Sunday, June 27, 2010

South Africa Adventure. Part 9. (Hopefully the last one for a while)

Ok. Well, thus far I've begun my return. The whole Nigeria Transit Visa fiasco was a bit of good old fashion misinformation. Realizing their mistake, South African Airways went ahead and decided to let the group of six of us on one of their planes. So, I'm currently sitting at gate A14, waiting to board a flight to Lagos, Nigeria; on to Atlanta, GA. After all of this, it's good to at least have something ahead of me. Barring any setbacks, I should be arriving in Atlanta at 5:45am tomorrow morning, then on to Augusta. It's been a long road, here's to a not-so-long road from here on out.

Friday, June 25, 2010

South Africa Adventure. Part 8.

Johannesburg airport. Maybe it's me. No, its definitely me. It all started two weeks ago yesterday. I arrived at the Atlanta airport to catch my standalone domestic flight from Atlanta-hatsfield airport to JFK international in New York. Delta's policy (sarcastic "appaaarently") is that you have to check in no less than 45 minutes before the departure time. Lauren and I made it up to the gate (drum-roll) 40 minutes before take off. Yoink, no flight. They could put me on a later flight, but it would get me into New York too late to catch my other, separate Emirates flight to Port Elizabeth via Dubai. So, new plan. I canceled my missed flight and booked another ticket, for a substantial amount more, from Atlanta to Johannesburg and back. Bam, got it. It was a Delta run, KLM (Dutch) and South African Airways operated flight. I got to Joburg no problem, easy enough. Trip was great (see other updates,) had a great time, no transportation woes whatsoever. Then came the day, the time to get back home. I show up to the Johannesburg airport, three hours early, bags packed, ready to go. As I'm waiting in the SAA "queue," a representative comes up and asks to see my passport. "Fair enough, here you go," I replied as I pulled it from my pocket. "Very well," she said in a thick Zulu accent. "And your transport visa?" confounded look. "Come again." (Sacrastic) Apaaarently, to get into Nigeria, where my flight was due to switch planes, U.S. citizens, which I am, have to have a transport visa. It's the only country in the world that requires permission to hang out in their airport for two hours. I had no idea. So, off I went to talk to Delta people. I had run into this pickle at the same time as another gentleman had. This gentleman, as it turns out, was none other than the father of Ricardo Clark. Ricardo Clark is a bench player for the U.S. soccer team that you all have been hearing so much about. Small world. So, together we made the cross-airport trek to find the Delta window to yell at them or something. Turns out, the Delta window was closed for another three hours. The good news was that there was a group of ten or so American folks that were standing around in the same quandry. Collectively, we strategized through options and phone calls and internet searches. With no conclusions made, besides collective disgust, the Delta window opened and we all got the same answer; every flight to anywhere in the world is booked. Delta had no open seats to anywhere in the world. I was dumbfounded (and skeptical.) The guy switched all of our flights, and there are ten of us on standby for a flight in 3 1/2 hours, then the following day and so on. Hopefully, there will be some serious openings to get back home. In the meantime, I'm stringing together internet searches (at $7/hour for airtime) trying like mad to find some affordable option to get home. After I got my standby ticket, waiting in line, I realized how I hadn't said a word of prayer throughout any of this. So, I asked Jesus to get me home. I'm due to be in Belize in 4 days, and very much trusting that it's going to happen. However it ends up happening, who's to say. For now, I'm waiting in the Johannesburg airport, expecting a miracle. I guess I've lost my touch for international travel. Maybe the four year international draught has got me a bit rusty. But Jesus is in control. It's all gone down the way it has for some reason or another. Either way, America, here I come. Eventually.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

South Africa Adventure. Part 7.

Holy cow. After one of the most riveting soccer games I've ever seen (albeit a short list) the U.S. of A. put one in the net at the very last minute to a. beat Algeria, b. qualify for the second round of the 2010 Wolrd cup, and c. win the top seed in the group, setting us up for an easier road to the semi-final round. Oh, it was amazing. The euphoria that seized the entire U.S. cheering section when that ball hit the netting was unlike anything I've ever been around. We were all hysterical. I got hit with three different (full) beer bottles. Some random old guy gave me a hug. We were all falling over with excitement for what had just happened. We laughed and screamed at the top of our lungs and cried and cussed and sang and danced for what seemed like an hour. It was amazing. As we walked out of the stadium, a huge group of American supporters had gathered, all singing and dancing and chanting in unison. The American flags were waving, bold and proud. Small groups of South Africans and Algerians were standing around watching, enjoying our patriotic euphoria. People were taking pictures together and exchanging scarves, flags, jerseys with fans of the opposing side. It was a beautiful thing, a wonderful display of humanity. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. The Algerian fans were extremely friendly, getting pictures and wishing us luck in the coming rounds. As we finally made our way out to the car, I left knowing that I had just been a part of something big. Whether or not the reaction back home is as euphoric as it was here, it was a huge moment for those of us that were able to be a part of it. It was as much of a climax as we ever could have hoped for; perfect sending off as we make our way back home over the next couple of days. Geez. Go USA.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

South Africa Adventure. Part 5.

