There had been a fair amount of debate between Scott and I on whether it would be a good idea to go ballooning and boy did we ever make the right decision.
First there was the cost (200 euro each holy crap!), then the fact that they pick you up at 4 freaking am, and finally that one of us is afraid of flights and the other of heights.
Every person we spoke to gushed about the experience so we said a couple of Hail Marys (ok, not really) and took a chance (really).
Why these people collected us at 4am is a mystery. From our hotel we were taken to a place where we were served a ridiculously enormous bang-up buffet breakfast, complete with food sculptures in amongst the dishes. And there were droves of people. Really it felt like every man and his hungry pushy cousin were there, all shoving each other out of the way so that they could be the first to get to all the food.
Who the bloody hell are all these pushy people scooping up plates of rice and soup at 4.15 freaking am, I wondered, and who can even eat at that time of the morning?! I would soon get to know them a little more intimately when I would be crammed into a basket alongside 16 of them. But my crusty cranky mood was diluted after they cleared a path between me and the coffee machine. Probably if I didn't know me, I'd have been terrified of me at that moment too.
There are multiple balloon tour operators in Cappadocia, so we went with Kapadokya Balloons who were recommended to us by our hotel. The guys in charge of manning our balloon were such fun, all joking around and playing the fool (a fact which I appreciated more after the flight than before).
There were probably about 30 to 40 minibuses parked outside the strange breakfast building. The hungry 5 thousand were divided into groups and directed to the appropriate minibus. Our friendly pilot was a chap named Andrew. I'd thought to myself how unusual it was for a Turk to be named Andrew but he soon revealed himself to be a Kiwi.
When we arrived at our baskets there was light in the sky (as opposed to being in complete darkness like when we were collected and fed) and we watched as our balloon was inflated. Nice, we got the Mercedes! I made a video of this with my cellphone.
My stomach butterflies were growing more violent and vicious by the second. They had developed acid-coated fangs and were bloodthirstily ripping and tearing their way through my delicate gizzards. I stopped caring about the hungry 5 thousand, and the earliness, and the chaos and now centered on the here-and-now and the fact that I would be climbing into a wicker basket tied to a balloon, and with nothing between me and the ground. What in the world were we thinking we are going to die on our honeymoon AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!! I looked over at Scott who looked calm and un-phased (does he ever not?) and tried desperately to disguise the fact that I was freaking out. Based on the photo below I was able to do this fairly successfully, but I knew that the ground staff could smell my fear.
I was expecting a violent jolt and to go catapulting off into orbit. What actually happened was a gentle, floatey, flying day-dream. I liked this! No… I loved this!
The acid-fang butterflies were extinguished by a wave of peace and calm (and probably relief). Up, across, up and away we floated. Things got smaller and smaller at a very slow un-terrifying rate and I couldn't take my eyes off of what we were above.
Andrew didn't have a lot of control over which direction we floated in, but he was in complete control of our height and the orientation of the balloon which meant that everyone in our group got a fair chance to view all directions because we were constantly being rotated.
When we eventually descended it was straight onto a flatbed trailer that the ground team had parked in the field that we came down in (they remain in constant contact with the balloon pilot to figure out where to pick us up). As we were landing, one of the team gave me and all the other ladies in the basket a little flower that he'd picked in the field we landed in.
While the balloon was being deflated and folded up we were served a glass of Cappadocian champagne, and Scott and I were given a bottle tied with a ribbon as a gift because we were the honeymoon couple! :) Right as I'd finished my drink, I was scooped up by the flower-giving balloon man and tossed onto the deflated balloon, presumably to help get the remaining air out. I was joined shortly by 3 more of the girls from our ride and it all made for a lot of hilarity and confusion and I nearly booted someone in the face.
This ballooning experience was a unique one. I felt unlike any other time in my whole life, and so did Scott. It was incomparable, magical, wonderful and the closest I will ever be to having lived a dream.
One would have thought that we'd have learnt our lesson about visiting popular tourist sites at noon but evidently we had not. I suppose one is quick to forget the crappy parts of an excursion. We'd decided to visit the open air museum of Göreme, like fools, on one of the hottest days since we'd been in Turkey, at noon.
