I haven't seen any lions yet but I HAVE successfully made it to the Timbavati Mongoza Camp, which is actually a huge deal! It doesn’t sound like such a feat on paper with a flight from Pittsburgh to JFK, then to Johannesburg, South Africa and then to Hoedspruit, BUT unfortunately it wasn’t as uneventful as hoped. I feel like I have to share the ridiculousness of my last four days. Normally I would hesitate to bore others with travel woes but these past days have been an epic series of unforeseeable setbacks I think they will amuse everyone because honestly I can’t help but laugh, even if its only out of exasperation! You’ll notice that this blog is being posted on Friday July 3 (I got to camp a couple hours ago and given the night to rest)… well let me just begin by saying that I was originally supposed to leave Pittsburgh on Monday June 29th and arrive in Hoedspruit, S.A. on the 30th. That plan was quickly thwarted when I arrived at the airport at 4am on the morning of the 29th to find my flight to JFK canceled. As it turned out, due to one thing or another, the plane we were to be on never came in the night before leaving us few options. Trying to remain calm and find another means to get me to JFK for my connecting international flight leaving at 11:35am, my Mommy and I checked all the other airlines but conveniently no one else had any flights getting into JFK or even Laguardia in time for me to make my next flight! Sooooo… feeling rather defeated… we left for home (still in the dark). At this point, since I hadn’t felt the need to get any sleep that night, I crashed into bed and unfairly left the rebooking madness to my Mother dearest. Upon waking later that afternoon I found myself rebooked with the next best option, which was the same series of flights leaving on Wednesday. Suddenly with time to spare, all my affairs in order, all my goodbyes taken care of and bags still in my trunk, I did what any unemployed 22-year-old would do.. relaxed on the couch!
3am Wednesday morning rolled around and I was up, showered and ready to roll! This time I actually found myself seating on the flight to JFK and even on the flight to Johannesburg! I was on top of the world and feeling redeemed! Well that’s about where my luck ran out. After watching the luggage of 3 international jumbo jets circle the turnstile for 20 some minutes and the minutes before my connecting flight slipping away, I filed a missing baggage report. I was in Jo’burg and it was definitely still hanging out at JFK! Perfect! And of course by this time there was only about 10 minutes till my next flight took off so I kissed the idea of getting to Hoedspruit on time goodbye! By the time I left the baggage claim area my connecting flight had to have been in the air. Feeling no sense of urgency at this point.. I wandered out into the airport and was relieved to find the man waiting for me that was supposed to have guided me to my next gate (quickly I realized how much I needed him- Jo’burg airport may just be the largest and most confusing airport I have ever seen). Instead, we got me a cell phone, which quickly became invaluable in my efforts to reach this camp, and then went to the airline’s counter to see about getting on another flight. Only two flights go to Hoedspruit a day and the next was booked solid and about to start boarding so the woman printed out an oddly large piece of paper full of characters and airline language that was supposed to say I was on the 10:30 flight out the next morning. Feeling satisfied with the arrangement, my hero of the day, Dave, then helped me get a shuttle to a hotel that he knew well and I was off.
The hotel was very pleasant and one of the 8 or so channels actually provided some decent viewing options. Not that this was necessarily one of them, but after sleeping from 5pm to 2:30am I was awake and thoroughly entertained by none other than Baywatch: Hawaiian Wedding. Some guy seeking revenge on Mitch kidnapped most of the Baywatch babes/ his wedding party and put them in life threatening situations like being tied down on the beach with the tide coming in, handcuffed in an underwater chamber that in slowly flooding and being tied to a submerged rock by their ankles amidst active underwater volcanic vents (that was Carmen Electra and her love interest). Mitch and others of course find and save all three of the disgustingly attractive couples scattered across the Islands within minutes on the show and the evil plan of revenge is easily thwarted. Mitch’s son, Kobey?, was unconscious for a couple seconds but it was hardly a scare. Oh, I forgot to mention the brilliantly choreographed flight scene at the end between Mitch and his arch-nemesis... Mitch won.. just in case you were wondering! Did I mention there were only 8 channels? Yeah, don’t judge.
I jump on the airport shuttle the next morning feeling good.. go to check in.. umm yeeeeah, my name just happens to be missing from the computer and the guy keeps telling me that the funny looking print out says something about June 3 instead of July 3, which was today's date…. Perrrrrrrrfect! Needless to say, I got sent back to the rescheduling counter I know so well to find that there’s simply nothing they can do but put me on standby for the 12:15 flight. So, once again, with no place to hurry off to, I mosey back over to the check in counter to inform them that I need to be put on standby, which they do thankfully without an issue. I’m instructed to check back at 11:25 when they can inform me of my fate.. airborne or stranded for another day/ possibly busing my way to Hoedspruit?! I am back at that counter at 11:26 and ask the woman about my standby status. She looks at me and points down the counter to another woman, who immediately starts typing away.. typing typing typing.. phone call.. phone call.. waiting.. typing.. I’M IN LUCK! I HAVE MYSELF A SEAT: 5D! WOOHOO!
I navigate my way down a couple escalators and end up at gate E4. Boarding time came and went and we all held our breaths. By the time we were scheduled to take off we were still being boarded onto the bus shuttle that took us out to our plane. All of us eager to get in the air were then told we had to stay on the bus for another 10 minutes due to some problem with the plane! OH GREAT! Ten minutes came and went and we were eventually shuttled back to good old E4 where we were left to linger and wait with no real explanation of what was going on! At this point all I cared about was that I had a ticket stub in my hand, which meant I was on my way since that was huge progress for me. I just hung out and befriended some fellow Hoedspruit bound travelers. It wasn’t until I sat down with a group of older men, who my new friend and I had noticed talking with the airline people, did I learn that “they” didn’t even know that we had been returned to the gate! It wasn’t in the computer! Sadly, I’m pretty sure the only reason we got in the air later that afternoon at 2:30 was because of the initiative taken by these men! Ha.. ha.. haaaa that’s rather unsettling. What’s ironic about the situation was that the wheels of the plane later lifted off at EXACTLY 2:30pm.. go figure!! So, needless to say (well, at least at this point in the story) I made it to Hoedspruit and was met by one of the men from the White Lion Reintroduction Project!
Side story.. in case you didn’t realize how small this world really is: I was sitting amongst a group of American High School kids, who are traveling around South Africa for two weeks, and one of their group leaders was sitting in front of me and asked me where I was from.. long story short.. it turns out that he and the other group leader were both groomsmen in my old neighbor’s (from Canterbury Lane) wedding!! They all met at camp back in the day! This neighbor and his older brother even babysat for me on occasion way back when. CRAZY!! I said I was from Pittsburgh and the next thing I knew he was asking if I went to Sewickley Academy and if I knew my neighbor of 18 years! I haven’t seen this guy in years but I run into his father quite often at the Sewickley Starbucks! Hah true story!
Anyway.. I’m in the bush, everyone seems great, I’m one of 4 interns (one British and the other two French), and happy as a clam. Well I guess there is the minor detail that I’m still minus a bag and that I have been wearing this outfit since Wednesday morning, but I’d like to ignore that second part.. especially since it looks like I’ll be wearing this tomorrow! Haha! I guess it could be worse though.. I could be trying to walk to Hoedspruit right now! Fingers crossed that my bag has a better luck than me! Hopefully it will surface 30km away at the airport tomorrow at some point. Considering the airport consists of one runway and a very nice woman sitting behind one wooden desk, I figure I shouldn’t have much trouble once it arrives! Though at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if it was forgotten about out on the runway and ravaged by a troop of baboons.. it could happen!