As I write this, I’m currently sitting in the cheerful courtyard of our small hotel in Botswana’s capital. We finally made it to Gaborone after a more-difficult-than-usual series of flights, and we’ve mostly slept off the jet lag.
We tried to leave Missoula on the afternoon of the 18 July, but about 15 minutes before we were to board our United flight to Denver, they shut the jetway and canceled the flight. This was due to a “mechanical problem” – one severe enough that United was handing out meal vouchers and booking us new flights on other airlines. When we reached the gate agent to reschedule our trip, she said that the pilots had discovered a CRACK IN THE FUSELAGE near the wing of the CRJ-200 that was supposed to fly us to Denver.
That’s a delay I can get behind.
Rebooked on Delta (which I prefer anyway), later that evening we flew through SLC, and then hopped the redeye to Boston where we visited Julie’s grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and my brother and his wife.
Two days later, we were back in the aluminum tube wheeling out of Logan Airport to Atlanta, and mentally preparing for the 16 hour marathon that would take us from ATL to Johannesburg.
Rumor has it this is one of Delta’s most profitable flights, and the butt in every single seat seemed to confirm that. We had aisle and middle posts near the back of the plane with an affable, if foul-mouthed, hunter from Indianapolis at the window. After the usual wrestling of carry-ons, the 777 wide-body pushed back only to stop abruptly and return to the gate.
The captain came over the PA and announced that the flight would be delayed because there was a HOLE IN THE RUNWAY. We waited two hours for the City of Atlanta to patch the pothole, and finally we were airborne. We only had a two-and-a-half hour layover at JNB, so I was worried we would miss our connecting flight to Botswana the next evening. The upside to the delay was that all the booze was now free.
I settled in with a movie and waited on dinner. (Arrival isn’t a terrible flick, and as an anthropologist I appreciated the language angle and fairly sophisticated discussions of linguistics, but I have a hard time taking Amy Adams seriously.) Meanwhile, the woman in the row in front of us spilled her red wine all over Julie’s brand new handbag that was stashed under the seat (the downside to free booze). This seemed like a disaster, but the flight attendant cracked open a bottle of white wine and doused the purse, which magically lifted the stains. A rinse with plain old water, and it was back to new. This was a new trick to me, and definitely something I’ll keep in mind for the future.
Four hours in, the hunter drank three Jack Daniels, swallowed a fistful of sleeping pills, and didn’t wake up until about two hours before we landed. I watched four episodes of Portlandia and fell into a fitful sleep for about five or six hours myself. The next day we were lucky enough to pull the shade up just as we flew over the Namibian coastline in the late afternoon, and we craned our necks to watch the Namib and Kalahari Deserts roll out under the wing.
Landing in the dark two hours late in Johannesburg, we were less than confident that we would catch our connection in a mere thirty minutes.
Surprisingly, a young man with an ID on a lanyard and our names on a sign met us at the end of the jetway. With barely a greeting exchanged, he snagged my roll-on and took off sprinting through O.R. Tambo International Airport. It was all we could do to keep up, loaded down as we were with shoulder bags, and Julie in Danskos and a skirt.
We ran at a breakneck pace down the moving walkways, up the escalators, and through what seemed like endless miles of airport hallway. Our nameless escort crowbarred us through passport control and customs (the fastest I’d ever gone through those processes), and down one final corridor to a security checkpoint. We skidded to a halt to check the departures board, and just as we caught our breaths we watched in real time as our flight status changed from “Boarding” to “Closed”.
Our efforts had been in vain and our guide was crestfallen. After he made a few phone calls, we had both accommodation and meal vouchers in hand, and we checked into the airport hotel. We ate a late dinner at the restaurant on the international concourse with a pharmacist from Botswana who was on the same flight, and crashed hard.
Up early the next morning on 20 July for the 8:00am Air Botswana flight to Gaborone, we reached the gate only to discover that our boarding passes weren’t valid, and we were bumped to the noon flight. Apparently delays were just going to be the name of the game on this trip.
We finally boarded the ATR turboprop (an aircraft I’d never flown in before) just after 12:00, and landed a mere 50 minutes later in Botswana. Our friends and colleagues greeted us at arrivals with a bouquet of roses and we piled into the hotel driver’s car for the short ride into the city.
Unfortunately, one of our suitcases was too big to fit in the driver’s Volvo, so Boemo, Julie’s colleague at the University, offered to bring it to the hotel for us. He was slow arriving, and a few minutes later our driver’s phone rang. Boemo had been in a car accident on the way in from the airport – one final injustice piled onto this long journey just as it was ending. Apparently the damage was only minimal and nobody was hurt, but we still feel pretty bad about it.
We’ll be staying at least two weeks at the Regent Select – a hotel of suites just across the street from the University of Botswana – before we can get settled into permanent housing for the year. It’s a quiet location away from the main street with passable breakfast, and a helpful staff.
Before dinner we took a long walk through the University, and we were bluff-charged by the vervet monkeys that live on campus. That made things feel pretty real.
We have arrived.
A quick note on social media: