Our family enjoys active vacations. So when planning our 2020 family trip, my task was to find a place we’ve never yet visited where we could hike, golf, climb, and enjoy some cultural and historical pursuits. Plus, we needed to go in February or March, but wanted to escape winter weather. I threw out a few different ideas, but everyone agreed unanimously on Cape Town, South Africa.
Flying to Cape Town requires a lot of travel time. The best flights we found for price and convenience were out of Atlanta, so we made the call to add the drive to Atlanta. Adding the drive, plus extra time in case of traffic, plus getting to the airport 3 hours ahead of a 15-hour flight to Johannesburg, 2 hour connection, then 2 hour flight to Cape Town, seemed like punishment. Thankfully, we have some long-time family friends in Atlanta we could visit. So we drove down the night before and had a bonus visit with wonderful friends.
After the 15-hour flight, we had to pick up our luggage in Johannesburg to go through customs. Then we switched to the domestic terminal to fly to Cape Town. Right after we claimed our luggage and passed through customs, heading to re-check our bags in the domestic terminal, two men “materialized” in uniforms of sorts, pretty much insisting on leading us and trying to take some of the luggage to “help.” While we resisted allowing them to take any luggage, they still insisted on leading the way. As a kindness, we decided to tip them several dollars worth of rand. They got indignant and told us it wasn’t enough. They wanted 10 USD each. My kindness was quickly evaporating as disgust at their tactics took root. I was entering “don’t mess with me” mode as my husband handed over half of what they wanted and nicely said that was plenty. They had what they wanted and left. Telling them to leave us alone at the outset would have been best. Lesson learned.
While landing in Cape Town, the sun was setting and we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the city and mountains. It was a beautiful welcome, except that it meant we would have to drive out of the airport with only printed directions to try to get to our hotel, in the dark. A few things worked against us: signage was terrible, we had a 10-seat van with a left-handed stick shift while driving on the left side of the road, and taking one wrong turn near the airport meant entering extremely dangerous neighborhoods. We had been warned in advance to avoid any routes going into these neighborhoods, but told that if we did find ourselves in them, we should lock the doors, not stop at all, even at red lights if the coast was clear, and make no eye contact. We checked with the car rental agent to make sure our planned route avoided the dangerous areas and he confirmed it was perfectly safe. And it would have been if we hadn’t made a wrong turn. In addition to difficult signage, our windshield kept fogging over slightly, even with defrost running. So visibility was bad. We were tense, tired, hungry, and frustrated. Then we made the wrong turn and immediately found ourselves in a very, very bad place. Fear took over as the predominant emotion. We ran red lights, ignored hand signals and other gestures, and desperately searched for a sign to get back on any highway. By the grace of God, we made it back to a highway and somehow made our way back to the airport. Our plan (thanks to Hannah’s quick thinking), was to hire a taxi to lead us to the hotel. Brilliant. We found plenty of taxis at departures, had 2 of our group ride in the taxi, making sure he didn’t lose us, and had a much calmer and definitely safer drive to our hotel. Have you ever felt like angels were keeping you from really imminent danger? From not crashing to not getting attacked in a truly dangerous area, I am convinced every time I relive the whole scene that angels were surrounding us.
Finally, safe at the hotel, we were greeted by a different sort of angel. My sister had arrived in the early afternoon and took a taxi to the hotel to meet up with us there. What a blessing that was. By the time we finally made it to the hotel, the restaurant had closed (and we were very hungry). We had communicated our frustrations as we were trying to get to the hotel, so she ordered everyone burgers, fries, and drinks to go. Right after checking in, our order was ready to go and we all savored the food, toasted God and my sister, and laughed about our inauspicious start in South Africa.