First I should probably mention why Göreme is special and why every single visitor to Cappadocia will probably visit it before visiting anywhere else: it is central, and confirmed to be one of the oldest sites in the region. According to my Cappadocia guide it was mentioned in a book from the 7th century (called The Doings of St Heiron). The open-air museum is a closed-off region that you buy a ticket to enter and it is dense with caves, many of them churches, and nearly all lined with ancient frescoes that were painted from the 6th century onwards. That's very old, and people love old churches.
Perhaps we were still spoilt from the multitude of activities on the day before because we found this museum to be very hard work. After queuing to get in, one has to queue again to get into the individual caves and it was filled with the bad kind of tourist who are pushy and selfish.
For the first time we'd decided to get the audio guide which we shared (hoping that it would offer more satisfying explanations). Scott wasn't that into the idea but eventually agreed to it. Thanks also to the blazing unbearable heat we'd panicked and bought a cheap hat for each of us so that we wouldn't roast off our heads and faces. Between the audio guides, Scott's backpack, the cameras hanging off our necks and the stupid hats, we had become terrifying perfect tourists. (pic of me by Scott)
The audio guide was comically bad. It had a slow-talking British announcer who painfully mispronounced Cappadocia each time. I was sure that Scott was going to crack under the circumstances any moment and insist on leaving and waiting for me in the car park but he held it together very well. Scott is a highly patient person but he has his limits. We measure Scott's ability to go on in a museum in what we call his 'museum calories'. He has a limited amount of museum calories and each time someone shoves into us or we have to queue to see something, the calorie depletion rate rises rapidly. Once there are no more calories, you'd better be ready to beat it out there in a hurry or risk a crisis. Calories may be topped up with beer (in some cases), or a quiet and cool place to sit that has internet access. But not a whole lot else. I think Göreme came dangerously close to running him into a calorie deficit..
In all our sightseeing in Cappadocia so far we'd felt frustrated at the lack of information provided about what we were seeing. There are a lot of information placards that have been translated from Turkish to English (albeit poorly… Turklish?) but nearly all of them are focussed on informing us of the religious meaning behind the sites rather than the historical or geological. For example, telling me that Saint Joe is said to have passed through this valley is far less useful than explaining, for example, that people from Iran and Saudi Arabia migrated through in the xyzth century. We'd bought a little book to try and get around this and have more info, but it turned out to be fairly limited in its information and also written in Turklish. Göreme was no different in these challenges, and the information was far too vague and religiously detailed in spite of having rented the audio guide. Ok: we know where these people worship and we know where they store their food and bury their dead. But where do they actually live? There were so many churches, honestly nearly every site within the Göreme open-air museum is a church.
After leaving the open air museum we decided to walk the 3km back to our hotel instead of getting a taxi. It was very hot but a beautiful day and we loved our walk (thank goodness we had the stupid hats). We got a fantastic view of Göreme's valley and there were no other people anywhere to be found, which was blissful. We detoured on the way home and so ended up walking a fair bit longer, and got slightly lost but in the good way. Eventually we found our way back to our village, stopped for lunch and some fresh cherries and then made it back to the Hezen, where we vegetated blissfully for the rest of the day and watched the sun go down over the castle on our last night in magical Cappadocia.
Our first night sleep in our cave was not fantastic - there was a women having a furious yelling conversation on her cellphone in a language we couldn't place, right outside our window for what felt like ages. Then, at 4am, the sound of dualing mosques. We seemed to be squarely in the middle between a pair of them, and their prayer chants were very loud and competing. This is a video I made on my phone of a similar prayer song, the non-4am version:
We were a little slow feeling but rapidly perked up during the incredible breakfasts offered by Hezen. Every day they have something different that's been freshly baked by one of their staff: pastries, breads etc.
Pictures from the hote'ls website
We'd had no idea just how many things there are to see and do in the region - plenty more than could be fit into the 3 days that we'd be there. This post is probably tedious and long because for my own memories I've chosen to note them all down.
On the suggestion of one of the managers at Hezen we hired a taxi who would take us around for the full day for a set fee. His name was something that sounded like Oor, he could speak barely any English, he had a big belly and an even bigger moustache, and he smiled a lot. It worked out perfectly.
First stop was one of Cappadocia's three underground cities. It is called Kaymakli and was built somewhere between the 6th and 10th centuries. There are apparently 7 or 8 floors, not all of which have been discovered yet (not sure how they know of those floors if they haven't discovered them yet though). The entire thing covers 2.5 kilometres which is quite a feat when you think about when they were digging it out.
Next stop was a remote collection of cave churches up on a hill. We had to climb a very steep, slippery and scary set of steps to get to them. I haven't been able to work out what place this was. There wasn't anything else around here and we'd never have spotted the steps had the taxi driver not stopped and gestured for us to climb them. He just parked off in the shoulder of the road and waited there for us.
Third stop was a contained, protected valley called Soganli. There were six churches in this valley with a total walking distance of 2km between them. When we were dropped off by the taxi while he parked off and napped under a shady tree we were somewhat taken aback. Holy crap! You want us to walk 2km in the ridiculous blazing heat (35 degrees) to see 6 of the same thing?!. But we did it. Scott wore his jacket over his head for protection. We went to all of them, except for one called Snake Church. Which was strange because in between Snake Church and the next one we encountered an actual snake. The universe's way of reminding my conscience to ignore the heat and not be apathetic about the phenomenal structures we'd come all this way to see.
All of the old churches in Cappadocia that have wall and roof paintings inside them ('frescoes', which is a term I'd never encountered before this trip) had been deliberately vandalised. The churches and artworks were created by Christians. At a later stage Turkey became more Islamic (or as my guide book puts it, 'invaded by Arabs') and within that faith it was regarded as extremely disrespectful to depict holy figures like Jesus and Mary, so the faces on all the artworks (and sometimes hands and more) were scratched out. Other than the defacing, the artworks preserved quite well within the caves when you think about how old they are (more than ten centuries old sometimes), and the fact that they're partially exposed to light, extreme cold in winter (it snows and gets to -35 degrees Celsius) and extreme heat in the summer (35+ degrees Celsius).
Also inside the caves, to my delight, was hundreds-of-years-old graffiti, alongside modern-day current graffiti. I guess people haven't changed much over time and still seek out the thrill of writing their name and a date on a building. At first we were wondering if the dates on the graffiti was real but after seeing enough of it we were certain that it was. Also, the styling of certain of the characters seemed to imply that they were from a different time (look at the number 9 in the example dated 1901). Funny to think that Johannesburg was not yet even founded when some of this etching was done.
After suffering the 2km walk in the blazing heat (I realise how pathetic this sounds. But I swear… there were hills. And it was the middle of the day. And it was hot, very hot. And we'd walked a LOT in Istanbul) there was a small cave village we came to on the side of a hill. These same old structures that we'd been peering into, these people were living in. There were goats, and little patches of farm, a bee apiary and some small kids who stared us down like we were aliens, and then belted out, "Hello!".
Lunch was in a restaurant just outside the entrance to the valley named "Cappadocia Restaurant". A name like this has made it tricky to search for online. I did find one lonely picture of a crate of apples though, and a review by someone who like us, found it to be unexpectedly incredible. It is run by a husband and wife team. Our table was set up outside in their apple orchard under one of the trees, and nearly everything that we ate had been either grown, made or harvested by the owner and his wife. The bread was fresh baked - crisp on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. It was served to us with cheese made by his wife with milk from their cow, and honey harvested from the apiary I mentioned before. I had wondered if it was goat's cheese before tasting it, and the owner explained in quite broken English that when their cow decided to come home once a day or so (apparently this is a free-range cow :P) his wife would milk her and make cheese and butter.
Definitely by this point in the day we were feeling saturated, but since we had a chaperone in the form of Oor there could be no sight-bunking. So off we soldiered to the antique city of Sobesos, a group of structures that a farmer accidentally discovered on his farm in the sixties and began excavating himself, which turned out to be from the 4th to 5th centuries AD.
… then an ancient monastery and through the town of Mustafapasa (whose name we couldn't stop saying, and whose tourist sites had all shut for the day which we were lightly relieved about. At this point we were both exhausted and in silly moods not suited to be doing what we were doing):
Finally. Finally! The point we now needed rather than wanted - a stop in at a local winery called Turasan. I think that we've been spoilt by both the tasting experiences in Cape Town as well as our excellent wines. We were underwhelmed at the winery and impatiently fed through the tasting experience by their staff a bit like cattle. Cappadocia is Turkey's wine producing region and we had perhaps had our expectations in the wrong place
We were finally relieved of our sightseeing duties, and collapsed in a pile staring at the ceiling back at our hotel. Finally we pulled ourselves together and freshened up and went for a super meal at Ziggy Cafe, also recommended to us by the manager at Hezen, and the food and service were incredible.
A very full, overwhelming, exhausting and wonderful day.
Huge excitement. Today we left Istanbul for Cappadocia. I had no idea what was in store and it turned out that Scott had a few more surprises up his sleeve.
Our flight was on Turkish Airlines who claim to be Europe's best. The flight was largely uneventful (though delayed 1.5 hours), except for that when we went through security there was one person carrying a mini gas barbecue as a carry-on item. As if that wasn't strange enough, they actually allowed it.
In Cappadocia we caught the shuttle to our hotel. It was a minibus and filled with other people all going to different hotels. We hadn't realised it but it would be an hour and a half trip to our hotel, about the same time as our flight. I'd dozed off, and Scott woke me up to tell me that we were getting close to the hotel. When I opened my eyes it was as though I was in some kind of a bizarre dream and I will never forget that moment. We were completely surrounded in every direction by strange rock structures and caves. I had imagined that one would have to visit one particular region to see the sights, but they were absolutely everywhere around us.
We were the second to last set of passengers to be delivered to our hotel. We'd watched everyone being dropped off one by one. The first couple were dropped off at a really luxurious looking gorgeous hotel, and the accommodations seemed to get steadily more 'basic' looking with each new person we dropped off. I'd always assumed that we would be staying somewhere hostel-like. I could not have been more wrong.
After we'd gotten out and lugged our wheelie suitcases across the obviously 'prehistoric' road, my first clue that we were staying somewhere special was the reception area's front door:
Maybe this wouldn't be all bad after all.
The reception area behind that front door was magnificent.
Unbelievably, Scott found this hotel via my Pinterest board! Talk about a guy who pays attention. I'd pinned a photo of the exact room that we stayed in!
Before we were shown to our room, the manager spent a little time doing a welcome / orientation / suggestions chat with us and explaining our sightseeing options and suggested that the best would be to hire a dedicated taxi driver for a day, which we ended up doing.
With apologies to the lovely Timamoon where we went for our engagement, this is the most incredible, unbelievable place that I've ever had the privilege of staying. This was a thing happening to me that would never happen to me or any real people I know, an experience reserved for other privileged people on the internet whose lives I like to daydream about living.
The moment that we stepped into our 2-bedroom cave I was so overwhelmed, amazed and in disbelief that I got a little teary and I'm feeling the same way right now as I'm re-living that moment while I'm writing about it.
The Hezen Cave Hotel is a tiny boutique hotel with just ten rooms. All of the rooms really are actual caves that were carved out over a thousand years ago and are still used today. It is a difficult concept to come to grips with when you're sitting in a room of sheer luxury. Don't be misled by the word 'cave', which conjures up images of dark dankness. Everything at Hezen was bright and light and airy and there was not a single comfort lacking. The decor was incredible and so perfectly and tastefully done. They'd used traditional Turkish elements in the design together with contemporary touches in exactly the right proportions. Added to that, the breakfasts were fresh and indulgent, and every single member of staff was warm, friendly and welcoming and made us feel completely at home and relaxed with perfect hospitality.
It is amazing and mind-boggling to see modern people still inhabiting these incredible ancient caves that people carved out so long ago. Entire villages have made their homes in these places and have them plumbed and fitted with electricity.
Cappadocia is a very special place. I can't express just how amazing this experience was and how beyond lucky I feel to have the Scoddy that I have <3.
Scott wears a tiny device called a FitBit. It is a detailed tracking device and tells you just how far you've walked. Thanks to this we knew that on Thursday we walked 14km, and on Friday we would hit the 14km mark for a second time. Both days were intense.
We started off our Friday with a leisurely get-ready and then broke our no-internet rule and called our dear friend Sal for her birthday. It was a good, gentle start to what would turn into a very hectic day of being tourists. We'd resolved to see and do every single thing in Istanbul this day.
Our journey began amusingly. We'd purchased tokens for the tram and promptly pushed through the turnstiles in the wrong direction and had to come back out again and buy a new set of tokens to head in the direction that we actually wanted to go.
First stop: Hagia Sophia. My travel guide for Istanbul lists this as a must-see for being 'one of the world's greatest feats of architecture' but we would happily have given it a skip had we known the mess of queues, touts, tour guides and con-artist simit salesmen that we were about to face, all in thirty-something degree blazing midday heat. By the time we made it inside we were both so agitated that we each wanted to find a separate corner somewhere, curl into a foetal position and hum something monotone. I am glad that we suffered through it though because it turned out to be spectacular.
