Planes, Trains & Automobiles

We have been silent for a few months but we are back on the road again.  We are back in the Kruger Park.  It was quite a logistical challenge to get this trip organised as I had to be in London and Cologne before this.  I left Cologne, Germany yesterday afternoon.  My trip did involve plains, trains & automobiles just as the heading says but not in that order.  First, I had to take a train from Cologne to Frankfurt.  Unusually for Germany, the train was running late and of course (not unusually for Germany) all the announcements were made in German.  Hundreds of people milling around on the station trying to find out what was going on.  Fortunately I had booked an earlier train to allow for this possibility.  I still got in to Frankfurt airport 2.5 hours before my flight to Johannesburg was leaving.

It took about 15 minutes to walk from the train station (yes the one at the airport) to security, another 20 minutes to get through security and another 20 minutes to get through passport control.  Frankfurt airport has the strictest security I experience.  You basically have to walk through the scanner in your underwear and then the things still buzzes and you have be frisked (quite violently I might add).  The guy told me it was my passport (which was in my pocket) that set it off … seriously … didn’t know that paper set off the scanner!

The plane boarded slightly late and we left slightly late our of Frankfurt and we landed slightly late into Johannesburg.  All of this mattered to me because I was trying to get an earlier connection to Nelspruit airport (where I was picking up the van).  We ended up on a remote parking stand which meant a bus trip into the terminal.  Fortunately this didn’t take too much time and I managed to get through passport quickly and through to the domestic terminal.  At check in the lady said I must go to the ticketing counter to get my flight changed.  I did that and the lady at the ticketing counter told me I had to go back to check in to get offloaded from the later flight.  I did that and went back to ticketing again.  After about 10 minutes of punching keys and taking some money from me because I was changing flights, she said I was set.  Went back to check in again (now with about 40 minutes to departure) and they checked me in.  I was happily making my way to security when I thought to look at the boarding pass only to notice they had checked me in onto the original later flight! And that included my suitcase.

I rushed back to counter and pointed it out and they looked sheepish and tried to move me onto the earlier flight and said I was now waitlisted (even though I had been told there were seats available). I was also asking what was going to happen to my suitcase now it was checked onto the wrong flight. They eventually (after various phone calls) told me that I did have a seat and gave me a new boarding pass and they had changed the digital signature of my suitcase (I didn’t know my suitcase had a signature) and that it would definitely be on the correct flight with me.  I had my doubts and expressed them.

By this stage the flight was already boarding and I had to still clear security.  Usually that is quick but when I got to security there must have been 100 people in the line.  I realised it was cut to the front or miss the flight.  So I did that thing where everyone else looks at you with an irritated look and I cut to the front apologizing the whole way to every 5th person or so.  Through security (no beeping at all despite not taking everything out of my pockets) and straight to the gate for boarding.  The lady at the gate was the original person who told me how to get my ticket changed and she said she was pleased that I made the flight.  I told her what had happened and that I doubted my luggage was going to be on the correct plane.  I got onto the bus.

5 minutes of standing on the bus and same said airline person comes onto the bus to tell me that the baggage basement (didn’t know my baggage had a basement) had called to say my bag definitely would not make the flight. After speaking to the duty controller, she said I could move back to the later flight and arrive with my luggage if I wanted to do that (and they would try and arrange a refund) but she suggested I fly on the earlier one anyway (less work for her I guess). While we were talking the basement people phoned again to say that my bag definitely wasn’t making the flight as I checked in too late and the check in clerk should have told me that. NOT!

I resigned myself to having to waste an hour at the airport in Nelspruit and with much irritation got back on the bus.  We arrived at the plane and were told that we had to wait on the bus until the captain said it was ok to board.  We never got the signal and then it turns out that they had taken us to the wrong plane. Could this get any worse I was wondering. After eventually getting to the correct plane we boarded and someone remarked that they hoped the right luggage was on the plane.  I bit my tongue.

We landed at Kruger-Nelspruit airport just before 10am.  When I got off I told the airline lady my plight and she said I would need to go with her to do the paperwork for the bag. I said I would just wait and make 100% sure that it didn’t make the flight before I did that. And lo and behold, second bag off was my suitcase.  The very same one which twice had been confirmed by the basement people would DEFINITELY not be on the flight.  What airline you may ask – SA Airlink,  Organisation is clearly not their strong point.

I had made it to Mpumulanga before Helen and co had taken off from Cape Town yet.  They were on a 10:35am flight directly into Skukuza.  Yes – such a flight does now exist and is the best way to get to the Kruger Park because you don’t have to navigate any of the Mpumulanga roads. They left on time and in relative calmness.  I picked up the rental car – VW Kombi – and headed to Hazyview where I stopped to do some grocery shopping for the next 5 days.  The Spar Superstore was an experience. Most things sold in bulk.  Bulk chicken legs, bulk Ox tripe (in blocks), 48 packets of Niknaks in one bulk pack.  Obviously everyone buys once a year here and clearly things I would never consider buying. Fresh meat, fresh chicken not to be seen. As I drove out I found the Pick ‘n Pay which was more like my type of store but very small and with hardly any choice as well but I did at least get fresh chicken.

Then it was off to the Kruger Gate. I was now racing the clock and Helen and co’s plane.  I lost. Mainly because the road from Hazyview to the Kruger Gate is terrible. Cows, taxi’s, traffic police all driving with flashing blue lights on, buses, pedestrians … all of them thinking the road is just for them. Add to that potholes and a 60 km/h speed limit for 40 kms and it was an annoying journey.  I got to the Kruger gate and as I was entering I got a message to say they had landed at Skukuza.  I had about 20 minutes still to cover to get to the airport.  We were all re-united at about 1:15pm.  Stress over as we were all safely in the park.

Who would have thought I could write over 1000 words and not say anything about the Kruger Park itself! We went and checked in at Skukuza where we are staying tonight, had some lunch and chilled for a few hours before heading out this afternoon on our first game drive. We had already seen Elephant and Buffalo (2 of the big 5) and Bushbuck from the camp (they were in the river below the camp).  I had almost hit a Kudu on the way to fetching them from the airport and of course we had seen Impala.  In addtion, on the late afternoon game drive we saw Hippo, Nyala, Zebra, Girraffe, Warthog, Banded Mongoose and 2 Hyena. Add to that 18 birds so far (without really looking including some nice birds of prey like Martial Eagle, Fish Eagle, Bateleur) and it was quite a good drive.  Almost hit an elephant as we were driving looking into the setting sun and didn’t see the thing until we were amidst the herd. And had to fight off another lot as we crossed the river back into the camp as they were blocking the end of the bridge. Already seen around 100 elephant.

Skukuza bridgeBack to the camp for a braai.  It is National Braai Day (offically Heritage Day) and what a better way to spend the day than in the Kruger Park. It was a loverly evening (around 28 degrees when we got back to the camp). When we last stayed in the same accommodation, Helen went to the fence and shone her torch right into the eyes of a Hyena.  Michael and Helen were repeating it tonight and managed to do a full repeat and saw (possibly the same) Hyena.  There were also two hippo chomping near the fence.

It is now 9:30pm and everyone is in bed and most are asleep.  I am about to join them. One noteable exception to this trip is that Stephen is missing.  He has Varsity and so couldn’t come. I am missing him for his birding prowess. Everyone else is missing him because this is our first time to the Kruger as a family without him. Sorry you’re not with us Stephen 🙁

P, H, M, C (and the in-laws)