U.S.A. The reason I'm here. I tagged along with the team tonight to try and find a cheap ticket to the U.S.A. vs. Slovenia game (which I did.) We showed up to the stadium 3 hours early to tailgate. The place where we were hanging around was a little courtyard right outside the main gates. The place was paaacked with US fans. It was a bit overwhelming, as American fans are by far the most elaborate in their costumage. There were thousands of flags and red, white and blue wigs and clothes and scarves. It was the most patriotic collection of people I have ever been around, even after spending 6 years in the Navy. I loved it. We of course also got all decked out; Jon Wilson (the newest addition to the team) was determined to get himself onto ESPN by sheer enthusiasm alone. I ended up with my makeshift costume; my Navy peacoat, red and white striped face paint, and a Colonial era triangle hat. We looked a hot mess, and got plenty of notice for it. Tons of foreigners asked to get their pictures taken with us. It was awesome. Then, we walked into the stadium. Our seats were literally the best seats I have ever had at any sporting event, ever. They were in the middle of the field, two rows back. I could see the looks on the faces of the US players throughout the game, and had limited confidence that the outbursts that I shouted at the referee were within earshot. It was incredible. The game was a fun one, with the Yanks coming back from being down 2-0 after the first half, to tie 2-2. The ecstasy of those two goals, the singing and shouting, the collective discouragement and elation; it was a terrific experience. And today, I find out we achieved that goal of making it onto ESPN! So awesome. I'm glad I made that trip, and can't wait until my next US match, which should be the 23rd. Anyway, the rest of the team and I are parting ways tomorrow morning, as I make my solo trek to Durban and their off to go backpacking for a few days. I'm looking forward to a little bit of solitude, as well as the trip through a few national parks and some beautiful country. Also, I keep hearing great things about Durban and all that there is to see there. I'll only be there for a couple of days, but it should be a great couple of days. But, yeah. Go U.S.A.!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

South Africa Adventure. Part 4.

Good god, what a trip. we just got back from the foot hills of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. It was beautiful, although I'm not quite sure that "beautiful" quite covers it. The highlands are a range of New Mexico-looking ridges, mesas, and plateaus that tower over miles and miles of African brush. Driving through, I felt like we were in a car commercial, like God was trying to sell me a car. We made the trip in on the way to our Hike up Sentinel peak. The sky was overcast as we went through, and the low visibility and urgency to beat any looming weather kept us from taking too much time to survey the incredible landscape and speckled wild life. For a good 45 minutes after we left the gates of the park, we could see in the distance a mountainous mesa jetting out of an already giant mountain ridge in the distance. Sure enough, that was out peak. We arrived at the foot of the mountain just before noon, paid some arbitrary tax and set out. The road up the mountain was an adventure in itself; unpaved and cliff lining. When we got to the trailhead, I was a bit unsettled considering the weather (bordering on 35-40 degrees. But we set out on the two hour hike. It was incredible. Absolutely incredible. I've climbed 4 peaks before Sentinel, and she was by far the most beautiful. We made our way around the switch-backs, over ice and rock and dirt. When we were 15 minutes from the top, walking along some cliffs, we heard over head what sounded like a gunshot as huge chunks of ice separated from the rock face and fell 100 feet onto the trail, 20 yards in front of us. So, collectively, and with cool heads, we reversed and sprinted as fast as we could as more chunks of ice continued to rain down behind us. We took shelter under an outcropping and collectively decided to end our journey there. It was still a triumph, as the views and beauty of where we had reached far exceeded all of our expectations. This place is beautiful. Our return trip through the Highlands park was astounding, as well. We took our time this time and made frequent stops to admire the scenery and spot local wildlife. The park was full of Gazelle, Dikdik, Baboons, Zebra, and a strange looking Wildebeest. It was one of those days that might well be a highlight of my life. The camping on this trip, despite the weather dropping below 20 degrees both nights. But the town near where we stayed was a place called Clarens, full of cheery South Africans and cheap but delicious food. I had the best Danish of my entire life for breakfast this morning, at a local Dutch bakery on our trip back home. It was a great trip, and I am excited to see what the coming days bring. Tomorrow is my first game, Argentina vs. Korea. Can't wait.

South Africa Adventure. Part 3.

