talking to each other at the sign-in area. KLM employees who were relaxing after getting all the passengers on board the flight to Paris.

All the passengers, bar one.

Me.

They looked at my boarding pass and sadly shook their heads.

“No sir,” they said, “the plane is already closed for boarding and about to get into position for taxiing down the runway.

I’d missed my flight by mere minutes, despite my desperate running and sweating. Seeing my obvious dismay, one lovely lady said, “There is our ticket desk, they’ll be able to help you. You need to hurry though as they are about to close for the evening.”

I ran like the devil was chasing me and stood in front of a frosty looking older lady who was working busily on her computer terminal. I explained my situation and she made an immediate transformation from a slightly severe looking older woman, into an angel.

I had another flight with the same final destination that would begin loading in 15 minutes. She began the process of getting me set up on the only other flight heading out for South Africa that day. I paid the extra funds to secure my place and she told me that I would be flying into Holland’s Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. I would have a layover of 11 hours.

My personal journey to South Africa had made a complete circle. I was right back to where I’d started. Ending up on the first flight I had been offered by the booking agent, and rejected,  and losing an entire interview filled  day in my short fact-finding mission in South Africa.

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To be continued…