I was not expecting this to be the longest flight for me since I have travelled from Dhaka-Istanbul-New York City-Columbus-Athens; but this would definitely be the most unfamiliar one for me so far. I have never set foot to the African continent; and comparatively heard lesser travel experiences to this part from people who did. My journey route was Athens-Columbus-New York City-Johannesburg-Gabarone.
The process of receiving the Botswana visa took way longer than the mentioned 21 days in the website. At one point, I felt that I would probably have to shift my flight to a later date. Thanks to the South African Embassy who gave the transit visa without the Botswana visa(which they claimed they normally don’t do) and the Botswana Embassy agreeing to give me an on-arrival visa that I prepared to embark on the flight on May 28th.
Since my flight from Columbus was in the morning, I had to take the afternoon Gobus from Athens the day before and stay overnight at the airport. These were the times when I wish I lived in a bigger city! This is my second time I had to stay overnight at the airport for a flight; thanks to Shomik whose company made this time less miserable! He came all the way to the airport and stayed overnight just to sea me off!
The trouble began when I started to check in through Delta for my domestic flight to NYC. The Delta personnel would not acknowledge my on-arrival document as a proper one since it does not have a stamp/seal. Lesson of the day: ALWAYS insist on seal on any official document. Dr. Ice had continuously advised us to check our luggage through to Gaborone. Despite my insistence, Delta refused to do so since I did not have a “proper” on-arrival visa document. They were about to check my luggage to JFK, but I managed to insist them to check it through to Johannesburg. I just had 2 hours in JFK and I didn’t want to miss my flight trying to claim my luggage; I calculated that I had more time in Johannesburg for that. I am glad that I did that– in JFK I had to change terminal from domestic to international. The shuttle took me to Terminal 4, where a lady showed me my gate when I couldn’t find it on the screen.
However, more trouble was to follow. The South African airways was also skeptical about my document without stamp. Additionally, they informed that I can’t claim my luggage in Johannesburg since I am a transit passenger who will not go to the baggage claim area. The lady dealing with the issue was nice and said she would do everything to recheck the luggage to final destination Gaborone. She warned me “I know you tried, but for future be very firm about checking your luggage to final destination; transit passengers cannot claim luggage midway!”
In the meantime, Ms. Beatrice who has been profusely kind throughout the process of working through Botswana visa, assured me that she is doing all that is possible to make sure that I’ll have no more trouble. Her support calmed me down- the last thing I wanted was to travel 32 hours to a country only to get rejected entry!
Figure: Breakfast at South African Airways; the lunch was better but I forgot to take picture of that
The in-flight South African Airways service was surprisingly good. They had the best airlines food I had eaten in years(nice, hot food with good choices) and the air host/esses were really nice too. I was sitting beside an old lady, who was travelling with her husband to Kenya, South Africa and Botswana on a camping trip. They were both Peace Corps volunteer when and were returning to Africa after years. The husband was also planning to run at Comrades Marathon which is ‘ an ultramarathon of approximately 89 km which is run annually in between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race’. I admired him–I wish I could do that when I am 70 years old! With good food, Farhan Akhtar in “Bhag Mikha Bhag”, Peace Corps and camping stories from my fellow passenger and LOTS of sleep, the 14 hours flight went well.
Figure: Johannesburg airport– I liked the quote
Johannesburg stay was comparatively uneventful. The airport was nice and user-friendly. I followed the sign of ‘International Transit’ and passed security following a line. The immigration officers here didn’t seem concerned about my stamp less on-arrival document. There were some nice shops selling traditional crafts. I restrained myself from buying anything, hoping to find similar things in Botswana or hopefully on my way back. The wait for the next flight was long 5 hours–I had purposefully booked this thinking I’d rather wait than run frantically among time shortage. In the meantime, I have received additional document from Botswana embassy which I downloaded using the Alwayson complimentary Wi-Fi and more direction from Ms. Beatrice in case I needed support. I silently thanked her efforts to help; only because of this could I open my laptop and start writing this blog post
Little did I know what havoc would follow once I reach Gaborone. More to come soon…