There's some light rain (for Brazilian conditions) falling as I make my way to the TTU for what I sincerely hope is really going to be the last time now, and wait to take the bus to the airport for the third time now (well, okay, so one of those times I was going to the Parque das Aves, but still…).
The bus ride should be a good and quiet start into the day. By the way, did I already tell you about how to stop the bus? In addition to the traditional Stop-buttons, Brazilian buses also have a rope stretched across the length of the bus, near the ceiling, that you can pull on in order to signal you want to get off at the next stop. That's actually quite handy if you're out of reach of a button.
Anyway, as I mentioned, it's rainy today, so the view from the bus is not quite as nice this time around as during my last attempt to leave the country. Thinking as much, I can imagine what it must have been like for people living in East Germany back in the day. Either way, thanks to the rain, even the weekly market is not receiving a lot of patronage today.
It is approximately 8:15 when I finally arrive at the airport, ready for my second try.
With what happened last time, I am naturally quite nervous. In theory, I should have everything I need, but by now I don't trust the people here further than I can easily throw them. I am completely expecting that they are going to try to use everything they can against me in order to scam me again, and as such I am at least mentally somehow prepared for the impending…
Part 1: Awful Airport Abusiveness
The first part is still easy: Getting through the pre-check-in security checkpoint. This time around, the queue isn't even half as long as last time around.
In fact, I manage to get in so quick that I still have well over an hour before check-in even opens for my flight (which is scheduled to depart at 12:15 today). So I just sit down I the check-in hall, learn some Japanese, and play some games while trying (with limited success) not to worry my tail off. But honestly, it more feels like waiting for an execution than for a plane.
It's 10:00 by the time the check-in for my flight – which is carried by GOL Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes – to open, and naturally, I am one of the first people in line in a futile attempt to mitigate the upcoming calamity.
Before long it's my turn. It goes well at first. They check my Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate and everything is in order, until the clerk at the desk asks that fateful question: "Who is Kira Resari?"
"It's me!" I reply truthfully, and show him where my name is written on my passport. I show him my official registration certificate that I had issued for just such a case, as well as my national ID where it is also printed. I tell him to check the Passport Number which is naturally the same that I provided when booking the flight, and I tell him to contact the embassy if needed, but to no avail…
Eventually, a guy from security is added, and then they also bring a female staff member, a girl who apparently is particularly good with English, and they all gang up on me and try to tell me that they can't let me board the plane because they can't accept my name.
For the sake of clarity, allow me to interrupt the narrative at this point to explain the issue: Kira Resari is officially my artist's name, which is officially registered in my passport and my national ID. I had to work for over three years to get it officially acknowledged, and am legally entitled to use it on equal standing with my birth name. But there's more to it, much, much more. In native American and other societies, it was custom for a person to assume a new name when moving from one phase of his or her life to the next, a custom that I strongly identify with. Could I have legally changed my name, I would have done so in a heartbeat, but the laws and regulations for that in Germany are extremely strict, allowing such a thing only in the most exceptional of cases. So I did what I could and had my name registered as an artist's name instead, even though to me, this name is who I am, and the name I had before is a completely different person to me now. Do you want to know how I feel? Imagine you had a really silly nickname as a child, such as maybe "Peetsy Poo", and everyone would insist on calling you by that name instead of what you're really called and constantly giving you a hard time about it. That's what I'm going through with this, but this is my name, and I am not going to yield it, no matter what concessions I have to make in return.
Back to the ongoing action already in progress. At this point it becomes clear to me that just because you paid a large amount of money for something and can prove you did so without a doubt, that still does not prevent humans from scamming you like this and trying to make your life a living nightmare. The girl is the worst, because she just keeps smiling at me with a smile like we're on a date and she's just oh-so-happy that I will be paying for all that expensive food and wine she is consuming right now. My PP are draining like water from a bucket that has been hit with a generous amount of shots, my breathing is getting shallower, and the edges of my vision are closing in on me.
