Wednesday, July 19, 2006 (EST)
“Close your eyes and tap your heels together three times, we're going to Kansas…
Well at least Yuri thought we were; it took all of our 3 week vacation for him to get it right that we were actually in ‘Knysna’. Not that he cared that much as long as we had Grandma, Grandpa and the beach. Iago just thought the airport was “too far”; we drove from Columbus to the airport in New York. In fact it was rather like an episode of ‘trains, planes and automobiles’, or more like ‘trains, planes, boats, ambulances (Wait, we're getting to that part), Police Cars (I'm getting there too, so no cheating and reading ahead!) and automobiles.
As usual you can find lots more photos here.
As I said, we started by driving 10 hours to New York; it turns out to be cheaper to rent a van and drive there than to pay the parking for a few weeks (We won’t even mention how much air tickets for 5 would cost!). We arrived in New York just in time for a transit strike so the last 10 miles of our drive took us almost as long as the first 500, meaning that, once again, we only just made our flight (This is something that happens an awful lot to us, although I am sure that it has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to get lost between our house and the supermarket).
Iago was really excited, although it was hard to tell if it was about visiting Grandma and Grandpa or about going on an airplane (he couldn’t remember having been on one before). He kept the other passengers on the plane amused with his obvious excitement and an occasional outburst of glee.
We had a 10 hour layover in London which was just enough for us to escape from the airport (although the customs official thought we were crazy to try) and do a tour of the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. The oddest thing was that all the take-out places nearby were American (Subways, Ben & Jerry’s). I guess I know where most of their tourists come from!
Heathrow airport has to be the most bureaucratic that I have experienced. They checked our not only our boarding passes, but our passports as well, at least 6 times before boarding the plane. When we eventually got to the plane Agilene boarded ahead of me while I handed the stewardesses the boarding passes. Mine wasn’t there. They wouldn’t let me go and tell Agilene what was happened or go back to the lounge, even though it was a closed lounge only for passengers of this flight. They had checked my pass literally within sight of the stewardess and there was no way that I could have got this far without one, but they wouldn’t even budge or even issue me a new pass so I just sat there and got in the way of all the other passengers trying to board. Eventually the stewardess discovered she had my pass all the time. Zero points to Virgin Airlines.
Finally, when we made it to Port Elizabeth, our luggage didn’t. It had gotten lost somewhere inside the Jo’burg baggage handling terminal. So much for Christmas, or Presents, or even clothes to go to the beach! It seemed a bit hopeless, being a Christmas weekend and a 2 hour drive to my parents’ house. After a bit if waiting we discovered that our baggage was being flown in on the next flight (Thank you BA) so we decided to go and see the sights of PE. By the time we got ‘home’ it was 10 at night. The kids weren’t too tired to celebrate Christmas and open presents.
Since we now actually had something to swim in, the obvious thing to do was go to the beach (I’d been promising to take Yuri for 5 years now). The kids had a great time but it was only a matter of hours before I had a run in with a whole pack of viscous blue bottles which left me looking like I’d been sewed up with blue stitches, up one arm across my back and down the other. The pain wasn’t too enjoyable either. Even Yuri got a small taste.
The next day I had to go back in the water so that the kids would realise that there was nothing to be afraid of. I had only waded in up to my ankles when one of them returned to attack me. My nephew, Peter, just sat on the beach watching knowingly and refused to come in and enjoy the water with us!
Our kids were happy to spend all day, every day at the beach and we really had a battle to convince them that there really were other things we could do, and that they might even be interesting. We managed to get them out to the Ostrich farm one rainy day, another day we took them to the Elephant Park where they could hand feed the elephants. We were amused to find out that one of the elephants was also called Keesha, or actually ‘Keisha’, which means ‘Favourite One’.
We also took them on the steam train to George, which they really enjoyed, as did I.
One of the last things I wanted to do while we were in South Africa was to go to the Cederberg. I think this is about the only area in South Africa I don’t remember my parents taking me when I was a kid; and everyone says it is very spectacular. I also wanted to do some hiking, something that I miss (we did after all have the free baby sitting service booked!)
