Making order of travel chaos
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
JOHANNESBURG, DURBAN, PORT ELIZABETH - If soccer is played in hell, then Friday was a home game.
The only thing missing was Beelzebub himself. Hold it, come to think of it, maybe he dressed as the security officer at Durban airport.
Anyone who went through the process of planning and organizing a junket to cover the 2010 World Cup in South Africa had to know there would be days such as this.
Every trip involving multiple plane flights, taxi drivers and security officers has its inherent dangers. But when those challenges all come together to form the perfect storm, it becomes the day your mother warned you about. Maybe I just should have stayed in bed.
But there are advantages to a 6:40 a.m. flight from Johannesburg to Durban, the biggest being its too dark to see the city.
The normally reliable Wilfrid had been booked for a 5 a.m. pick up, but when 5:15 came and no Wilfrid it was time to call. No answer after seven rings.
Three minutes later my phone rang.
"Wilfrid here, don't worry, I am almost there," he said.
The fact there was no noise should have been a dead giveaway. He was sawing logs.
"Wilfrid. Where are you man? It's 5:30."
"No problem man. I am at the end of you street."
It was 5:45 and I was beginning to wonder how long my street was. Five minutes later, Wilfrid spun into the driveway, cheery as can be. One look at me and decided that keeping at low profile was probably not a bad idea.
It's about a 20-25 minute trip to the airport. Wilfrid drove, I hung on. You've never quite experienced driving in South Africa unless you are going 140 kilometres-an-hour in rush hour traffic.
We made it in 15 minutes. "Give me a hug, big man. I'll pick you up when I get home," Wilfrid said. My day went downhill from there.
I was late and the boarding gate was closed. "The gate is closing, you can't go on" the attendant said.
"But it's not completely closed," I said breathlessly. "I can see a little opening."
"It's 15 minutes to boarding sir," she said. "You are late."
"I'm not, the taxi was."
I don't know what finally made her change her mind about letting me on. I don't thing it had anything to do with me throwing myself on the ground and pitching a fit. (Note to self. Thank daughter for lesson when she was five.)
The flight made it to Durban. The driver what was supposed to pick me up picked me up. I got to the stadium at 8:30 and the press centre was closed ... until 10.
When the press centre finally opened, it was time was to pick up my game pass. I knew something was up when it took 10 minutes and still no ticket.
"You don't have a ticket," the nice woman said.
Yes I do, I was approved.
"No ticket," she said.
"Yes I have a ticket, please look again."
About 40 minutes later, they found it. It was accidently positioned with tickets for Italian media.
After all that, the Brazil-Portugal game turned out to be a clunker. Now it was rush back to Durban airport to make 7:50 flight to Port Elizabeth.
The boarding pass said Gate 3 was where I needed to be.
That's when I meet Beelzebub.
"Hi, how are you?"
Bad news. No respons.
"Where are you going? Why? Why don't you have any check-in luggage? What nationality are you? (I get that a lot.) Where were you born?"
Those were more questions than I had been asked the first 16 days in South Africa. Then he found the camera tripod in my bag.
A camera tripod.
"What's it for?
"Please step over here and empty your bag."
Thirty minutes later after explaining every wire and connector I had in my bag, I finally made it to Gate 3.
Mr. Airport Security guy might have done me a favour if he had stopped me from getting on the plane. Gate 3 turned out to be Gate 14, then Gate 1 and back to Gate 3 again.
"They sent me back here," I said to the airline person.
"The flight's delayed two hours. It is on its way though," she said pleasantly.
Three hours later, the flight was still on its way. I'm beginning to think Wilfrid the cabbie is the pilot.
Three-and-half hours later, we finally board ... a bus that drives u around the airport tarmac for 30 minutes as the crew prepares the plane for takeoff.
We finally land in Port Elizabeth at 12:30. The airport is deserted. There are no taxis to be seen. Ten of us wait outside.
"No taxis," said Captain Obvious, an airport attendant. "They thought there were no more flights so they went home."
Repeated calls (at least 10) to taxi companies yielded one cab and that cab was quickly taken by the flight crew.
"Don't worry they are on the way," says another airport attendant.
I'd been there and done that twice already. An hour later and the group of 10 were down to six. I think two of the guys stole a car and two others stopped a car on the street and paid some random guy to drive them.
Finally, the airport attendant gets permission to use a shuttle to drive six of us to where we were staying. She's never driven it. It takes a half hour to figure out how to move the middle seat so that everyone can get into the shuttle.
I get out to help.
"I finally got it," says one individual. "But something's making it stick.
That would be my hand, I yelp.
The wonderful woman stalls the shuttle every 100 feet until she gets used to it. She drives with the window open because she doesn't know how to work the defrost button. But in the end, she gets us all home.
It's 3 a.m. and the receptionist at the guest house greets me in her pyjamas.
"You look like you've been through hell today," she says.
If only she knew.