On Tues morning Aug 26, we were excited to head to the airport in East London for our noon flight to Joberg where we were on standby for our Lufthansa flight to Germany to attend Michael’s nephew’s wedding on Friday. After a boot shine for $4 and a smooth flight, we arrived in Joberg and transferred to the international terminal for our evening flight. Unfortunately, it was overbooked, and there was no way we would get on board flying standby. So we called Hector, owner of the Guest House where we had stayed on the inbound trip 3 months prior. When we discovered that Lufthansa was overbooked for the next several days, we needed a new strategy. Since we were now going to miss the Friday wedding, we decided just to go home. We booked our standby on Delta for San Diego on there single flight per day to the US and returned to the airport next day. Overbooked. Three times we returned, same story. By Saturday, we’d had enough. Shifting gears once again, we knew if we could make it to Germany, we’d have many options on Delta back to the States. We booked the cheapest flight we could find which was to Zurich, only 2 hours from Freiburg, and boarded Etihad (United Arab Emirates airlines) on Sunday to head to Europe for a couple of days of rest before flying Delta home from Stuttgart. One small glitch we encountered was that Michael had now overstayed his 90 day visa waiver by 2 days due to all the flight delays. It hadn’t even occurred to us, since we were just so focused on getting home. We’ll have to jump through some hoops at the SA embassy when we get home or he won’t be able to enter the country for 5 years. Small detail. Just glad to be in the air again headed to Abu Dhabi where we have a 6 hour layover before a 2 am connecting flight to Zurich. Outside of Freiburg is a mineral hot springs that I am soooo looking forward to visiting to soak for hours before returning to our standby status for our flight from Stuttgart to San Diego, via Atlanta.
The world feels more personal to me again since being on this trip. We had heard about Lesotho before coming to Africa but didn’t have a clue about it actually – the language, geography, resources, politics, wildlife nor the economy. We learned some things about it and saw some great pictures from the camping trip of our newfound American friends that we met in Glengariff, and that made us want to return next year to visit and explore the country. Then, while we were at Addo Elephant National Park, we met a young Dutch couple on a three week trip through SA with a stop in Swaziland and Lesotho. They had taken a 2 hours trek on horseback into the mountains, which made us want to return even more. (info about mountain, altitude, etc) When we were staying in a Guest House (B&B) in Joberg waiting for our flight back to that States, the house girl was a 21 year old from Maseru, Lesotho. We were struck by how sweet, soft spoken and humble Lirontsho is. She came here to be near her father, who is in his 50s and working in a platinum mine north of Joberg. Every two weeks on her days off, she visits her father about 2 hours to the north. When she talks about him, you can feel the deep love she has for her him, like a little girl very attached and devoted to her father. Her mother and siblings are still back in Lesotho, but she came here to stay close to her father. Her sweetness made it easy to want to share with her our experiences and photos, especially the elephants at Addo which she had never seen. Then on our last day, the News reported a military coup in Lesotho and said that the President had fled to SA. Hector, owner of the Guest House, was surprised and said that SA would send its troops there, because they don’t want instability in their midst. And he kept saying that he doesn’t understand why it’s a separate country anyway. The ties are very close, and Lesotho is surround by SA. Transit and exchanges across the border are very easy with SA. When I told her about the coup, Lirontsho was initially very worried for her family who live close to the military base, but seemed happier after calling and talking to her mother, one of the great human benefits of ubiquitous cellphones around the world. They really do serve people, communication and strengthening the love in the world. We were very happy to give her our leftover Rand and a very long hug.
Here we are in Abu Dhabi, Aug 31, Sunday evening waiting for our connection to Zurich at 2 am. Our plane with Etihad (UAE airlines) is a new Airbus 330, which carries 335 passengers, with all the latest technology, including the use of Wifi in the air, electrical connections to charge devices and personal touch screens, though not new. Lunch was delicious. The tray even included water, packaged in a small square package with a plastic cover that said ‘Natural Bottled Water.’ Interestingly, we had seats 34A & C; there is no B. No one could tell us why. The terminal is beautiful, circular in design and lined with all the high-end duty free stores.
The city is huge, encompassing over 375 sq. miles (population 921,000). Abu Dhabi International Airport itself is spread over an area of 60 square kilometres (15,000 acres). Its terminal spaces are dominated by Etihad Airways, the United Arab Emirates’ second largest air carrier after Emirates. Once our Etihad flight landed, it took us at least 10 minutes to reach the gate (I estimate about 5 miles). Just amazing. As we were landing, I was fascinated to see that all the lights in the city were yellow lights, best for reducing light pollution.
In the air again at 2 am, I met the gentleman sitting an empty seat away. Clearly Indian, turns out he is a monk, living in Melbourne, Australia and on his way to Cork, Ireland to visit a woman who treated him like a son during his early twenties. He had lost contact, and following an urge to see her, managed to track her down with a lot of creativity and Facebook. As a Hindu monk, he teaches spirituality at universities and to local groups. We enjoyed chatting about the several Dan Brown books we had read as he was now into Digital Fortress. Fun and joyous encounter.