Johannesburg. Are you kidding me? Things at the airport did not go well. The airline figured it'd be a good idea to keep my bag in Amsterdam for some reason. So, I won't be getting that until tomorrow or the day after. After hearing that bit of bad news, I made my way to the car rental office with which I had made a reservation. More bad news; the only form of payment that they accept is a credit card, which i do not have. So, no luggage and no car. I then wandered out to the taxi station with the address that Michael had given me in hand. The first guy I talked to said he'd try to find it. He went to talk to a friend, then decided to pass it off to another guy, that passed it off to another guy named Doktor. He was, it seemed, a taxi pimp. Together, we walked up two stories to track down Joe, a cab driver in a beat up volkswagon that looked nothing like a cab. The three of us set off, as they explained that they would drive to the neighborhood and ask at a "carage," or gas station. The ride was incredible. After we left, Doktor pulled out an Amstel light and began drinking in the passenger seat. We talked and laughed about soccer and South Africa and America and qall of the festivities. They weaved in and out of their dialect and thickly accented english. I loved it. I kept saying to myself, "Holy sh*t man. I'm in South Africa," as the attempt to locate the guest house got louder and louder, the more Doktor drank from his beer bottle. They never fought, just talked over each other with smiles on their faces, as both of them tried to win me over to their side of how to go about getting to my makeshift home. I had no idea where it was or how to get there, anyway. It was late, after midnight, so the streets were quiet and there wasn't hardly any foot traffic. These guys' enthusiasm for getting me to my destination was more than enough for me to trust them. And, 45 minutes later, we found it. It's a posh place with walls and fences and Jack Russel Terriers. Jim, the owner of the house, let us in after Joe honked the horn long enough to wake him up. He was more than cordial, however. He showed me to the room and said goodnight. It's been quite an experience already, and it's barely even begun. So, here we are; no luggage, enough Rand to last me a couple of weeks, and a burning sense of adventure. Here we are. South Africa.

South Africa Adventure. Part 2.

Here I am in Amsterdam. It's crazy to think that I can watch a movie, go to sleep, watch another movie and be in Amsterdam.The gate is crowded. I see Mexican jerseys, Ghanan jerseys, Italian jerseys, Canadian jerseys, and a myriad of African shawls, muslim Hijabs and at least one Lutheran preachers collar. I'm giddy with all of this humanity. It's beautiful. Walking through the airport, milking my first visit to Europe, I caught myself taking pictures of advertisements, snack machines, Mcdonald's packaging. I love this. I absolutely love this. I met a woman on the first leg of the journey that is traveling to Afghanistan. Her family is from Kabul and they fled the Taliban all of those years ago and settled in Houston. She has a son my age. There's life in this place. I very well might be the only American in the waiting area now. I don't know, I have no conclusions or special deductions about any of this. I am ecstatic to be able to do something so unique, and I feel like i want to do this for a living in one way or another. Humanity and diversity and the wealth of differences I'm beholding is incredible and makes me want to praise the God that created such diversity and cherishes culture and life and people. He is a God I can follow. This place is one I could sit in for hours. So, as the flight attendant calls my boarding zone, it's a bittersweet feeling in my chest. Now, I say goodbye to Amsterdam. I feel as though I'll be back someday. Or so I hope. Anyway, on to South Africa!

South Africa Adventure. Part 1.

First Obstacle. I'm sitting at gate E12 at Atlanta's Hatsfield-Jackson International Airport. After an hour of manuvering, I'm set and ready and waiting for the 5:20 departure time of the flight that's going to take me to Amsterdam and eventually Johannesburg, South Africa. It's exciting, and I've been enjoying the airport so far. Watching people is something I enjoy doing, turns out. And, there are plenty of people to watch here. I'm noticing trends, too. Like, I'm starting to think that four types of people are walking around this terminal; Familes, Soldiers, Foreigners and Christians. They're all very distinct and easy to identify. Families travel as a unit, kids and grandkids hanging off of the different Matriarchs/Patriarchs. Soldiers are given away either by their uniforms or their awkward, goofy haircuts. Foreigners are foreigners. The ones without distinguishing attire stand out by their general out-of-placedness. And Christians; walking around in matching t-shirts, ready to save the world. I'm fond of traveling. Not for the long wait times, the lines, or the hours upon hours on airplanes. I'm fond of the adventure, the sense of anticipation that everyone seems to carry around with them. I'm familiar with the feeling of coming home, and its a joy to see the faces of those that are experience that old feeling. Airports are beautiful places. Not in and of themselves, of course. But the feeling, the diversity, the best of Humanity rests within these paneled walls and floors. I think i'm ready for this trip. very, very ready.