Hagia Sophia inside is mainly one large hall. Because of the size of the building and how wide across and high up it goes, it was tricky to take pictures of. I attempted to get a panorama using the Photosynth app on my iPhone that Charles showed us (which, oddly enough, is made by Microsoft). The result was bizarre and jagged (I suppose this takes a little practise and a novice like me should not have attempted to snap this entire hall) but I love the picture that came about!
From here we walked the short distance over to the Blue Mosque. The heat had become even more intense but the crowds had thinned out. On our walk we encountered this couple wearing matching umbrella hats:
Our arrival at the Blue Mosque coincided with prayer time and so we weren't able to enter. It is amazing to see something so ancient (this one dates from 1616) still in use today, and according to Wikipedia the building has a capacity of 10 000. We peeped in to see what prayer time looked like but were forbidden from taking any photos. On the outside area there was a series of taps where people could wash their faces, hands and feet before going in to pray. The taps are really ornate and beautiful, and similar ones are installed throughout the country.
Next stop: Grand Bazaar. I have to say that I was nervous about this one and the effect that it might have on Scott's fragile tolerance for confined spaces filled with people and vendors all pushing and yelling, and shopping (especially after the chaos at Hagia Sophia). This market was an amazing thing to behold though. It is the oldest and largest market in the world. It opened in 1461, has over 4000 shops, 58 covered streets and attracts between 250 000 and 500 000 visitors per day!
We began not by shopping, but by finding a cosy coffee shop and sampling the famed Turkish coffee. Well - Scott did. I was not brave enough :) Look how pretty it was:
We decided to hit up the Spice Bazaar next. I was a complete mess by the time we got there, because like a fool I had decided to buy a mielie (corn on the cob) from one of the local street vendors and it turned out to be the stickiest messiest vegetable I have ever eaten. I have never known a mielie to be so damned sticky and messy. They cook them over an open fire and they look and smell delicious, but this is one mistake I will not be making again. The thing managed to cover me the whole way down my front, and it took me hours to get the bits out of my teeth, clothing and hair (I don't carry dental floss around with me when I go walking but I think now I will) and tainted the flavour of the freshly made Turkish delight that we tasted in the market. He was very nice about it but I'm sure Scott was even embarrassed to be seen alongside me.
The Turkish delight in Turkey is nothing like what we in the west know Turkish delight to be. It has more of a nougat-like consistency and often has whole pistachios and hazelnuts in it. We bought a few pieces thinking that they would tide us over for the rest of our time in Istanbul but they did not even make it out of the market. They come in 'cakes' of fresh made candy, and you select the flavour that you want (for example they had pomegranate, hazelnut and coconut, or regular pistachio) and tell them how much you want and they sell it to you by weight.
After the Spice Market we walked to the extremely grandiose bridge that crosses the Bosphorous River. My Wallpaper Istanbul City Guide claims that this bridge and general region has been compared to Montmartre in Paris. The odd and interesting thing about it is that even though there are tonnes of boats carrying tourists and who knows what else (cats, perhaps?) under it, there is a huge contingent of fishermen fishing down off the bridge into the water 1000 metres below. And I say fishermen in the most literal sense, because there was not single female fishing. A lot of these people were dressed as though they had stopped to cast a quick line in on the way home from their office jobs.
More walking back towards Taksim Square which is near our hotel, and on the way up the shopping walking street connecting to it, we inadvertently got caught in a gridlocked crowd of protestors, and there were millions of riot police everywhere. Amazing how it really came out of nowhere, and it was quite a panickey, scary experience. Eventually we were able to remove ourselves from it and slip into a side street where we bolted back to our hotel as quickly as we could. We still have no idea what was going on or what any of it was about, and there were really a terrifying amount of police all wearing full riot gear and brandishing large weapons that they kept their fingers on the triggers of.
Back at the hotel we were completely wiped out. We'd planned to use the hotel's jacuzzi, Turkish bath and sauna again but we collapsed in a heap and passed out. I'd call day 3 a success.
Turkey. I have been daydreaming about visiting Turkey for so, so long. This place has history on the scale of Rome. When I learned of Cappadocia I knew that this was somewhere I would definitely want to visit.
Scott's been planning our honeymoon for months, and is apparently very good at keeping a secret because nobody was able to get it out of him. There were four people who knew where we were going, largely for practical reasons, and I was not one of them (also for practical reasons, since it was my surprise). I had several theories (one of which turned out to be correct!) but each had a counter point as to why it couldn't be there.
This was one of our least shevelled departures to date. The plan had been to let me know by giving me the travel guides that he'd bought when we were on the plane, but it was not to be.
The letters. The thank you letters. As usual we'd overestimated our capacity for getting things done before leaving. One such thing was writing thank you notes to various people who were involved in our wedding. Since we didn't send out conventional invitations, it was important to me that the notes were personally written and not just printed off templates. I wanted to include some of the professional photographs in a few of them, and we only received those last Tuesday. What stopped me from writing the notes beforehand and getting the envelopes all ready to go, we will never know.
Hand-writing approximately sixty letters is a time consuming business. More so than I might ever have imagined, and we ran out of time to mail them. No matter, we thought… we'll stop in at a Postnet in town en-route to the airport (after this much effort we weren't going to risk having the SA Post Office disappear them). But we were late. And it was raining. And we were taking a taxi to the bus via the Postnet, and then the bus to the airport and all in Cape Town's rush hour (a little after 3pm).
There was no way that we would make it to both the Postnet and our flight on time. Crap. Ok, well, we knew there was an SA Post Office at the airport - we'd send them all registered from there. And so off we went to the airport with our little baggie of sixty hand-written thank you notes, all sealed and without stamps. What we failed to take into account was that South African government institutions will rarely work past 15h30 and so after we'd checked in (still without me knowing where we were leaving for) we set out to find the Post Office. Needless to say it was closed and we were now stuck standing in the middle of what felt like Grand Central station, on a time budget and trying to figure out what to do.
Scott knew. Scott always knows what to do.
"We'll find stamps here in the airport and send all the South African letters from in South Africa using the regular post box, and offer up a sacrifice to the postal deities to increase our odds that the letters will make it there. Then, all the international letters we'll take along and mail from Istanbul!"
I had to ask him to repeat himself. And he did - we'll send the rest from Istanbul. After months and months of saving the secret, this was how I'd learn that we were going to Turkey? I felt a fleeting flash of annoyance at him for being a jackass, but that was rapidly replaced by the best kind of excitement ever! I would learn once we were in Istanbul that we were not only going to Istanbul, but also to Cappadocia and if we felt like it, also to the south of Turkey where they have gorgeous tropical beaches.
Other than a bad landing in Johannesburg, all three of our flights were largely uneventful (though I did manage to leave one of them without my 5-year old ipod nano, which made me a little sad). After getting in to Istanbul it took about an hour and a half to actually get out of the airport, and we took the subway and trams into town. Istanbul has a great subway system, and when we were on the tram, we passed by one amazing sight after another. I felt like I was in a documentary - what were all of these incredible old buildings that we were passing?
Scott's booked us into a really nice hotel and it is in a brilliant area. After we'd dumped our bags we took out for a walk. We walked and walked and walked. We were both so exhausted, but we traipsed the streets in our area like a pair of undead lovers until late at night. Today we have plans to visit some of the recommended places listed in the Wallpaper guide and I'm expecting to have happily aching feet by tonight.
I think that my Scoddy may just have outdone himself. What a freaking lucky girl I am. It still all feels like a dream.
This is certainly one of the more spur-of-the-moment trips that I've taken (I'm lucky to have a Scott with such a spirit for spontaneity!). We'd driven up to Johannesburg for Mitch and Nina's wedding and decided that we'd drive back to Cape Town via Botswana and Namibia. We've been loosely day-dreaming about doing an epic road trip through some southern African countries for a while, and now was a good time to have done this because up till now Scott's been busting his chops till between 2 and 3am working on an amazing site called Cargoh and it launched the day before we set off.
Crossing the border at Pioneer Gate into Lobatse was fascinating. We had no idea what to expect and had braced ourselves for a very "African" experience. What we actually experienced was a pretty laid-back, surprisingly efficient and extremely friendly set of border guards. The facilities were small-town rural but clean and quite cute. This is a photo that Scott took on his cellphone of the hand-painted Immigration sign up at the office.
This trip is a milestone trip for me because I have never been to any of the countries surrounding (or surrounded by) South Africa. The surprising part about it is that from Johannesburg it is quicker to drive to Botswana than to Durban where our family would take coastal holidays every year. In fact, hardly any Johannesburgers that I know (and I know a few) have done this drive.