Now then, tales should vary about what exactly happened at this day on Foz do Iguaçu Airport.
"Material Fatigue" should be the most plausible explanation later on. The load bearing pillars must have had structural weak points… all five of them.
A bit harder to explain is how the X-Ray machine was able to make its way through the bullet-proof security checkpoint windows.
The fire meanwhile did not come as a surprise to anyone. What else should happen if a Boeing turbine crashes into the fuel tanks at the speed of sound?
Some would say that a wailing banshee from the netherworld, a vengeful spirit of Native Americans slain during the time of the Conquistadores arose from the depths of the abyss to wreak havoc on the descendants of its tormentors, and surely many of the tales told of this day are shamelessly exaggerated.
However, one thing is clear in all of those tales, and that is that it was on this day that a new figure stepped onto the stage that is the world:
Kira Resari, the Once and Future Travelling Fox
*Note: The above anecdote may contain a few artistic liberties for dramatic effect
Regardless of what really happened there and then, I eventually wake up in the airport's med bay, sitting on a wheelchair, with a doctor and nurse attending me and asking me if I feel well. A German-speaking tour guide is also in attendance and tries to help me with the situation. Unfortunately, even he can't deter the airport staff from their fraudulent ways, but he can at the very least help me with damage control. This sort of scam only happens on small provincial airports like this, he advises me, so I should best concede here so that I might be able to check in on the more cosmopolitan airport of São Paulo and at least salvage the more expensive transatlantic flight instead of suffering a complete calamity again. And so it happens that I end up buying a ticket to São Paulo for a person whose name is printed on my passport for historic and bureaucratic reasons, and while the tour guide encourages me to try and reclaim the extra fare I was forced to pay after the journey, I already know that this is another 300€ that I am not going to see again. Welcome to my blacklist, GOL Linhas Aéreas Fraudulenta. At least I get another nice Brazilian Highbrow Boarding Pass out of this.
Afterwards, I'm done. All PP spent, not a sliver of energy left in my soul, I cower down on a low table next to the waiting benches fox-style, not caring anymore what the humans around me think. It's as though the world has receded into the distance and I'm sitting alone in a void of nothingness. Normally, I would spend the remaining time playing games, but right now, I can't even muster the will to do that. So I just cower there for two hours straight, waiting for them to get the airport back into shape again so the boarding can finally start. Great odds for me checking out and in again in São Paulo. I'm just glad that I have taken the precaution of buffering a 4-hour layover in São Paulo, so the odds are good that I'll be able to pocket the two-and-a-half-hour delay incurred by GOL Linhas Aéreas Incompetente due to totally weather-related reasons.
It is only at 14:15 – fifteen minutes after we were supposed to have landed in São Paulo – that we are allowed to actually board the plane. Regardless of what happens next, at the very least I now have successfully made it out of Foz do Iguaçu which means that now it is…
Part 2: São Paulo or Bust
For this first leg, I'm flying with a good old Boeing 737-800, the colours of which are still the best thing about GOL Linhas Aéreas Idiota.
Naturally, I reserved a window seat for this flight. Naturally, that reservation went down the gutter when they did not let me check in with my original ticket. Naturally, they still won't let me sit in the now vacant window seat that I reserved. And naturally, the seat I got assigned to instead is as far from the window as it gets. Thank you very much again, GOL Linhas Aéreas Obnóxia!
Anyway, now that my journey has officially at least started, here's my planned journey for today. Since South African Airways are on my blacklist, I have booked a cheap flight with TAAG Angola Airlines over Luanda, so my flight route this time around actually looks a little bit different from what I had planned originally.
It's not until 14:45 that we actually take off, and with my non-window seat, the quality of the footage I can is somewhat limited. In fact, it's just enough to make me realize what a great view I could have gotten had I managed to sit in my assigned seat. It also goes without saying that they seated me on the opposite side of the plane, so I don't have any chance at all to get aerial footage of the Iguazu falls. But oh well… at least I have a nice sight on the winding Iguazu River before we eventually disappear into the clouds.
