Saturday, August 24
This is the trip I had been dreaming about since I first came to Africa: four countries visiting some of the world’s best destinations. I was a tad excited.
The trip I had been dreaming about started out as a nightmare. After arriving early at the airport in Swaziland, and waiting for an hour at check-in, I was politely informed that I had no booking. I immediately called the company that I booked through – Kayak – and they, less than politely, told me that they had cancelled my booking. Not only did I not receive an email notifying me of this cancellation (that they claim was sent on July 25), but on July 27 I received an email from them confirming my booking. After some exasperated dialogue, they essentially told me it wasn’t their problem.
Left with little choice, I set forth to rebook my flights at over AUD$1,000, clearing my account of all my holiday savings except $100. Despite the check-in staff knowing that the booking was being processed, when I went to get my boarding pass they declared the flight closed (and yes, I could still see people boarding so it wasn’t closed closed). Kudos to Mrs Dlamini who argued with the check-in clerk for five minutes on my behalf but, alas, to no avail.
Now left with even less choice, I endeavoured to book myself on the next flight, which would not be until the next day. It would have to do. Naturally, that flight was fully booked, so I would have to wait until Monday or just turn up at the airport on Sunday and hope a seat becomes available. I was running very low on options.
So began a group effort to save Isabel. A frantic call to the folks led to an urgent cash injection (thanks guys!), while a frantic call to Tegan & Myles led to an airport pickup and a mad search for alternate routes to Vic Falls using planes, trains, automobiles and donkey, if necessary. Fortunately, we found an alternate direct flight for the next day, but it was never going to be that easy. Being a weekend, my refund from the morning’s $1,000 booking had not been processed and I had insufficient funds left in my account. Once again, the beautiful, amazing, lovely Tegan and Myles came to the rescue and let me rack up several hundred dollars on their credit card. In addition, they gave me cash for a bus to Johannesburg, cash for emergencies AND cooked me pancakes. I cannot thank them enough. What a morning – It was only 9am!
In Johannesburg that evening, I was also blessed to have the help of the wonderful Mr. John Marnell, who chauffeured me, accommodated me, cooked me curry scrambled tofu (a rare delicacy where I come from), and fed me vodka. The evening with John and his friends brought the smile back to my face and let me relax, safe in the knowledge that when I’m surrounded by such truly nice people, I have very little to complain about.
Sunday, August 25
My heart skipped a beat when a flashing error alert lit up as I tried to board my plane to Zimbabwe. After a few questions, the hostess overrode it and by mid-afternoon I was touching down in Vic Falls. Phew! Waiting in the visa queue, it quickly became apparent why finding flights proved such a challenge – a UN convention was in town. When I finally made it through, I had about one hour to check out the falls before they closed. I dumped the bag and ran.
Now, usually when people rave about places / movies / books, I follow their suggestions and end up being underwhelmed because of heightened expectations. Vic Falls did not underwhelm. It’s not just the incomprehensibly large torrents of water flowing over and crashing below, or the trademark thunderous sound, or the eeriness of the “smoke” that fills the gorge, or the feel of the spray saturating you as you stand on the cliff edge, but the mix of these providing an awe-invoking, sensory harmony. I can fully understand peoples’ inclination to put themselves in a barrel and float over the top just so that they can get closer. It is mesmerising.
With 30 minutes to spare before dark, I finished up at the falls and wandered along the century-old bridge towards Zambia. Thanks to the UN convention, a group of Ndebele dancers were performing along the roadside for passing dignitaries, which also meant free entertainment for me. I guess it was the last they could do after all the hassles they caused.