More than anything we're just dipping our toes into the water here to learn about what there is in Botswana (there's a lot as it turns out) and where we like to be, and I'm certain that we'll be returning in the not-too-distant future with a more appropriate and less conspicuous vehicle.
A mini list of things I have learnt about Botswana in 5 days
- The people are hands-down the friendliest people of any country that Scott and I have ever been to. I mean like seriously, uncomfortably friendly. When we first got here, I thought that the young girl who bounded up to me and asked to have her photo taken when she saw me taking a picture of The Braai Place was trying to rob and/or con me. She wasn't. She was just that friendly.
- They use British-style wall plugs. Crap. We have had to purchase yet another adaptor plug.
- This country is serious about its crackdown on the HIV/Aids epidemic. Every single hotel that we've stayed at has come with condoms in the draws next to the bed. The primary school in the village that we visited in Gweta had a billboard right as you enter talking about HIV/AIDS.
Pure, unbridled terror. You know what it feels like. Your palms are soaked wet and your heart is pounding so loudly that you're certain that it must be disturbing the person sitting next to you. I started writing this post on a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, the first of 9 flights that I've scheduled to take over the next month. I sucked back a triple dose of Rescue Remedy within the first 10 minutes of the flight and that just wasn't cutting it, so I drank. When I'm on the plane all my senses switch to hyper-alert and every little sound or motion change shakes me up. I notice that the man 2 rows ahead of me has a cast on his right foot, which is hanging out in the aisle. It could be worse, I think to myself... if this plane goes down, that man is a goner for certain.
My love affair with the air began in 1989 when I was 7 years old. Our family had moved to Johannesburg from Port Elizabeth because my Dad had been transferred for work. That year my mom bought me a ticket back to Port Elizabeth to visit my best friend. It became a yearly treat. At the airport all the nice air hostesses would fuss over me and take care of me, thanks to my UNACCOMPANIED MINOR status. Flying became a real treat and over and above the destination what I looked forward to immensely was the flight. I absolutely loved the magic of being in the air and would do my best to secure myself a spot at the window. I couldn't stop looking out at all the tiny things down on the ground.
I'm not what you'd call a stranger to flying. Since 2000 I've done individual trips to England (three times), Nigeria, Buenos Aires and Tanzania, done a round-the-world trip in 2006 (18 flights), traveled to Drupalcon Barcelona in 2007 (8 flights), a trip to New York in 2007 (with 3 flights), a round-the-world trip in 2008 (17 flights), this latest batch of flying madness involving Drupalcon Copenhagen & Canada, and countless domestic trips in-between. I would even go so far as to say that I like being at the airport.
Well - liked, anyway. In November 2008 I set off on the start of a new exciting round the world trip, and I had all sorts of ideas and plans and more excitement than I could contain. First stop Buenos Aires with a layover in Sao Paulo. The flight departed from Sao Paolo on time in the early evening and would land in BA after dark. I had a whole 3-seater row to myself, and it had been a long day of flying so I slept lightly most of the way. All was well and I was looking forward to the indulgent pleasure of being in this new amazing city, and to being with Scott again who I had not seen since September.
I was woken up to the sound of the seatbelt sign being switched on. Ok I thought, it's only a few minutes until landing and the plane was descending at what felt like a swift pace.
I could not have been more unprepared for what happened next. The plane hit very bad turbulence and dipped down hard. It sounded like the pilot had smashed the jet's belly down onto solid concrete. I was strapped in but obviously not well enough because I lifted completely off of my seat. After the sudden drop the plane flipped completely over onto its left side, and then onto its right and back again onto its left and then finally we straightened out and proceeded with a very turbulent descent. The scene played out in slow-motion for me. I could see all the sparkling lights of the city down below. It was like being in a car where the driver has lost control of the vehicle and tries to straighten out but over-corrects. There was an announcement made by the pilot after the flipping and bumping on the plane but it was in Spanish and I'll never know for sure just how close we were to crashing that day. Of course the attendant I spoke to afterwards assured me that everything was fine but they are robots and are trained to do that.