The flight route to São Paulo is actually a good bit south of the one from there, and cuts across Argentina before heading almost directly east over the Atlantic Ocean. It's only near the very end of the flight that the pilot decides to turn north and land in São Paulo after all.
Now, normally I'd be happy to look out of the window during a flight and observe the land- or cloudscape outside, but without a window seat, this turns out to be difficult this time around – especially considering how my seat neighbours pull down the blinds halfway through in order to take a nap.
Oh well, at least they serve some light snacks during the two-hour flight, and it is at this point that I allow myself one final cup of Guarana.
Eventually, we begin our descent towards São Paulo Guarulhos Aeroporto, approaching from the east over the cities and/or wards of Arujá, Vila Nova Bonsucesso and Jardim Presidente Dutra and past Itaquaquecetuba and Itaim Paulista before touching down with a landing that, while not the roughest I've ever experienced, is certainly not the smoothest landing either.
One boarding bridge later I step into the airport building roughly two-and-a-half hours after initially planned, and thus only have around 90 minutes to reclaim my baggage, attempt to check in again, and then make it through the entire security and emigration circus before my plane departs. Unbeknownst to me, this rush should lead to…
Part 3: A Religious Revelation
80 minutes till my flight departs! I am standing at Esteira de Bagagem (Baggage Belt) N°202, anxiously waiting for my luggage to come by. Fortunately, it does indeed appear, and after a very reasonable time too! And since this was only a national flight, I don't even have to bother going through customs or anything with it. As such, I can quickly hurry onwards to the check-in counter.
70 minutes until my flight departs! Almost as if by a miracle, I come out right in front of the check-in counter and don't have to spend a long time looking for the TAAG counter. However, I do have to spend the next ten minutes in line waiting for a family who apparently are checking in the entire peanut harvest of Mato Grosso in big, hulking bags.
60 minutes until my flight departs! Now it's my turn at check-in, and that's where the fun starts. This time around, I decide to be proactive and relate to them exactly what happened in the Foz do Iguaçu Airport, and supply them with all my documents, papers and such upfront. Expectedly, they have a difficult time handling it as well, but at the very least they are better prepared for it. They call upon a professional translator, the power of communication, and once he has been summoned, things take an interesting turn that should provide me with a new card to play from here on out.
You see, the field in which my name is written in my passport is labelled "Religious Name or Pseudonym", and as the translator tries to explain to the check-in staff that everything is in order, I hear him drop the Portuguese equivalent of it "nome religioso".
I may not be able to speak Portuguese, but I can understand what's going on. At first, I feel conflicted about it, but then…
Scene change to my inner space, that is, the place within my psyche that I go to convene with all those different aspects of myself, my spirit companions, that have manifested over the years in order to keep this construct of a functioning individual going despite all that it has been through.
"Can I really be okay with calling it a religious name? Would that not be lying?" I wonder in there.
The others just look at me like that.
"You know how much it means to you," the Wind Dragoness Evans – my spirit guide – eventually replies "and that the reason why you use this name and not your old one is precisely because you believe that this is your right name, your true name. You could travel so much easier if you used your old name, but you don't because you believe that this is your name, and not the old one. Sure, you're probably also being stubborn as usual, but at the very least, you are being true to yourself, and to your believes, regardless of how much pain the humans are causing you about it."
Meanwhile, Whytefire the white-and-red fox and Emilious the Grey Fox are carrying a stack of documents, representing all the Shrines and Temples I visited in Japan (and now Brazil too).
"Need I remind you of the pilgrimage around the land of foxes that you invested a whole year of your life into completing?" asks Whytefire.
"And you also prayed at all those Temples and Shrines as Kira Resari!" adds Emilious. "More deities now know your name than humans have ever doubted you! If that does not qualify as a religious name, then what else does?"
"Plus," adds Liete, the cubist Data-Dragonfly-Dragoness "technically, it is registered as your Religious Name too, since the register of residents does not differentiate between the two. It even says so on the proof of residence."
Nyarou, the black cat, speaks up next: "Yeah! And it's not even like you're trying to do anything fishy here! You worked hard for that name for three years to get it acknowledged, and you are legally entitled to use it! The humans are just too dumb to get their stuff together or to, say, realize that if someone really were to try to travel with a fake name, they'd never up and advertise it openly like that!
The consensus is overwhelming, and even though I still feel sort of uneasy about it, I also know that there is one trait about humans that one can exploit to make interactions with them a lot easier: Tell them what they want to hear, and they'll readily believe it, especially if it makes their life less complicated.
All this happens in the space of a heartbeat, and so when the translator turns around to face me and asks if he explained it correctly, and whether this really is my religious name, I know the answer that I have to give.
I am ready to say so much more, about how I travelled around all of Japan to visit Shrines and Temples all over the country, about the spiritual connection that I feel towards the Japanese religion of Shinto-Buddhism, but it turns out that isn't even necessary. In stark contrast to all the reservations they had against a pseudonym, the staff apparently holds an almost sacred respect for the concept of a religious name. And so, after another nail-biting event that took up the better part of 20 minutes (though it seemed to last for much longer), I finally, finally, finally hold my boarding pass in my hands.
40 minutes until my flight departs! I make my way through security and emigration with surprisingly little hassle and hurry through the corridors to find my gate. Fortunately, São Paulo Guarulhos Aeroporto is not all too big, so I am confident I'll be able to make it in time now that I've managed to clear all the hurdles. It really looks as if the lady Inari is watching over me, and I say a silent prayer in thanks to all those who have been watching over me, and enabled me to get over this barrier.
30 minutes until my flight departs! I am finally at the gate, where the machine to Luanda is already waiting. This time around, it's a Boeing 777-300 ER.
Check-in commences almost immediately upon my arrival, so I don't even bother with sitting down and instead get in line right away.
And only a short time later, I am boarding the plane, which has a very nice colour scheme, but features a sort of unsettling national flag. I've heard tales about Angola, and the flight has been kinda cheap, so I say another silent prayer while boarding, hoping that I'll be alright.
Be that as it may for now I am finally and officially en route…
Part 4: Across the Atlantic
Once aboard the plane, I realize that while I do have my assigned window seat this time around, the quality of my outside shots is still going to be impeded by one substantial obstacle, that regrettably is somewhat essential to heavier-than-air aviation.
As for the equipment inside… while it might look top-notch at first glance, it really isn't all that good. Things are in various states of disrepair, the legroom is even more limited than usual, and the touchscreen is not functioning properly, registering touches about a centimetre from where they occur, and thus making some buttons near the corner of the screen (such as the back-button) unreachable thanks to the designers obviously having skipped the chapter on safe areas during their education.
Some time passes before the plane actually takes off, and although it's not even an hour, that time is still enough for the weather to progress from "cloudy" to "night" once again, ostensively demonstrating just how much faster the sun sets this close to the equator.
And thus, by the time the pilots are done dawdling on the runway (which is around 18:55, and thus 35 minutes after the scheduled departure time) night has fallen pretty much completely, and once again all I see from São Paulo during takeoff is a sea of light. Just like last time, we start towards the west, but this time around we naturally make a 180° turn to the east immediately afterwards. Also, since the clouds are much higher this time around, I am privy to witness an amazing view of the lights of São Paulo below, interwoven in fantastic patterns like luminous tapestry before the last I should see of South America vanishes from sight.
As I mentioned before, the equipment aboard is not exactly top-notch, and thus, instead of a fancy flight preview, all we have is a static map to display our route, which follows a very interesting trajectory, probably in order to make use of a jet stream Either way, this clearly is one of the lesser-travelled routes.
