The road to paradise is paved with bad airlines. Okay, Turkish Air isn’t the worst I’ve flown on, but to offer me no more than one beer on a long-haul flight comes close to violating my basic human rights. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the road to paradise is paved with bad travel agents. You’d think she might have mentioned she’d booked me on a plane that carries on as if it were some massive airborne taxi stopping for anyone who flags them down.
Wedged into my unbearably cruel economy class seat – seats that were designed in an era when people were far smaller than they are today – I glanced up at the monitor that demonstrates your route over and over again until you’re ready to punch the person next to you.
Oh, we’re going to Bogota, are we? That’s interesting. I’m pretty sure my ticket said Panama City. Which is in an entirely different country that’s not called Colombia. My gibbering and flailing attracted the attention of an immaculately groomed air hostess with a pair of obsidian eyes that quietened me immediately.
I explained to her that while I didn’t particularly care where I went, just as long as it was away from the ANC, its flaccid president, Eskom and the rapacious plundering hordes rifling through my country’s pockets while it lies bleeding in the gutter, I had more or less been planning on going to Panama. It is, after all, what it says on my ticket. I waved it at her but she failed to rush off to the cockpit to tell the pilot a terrible mistake had been pointed out by the gentleman in 37E and that he needed to reroute at once.
My travel agent, who I’d sworn never to use again after she sent me on a wild goose chase last year, seemed to have considered it unimportant to let me know that I’d be given a whistle-stop tour of various Latin American airports before reaching my destination.
I should mention that this was the second leg of my journey. I had already survived a 12-hour flight from Cape Town to Istanbul, and now this. It seemed unmanly to weep in front of a woman who could have brought the Ottoman Empire to its knees with a single look, so I pretended to have something in my eye and coughed violently into my mask.
I was on that plane, in the nightmarish middle seat, for 17 straight hours. We sat at Bogota airport for so long that I could have qualified for Colombian citizenship. Eventually, a fresh batch of drug mules filed on and we lumbered off the ground and took a sharp right to Panama.
A message on the screen said, “Time until prayer: 45.” Minutes? Hours? Do we all have to pray or is this just for the crew? Considering that we’re hurtling through the -50°C stratosphere in a 400-ton metal tube at 900km/h and 12 000 metres above the ground, I think we should all be praying from take-off to touchdown. I admit that I did say a little prayer at one stage, but that was more to do with them offering me more beer.
At Tocumen International in Panama City, a man wearing some kind of weird paramilitary outfit shouted at me in Spanish and begrudgingly let me into his country. That wasn’t the end of it, though. I still had to catch a taxi to a regional airport so that a smaller plane could take me to the archipelago where massive quantities of Ron Abuelo were waiting for me.
My surfboard was too long to fit in the taxi but the driver didn’t seem to mind it jutting through the windows and almost decapitating a woman on a bicycle. Pura vida, amigo. Soon afterwards, my surfboards’ holiday came to an abrupt end. Too long for the plane. Also too long for the cargo plane. By 18 inches. It’s true what they say. Size does matter. Maybe it’s a Panamanian thing.
So my surfboard’s in a storage room 600km away and I’m sitting on a rickety wooden balcony writing this within spitting distance of the Caribbean. I tried it. I actually spat and it landed in the water. This is probably a terrible insult in the local culture and I am now a marked man.
The island has no cars. Or even roads, really. Just sandy paths. I walked around it on Friday, along the beach, through the jungle. My shack is nestled between two rustic beach bars and even though I’m one melted polar ice cap away from drowning in my sleep, I find it hard to care. About anything. A pair of scarlet macaws has just flown overhead, arguing about where they’re going to spend the night.
It’s going to take a monumental effort to care about South Africa’s political supernovas and the formation of new black holes into which ratepayers’ money will be sucked by the gravitational force of greed, never to be seen again.
Right, then. Time to make another rum cocktail and go looking for sloths.
- Four days after I left South Africa, the new variant was announced and borders started closing. Trapped on a tropical island in the Caribbean. What a tragedy.