Saturday, December 5, 2009
(new)A familiar face in a familiar city
Like coins in a phone box these are the days of our lives. As had become our ritual in Cordoba, I started the day by checking my inbox for the arrival of our etickets to Jo’burg. Nada. We were still ticketless and our flight was less than a week away. Once again I hopped on Skype to call South African Airways. Imagine my surprise when the call was answered after just five minutes of the now-familiar Ladysmith Black Mambazo and “your call is important to us” messaging. However the connection was super bad and after spending another five minutes spelling out our names (mike-alpha-charlie-kilo-echo-november-zulu-india-echo, bravo-alpha-romeo-romeo-echo-tango-tango) repeating each phonetic letter about three times, the connection conked out and I had to start all over again.
This time the connection was clear and I appeared to connect with the one person at SAA who could actually help. Although he briefly tested my patience by asking me if I had tried to use the website. I held in all my vitriol and quickly explained to him that using the website had started this whole mess. Hearing my patience just hanging on by a thread he set to work to remedy the situation. He was able to confirm that the tickets were issued and was about to wish me a nice day when I asked him about the etickets. Apparently, SAA doesn’t email e-tickets which would explain why we’d never gotten any but there was one major problem – having now booked over the phone for online tickets, we had no flight information, no flight numbers, no times, and no terminal directions. He told me he’d email me an itinerary but needed my email address which is my full last name which is a full 15 letters that I had to spell out phonetically once again (mike-alpha-charlie…) Now there was another problem. The jinx of our tickets had managed to infect their email system and he was unable to email the itinerary to us and the reference numbers for the tickets weren’t even registering as valid. However, through some clever internet magic he was able to email them to himself and then forward them to us. I cried out in relief when I saw them in appear in my mailbox, cutting him off his profuse apology. After two weeks and 4 phone calls and one in-person visit to the office, we finally had plane tickets.
With that finally resolved I was kind of at a loss of what to do with my time and energy. So I redirected it and called Rogers to resolve the refund they owed me. They promised to mail me a cheque after admitting that they only issue refunds if the customer asks for it. That shocked me since the amount was for over $100 and not some minute administrative amount. Accountant Adrian was appalled by this rather shady (and perhaps illegal) business practice. But obviously getting our plane tickets had vastly improved my mood and I was just amused by the cheerful way the operator completely admitted the policy. Whatever – we were getting money back and just in time for Christmas.
After all that I really didn’t feel like doing much. So we waited around the hostel until it was time to catch our midnight bus to BsAs. Although it was a midnight bus, we decided to walk to the bus station. Since nobody in Argentina appears to go to bed until 2am we knew the streets would be full of people and there would be no danger. But it wasn’t just the streets that were full – even at this late hour, the bus station was packed. I every bus bay was full and every bus was filled with passengers. But I guess 11pm is the equivalent of rush hour in a country where dinner is eaten way after dark.
Our bus arrived on time and we assumed our seats up at the front and drifted off until we were given a hot dinner which we didn’t expect given the hour and the cheap price. And since there was no mystery meat and my stomach appeared to have recovered from the last bus meal, I took a chance and ate it then went to bed. Pulled into Argentina just at the tail end of morning rush hour. Easily navigated our way back to the hostel via the metro.
It was nice to be back in a familiar hostel even if all the faces were new. But just as we had run into a familiar face in Cordoba we were about to run into another one. Simon from Guayaquil was also in Buenos Aires. After 4 months since our parting at the bus station headed in opposite directions, it was time to meet up for a drink. But first it was time for a proper nights sleep in a proper bed.
The next day was another one of planning and nothingness at the hostel. We made plans to meet Simon tonight at a pub not too far away – a proper English pub, much to Adrian’s pleasure. And then it was time to make our plans for South Africa. We were going to be in the country during the high holiday season and knew that we were going to have to plan our whole time in the country and book in advance to ensure we had a place to stay. We had searched all over the country for an African guidebook but had had no luck. Our last chance was a book store across from the pub we’d be heading to tonight. But until we had that, the internet was the only tool at our disposal. Trying to plan a trip while flipping through a hundred web pages was an arduous task so I hoped we’d find the elusive guidebook and narrowed the search to a hostel in Jo-burg. I was immediately shocked by what I found. Since no one apparently visits the city centre or at the very least stays there, all the hostels were out in the gated suburbs which made it hard to figure out which had the best location. The other shocking thing was the price. We had found the last month or so expensive but it didn’t prepare us for the cost of things in South Africa. The cheapest double room (shared bathroom) was over $35 but most were over $40. Gulp. Adrian and I decided that whatever route we took through South Africa it was going to have to be a short one or else our goal of reaching Egypt and Jordan was going to be a rather impossible one. But we hoped with a guidebook in hand we’d be able to find a better deal.
We headed out to meet Simon early planning to hit the book store first. Unfortunately it was closed, despite the sign in the window saying they were open. Oh Argentina, I will not miss your wacky business hours. A look in the window, revealed that we weren’t missing any thing. The bookstore was full of English language books but most were used novels and there was no visible travel section let alone an African travel section. Le sigh. We drowned our sorrows at the pub while waiting for Simon who arrived shortly afterwards.
On the road, people you only knew for a few days a few months ago are immediately friends and catching up with people who would be strangers at any other time in any other place was like meeting up with an old friend. We spent the evening chatting about where we’d been and what we were planning to do and it felt like meeting any friend for a pub. The pub was popular and we were soon sharing our table with an Argentinean couple who spoke amazing English (much better than all of our Spanish) and who were excited to hear our travel tales just as much as we were happy to hear about their lives in Buenos Aires. It was a good time made better by the two for one drinks, I'm sure. Adrian and I haven’t been the most social people while traveling. But in a way that was good. It meant we hadn’t blown a lot of money on drinking and it meant that we really enjoyed and treasured the times when we have gone out with folks we’ve met.
Unfortunately I completely forgot I'd broughtmy camera out to capture the evening but I know the memories will last just as long - hopefully the hang over wouldn't.