Dinner is served soon after and takes the form of what I like to call "one farmyard with everything". Meat, green beans, mashed potatoes, crackers with cream cheese, salad and cake are on the menu, and while I'm not particularly fond of cooked vegetables, the fact that my last proper meal already lies over 12 hours in the past by now (and the fact that the breakdown I had can't possibly have been good for my energy level) makes me hungrily gobble it all down anyway.
There's not much to see for the remainder of the night, so I soon brush my teeth in the bathroom (which turns out to have a broken sink), and try to go to sleep. Try I say because apparently one of the passengers has a rather questionable concept of bedtime stories and thus proceeds to share his life's story with the remainder of the plane. Loudly. I'm uncertain whether I should be angry or glad that I can't really understand a word he's saying (he's probably talking Portuguese, seeing as how that's the official language of both Brazil and Angola). The constant roar of the engines and the air around us is something I can get used to, but this erratic and obnoxious talking is seriously annoying. Maybe the worst parts are when he stops for some time and I think it's finally over, only to start up again after half a minute or so. Suffice it to say that I'm not really getting a lot of sleep on this particular flight.
Eventually, however, I manage to get at least a little shuteye, and when I next wake again roughly four hours later, we're already most of the way across the Atlantic, and the first light of dawn can already be seen creeping up on the horizon.
Breakfast is served soon thereafter, taking the form of more "Edible Stuff ®". This time around it's omelette with sausages and spinach plus fruit and bread with apple jam and strawberry yoghurt, which, while certainly not bad, falls somewhat short of what I tasted on my flights with Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways or Air Canada. But then again, this is a rather cheap flight, and if those are all the concessions I have to make, then I'm happy with it.
The remainder of our flight into the sunrise passes without much of interest, as the only things that can be seen from my window are a sea of fluffy clouds, and later on an ocean of grey waves below.
Some time later – around 6:45 local time, with a 4-hour time difference to Brazil time – we draw near Luanda Quatro De Fevereiro Airport. Our approach to the airport is from the northeast this time around, so the plane has to fly another U-turn, which takes us across the Bengo Bay, with Lagoa Panguila and the Bengo River clearly visible as specks and stripes of silver in the morning sun. Eventually, we make landfall over the district of Cacuaco, and a few minutes later touch down on the final permanently settled continent that I did not yet set foot on.
As I mentioned above, I am approaching my layover here with a healthy amount of wariness… and for good reason, as it turns out, for I should soon be in for a bunch of…
Part 5: Liabilities in Luanda
Now, I know it is not canon of me to write a detailed explanation about my stopover countries, but I feel in this one case, I will have to make an exception. For one, Angola is one of those lesser-known countries that most people would probably not even be able to accurately place on a map, but much more importantly, I feel that having some insight into the history of this country will help with understanding the events that are to come.
Angola is a large country (bigger than France, Spain and Portugal combined) of many ethnicities thrown into a melting pot by short-sighted European colonial interests. After a 13-year war for independence from Portugal, the conflicts seamlessly transitioned into a civil war between irreconcilable internal factions that lasted for another 27 years and directly ended the lives of hundreds and thousands of people. Perhaps the most reprehensible fact about all this is that Angola was abused as a surrogate battleground for the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union, with the superpowers toying with the lives and futures of countless people. Even though this generation-spanning war finally ended in 2002, the consequences are still tangible today, and will be felt for at least an entire generation yet to come.
As a result of these decades of conflict and strife, the people of Angola, and especially the police and the military are naturally still more than just a bit edgy, and as such regulations are tight and punishments sometimes excessive. I for one have heard that even harmless acts such as taking photos of government facilities (such as airport) can sometimes lead to confiscation of equipment or even imprisonment. In fact, the state of affairs here is so serious, that even the very windows of the aircraft fog over as soon as we land, such as not to give away national secrets to the eyes of curious tourists such as I.
Having had enough trouble for one trip already, I for my part decide to not push my luck… much… and take only a single picture as I get off the airplane – with all the damage to the infrastructure that the prolonged war inflicted, not even this the biggest airport of the country has a terminal with jet bridges yet. As a side note, at 8.8°S, this is also my closest approach to the equator since my layover in Singapore in 2016 (see Book I ~ Chapter 1 ~ To Singapore, and Beyond!)
