When I left for Washington DC the handy direct flight from Cape Town hadn’t yet launched, so as per usual, it was first the time wasting hop of having to head up to Johannesburg before I could finally leave South Africa’s sunny borders behind.
My Touchwork-organized SA336 South African Airways flight departed from Cape Town International just after two on a Thursday afternoon, meaning that logistically it was pretty easy given that the kids were at school, there was no traffic to battle, and thus no reason then why Chantelle couldn’t dutifully ferry her extremely overexcited and bubbly husband to the airport.
With our farewells said over a cup of Wimpy coffee, Chantelle gave a few forlorn waves as I disappeared through the security checkpoint. (After all, you must remember that I was now resigning her to two weeks of looking after the kids all by herself!)
The flight to OR Tambo International in Johannesburg aboard the Airbus A330-200 flitted by without incident (if I remember correctly, they were playing the inspiring Red White Black & Blue Odyssey documentary about the ICEF Rugby Program that helps struggling kids from disadvantaged neighbourhoods through rugby for entertainment purposes), but once there I still had to find a way to kill 2.5 hours before my journey to the United States would finally begin.
Luckily I travel light, so with my commandeered big sports bag (thanks Ryan!) already checked through back in Cape Town and only my small laptop backpack on my back, I set about following the small signs in the massive OR Tambo airport to try and find the tucked away aircraft viewing deck. As it turns out, this was an excellent idea because a) it is rather hidden away and thus not busy at all, b) it is spacious and gives an excellent view of the airport operations below, and c) it killed a whole lot of time for me.
Having watched all the planes, read all the info boards on SAA’s history and the legacy of OR Tambo the activist, and completed a phone call with the girls back home, I finally made it back down to ground level, headed through security and hunkered down next to a chatty young Ghanaian actress who was heading back home following an ad shoot that she had just completed here in Johannesburg.
At this point our SA209 flight had however been announced as delayed, primarily because there weren’t enough people flying to warrant using the big Airbus A340-300 that we were meant to be making the long haul aboard, so she and I dutifully watched a love triangle play out between the pigeons outside while I was taught all about Ghana and Geisha soap.
So not a bad but not an entirely smooth beginning to the epic 18 hour journey from Johannesburg to Washington D.C. then.
Of course we did eventually board a plane, and because it was half empty the flight was particularly comfortable (just very very long). The in-flight entertainment was great, the food perfectly fine, the halfway stop in Accra (in the middle of the night) uneventful, and I comfortably passed the time flitting between sleeping, eating, listening to music and discovering new movies.
We touched down at Dulles International Airport outside Washington D.C. (it is technically in Virginia) around 06:30 in the morning, just in time to watch a beautiful sunrise break over the airport. After catching one of their strange little 80’s sci-fi inspired shuttles to get from plane to terminal, I successfully navigated my way through customs (no issues whatsoever), collected my bags and strolled through the doors into the land of the free – only to immediately turn around and head back inside because I urgently needed their Wi-Fi in order to sort out my SuperShuttle shared ride to the hotel. (The delay had meant that I had missed my pre-booked pickup).
Anyway, the friendly onsite SuperShuttle staff sorted me out, I jumped into the shared van when it eventually rocked up, and then drove in awe all the way to Washington D.C. making sure to take in the sights, sounds, and gorgeous flame coloured trees around us.
Of course, this is Washington D.C. so I was a little kid with excitement when the first views of all the famous monuments started shifting into sight and by the time we pulled up at the front door of the hotel, I was probably a bit of a bubbling idiot. What can I say, cityscapes excite me!
Talking about the hotel, Rory had picked up a pretty good one location-wise for my first ever trip to Washington D.C., placing me right in the middle of Downtown/Chinatown area, with easy access to all the main tourist hotspots.
Despite its clunky moniker, the Hampton Inn Washington-Downtown-Convention Center, a member of the Hilton hotel group, was comfortable enough, had good amenities, and served a nice breakfast. If anything, it does suffer a bit from a lot of siren noise (especially at night), but seeing as I sleep like a log, this wasn’t something that bothered me in the slightest. All in all a good stay and also a perfect base from which to explore the city of Washington D.C. on foot!