Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Madrid, Spain--Johannesburg, South Africa--Day 19

Early this morning I caught my plane to Johannesburg at 12:45 a.m. I got to the airport at 10 p.m. last night (however it is basically the same day) and was able to check in early and wait for my flight, again distracting myself with the duty free shops. The Madrid airport is pretty ok, but instead of having smoking rooms for people, they have these smoking stops, which are basically poles/stands in the middle of the waiting rooms where stand around and smoke around it. It seems silly because the smoke was spreading to everyone else anyways, and I guess this way was just a way to concentrate all the smoke in one area of the room but that definitely didn’t prevent it from spreading. At least they were trying.

Anyways my flight was delayed due to passengers that were late due to the air strikes in France, but not by too much. Unfortunately I had a middle row, middle seat so I was stuck between a couple on one side of me, to my left, and this man on the other, to my right. Everything was fine until it was time for dinner (which was really like 2 am) and I happened to get choose the chicken over the pasta while the couple on my left were not offered the chicken dinner because the steward on their side had run out of chicken (there were two stewards, one on each side so the man and I were served by one and the couple by the other). This caused a great amount of objecting from the woman sitting next to my right, who couldn’t understand why I could get chicken and she couldn’t since we were sitting together. She got even more enraged when the steward on my side refused to give her chicken instead and then offered it to the people behind us.

Luckily I had been able to fall asleep but I would wake up on and off again and then fall back asleep. Everything was fine and dandy until the man next to me started listening to music on his headphones. TAP TAP TAP. (pause) TAP TAP TAP (pause) TAPTAPTAPTAP. He was tapping his cup onto his pullout tray and couldn’t hear how loud he was doing it. Plus it was super annoying when you are trying to sleep but the fact that I was barely awake and then was fully awoken by the tapping made it worse. Finally I had to tap him (not my tray table) and ask him to stop, which he did, apologizing profusely. I think the people across the row from us were thankful that I made him stop too, as they look at me with appreciative smiles.

Anyways, back to sleep I went only to be woken up again sometime later. SLURP SMACK SMACK SMACK (pause) SLURP SMACK (pause) CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP. What the heck was this noise? I had my trusty eye mask on so I couldn’t see anything and so I lifted it to see what it was and realized after some time (I couldn’t see very well without my glasses on and due to the fact that my eyes weren’t adjusted to the light) that the man next to me was chewing gum. No, more like chomping full on with his mouth open and the worse part is that I could tell what type of gum he was chewing. Eww. Could I tell this man again to be quiet and not chew his gum so loudly?? Can you do that? Anyways, I decided to grab my own headphones and listen to some music to try to block it out, but you know when you are trying NOT to think of something and then you just do? Yeah, so all I could think about what his chewing. Finally I was able to block it out and thankfully fell back asleep, waking up this time around 9:30 am. Whohoo! I got like 7 hours of sleep! That’s really a record for me I think on a plane.

Landing in Johannesburg was fine but the immigration lines were long and hot. I finally go through with my bags and met my driver who would take me back to the hotel. I stopped at the Bureau de Change to get some money and we were off in this great big Landrover. The driver was nice and honestly it was nice to have a conversation with someone. He dropped me off at my hotel which is out in a suburb of Johannesburg called Sandton which is sort of between Johannesburg and Pretoria, which are the two cities where the zoos here are.

I was able to check in just fine and made it to my room after walking down an extremely long hallway. I was sort of wondering if I would ever run into my room. I did and was happy to find everything in place without any problems, unlike Madrid!

By this time it was 2:30 or so and I thought that I would try to go to the Johannesburg zoo since it closes at 5:30 so I would get a good start on the hippos there. I got a taxi from the hotel and after reassuring them that yes, I did in fact want to go to the zoo, the driver took me off to the zoo and promised to pick me up at 5:30. So he dropped me off after mentioning very, very casually “Looks like its going to rain” and said he would be back to pick me. I bought my ticket and headed out to see Sandrock and Cinderella, the two Nile Hippos here at the Johannesburg Zoo.

I found them without too much trouble and they were sleeping in their little pond so I waited for them to do something interesting (besides sleeping!). I waited. And waited. And waited. During all of this waiting, the clouds overhead began to turn a very suspicious looking color and it started to get cold. Then the first lighting bolt came and very soon afterwards thunder. Great, I thought, I am going to get drenched! Of course at this time, all of the noise woke up Sandrock and Cinderella who began to get out of the water. Snap, snap, snap. Drizzle drizzle drizzle. Snap, snap, snap (I hope you are enjoying my sound effects, btw). The two made it out of the water and I got some nice photos, although due to the weather are a little darker than the others that I have taken. Anyways, but this time it really started to rain and I gathered up my stuff and made it over to a sort of gazebo and then it started to downpour with rain. Phew, I had just made it before getting soaked! The lightning, thunder and rain were just incredible, and extremely close. The lighting bolts would race across the sky and almost as fast as they flashed came the thunder. The animals were not all too pleased and from where I was I could see the Elephants running around and running into their own shelter.

I waited out the rain for about an hour, at times accompanied by several workers from the zoo along with a family from Greece who were really nice and impressed that I was from the States and “all the way over here.” My waiting companions all left before I did and I made sure that the rain had almost fully stopped before heading back to the hippos. By this time it was getting really dark and the light was just not good to take anymore pictures. But now my problem was that my ride wasn’t coming until 5:30 and it was only about 4:15! So I went and found something to eat in the restaurant (where most of the zoo visitors had braved the rain) and ate some lunch then walked back to the hippos one last time. By this time it was 5 o’clock so I went out of the gates to wait for my taxi to return and very soon afterwards he was there, which was great that I didn‘t have to wait long! Plus it became very evident at this time that I was the LAST person in the zoo. I couldn’t see any other visitor at this point and it seemed like everyone was sort of waiting for me to go, so I think it was good that my driver came early too so that they could close!

I made it back to my hotel and did some work then got dinner and watched two movies on TV and now am off to bed! Hopefully tomorrow it will be sunny outside for my trip to the Pretoria zoo!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.