KLM Don’t Care About Big Boys in the Air
After two interviews, six information packed seminars, nine presentations and five months of anticipation, we found ourselves at Vaclav Havel International on our way to Cape Town. There, by the entrance at four AM, stood nine sleep-deprived students, their minds almost oblivious to what was in front of them. By the end of the day we would be landing on the southernmost tip of Africa, a place unlike anything we had experienced before and yet, by the looks on our tired faces it appeared we were checking into a flight to our own backyards. One long sequence of tedious air travel related procedures and we found ourselves en route to Amsterdam. Shortly after landing, the surging crowds squeezed us towards passport control and our connecting flight. “Off you go with the non-EU riff raff” Rob remarked jokingly, as he and the other EU citizens filed off together. “Good luck with Brexit!” I winked, as Megan from Indian, Ksenia from Russia and me from Serbia slinked off towards the end of an ungodly long line.
An airport clerk approached us shortly after and said that if our flight is boarding at 10:10, which it was, we can skip the line. Just like that Megan and I found ourselves on the other side smugly waving our victory in Rob’s face through the security glass. However, karma was swift that day and before we knew it we found ourselves in a “random” security check – something about us must have caught their attention, it may have been my wild victory dance. When we were finally cleared, we realized there was less than three minutes to boarding. What followed was a panicked speed walk to gate E05. However, E05 was further than we thought and was proving illusive to find. The tick of the second hand on my watch was getting louder, by now the plane had surely started boarding. My Balkan roots made sure I was incapable of asking for directions. But desperate times called for desperate measures! With a mouthful of swallowed pride, I asked an airport official who pointed us in the right direction. There’s something quite exciting about sprinting through an airport. But the joy of reaching the gate was cut short when the weakness of our dodgy looking non-EU passports presented us with yet another hurdle; visa problems. Watching three airport clerks shoot suspicious looks at each other and pass the phone around only served to put us on edge before the flight. But in the end, after the usual uncertainties of commercial air travel, we were on-board and on our way.
As I walked down the tunnel toward our awaiting aircraft, it finally hit me, I’m going to a whole new continent; the first continent other than Europe I’ll have visited. I jumped on the plane and sat in my seat with child-like energy, fully confident in my ability to endure a flight that lasts 11 hours. However, as we climbed into the morning sky I received a grim reminder that economy class was not built with tall people in mind as my legs began to cramp almost immediately. Being assigned the middle seat did nothing to ease my pain as I had neither the solace of beautiful views nor easy access to the aisle. After futile attempts to make it go away, I turned to the lady next to me. To my annoyance she had already passed out and was beginning to drool out the corner of her mouth. Committed to being as little of an inconvenience as possible I sat there for at least two hours enduring the twisting pains in my hamstring until the angel disguised as the passenger by the window decided she needed to go to the bathroom. Once standing I went for a walk around the plane. I met up with Ksenia, my fellow long-legged student, and we complained about our situation while doing half-hearted stretches. We spent the remainder of the flight standing in the back of the plane eating the leftover ice cream and sandwiches, and placing a couple of orders at the open bar. Before I knew it we were being told to fasten our seatbelts as Cape Town came into view.
Once we touched down, I quickly met eyes with Megan whose face betrayed immense excitement as she mouthed to me “Jovan, we’re here!” After exiting the plane and collecting our luggage, we stumbled into the pick-up area of the parking lot, where we waited for our Ubers – the safest way to travel apparently. We were picked up by a pleasant lady who stuffed the trunk with our giant bags, tossing them as if they were filled with rice cakes. Then we piled in; five in one car and five in the other, and we were off, flying through the nighttime streets of the city. As we rode, we got to hear about the areas of town we were passing. We heard stories about the townships (slums) we were due to visit mentioned in the same breath as a nearby red cross hospital, a slight warning sign. The townships were barely visible in the dark but we were able to make out that they extended as far as the eye could see on either side of us. They passed us as faint flashes of light; the low visibility made them look ominous. Then suddenly out of the darkness rose a set of shining, pristine high-rise buildings; the Central Business District or CBD, the epicenter of Cape Town. It almost seemed like a different country, the architecture was now grand and impressive. I was truly shocked by the difference between the richer and poorer areas and how there seemed to be no gradual change before they completely phased into each other. It wasn’t long after that we arrived at Zebra Crossing, our first hostel.
Standing in front of the large orange metal door, I typed in the code to get us into the building: 1458, the year the first Portuguese explorers landed here. The door opened with a loud bang and let us into the small tree-clad courtyard. One more door and passcode later, we found ourselves in the living room. The inside of the hostel was quite welcoming, outfitted with large, soft couches and pillows which I immediately took advantage of. After everyone reconvened in the common room pondering how we’re going to check in, considering it was 11:30 at night, Matej emerged out of the darkness of the courtyard. He had arrived a few days before us to take advantage of the surf but seemed pleased to see us. Smiling at our exhausted faces he handed us the keys to our rooms, the salvation of slumber will soon be upon us, I thought to myself. I rushed towards my room and after the familiar click of the lock, it was finally time to relax. I had survived my first 11 hour flight, touched down on a new continent and was beginning to take it all in. “Life is good!” the last thought in my head before I promptly passed out in the smallest bed I have ever seen.