Porcupyn's Blog

July 25, 2018

South Africa Trip – Day One (MCO-JFK-DOH-JNB)

Filed under: Family,Geography,Humour,Travel — Porcupyn @ 8:44 am

All that brought us back to Day 0. Our flight, that had been scheduled for 6:15 am or so (if I remember right) at the time we purchased our tickets, had been changed to 6:45 am by JetBlue scheduling. As a result, our two hour transfer time in JFK had been reduced to just about an hour and a half. DS had warned us that in JFK, in order to change to our departure gate, we would need to get out of our arrival terminal and go through security once more then find our gate. By the time the morning dawned, like I said, I was in a bit of panic just in case our MCO-JFK flight was axed. Fortunately, we were able to get to the airport by about 3:30 am and check in – the flight was supposedly on time.

By the time we reached the gate though, we were informed that there was a 30 minute delay. We managed to all board very quickly and by the time the flight took off, it was only about 20 minutes late. So, though we had over an hour in JFK to get to our gate, we knew we still had to hurry!

There were clouds in the sky as we took off from Orlando – I had been half afraid that we might get delayed once more because of six am thunderstorms!! But we made it to JFK without any incident. It had been a while since we last flew into JFK and I didn’t recollect any of the scenery that I could see this time. Not sure what flight path the captain took. Here are a few sample photos:

Enjoyed the geography of the area from the air

Lot of little meandering rivers

Coastline off Long Island

Flying over Long Island approaching JFK (I did not get to see any part of Manhattan on the whole approach – we probably turned east way before New York)

We are all window seat lovers :-). So, usually, our configuration – if we can get it – is DW and DD sitting window and next to window, DS and me in the windows behind – essentially, we occupy three different rows on the plane. We love looking out the windows for sure. For the MCO-JFK leg, once DS found out that the schedules had changed and we were leaving MCO later than originally planned, he managed to move the three of them further forward. I like staying in the back and bet on myself being able to catch up once we were out in the open terminal 🙂

The plane took nearly half an hour to taxi and get to the gate (thank you JFK!!). Now I was getting close to hitting the panic button. But I stayed calm, and managed to catch up with the rest of the family by the time they reached the inter-terminal shuttle. We got on the shuttle, got off at the terminal, breezed through security thankfully (MCO would have probably taken at least 45 minutes; we are used to MCO and so I was shocked to learn from my Bay Area friends that SFO security typically clears in less than 15 minutes) … and – boarding cards in hand – landed up at the gate and were among the last folks in the queue to board. Yes, our flight was almost all boarded when we got there. At that point, Roadblock!!

Apparently, the boarding passes given by JetBlue in MCO – all the way through to JNB – were no good. We had to get over to a different line (which was empty at this point!) to get fresh boarding passes from Qatar Airlines staff. As we were the only ones in the queue, I thought it would be a quick thing – but it wasn’t! Three weeks before departure, DS had informed us that even if both parents were travelling with minors, South Africa requires birth certificates that display the names of the parents (what a dumb rule, I thought, and why hadn’t I been told about it sometime during the ticket purchase process). After double checking with another family that had recently returned from South Africa, I realized that the rule was very valid and after further thinking, I realized that the rule actually makes sense. Now, the Qatar Airlines staff did ask us to furnish the birth certificates – as I had them stuck deep inside my carryon bag, this took a couple of extra minutes.

But finally, we were ready to board, fresh boarding passes in hand. We were now literally the last to board the plane as all of those few folks who were behind us in the queue had now managed to board. South Africa, here we come!!

Here are some photos of the JFK-DOH leg (photo credit: DS).

Interior of the plane

Vegetarian Meal 1

Vegetarian Meal 2

Interior of the plane

Control Tower, Doha

Inside Doha Terminal

Need to go through passport control

Airport shops

Transiting from Qatar Airways to Qatar Airways would be a breeze, we thought, so we were not unduly worried that our flight took a few minutes to get to the gate (nowhere close to how much time it had taken for JetBlue at JFK); once in the terminal, I saw that we had to go to Terminal E (I might have gotten these letters wrong but anyway) and we were in Terminal B. I saw a shuttle that was on a higher level than where we were. So, we went up the escalator and got in the shuttle. It went to Terminal C (or so I thought I heard the announcer say – I was too busy taking a video of the shuttle). We waited inside the shuttle for it to go forward even as I – from the corner of my eye – saw most passengers getting off and I also caught a security guy outside yelling something. Next thing I know, he’s literally facepalming, the doors close, and the shuttle reverses.