At that time I believed that I was going to die in that plane. A million thoughts raced across my mind, and the first was that Scott would arrive in BA the next day and think that I had stood him up. I imagined him being in this foreign country alone. I wondered if he'd stay for the full three months after learning of our plane crash or if he'd be freaked out and go back home to Vancouver. I thought about my mom and dad and sister, and I thought about the data on my laptop and wished that I'd backed up before leaving home so that my clients could get their work from it. I thought of the cash withdrawal I'd just made at Johannesburg International Airport before I left that morning, the largest amount of cash I'd ever carried (I had to pay for the full 3 months of our accommodation upfront) and I was mightily pissed off that it was about to go up in flames and my sister wouldn't get to spend it (I decided that thats what my parents would do with all my stuff - give it to her). I also thought about all the people living in the houses below that we would fall onto. It was after dark and I was sure that they'd be in their homes, and wished that I had a way to warn them to evacuate.
Most people I've spoken to have had a bad flight at some point before and so had I. This one was different though. It left me aware of my mortality. For me now, the focal point of travel has switched from excitement about the destination, to paralytic fear and anxiety for weeks preceeding the trip over the stupid flight.
I turned to the internet. Surely I couldn't be the only person this has happened to, I thought. I was right! There are courses designed especially for people like me and the unanimous opinion was that the best fix was one offered by Virgin Atlantic. There was one problem: I would have to fly to London for that.
I've tried talking to friends and family in the hope that someone might have some comforting words and I instead discovered that nearly everyone else had some form of latent anxiety too. I even learnt from my aunt that she had been in a plane that crashed (it was a minor accident, but an accident all the same)! People suggested I see a psychologist but that won't cut it - I need someone who is both a psychologist and someone who can explain to me what all the noises in the plane mean, and the technical reason why the plane will "never" fall out of the sky because of turbulence. My trust was shattered that day.
Some flights are worse than others: on a recent flight out of Vancouver we were on the smallest plane I'd ever been on (it had propellers and only 12 rows of seating). This was definitely the flight that I freaked out worst at, and for no reason at all other than how the plane looked. When we walked across the tarmac and onto the plane I felt like I was being led into a gas chamber. The flight wasn't even particularly turbulent and I'm ashamed to admit that I fretted and quietly howled the whole way through it. Scott thinks that the flight attendant thought that I was grieving a lost friend or relative, which took the edge of my embarrassment (he's kind that way). I had to greet my inlaws-to-be with red puff-face though.
I'm still looking for a course to take and would appreciate any information or advice that anyone has. My fiance is from a country very far way away from mine and I don't want to spend the rest of my life going through this every six months, because not flying anymore simply isn't an option.
Incase you're wondering, the flight was with Aerolineas Argentinas. This flight isn't the reason that I will never user this awful airline again, because we all flew together to Iguazu Falls after that. Scott wrote about them, and after that I can truthfully say that I would rather pay 3 times the cost with any other airline than use Aerolineas Argentinas ever again. If you are ever given the option, do not travel with this airline. They are very bad.
More than two years later and I have finally put the first batch of my photographs from my round-the-world holiday in 2006 online. See them here.
It's been wonderful sorting through them, I am re-living the holiday that I had and what it felt like to be there seeing these all these crazy things, and every day something that was completely new to me.
I had a little oopsie along the way in my sorting process - I deleted my "Sorted and ready to upload Tokyo Pics" folder which contained roughly 50 photographs. I immediately googled for recovery software and found and downloaded something within minutes. I know that the more you move files / use programs after deleting something the slimmer your chance of recovering the data is.
I have mixed feelings about the utility I got: http://www.officerecovery.com/freeundelete/ It did find some files, though there were odd results. It "recovered" images from my web browser cache and mixed up the titles of those with titles of my Tokyo photos. Still, it was able to get a couple of things back for which I am grateful, and most excitingly it did this to a previously boring-ish photo I had of some daisies:
This cheered me up a lot.
I will be returning to Tokyo later this year and where I was excited before, after going through my photos I now absolutely cannot wait.
Scott and Scott were in Cusco yesterday on a stopover on the way to Peru. Apparently the town is a lot nicer than both of them were expecting. For the most part, the locals still dress in traditional clothes made from alpaca (wool? fur?? silk?! Not hide, surely.).
And there are apparently alpaca everywhere. I was delighted at the thought of this, I love alpaca. They're so gentle and sweet and silly-looking (like a few of my friends, now I'm thinking about it). Some of them roam around freely, a lot of them are peoples' pets.
Later on Scott came back online and was telling me how much they liked the place, and what an amazing dinner they'd had that night.
[ smath ] Oh nice! What did you have?
[ hadsie ] ..... nothing...