As a result of these no-photo regulations (which are something you just have to know because they are not communicated in any way), the following sections are going to be text only. I'll do my best to vividly describe just what sort of issues I should run in soon hereafter. To put the following events on a timescale, I have a scheduled layover of two hours here in Luanda. Not the world, but certainly enough, assuming that things run smoothly. Which, in this case, they should not.
For starters, catching a transit flight is already a nightmare per se. There's no clear signs pointing the right way, and it is only thanks to the curtesy of a fellow traveller that I realize that one of the airport staff on the bus just said that passengers with transit flights should follow him… in Portuguese. He leads us along a route that would have been pretty difficult to figure out on my own, and to a security checkpoint where my carry-on luggage gets scanned once again, and my passport thoroughly checked.
That is where the troubles begin, but not for the reason you are probably guessing right now (and which I was expecting).
Be it because of my naturally gaudy appearance, my carry-on baggage with all my electronic devices, or simply because the security guard does not like my face, I am pulled out of the main stream for some special love. It starts off with an in-depth security screening, including a full-body X-ray scan, to which apart from me two young ladies from Brazil are also subjected.
Realizing I'm walking on very thin ice here, I do my best to comply and calmly follow along with all directions. I know that that's not usually my style, but seeing as how the guard effectively holds my passport hostage, and counting the myriad of potentially horrible outcomes this situation could have if I so much as annoy him, I am very careful not to make as much as a single wrong move and try to achieve a state of serene acceptance that would probably make a Buddhist monk proud. Going with the flow, I am a leaf in the wind, posing a stark contrast to the raging tempest that I became on Foz do Iguaçu Airport not even 15 hours ago. But back then, I faced a wall that needed to be torn down, and this time I am adrift in a river that will eventually take me to the ocean, given that I can make it through the raging rapids along the way.
Naturally, it does not yet stop after the in-depth screening. Rather, the three of us are taken outside along the runway and into a small storehouse where all the luggage gets processed. There, one after the other, every last one of our pieces of baggage is pulled out, opened, and searched very, very thoroughly. One at a time, and one after the other while all of us have to wait, counting the seconds left until our connecting flight departs. By now, over half an hour has passed already, and the baggage screening should take another hour on top of that. It takes all my concentrated effort to uphold the Stance of Flowing Water in spite of the extreme stress I am facing in this situation, but I know I have to. And so I do.
The most daunting part comes when it's my turn to have my luggage checked. Naturally, I packaged everything very, very tightly, and they seem to be more than just a little bit surprised by just how much I was able to fit into that bag. Still, they mean to check it all, going as far as opening my zipper binder and checking my art supplies within. They grow suspicious of the Okinawan Sanpincha Tea with its 100% Japanese labelling and even take it to an adjacent room for analysis, but eventually they decide that I was telling the truth when they asked me and I told them it was just tea from Japan, and it is returned to me. Maybe the most difficult part of it all is when they try to fit all my stuff back inside the bag again, and naturally fail miserably, not knowing the exact arrangement I had specifically worked out to make it all fit. My Flirial instincts just up and scream at me to go and help them, but my experience with humans cautions me that they might well be interpreted as one of aforementioned wrong moves, and so, unbearable though it is to watch, I force myself to keep on watching calmly as they somehow stuff all of my belongings back inside. I'm just glad that I sent the bulkiest parts of my luggage directly back to Germany from Brazil.
Fun fact at this point: Despite their best efforts, they still did not manage to find all the little pockets in my backpack. Not that I had anything to hide, but if I ever do, I now know the best places to do so.
After that, we are finally, finally, finally released from suspicion, and are returned our passports. The guard escorts us to the gate from which our transit flight will depart, and I offer up another quiet prayer in thanks to whatever deities are watching over me as I wait for the remaining few minutes until the gate opens, and another bus takes us to the plane. It is only once I'm safely in my seat there (wingview again) that I dare take some pictures of the actual airport of Luanda from the window. The building with the green roof is the hall where my luggage was searched, by the way.
Overall, I have to say that my stay here on Luanda Quatro De Fevereiro Airport was more pleasant than my various visits to the Foz do Iguaçu Airport, but it still ends up filling slot #2 of my list of airports that I never want to visit again. As it is, I am more than just glad that I managed to make it through this particular layover in one piece and with all my belongings, and am now happily looking forward to clear the remaining leg of this particular journey by means of…
Part 6: African Aviation
Before the plane departs, the flight attendants walk around the cabin and spray a strange gas all over the place. They say this is necessary due to government regulations, and I can imagine its due to some sort of decontamination protocol since illness and disease is still a serious issue in Angola due to the long-term consequences of the prolonged war. It may seem a bit odd, but at the very least it's reassuring that the flight attendants are not wearing gas masks or anything like it. After all, if they allow the gas to affect them as well then it's probably ALL HAIL TO THE ANGOLAN GOVERNMENT!!!
Anyway, afterwards, we hit the runway, and I suppose this marks the first proper daytime takeoff I've had on this entire journey. It's now 8:30 in the morning, and I'm embarking on the final flight leg of my trip to Cape Town, ascending high over the steppes of the cradle of humanity, the ancestral home continent of Africa.
This time around, the flight route is pretty straightforward, following the great circle down all the way to Cape Town, and apart from the very first few hundred kilometres, the entirety of this almost 3,000km-long trip leads us over the extensive landscapes of the African continent.
As we cross over the Huila Plateau in the south of Angola, most of what I see is a cloudscape and a somewhat blurry green view of the ground, which is partially obscured by the tropical humidity in these parts. It is only as we cross over into Namibia that the moisture recedes and the vegetation grows sparser.
It is somewhere around then that a very hearty lunch is served. An omelette with sausage and fried potato slices with tomato plus bread with strawberry jam and fruits is on the menu, and somehow I almost cry as I gratefully ingest it. It's probably due to the relief that despite all the hardships thus far, I am now finally en route to my final destination, and while I' still wary about things that might go wrong in the end, I can't help but feel that the worst part is over now.
The flight continues, and as we venture further and further south into Namibia, the green of forest, steppes and grasslands gradually recedes to make way for the reds of the Kalahari Desert (which is actually more of a semi-arid sandy savanna, but it's still pretty dry).
However, the most breathtaking sights are only yet to come, and to better understand them it helps to have a rough understanding of African geology. You see, the original coastline of Southern Africa used to be approximately 250km further north than it is today, and remained stable as it was for approximately 100 million years, and over this time, the tides eroded a very prominent coast line. It was only during the last 20 million years that Southern Africa experienced further tectonic uplifting, which is why very generally speaking, the entire African plate is shaped like one gigantic slope, starting at roughly 200m in Northern Africa, and culminating with very extensive high plateaus of over 1000m of altitude in Southern Africa. The former coastline now lies exposed and forms the Great Escarpment, which is essentially the world's longest cliff, stretching on for approximately 2000km, and averaging a drop of about a kilometre (though at its highest point – the Drakensberge to the east – the Great Escarpment is over 3km high). Meanwhile, below the Great Escarpment, the former continental shelf was exposed and came to be what today makes up the lowlands of South Africa.
Since my destination of Cape Town is naturally located at the shore, and thus necessarily in aforementioned lowlands, we inevitably cross over the Great Escarpment near the end of our flight, and it is right there and then that I witness what might be the most amazing geological formations I've ever seen on any flight.
Not much later – around 13:30 local time with another 1-hour time difference from Angola – we make our final descent towards Cape Town. Interestingly, and contrary to common conventions of aviation, the runways of Cape Town International Airport are oriented along a north-south axis, which can probably be attributed to the local wind conditions being unusual due to Table Mountain to the west and the Hottentots Holland Mountains to the east inhabiting the typical east-west wind directions. Either way, the direct consequence of this is that we're approaching from the north this time around, flying over extensive grain fields, past the winding Diep River and the green Tygerberg mountain before finally touching down in the middle of the sprawling suburbs of Cape Town.
