Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nervous Traveler

Someone once called me a nervous traveler. It was actually the travel agent after I asked her for a second time if my ticket was in order. That happened some time ago. I don’t really know what a nervous traveler is. Is it someone that is scared of flying, or someone who asks for a second time if his ticket is in order? I don’t really know. One thing that I do know is that I am not scared of flying, and when I go on a business trip I couldn’t care less if my ticket was in order or not. As a matter of fact, I don’t care if my driver is late, I don’t care if the plane is delayed, I’m actually very much relaxed and take things as they come. Besides, going on a business trip is not something I really look forward to, so I take it in my stride. But there is a moment during my trip, a specific moment when things change, when the above mentioned becomes an issue and I become a “nervous traveler”. And it has nothing to do with fear of flying.

When I am leaving home, I don’t really care what happens in my travel program. If I get there a day or two later it’s not a problem. When I reach that point where I realize that from now on things need to work in my favour in order to get me home, then I start becoming nervous. I am in Libreville at the moment, waiting for my flight back to South Africa. Moments ago I was in Port-Gentil waiting for my flight to Libreville. I was told that the driver would pick me up at 16h30. I was ready at four. The moment in my trip when things changed had just started. Suddenly there are “ifs”, and plenty of them. IF my driver is late, I might miss my only flight to Libreville. IF I miss my flight to Libreville, I will definitely miss my connecting flight to Johannesburg. IF I miss my flight to Johannesburg, it means I have to stay five extra days in Libreville before I get my next flight to South Africa. So, if there is no sign of my driver, I start getting nervous. When I am on my way home, then I want things to run smoothly, because one mishap can delay my arrival back home by days.

I was standing at the hotel waiting for the driver to appear around the corner at any minute, but by ten past five there was still no sign of him. To make matters worse, a huge thunderstorm was approaching. I am not really scared of flying in heavy weather either, but knowing that flights can be cancelled or delayed due to bad weather, I had reason to worry. It is at this point I believe that positive thinking should kick in, but I have seen this happen before and know it can happen again. At ten past five I was frantically looking for a number to dial to find out what happened to the driver. I was not sure when my flight was actually leaving, but they said pick-up is at 16h30 so I assumed that my flight would leave around 18.30. I didn’t have my ticket with me; apparently this was at the airport where an assistant was waiting to check me in. I was busy dialing when the driver arrived. I was rather relieved to see him, but I still had the weather issue that worked my nerves. At least we were on our way to the airport now.

When we arrived at the airport the driver told me to stay put and he disappeared into the crowd. Moments later he returned and said in his broken English, “Come, you follow me quick”. We ran through the check-in, through the departure hall and onto the apron without stopping, towards the plane that already had its engines started. I dragged my suitcase behind me in the rain, and handed it to the guy who was just about to close the cargo door. He was a bit annoyed with my late arrival, but loaded it anyway. This time at least I knew I had my luggage on board. I was the last person to board, and just in time. I realized that the departure time was actually 17.30. Thank heaven that I didn’t know that at the hotel already, but I was on the plane and we were ready for take-off for Libreville.

The plane that was about to take me to Libreville wasn’t very big, A Twin Otter with something like 16 seats. I got in at the back and saw that the only open chair was way in front, second row from where the pilots were already flicking switches. I squeezed past the other passengers that were already squeezed in like sardines and took up my seat. In front of me was another open seat with someone’s luggage on it and a first aid kit against the front wall. I saw that the contents of the kit were last checked in April 2005. From where I was seated I could see one pilot and a section of the instrument panel. I don’t know if it is good to see the instrument panel, because every time a light starts flashing all I could think was “WTF is that??” On the Garmin GPS I could see that we were heading in the right direction, but the radar kept throwing large blots of green, yellow and red patches in the direction we were heading in. I was not sure if that might’ve been thunderstorms showing, but we managed to dodge all of them. Durig the whole flight the two pilots were fiddling a lot with all the buttons like they weren’t really sure what to do with them either. Only halfway through the flight I caught a glimpse of the other pilot. It was a young Gabonese woman. I have no statistics on the flying abilities of woman to base any fear on, so I accepted the fact that this 20-odd year old girl is flying me to Libreville and I was happy with that. It was another step closer to home and she has done well up until then.

The weather wasn’t too bad. I’ve been in worse thunderstorms before. The worst one was actually on the same route between Port-Gentil and Libreville some years ago. The hop from Libreville to Port-Gentil two days ago took 20 minutes, but we were past 30 minutes already when I saw on the GPS that we were about halfway on our route. Obviously we were flying much slower. Maybe it was a head wind or maybe the fact that it was a smaller aircraft, but we were going forward and I was happy. I was looking out the window at one of the engines and thought back to my Toyota Carolla I had many years ago. I was driving from Mossel Bay to Great Brak River one afternoon when the engine just decided to cut out. Completely dead. I always wondered where and when aircraft’s engines usually decide to cut out when they had enough. Surely it doesn’t always happen on the ground? Unlike my Toyota that just came to a standstill next to the road, I could only imagine what would happen to a plane when its engine decides that it’s time to retire. Not nice thoughts when you find yourself over an ocean halfway between Port Gentil and Libreville.

At around six-thirty I saw on the GPS that Libreville was in front of us. My thoughts were not even cold when we started the approach. We flew from just south of the Equator to just north of it. I lifted myself up from my seat and looked through the front window. I could see the runway getting closer and we were floating down like a paraglider coming in for a straight smooth landing on a nice sandy beach. The lady pilot put us down like a butterfly and earned some respect from a sceptic male passenger. I knew that we’ve made it safely and that another step in my quest to get home has just been completed. And then I saw it, the sign that tells me I can switch off and relax, the sign that changes me from a "nervous" traveler back into just a normal traveler, the "sight for sore eyes", the sight that makes any South African’s heart beat faster. I have always experience this as a sign saying that you are just about back where you belong...HOME. It was the tail of the SAA's Airbus 319-100 standing out like a rose between the other airlines’ thorns. I knew I was almost there...

1 comment:

  1. Dankie dat ons in die verbeelding saam met jou kan reis. Roodt