Thursday September 20
All the wine bottles were empty, there was no food left except for a few crackers and a handful of nuts and the toothpaste tube was almost ready to be tossed. That could only mean one thing – it was time to head home.
Yesterday, the sightings board indicated that a leopard had been spotted close to Orpen. We took a quick drive there to try to find it. It didn’t happen. No big surprise there
During our stay, we were surprised by how few lilac breasted rollers we saw. This one cooperated and I was able to get a shot.
Driving out of the park, we saw some general game and our final sighting was a small family of elephants, with a tiny little calf. They were on the move, melting into the bush. I wonder what the future holds for the little one.
By 1:30 pm, we were on the N4, headed towards Jo’burg. It’s always a bittersweet drive where we have time to reflect on the great and not-so-great sightings, but we were also looking forward to going home, and all the familiar things there. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:30 pm. We didn’t have a lot of time to waste. Because we were flying through the US, there was the additional security and getting though everything at the airport is always long and tedious. We also had to return the car and the modem, and maybe do some duty-free shopping. We hadn’t had breakfast, but that was no big deal, we had the crackers and nuts and we would get something on the plane. Besides, we would be home in about 30 hours or so and then we could eat whatever we wanted. Well that was the plan.......
It was almost 5 pm, we were very close to the airport and then we had another amazing sighting. I know others have see rhino on the N4, but we saw them on the N12 close to the airport.
Every other time, we’ve come in via Pretoria, the airport is very well marked and we’ve made it there without a problem. This was our first time coming in from the east. We had become complacent and didn’t have a decent map. In the excitement of seeing the rhinos, we missed the turning for the airport.
It was late afternoon, the sun was setting, we were in rush hour in Jo’burg heading in the wrong direction with a lousy map. It was not a good situation. We drove around a bit, finally stopped and asked for directions – 3 times.
After about an hour of increasing panic, we found the right road for the airport. We have been to the airport enough times that you would think we know where the fuelling station is. We do know where it is, we just miss the cutoff – every single time!
We went around again and managed to hit the fuel station and then pulled into the car rental. Everything was checked and we were in the airport. SO returned the modem and we checked in. This was when we found out that the flight was actually scheduled to leave at 9 pm, not 9:25. All was fine, except for the fact that the system would not print the boarding passes. Apparently, it’s a frequently occurring problem with the US flights. SAA then has to contact the US embassy.......
Except, this time, it was affecting all flights.
After what seemed like an eternity, the boarding passes were printed. We proceeded through security, then passport control, then a pat down where it’s men on one side, women on the other, then the contents of our carry-on was physically examined / re-arranged (x-ray wasn’t enough), then we got our cards at the beginning of the jetway, only to surrender them about 40 - 50 metres further on, we finally got on the plane. All of the extra security is because the flight was going to the US.
The flight departed, bar service started and we settled in for a long flight (15 ½ hours to New York). About an hour into the flight, just after bar service was completed, the captain asked if there was a medical doctor on board. Shortly thereafter, the captain made a second announcement “We’ve turned around because we have a life-threatening medical emergency. We may land in Gabarone, we may make it to Johannesburg. We have to dump fuel, so if you see something coming out of the engines, do not be alarmed. More info to follow.” The plane went very quiet, everyone with their own thoughts.
We landed in Joburg around 11 pm. An announcement was made that the flight would depart tomorrow @ 8 am. SAA arranged hotel rooms for all, but some decided to stay at the airport. The rooms were at the Birchwood Convention Centre. There was confusion over the shuttle buses – the business class passengers had gotten on the wrong bus, they had to get off, so that we could get on.
We got to the hotel around 2 am. The rooms were about a 5 minute golf cart ride away from the check in counter. The shuttle was returning at 4:30 am to take us back to the airport. If we went to sleep we probably wouldn’t be able to get up in time, so we both had a shower. Thankfully we still had some clean clothes too. We had only had a few crackers and nuts during the day, so we were both rather hungry. We always take some granola bars with us. Most times the granola bars return home with us, often having gone through some pretty rough conditions. These had seen the same rough conditions, but were very welcome at 3 am.