Uh oh! Now we know what’s going on – the shuttle is a very short one, and we didn’t even need to get on it. We could’ve just walked. Anyway, now that we’d wasted enough time, we decided to stay on yo-yo right back to the other station. I see the security dude again, and we each laughed! From here, it was just a short walk down the stairs and around some shops to get to our gate even though it was deceptively described as a whole different terminal. Guess what, this flight was about to board as well, so we quickly got in the line.

The problem with taking oodles of photos is that it is very very difficult to pick and choose from them. The problem is compounded when you make two trips within a couple of weeks of each other (especially when you don’t travel that often) and don’t even have time to go through all the nearly 5,000 photos and videos that you and your family have taken. So, these photos that I share might (or might not) be the pick of the lot, but will still provide a representative sampling of our trip. You’ve been warned! 🙂

Once the flight got off the ground sometime around 7 am (JNB ETA was 3:40 pm), I was looking forward to what would be a nice flight through Africa and that I might even get to see Kili from the air. As we would be flying almost due south (first time ever that I had been on a nearly north-south flight along more or less the same time zone throughout), there would be no jet lag at all.

Guess again, buddy! The flight took off north of the airport and turned northeast. With me sitting on the right side of the plane, I bore the brunt of the sun’s rays. Each minute, I was expectantly looking forward for the flight to make a sharp turn towards the southwest; didn’t happen. The plane did take a more easterly orientation, but all I could see was a lot of water below, and desert far to my right. The scenery couldn’t have been more boring. After a while, it was obvious to me that we were not going to be heading south over land. And I was right; we kept going over the seas past the Arab peninsula then headed south.

Even though I had heard and read about the spat between Qatar and the other Gulf states, I hadn’t considered that the other countries would be spiteful enough to not let Qatar Airlines flights over their airspace, but that’s obviously what was happening (as I later deduced). While in flight, I kept thinking that maybe it is some Great Circle Route that I had not realized. Unfortunately, what that meant was that the window seat was not going to be an advantage for the next few hours for sure. I sat back, relaxed and turned my attention to the entertainment options.

After a few hours (just past noon local time, to be precise), I was looking at our progress on the map and realized that we were finally nearing the African coastline and would likely enter the continent. Sure enough, we passed over the island of Zanzibar.

Fumba (centre of the photo) and Kwale Island (bottom left corner)

Zoomed into Fumba, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Until we passed Lake Malawi, we had mostly cloudy skies like this one.

But then, it got better and I was able to get photos of rivers with and without water, mountains, valleys, lakes (per my interpretation of course), and really weird land shapes, especially as we got closer to Johannesburg.

Finally, we are in South Africa 🙂

Not the most encouraging of signs to see as soon as you land in a new country!

Once we got out of the plane, the immigration and customs formalities were very quick – and yes, we did need to furnish the birth certificates upon arrival. Fortunately, I got WiFi in the airport rightaway, so while we were waiting for our bag (we had only one check in bag and one carry on apiece), I was able to contact our host and inform her of our arrival. She replied immediately and said that she was waiting right outside for us.

So, within minutes of receiving our bag (with one wheel – of two – missing!!), we were walking out of the airport across to the parking lot. After getting our bags stowed in the trunk, we were ready to ride out into the sunset … and beyond – to Rustenburg. Though I was not too tired, I was very thankful that our host was picking us up as that left me free to ask questions about the country and the area, as well as take photos of the traffic – and the sunset of course!

Hadn’t realized that the freeway would be this wide!!

Same area different view – love the way the sunlight shines off the earth

Interesting roadway signage

Nice way to illustrate toll roads

Like some of the other old British colonies, South Africa drives on the left

A few sunset photos now – nature photos are always my favourite!

Getting close to Rustenburg now

A large toll plaza

Between Pretoria and Rustenburg (that’s what I think our host said), slower drivers tend to drive off the road into the shoulder if a faster vehicle is approaching from the rear. She said that usually at night she doesn’t follow this rule of thumb. But she said that this does not happen most other places in South Africa (again, this is my recollection of what she said – I am pretty sure I saw this behaviour all over the place, and I followed it as well)

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