African safari journal: One year ago today, Julie and I arrived in Africa

From my travel journal, lightly edited for typoes:

We’ve been in transit nearly 2 days now. And we are almost there.

We left the house at 8 AM on Monday. Our flight was more than four hours from San Diego to Atlanta. I barely remember it now so I guess it was fine. We had a 90 minute connection to Johannesburg. Julie was having a little bit of difficulty with baggage, so we grabbed one of those golf cart things and were chauffeured around the airport in style, coming apparently close to bowling over pedestrians a couple of times, which made the drive more enjoyable. We decided to check our big bags at the gate. We have literally 5 to 10 flights on this trip – I’ve lost count – which makes me worry about checking bags. On the other hand carrying all the bags with us does not seem entirely practical. I’ll worry about this problem when it comes up.

The flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg was about 16 hours. It is a long flight. A very long flight. A very very very long flight. No, it is even longer than that. The longest duration nonstop flight in the world is Los Angeles to Singapore, and that is only 18 hours.

I was not interested in any of the movies on the plane. My brain quickly tired from reading. Prior to the flight, I downloaded every season of The Good Place, and watched more than a dozen episodes. I did not like the first 9 episodes but after that I got into it. I don’t know if I will ever say that about a TV show again, until my next long-haul international flight at least. [Update from 2020: I ended up watching the first three seasons and enjoying them. I’ll catch up with the final season one day.]

I watched “The Dark Knight,” which I’ve never seen before, and is one of those movies that makes me feel like I’m culturally ignorant for having missed. Heath Ledger’s performance was reputed to be brilliant, and it really was. He chewed the scenery admirably. I guess subtle acting is a higher skill, but scenery chewing is a good skill too, and Ledger was great at it. A couple of online articles talked about him having studied various sources, and worked hard to get the Joker’s speech intonation and laugh. None of these articles noted that Ledger was copying the laugh wholeheartedly from Caesar Romero’s Joker in the Batman TV series from the 1960s, Hoo hoo ha ha! Nothing wrong with him doing that, but I’m surprise nobody picked up on it in the articles about the movie.

Other than Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight was dumb.The theme is a very old and ugly one in American pop culture – going back to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and beyond – that law and order and the Constitution are all fine but some threats are so terrible that only a strong man can save us, by operating outside the law. Breaking the law in order to save it. You know, like Donald Trump saving us from illegal immigration. Or every President from Nixon to Reagan saving us from drugs. Or every President from Truman to Reagan saving us from Communism. And the Nazis and Japanese before that. And Communists and gangsters before that. So basically we’ve been in a permanent state of emergency the past century.

So yeah The Dark Knight was dumb. And disturbing if you think about it. As was Batman Begins before that. And yet I want to see The Dark Knight Returns. Because I’m crushing on Anne Hathaway, since The Devil Wore Prada. [Update from 2020: I might have enjoyed the movie more if I was not watching it on a screen barely larger than my hand, on a 16-hour flight.]

We got up and walked around the plane a couple of times, thus missing the entertainment value of deep vein thrombosis.

We arrived in Johannesburg at about 5:30 PM, and were greeted at the gate by a porter with a name card, as arranged by our travel agency. His name was Phumani, and he talked with a couple of the people that we passed him in a non-English language. I asked him what it was and he said it was Zulu, which seemed passably exotic to me.

We checked in overnight at the CityLodge hotel, which is connected to the airport. If you’ve stayed at any airport hotel in the US, this was pretty much the same. And that’s fine.

This morning I was up a bit before six, Julie a few minutes later. I went out to the airport in search of some things I’d forgotten to pack: Toothbrush, razor, TSA lock, USB-A port. [Update from 2020: I have no idea what I mean by “port” here. A hub?] Got everything but the port. The airport had a large and diverse array of shops, including a Woolworth that includes a whole small grocery store.

And then we went to the gates for our final short flight to Kasane. [Update from 2020: That’s Botswana, adjacent to South Africa] We’re waiting at the gate now. After the flight we have a 45 minute shuttle bus to the Chobe Lodge [In Chobe, also Botswana] and that is the beginning of the main part of our trip, about 47 hours after leaving home. The thing about travel to distant locations is that they are very far away.

Lotta people at the airport with their hand out. I am not sure who were supposed to tip and we aren’t so I’ve basically been giving out money to random strangers. Men’s room attendants are a thing here now. They greet you with a big grin and say welcome to my office. The first time I heard it I thought it was clever. The second time I realize it is clever but it is also what they say. A man helped us with the airline checkin, operating the self-check-in kiosk for us. Yes, I know, self check-in but those things can be confusing. He asked for $20 at the end and said he would split it with another guy who also helped us. Then we went to baggage check counter and the second guy tracked us down there and also asked for $20, and became agitated when I said no we already paid the other guy. These guys were not mentioned in any of the tipping guides I’ve read, leading me to believe we may have been scammed. So it goes.

Later, we arrived at Chobe and had ox-tongue dinner.


Mitch W @MitchW