If you learn anything about South Africa, it is that you should avoid flying with South African Airways whenever possible. Why, you ask? Because three people in my family tried to buy tickets with them, with the following results-
1) My sister tried to buy her Victoria Falls- Johannesburg ticket online with a credit card, but was told the card was flagged and she needed to call them. In South Africa. Where she was on hold for about a half hour each time, one of which resulted in learning she had to try later as everyone was out to lunch. They did things like saying the bank was at fault whereby the bank said “what the hell this should be fine!” and all such issues with the card. Finally my sister just ended up going to the ticket counter for South African Airways in the Jo’burg airport when we first arrived there, where the ticket was issued with no problem.
2) It turns out South African Airways has a policy that you need to show the credit card you purchased your ticket with. Fine, no problem, but what if you’re issued a new credit card in between the purchase and the flight? Happened to my dad so there was some excitement when we tried to check in involving more running around to ticket offices in the Jo’burg airport.
3) At this rate, I’m sure no one is surprised that I got an email whilst in Namibia that SAA had flagged my card for the Jo’burg-Cape Town leg of my journey from Victoria Falls. (I’d decided to go back to Cape Town because the travel worked better that way, and I suspect the ticket out of Vic Falls wasn’t flagged because I bought it via the Zimbabwe office which has little capability to check these things.) Assuming I found an international line I didn’t want to think of how much it would cost to be on hold a half hour only to hear everyone was out for a tea break, so I decided to settle the thing in Johannesburg before my connection. But by the time I got there it turns out they’d canceled the ticket without telling me and would take me only for three times the original price I’d payed.
To which I said “screw you, let the free market decide!” and started ticket hunting. It turns out there are three other airlines that fly the popular Johannesburg- Cape Town route, so I proceeded to do the entertaining routine of going up to each desk and saying “I want to fly to Cape Town tonight, what have you got?” (I’ve never done this before of course- my American flight experience made me feel like I’d end up on some terror watch list or something for doing this.) A subsidiary of British Airways named Kulula would take me that night for ~$10 more than the original price of the South African Airways flight. And they gave me wine and ice cream en route, so why would you ever bother flying SAA in light of all that?!
Anyway, a few hours after that excitement I was back in rainy Cape Town nestled in my cozy bed at The Backpack, perhaps the nicest hostel I have ever been in. (They had a bar/restaurant, great travel desk, en suite room with no one else in it, and a complimentary water bottle. South Africans are big on water bottles, and after a few weeks I can understand why!) After three weeks of camping, I don’t know if I can fully explain my excitement at sleeping in a bed again, indoors, listening to the rain pattering on the roof. I also had a stack of new books and magazines and candies I’d purchased in a mini-shopping spree at the Jo’burg airport- after Zimbabwe going into a store and actually being able to purchase stuff was a sincere novelty!
That’s the funny thing about me and culture shock by thee way- I’ve noticed that I have relatively little by now going into a 3rd world culture, and have a much more pronounced effect when I come back to modern civilization and realize all that was missing. Transition from Zimbabwe to Cape Town was by far the biggest shock I experienced- a simple act like buying a magazine in a store is not a universal thing, though you’d never realize it until you go through a period where you can’t.
I spent two weeks going from Cape Town to Johannesburg, filled with interesting stories of the most diverse country I’ve been to, but until I get around to it here’s a picture of a cute seal who was hanging out by the Cape Town waterfront-