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Monday, May 26, 2014

African Adventure 2014 - Journey Home

Once the van was ready, we jumped for our transfer to Victoria Falls International Airport. It was fairly uneventful, and we arrived, ready to check-in for our flight. Victoria Falls International Airport was probably the third largest airport we encountered while in Africa, only Cape Town and Johannesburg were larger. Granted, this does not say much, considering the international section only had two "gates". Another interesting aspect of this airport, at least our British Airways flight, was a handwritten boarding pass. Amazing! Also, security seemed tougher here, similar to Cape Town, but weaker than Johannesburg.

While we were waiting to check-in and drop off our luggage, we ran into Christine and Debbie. They were on the earlier flight with South African Airways. Once through security, we hung out with them waiting for our flights. About half of the waiting area cleared out when their flight left, providing us the ability to stretch out a bit and sit down.

The flight was very uneventful, and we were soon in Johannesburg. We worked our way through immigration, collected our luggage and walked through customs. Then it was time to check-in for our international flights home. One flight down and three flights to go. Hooray!

Something unique, at least as far as we are concerned was the baggage trolleys in OR Tambo International Airport being able to go up the escalators. Fully loaded with our luggage, it easily handled the escalator, saving Ben's strength for a little while. Check-in was a breeze and soon we were through security and immigration.

Once inside our terminal, we found some food. Kari had some shrimp and pasta, which was ok. Ben had a rather disgusting piece of steak. The service was really poor as well. Oh well. It was something to satisfy hunger pangs a bit.

After our meal, we went looking for the last of the souvenirs. By golly, we did it again. We ran into Christine and Debbie. This was probably our last chance to run into them as they were on a direct flight to New York and we had a multi-stop journey to get home. We said our goodbyes and headed off to finish our time in the OR Tambo International Airport before our flight to Heathrow.

The flight to Heathrow was uneventful. Ben tried to sleep as soon as we boarded; however, that did not seem to be in the cards, as they kept the cabin lights on to serve mysterious chicken and beverages for a while. Realizing sleep was a bit futile at the moment, Ben decided to watch Escape Plan. It was a pretty good movie. Unfortunately, by the time the lights were turned off, Ben was too awake to fall back asleep. Oh well. Kari also struggled to sleep on this flight. As we were getting close to Heathrow, they served English breakfast and Ben started watching Captain Phillips, based on a real life story of a shipping captain attacked by pirates off the Horn of Africa. Very good movie.

When we landed in Heathrow, we tried to figure out where we needed to go. Thankfully, we had 3 hours, since this journey through was not as easy or fast as the last journey through Heathrow. This time we actually never needed to pass through immigration, somehow avoiding the UK and remaining in international space.

Entering the UK might have been faster to connect between the different terminals. We found the US Airways ticket counter to get our boarding passes for the rest of the journey and make sure our luggage was linked. For some reason, Ben must have looked a bit off, as he was selected for random screening. What made it a little comical was that Ben, the white guy, was getting searched by three brown guys. Usually we hear of the reverse. Ben cooperated and was quickly allowed to wait at the gate. Unfortunately, the security agents forgot to put a sticker or mark on his boarding pass, so every future checkpoint we encountered, Ben was stopped and questioned about being searched again. This was starting to get a little annoying when trying to board the plane, but they apologized for the inconvenience and let us on our merry little way.

With the goal of trying to stay awake to reset our clocks, we watched several movies together on the flight from Heathrow to Charlotte. Our selected titles included Epic, The Internship, Delivery Man and Date Night. This helped kill the time until we landed. Just prior to boarding, we were informed that we would have to collect our luggage in Charlotte to go through customs before handing it back off to catch the flight to Indy. What seemed like an appropriate length layover of 1 hour, now seemed to be way too short.

Once we landed, we were able to clear immigration rather quickly. Then it was the waiting game for our bags to show up to go through customs. This seemed to take forever. Customs was a breeze, and we made it to the baggage re-check with about 40 minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart. We were told this would be plenty of time to get the bags on the plane and we raced off to security to try to make sure we did not miss the plane. We were really glad that Charlotte was a fairly small airport. Security is more standardized in the US, even though it is more strict, it is fairly predictable. This was something new for us overseas. Every country, sometimes every airport within a country, does things a little differently. In the US, it is probably overkill, but at least it is the same at every commercial airport nationwide. We made it to our gate right as it was scheduled to board, but they were running a little behind, giving us a few minutes to let family know we were back in the US. This flight was probably one of the smallest, if not the smallest, planes we had been on this whole trip. We were in the last row, unable to recline, and we decided to watch another movie, Toy Story, on the flight to Indy.

In Indy, we slowly made it to the baggage claim, totally beat from the last 40 hours of travel, only to discover our bags had not joined us. Ben was wondering if it was too good for it to be true for everything to clear Charlotte without a hitch. We already knew that there was a later flight out of Charlotte coming to Indy, so we checked baggage services with US Airways to make sure they were on the later flight. They were and should arrive in Indy around 9pm. We were informed that they would deliver them later this evening, so we went to find a taxi to head to Ben's parents' house. Knowing we needed food and to stay awake for a while, we ordered some Pizza King pizza and breadsticks and watched a movie. By 10:30pm, with no word from US Airways, we decided to get some sleep and deal with it in the morning. At 11pm, US Airways called to let us know they had our bags and wanted to see if we would like them tonight. We did, so Ben let Kari sleep while he waited for the bags downstairs. About an hour and a half later at 12:30am, the bags finally arrived. Ben just dropped them in the house and went up to fall asleep. What a long end to the already long two days of travel!

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