As we proceed to the terminal, we pass by one very orange plane belonging to the Mango flight company that I initially intended to take from Johannesburg to Cape Town in my original travel plans.
I'm glad that I was able to make it here after all, even though it came at a combined extra cost of almost 1,500€ that I would never see again. Before this entire debacle, I would have confidently disembarked from the plane, but as things stand, I am more than just a little bit traumatized, always expecting things to go wrong. Fortunately, however, I should receive…
Part 7: A Warm Welcome
Even from the outside, I can already see that the Cape Town International Airport is significantly more advanced than any other airport I've been to since Toronto-Pearson Airport in Canada (see Book III ~ Chapter 1 ~ The Bad Beginning)...
…and that impression rapidly intensifies as I cross the jet bridge and walk through the terminal. After the airports of Foz do Iguaçu, São Paulo and Luanda, it sure is good to be inside a proper airport again. In fact, I will have to admit that the Cape Town International Airport even beats my home airport back in Munich!
I also get through Immigration without any problems (thanks to my new vaccination certificate) and manage to retrieve my complete luggage as last seen in Luanda from the baggage claim. So far, so good.
The next question is how to get from the airport to the city proper, and from there to my final Airbnb place. Fortunately, that problem solves itself as I get literally intercepted by an organization of very industrious taxi drivers, who are, above all else, very warm and welcoming. And me, having had enough difficulties and troubles for one trip, am more than happy about this warm welcome. Sure, taking a bus would be cheaper (I checked the prices in advance), but factor in that I am unfamiliar with the public transit system here, and that the bus would not deliver me straight to the doorstep in a city the safety of which I have not yet assessed, as well as the fact that the taxi drivers are genuinely warm and welcoming, and are not just faking it, I think a price of 350 Rand (the equivalent of 20€) is a very reasonable price for the convenience and peace of mind that comes with this choice (especially considering it's a half-an-hour trip! In Germany, that would cost me 60€ or more!). Also, I personally believe that it's a good thing to encourage and reward people who are eagerly and enthusiastically doing their best to live a good and honest life in a country with an unemployment rate of around 28%.
Also, here's a bit of traveller's wisdom: If you're in a foreign country, you're instantly become immune to being pestered as soon as you have been claimed by a local guide. Also, the chances that you will get a good guide increase with the amount of competition, so in a busy place like an airport, you can pretty much bet that you're in good hands as soon as you decide on any one local guide. Realizing as much, I also ask my guide and taxi driver for a safe place to withdraw some cash and thus stock up on a wallet full of Rand before we depart from the airport. And by the way, staying consistent with the fact that the driver's side changes with every country that I visit, in South Africa you drive on the left side of the road again, same as in New Zealand and Japan, but the opposite of Germany and Brazil.
The drive from the airport to my Airbnb place – which is located pretty much in the heart of Cape Town – is approximately 22km long, and takes about half an hour to complete.
This final part of the trip should take through the suburbs of Cape Town…
…and then along a mountain road, from where I can get a good view on the city proper below.
Before long, my guide and taxi driver drops me off right in front of the doorstep of my Airbnb place here…
…and not long after, an employee of my host shows up to let me into what would be my final home away from home on this particular journey. Maybe most importantly of all is that this time around I have arrived here with all my luggage, and thus have both Levi and Ran by my side again.
At 26.5 hours, this has not been my longest journey, but it was definitely the most stressful. I'm pretty sure that the things I went through during these last two days are going to leave some very nice new mental scars, and thus really hope that this final stay of my trip will be an enjoyable one. Either way, one thing is certain: I have now made it to all the permanently settled continents. What adventures would await me here in this final corner of the world? Stay tuned and find out in the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog!