Thursday, 13 August 2015

May 29/30: Goodbye Africa

Without confirmed reservations, we headed to the airport in Livingstone, Zambia, just across the bridge and border. Along the way, our shuttle picked up two others from the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.

They have their own water hole
Then it was time to cross the border. The shuttle driver took us to the Zimbabwe immigration booth to check out of the country. The Zim passport control officer could not understand why I got the form to check out of the country, but he checked me out anyway. The driver helped us through the post, then carried our bags to a Zambian shuttle from the same company sitting on the other side.

From here, the bridge looks very short, and it's obvious it was a train bridge first.

It's a LONG way down, though
Crossing the bridge, we got a glimpse of the fog shrouded falls.

In places, it really is hard to see the falls themselves
Then it was into Zambia (a quick passport stamp with our Kaza visas), a last view of the falls…

There's a reason they call it The Big Smoke
Then into the still-under construction Livingstone Airport. Interestingly, check in kiosks were after security. We arrived at 10:30, but they wouldn’t let us through security until 11. I almost left my camera behind; a kind gentleman brought it to me while I was in the security line.

We got to check-in, and had no issues with our flights. Business class to Johannesburg. We asked about getting into Business for the JNB – Istanbul run, but he had no way to do that. He warned us that because of the number of connections, he had to double tag our bags, and they might not make it. No biggie.

Once in Johannesburg, we checked with the Turkish Airlines transfer desk about upgrading; he said “no way” based on the fact that 5 of the 28 seats coming in from Cape Town were already occupied, and 23 more had already checked in at JNB. So we were literally in the “back of the bus”, 2nd last row of an A330. Because our next flight was not Business (even though we had come in on Business, and had a Business class ticket), we could not use the JNB lounge. Sigh. Fortunately, the layover was short and JNB is big. 

The flight was OK, with a beautiful and charming young flight attendant. Interestingly, everyone in Economy got amenity kits, something you normally only get when you are in Business. We didn’t sleep much on the flight, so arrived at 5:15 AM in Istanbul somewhat groggy. We figured that if our next flight controlled the lounge access, then we could get in, as we had Business Class tickets to Frankfurt. A quick swipe got us into…

the most spectacular airline lounge I had ever seen.

The 2 story atrium 
The intimate lower level 
More on the atrium
The place was over the top. It had a pool table. It had a driving range golf simulator.

It had a slot car track (with televisions playing recent F1 races).

It had olive bars, nut bars, 3 grand pianos (all playing automatically), multiple coffee/cappuccino stations, beer and wine and hard liquor everywhere. It had two short order kitchens, one serving breakfasts including omelettes and pancakes and bacon and eggs, and the other a pannini bar, making custom grilled sandwiches. It had a huge kids play area.

You name it, it had it, and at least 5 of them.

And showers. Beautiful, elegantly appointed showers. Just like their regular bathrooms (Karen took this picture, not me).

The sink in the ladies room
We cleaned up (which felt great) then flew to Frankfurt (in lay-flat seats. We would have liked the lay-flat seats on our last flight). Just to add icing to an already good cake, Turkish Airlines has actual chefs on board.

And their in-flight display not only includes route maps but forward and aft facing cameras you can watch.

Following someone down a taxi way
I was very impressed with everything about Turkish Airlines, including the economy service.

We got into Frankfurt desperately hoping for an upgrade. We were going to crash and were hoping that it would be in a nice bed. Plus my cold had progressed quickly and I felt like crap. We went up to the Air Canada transfer desk and got good news: we would probably get upgraded based on space and waiting list, and we could go to the lounge.

Pretty but not Istanbul

Our upgrades were issued at 11:50, we boarded at 12:15 into lovely pods again. We took off, ate quickly, then crashed asleep for 5-6 hrs. By now, my cold was making me feel miserable (I even had a slight fever), and we got some Tylenol from Air Canada that helped. The descent into both Frankfurt and Calgary were just killers on my eardrums, with stuffed up Eustachian tubes.

After about 30 hrs of continuous travel, we arrived home to a house cleaner than when we left it, and a cat who didn’t seem to care that we existed. I think our house sitters did a great job.

Today’s Africa Travel Tip: Gifts

Wise friends of mine who have been to Africa suggested we take some trinkets to give to kids in the villages we visited; pens in particular were recommended as well as small notebooks. We took ~50 pens to give away, and bought some 20¢ notebooks to give away while we were here.

Our guide Laban wasn’t a big fan of giveaways. He recommended that we give the pens and books to the school we visited in the Himba village, where they could get used. He noted that if we didn’t give them to the right aged kids, they would not add value; young kids would tear up the paper, chew the pens. Older kids living traditional lifestyles didn’t use pens or paper. He noted how some people brought balloons, which was a terrible idea, since to the kids, they would translate “balloons as toys” to “condoms as toys”, which would harm the AIDS problem.

Some on our tour brought hard cover kids books. Not a bad strategy, in Laban’s view, but again, we had to be selective who to give them to. Just past the Botswana border post, there was a little pop and snack stand, with a lady and her 4 year old. One of our truck mates gave the kid a book, and it seemed welcome. Still, Laban noted to us that the kid probably did not yet speak English, as English is learned in schools, and it was unlikely the kid was at school already. Laban knew the lady’s English was limited to pop and chips transactions, so probably couldn’t read it to the kid. Such a conundrum.

After 21 days on the road, my conclusion is that gifts should be skipped. Ignoring the impact they have on you carrying them hither and yon, they are unlikely to have the impact you want. Kids in Africa make toys, like push cars out of fence wire. Adding North American or European gifts probably won’t make their world a better place. But it’s a tough call; think hard about it, and get the right things, and maybe it would be good thing.

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