To prepare we took a short (2 km) hike to a waterfall about half way up the escarpment. However we were obviously way out of practice as we strained and sweated all the way up. Embarrassingly we were passed by two little children and their mom, out for a stroll.
We booked for the hike to see the Maltese Cross and left early in the morning, in my Dad’s car, to get there. We had driven about half way up the pass when we ran into (in the most unfortunate sense of the word) a Toyota Landcruiser coming down (You didn’t cheat and read ahead now, did you?). This put us in a rather awkward situation, not only did I total my Dad’s car (not something I was going to enjoy telling him), but we were also 30 minutes away from anywhere and an hour from the nearest emergency services. Just as well we could get cell phone reception by walking around the next curve in the pass.
Agilene couldn’t open her one eye at all (one of my biggest fears because of all my eyesight problems) and didn’t look to good at all. Fortunately, although the other driver wasn’t wearing her seatbelt, she was appeared to be fine, apart from a crack in the middle of her windscreen.
I am very thankful for German engineering; the pickup pretty much went over us and rolled off just short of where Agilene was sitting. The car got pushed back a few yards by the weight of the pickup and we landed up against the rock embankment. This was all rather fortunate as the other side of the road was a sheer drop which wouldn’t have been so good.
The rest of the day was pretty much a write off. First we waited an hour for the ambulance to take Agilene away, they sent 3 ambulances, one of them a 10 person transport, don’t ask me why. Then we waited for the Constable, who called a Detective because someone got hurt, and waited another hour. When the detective arrived he called a forensics expert (because we had, um, destroyed a government vehicle), as he hours passed I knew nothing about how Agilene was.
Eventually my father and I got a lift with the cops back to Clanwilliam and finally after filing a police report (the constable couldn’t speak English very well) I went to the hospital while my father tried to rent a vehicle to get us home. Agilene was well, apart from some smoke inhalation and a very bad black eye. It took over 2 months for the swelling to subside completely. She was managing to talk to the nurse which is quite an achievement. I even had problems trying to figure out what had happened to Agilene since the sister couldn’t speak English and my grasp of Afrikaans medical terms is not so good (was that her kidney or her liver?).
Agilene spent the rest of our vacation imitating a movie star and wearing really dark sunglasses.
In the meantime the nearest rental that could fit all 7 of us and had a tow hitch for our trailer was in Cape Town; so my Dad and I sat and waited around, eventually getting back to our cottage at 10 that night.
One good thing (if you can call it is so friendly, it is nothing like a big city. The police and the nurses were so helpful. They also somehow already know who you are and what has happened before you even get there, as happened with the hospital accountant. It was strange to watch her go ‘OK, I’ll only charge you for one of the x-rays’ and ‘I’ll just round that down to the nearest Rand’; an attitude which you just don’t see anywhere else. At the end of the day the hospital bill was a fraction of what they charged Agilene to spend an hour in a chair at the hospital in the US.
The kids had been spoilt enough (Grandparents just don’t know how to use the ‘no’ word!) so it was time to go back home. We stopped in Johannesburg for a couple of days to visit my sister, our house and anyone who wanted to see us. It was great to see those of you who made it, and who made time in their busy schedules to spend with us.
The kids spent almost all their time with their cousins in the pool. I was relegated to being the lifeguard, which wasn’t too bad of a job, while my sister, Michele, took Agilene shopping.
Then it was time for the long trip home. We also had to pick up my (rock) elephant that my sister had been safeguarding for us. At 14 kilograms (30 lbs) it was heavier to lug around than Keesha but at least our giraffe now has some company. Agilene also picked up all of our inherited china.
Once in the UK we only just made our transfer (I told you it was a common occurrence), we landed an hour late and landed up having to cut in on all the lines at the security checkpoints to get to our next flight.
3 kids on a plane (or anywhere else for that matter) is a real juggling act as there is always one of them needing something. Needless to say Agilene and I didn't get much sleep and were exhausted when we eventually made it home early in the morning.
I think next time we are going to cough up for the direct flight.
And think to yourself – "There's no place like home; there's no place like home; there's no place like home."
Lots of love to all
Marc, Agilene, Yuri, Iago, Keesha and (feeling left out out 'cause it couldn't come with) .