Tuesday, July 15: Never did I EVER think I would go to South Africa in my life. But … I’m on my way!
It actually started (again) the night before, with packing my bags and getting no sleep.
We drove to LAX (the Los Angeles airport), and after checking in – a big surprise for me, I was upgraded to first class – seat 1A! That was totally unexpected and a real treat!
Next stop – the airport in New York. And then we flew from New York to Paris, and I got to fly on a Continental Boeing 777 aircraft, which I’ve never done before. It’s a great jet, everything is new, and the staff at Continental was helpful as always. I had a nice glass of Merlot after dinner, and then a little nap. One drawback to the flight from New York to Paris – it was freezing the entire way! I had a jacket on with four blankets … and I was still super-cold.
Wednesday July 16: Now we are at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris …. and we had a bit of time to find out our new departure gate for the next leg of the journey to Johannesburg, clean up a bit, walk around, and get some coffee. We ask the Information Desk personnel how to go to our gate (E37). He said “It’s easy, just walk five minute this way and you’ll see it.’ Well, we walked around a lot – much more than five minutes. This started another one of the special travel adventures : )
We went thru the Security checkpoint as we were instructed (always fun, and everyone is in such a good mood!) We continued to follow the instructions we were given … but they were wrong! I think we walked into every nook and cranny in that huge airport, only to find out …. to get to E37 you have to get on a shuttle that takes you right to the ground that the airplane is on, and it was at least two miles away. Again, just one of the travel experiences that always seems to work out at the last minute somehow. (Yes, we had to go thru Security again a second time, and it’s a pain.) We got to the gate with about five minutes to spare.
As we line up for the signs that tell us ‘Elite’ boarding area, we are then told that Continental and Air France no longer have a working agreement together. We don’t get our miles for the flight, and we don’t get to board as ‘Elites’. We were bummed. But the Air France employee let us creep into the Elite Line, and as we boarded we were upgraded to First Class. Surprise again! It was great! It’s the best way to fly, and turn a 10 hour flight into a breeze!
And let me tell you, riding (flying?) in First Class is an entirely different way to fly – it rocks! Much more room, super-attentive and better customer service, free gift and drinks, much better meals served … it makes you feel special.
It’s strange traveling across the Atlantic to Paris or anywhere in Europe. You lose a day, because we left July 15, and arrived into Paris on July 16. Then by the time we arrived later in Johannesburg, it’s just after midnight, and it’s now July 17. Time and space and memory kind of blur together. But at 3:39am Thursday morning, I made it into my room in Nelspruit, South Africa. Time for bed …
Friday July 18: Today I got to do something I’ve never done before … OK … I take that back – I got to do two things I’ve never done before. I got to drive on the opposite side of the road … which was so so so much fun. And eaiser than I thought it would be. But you really do have to pay attention a lot more than when you drive on the ‘right’ side of the road (literally!). You can watch that video right below here.
The other ‘first’ for me was that a group of us, including Steve Ramon, Tyla Rattray and Antonio Cairoli went to the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee rehabilitation center. One chimp threw a stick at me and hit me on the arm! It was also neat to see the riders I mentioned out of their usual environment that we normally see them at (the race track). They all seemed to enjoy it. You can watch the video of our little chimpanzee expedition right here at this link.
We got back to the track just in time to see the hippos start to come out of the river next to the race track … the environment here at this race is so much diferent the the past GP races … everyone is so relaxed and really enjoying the environment around them. We all had to travel a long ways to get here … but I think everyone would agree when I say the trip was well worth it! I’m having so much fun, and it’s really a trip of a lifetime.