The first question we asked when we discovered we weren’t getting on the flight was, “What about our luggage?” At that point, it was already on the plane to Seychelles. The rep assured us our luggage would be removed from the aircraft since luggage is never sent without the passengers on the flight due to security risks. We were assured we could pick up our bags the next day.
After hearing the bad news as we stood at the Ethiopian Air check-in counter, Tom and I looked at one another for a minute, each lost in our thoughts of what we’d do next. As Tom called it, we both had the same idea, “Plan B.” There can always be a Plan B.
He spoke first, “Let’s go to Plan B.”
“And, what is Plan B?” I asked, knowing full well what his answer would be.
He replied, “We have no choice but to go to the US, which will ensure reentry into South Africa with a new 90-day visa stamp.” I nodded in agreement. We had to get out of the country and do so quickly. There was no time, only 26 hours until we became “undesirables” in South Africa.
There were no immediately available flights to the US. Our only option was to get a hotel room and search for the next flight to Minneapolis. We hadn’t seen our family members when we were in Minnesota only six months ago due to being sick with Omicron. Now, not infectious by any means, we could at least see the family in Minnesota, although it didn’t make sense to also visit Richard in Nevada on this trip with the holiday season in full bloom.
We’d stay a few weeks and head back to Marloth Park less than two weeks later. Immediately we tried booking a room at the Johannesburg airport hotel, City Lodge, where we’d stayed on previous occasions, but the reservation wouldn’t go through. We thought it was due to the weak WiFi signal. We were SOL. We decided to trek the long distance inside the airport in hopes of getting a room. The hotel was indeed totally booked. They arranged a taxi to take us to their sister hotel, about a 15-minute drive (at our expense), and within minutes after arrival, we could check into a room.
We were situated in the room by 1:00 am on November 25, with 23 hours to go until our visas expired. Under the circumstances, neither of us was hungry but had we been; no food was available that late at night. Neither of us had eaten anything since early that morning in Marloth Park.
When I walked into the room, the first thing I said to Tom…and I may add, the first whining I did, was to say, “I don’t have any pajamas.” I always wear pj’s of one sort or another to bed. I’d have to sleep in my day-old underwear, an unpleasant thought. Tom gave me an overly grumpy look and growled. I hadn’t even packed toothpaste, deodorant, or other toiletries, using most of the space in my carry-on bag for all the medications I’d been taking for sinus problems. I didn’t complain further.
Oddly, when I packed the carry-on bag, I included enough medication to last a month, assuming anything could happen, and I’d hate to have to get to a doctor for my handful of regular medicines.
So, we got undressed and under the covers, cold from being tired, and began searching online for flights. We spent no less than two hours trying to book flights, a hotel, and a rental car. We ended up speaking to a rep at CheapOAir, and wow…did we run into problems, one after another. Finally, by 3:00 am, we had it all booked, and Tom turned over to get some sleep.
At 3:10 am, I received an email from CheapOAir, stating that all three of our reservations for air, hotel, and car had been canceled for no apparent reason. I looked up the credit card we’d used, and the charges were listed under “pending.” I was wide awake but played with my phone to lull me off to sleep, which usually works.
I was able to get in contact via chat with another rep from CheapOAir, and she resolved the issue by confirming by email that the cancelation email had been an error on their end and that all of our reservations arrived once again with confirmation numbers. I didn’t wake Tom up to tell him about this recent event. Why bother him? When we awoke a few hours later, I told him what had happened.
With reservations in place and our 16-hour flights from Joburg to Newark, we were scheduled to depart at 10:30 pm, only 90 minutes before “undesirables” status. That was cutting it close. What if the plane arrived late at the gate? We decided not to even think about this. We’d had enough stress for one day.
When we went to breakfast in the hotel, we asked if we could pay for a late checkout until 6:30 pm, 1830 hrs, to which they agreed to charge us Zar 840, US $49, which was well worth it, rather than spending more hours waiting in the airport. After breakfast, we returned to the room to handle some of the issues we’d yet to face, such as canceling the cruise, getting our bags, and miscellaneous odds and ends.
When we hadn’t heard anything about the bags, Tom decided to head back to the airport to see if they’d brought the two large duffle bags to the missing baggage department. Our bags were nowhere to be found. They proved to be on their way to Seychelles. He left the hotel at 12:20 pm, 1220 hrs, and didn’t return until three hours later.
He filed a claim, only to discover there was no way they’d send the bags to the US. They’d only forward them to Nelspruit, South Africa, sometime around December 10. We’d have to arrange to pick them up in Nelspruit if the bags were found. They agreed to contact us when the bags were on their way to us.
This happened to us the last time we came to the US, and we had to pay a delivery service to collect the bags in Nelspruit and bring them to us in Marloth Park. Fine. If the bags are found, we’ll be thrilled to arrange that.
So, we were boarding the flight to Newark, New Jersey, with no bags on board other than a few carry-on bags with our digital equipment and the medications. We were heading to the US with nothing but clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet, and wearing dirty underwear. We’d figure this out when we arrived in MSP.
The 16-hour flight was one of the hardest for me ever. I couldn’t get comfortable in my tiny seat and spent the entire time watching fewer than eight movies. My favorite was the new Tom Cruise Top Gun movie; I barely remember the rest. I nodded off several times for only a few minutes each time. Tom and I couldn’t sit together, but he often came back to check on him. We were both wearing compression stockings. I made of point of getting up and going to the bathroom every few hours.
We had a three-hour layover in Newark, but the time passed quickly. Before we knew it, we were on our way to MSP, arriving at about 12:30 pm. We took a shuttle to the car rental facility distant from the airport, but the service and car we booked were excellent at Ace. Shortly later, we were on the road, heading to Target to buy some emergency clothes and toiletries. It was Saturday afternoon, about 53 hours since we’d left Marloth Park.
I barely remember the time we spent in Target. We were exhausted and had trouble thinking, but nary a complaint crossed our lips during the shopping expedition. It would have been fun if we hadn’t been so tired. Everything we purchased fit us and would suffice for the days until we left to return to South Africa on December 8.
Once at our lovely hotel in Eden Prairie, we unloaded our new clothes, removed the tags, and showered. What a relief that was. I purchased two pairs of warm pajamas and couldn’t wait to get into them quickly enough, adding a pair of new socks to the equation. By 6:30 pm, I was in bed, falling asleep in only minutes. Tom wasn’t far behind. We slept for over eight hours and felt much better in the morning.
The story continues with a few new challenges, which we’ll share as we go along. We have no delusions about our responsibility in not investigating further to discover the requirement of this form. However, we’d checked the US State Department’s website for requirements for US citizens to enter Seychelles and read, “visa provided upon entry.”
Also, we had asked the tour company for any documents needed, and they said none other than what we’d provided. It’s hard to believe that after ten years, we still have lessons to learn, but, like life itself, regardless of how long we live, we still learn more and more each day.
After Covid, so much has changed in how documentation enters many countries. We may have become lazy in “assuming” we had everything we needed. We realize we need to be more proactive and mindful than ever and will do so in the future as we make new travel plans.
And so the story continues with more positive updates from these first few days we’ve spent with family. Delightful! Perhaps it was meant to be.
Photo from one year ago today, November 28, 2021: