Looks like I escaped from the heart of darkness just in time. Power cuts are now affecting the production of frozen French fries and it won’t be long before they run out. A country without slap chips is no country for old men.
I almost didn’t make it, though. For reasons unknown, airport security at Cape Town International was stopping passengers and scrutinising their passports before letting them join the check-in line. Looking for Thabo Bester? Someone should probably let them know.
It was a two-person inquisition squad. He wanted to know where I was going. “Costa Rica,” I said. His female side-kick shook her head as if to say, “Nice try. There’s no such place.” Upon closer questioning, I said I hoped to get there via Amsterdam and Panama. Now it was his turn to shake his head. Flipping through my passport, he asked where my visas were. I explained, as I might to a child, that I would be in transit and needed no visas. They shook their heads in tandem. She took my passport and told me to follow her to an empty counter, then cranked up the interrogation. How long are you going for? Where are you staying? Who do you work for? Why are you so tall?
Out of options, she allowed me to check in like all the other normal people desperate to get out before the country goes supernova.
The KLM gate was miles from anything. There was a single abysmal restaurant playing deafening music on Spotify. Not even the premium version, so adverts kept interrupting. Actually, given the kind of music that was playing, the ads were a welcome break.
A waiter brought me a chicken burger so unpleasant that a stray dog would’ve reported me to the SPCA if I had offered it to him. No wonder they give you plastic cutlery. The chef has clearly been stabbed before.
Was this section of the terminal created specifically for people travelling to the Netherlands? Were we being punished because of Jan van Riebeeck? Play them the worst music, give them the worst food and maybe they won’t ever come back.
Was I even still in Cape Town? I’d been stamped out and was technically no longer in SA. Perhaps Gate 28 was some kind of grotesque purgatory and I was in fact dead and awaiting transfer to Hades. But how could hell possibly be any worse than this?
I got around nine minutes of sleep on the 11-hour flight as a result of being wedged into the inhumane middle seat – a human rights atrocity for those of us who suffer from advanced apanthropy. The horror was compounded by having to pay an additional R1,800 purely to accommodate my freakishly long legs.
At Amsterdam, I was taken aside and had my bags searched by G4S personnel, of all people. How very dare they. G4S should treat the few remaining law-abiding South Africans with enormous deference considering that they allow the inmates to run their prisons as if they were boutique travel agencies.
After wandering about in the hope of coming across a coffee shop selling hydroponic Nederweed, or at least a live sex show featuring a couple of ageing Germanic harlots and maybe a small goat, I bellied up to the gate oozing dread at the idea of a second interminable flight. Moments before boarding, I watched the plane get towed away. A crackling voice announced that KLM was very sorry and that a fresh aircraft would be provided shortly. Had someone stolen it? I could see how this might happen at, say, OR Tambo, but Schiphol?
The delay meant my connecting flight in Panama City would begin boarding before we’d even landed. As it turned out, that was the least of my worries. Wedging my elongated body into one of the cheap seats, my two male neighbours shot me a wary look and continued downing shots of Jack Daniels from a duty-free bottle, chased with swigs of Coke. The worst part was that they never offered me any. No, the worst part was that they were Russians. Anyone who has ever been exposed to drunk Russians will know what I’m talking about. They looked like gangster bikers, but less well-behaved. Later, one of them had a cigarette in the toilet.
I scouted for another seat away from the brutish Slavic turbulence and found something up front on the Business Class border, but still in plebeian territory. Hunting down a cabin attendant, I asked if I could move. He said it would cost me 100 euros because those seats were, like, extra comfy. I told him about the drunk Russians and his attitude softened. Nobody but the Chinese, North Korean and South African governments consider Russia to be anything but a stinky polecat of a country run by a vicious madman, so I got the upgrade for free.
I barely made the final flight from Panama City and an hour later stepped out of Juan Santamaria International and into the lush tropical embrace of a sultry Costa Rican evening.
Pura vida, bru.