Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Flying Away for a Dream!

OR Tambo Intl Airport (JNB)
4 June 2014 
flight - Johannesburg (South Africa) to Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)
Finally the day had arrived! My childhood dream of going to South America was being realised! These last couple of days had almost a surreal quality to them and just simply flew by. Checking in for my flight on the Etihad website yesterday should’ve probably let it sink in more but just served to make it seem even more like a dream, albeit one that I didn’t want to wake up from.
This morning I left home early at around 5am with Kobus (brother-in-law) and my dad for OR Tambo International Airport aka Johannesburg
Etihad menu (Economy)
International. Uneventful drive with my mind was racing all over the place. 

We chatted our way through a few coffees after I’d dropped off my bags at the check-in desk. I was feeling more nervous (and excited) than prior to my departure in 2011 on the solo trip up West Africa. Admittedly this was a bit confusing for me as I’m not used to this total overwhelming nervous and excitement feeling, not at this level anyway.

Security checks and boarding the flight went very quick and the flight departed bang on time i.e. 09:30am. This was the first time I was flying with Etihad and I was loving it already! Nice little menu and 'real' cutlery (some airlines insist on plastic cutlery for classes below business) with a nice array of wines and drinks on offer. Having
Terminal 1, Abu Dhabi Airport (AUH)
not got myself completely off the cold I had the last few days, I decided to stick to cold drinks and water with my meal, a very tasty Moroccan chicken and polenta.

Today was also my first time at Abu Dhabi airport in UAE. Must say, it’s got quite a cool buzz and it’s mushroom/hive shape does it justice with the air literally buzzing with people all around you. I’ve only encountered efficiency and friendliness so far which is really what I expected. A little bonus was learning that because my flight only departs the next morning, I get a dinner and breakfast voucher at any restaurant from Etihad - now that’s service. If I had €100, I’d have booked into the airport hotel - feeling quite knackered.

Having just finished my pizza (ham, huge mushrooms and cheese), fruit salad (only watermelon but delicious) and soda, am sitting here watching people while doing the day’s diary. It’s now
22:15 and gradually less people around, so will see later on what’s going on at Terminal 3 that was super crowded earlier. This is where my flight departs tomorrow morning and also where the sleep pods are - feel I need to spend a couple of hours in one of them.

5 June 2014 
(Overnight at Abu Dhabi airport then flight to Sao Paulo)
**Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi Airport exhibit at Terminal 1
Leaving Terminal 1 around 11pm, I made my way to Terminal 3 where I had to put my things and myself of course, through the security check. On the way from Terminal 1 there was a perfume/fragrance exhibit with some of the biggest names in fashion and perfumery, some of the exhibits with price tags of c.US$86,000; not that there was anything cheaper than US$1,500!
The main shopping area was much smaller than Terminal 1 but then again Terminal 3 seemed more spread out with more gates.

Walking around I found the smoking area, even a tinier place than the Term 1 spot! Anyway, this was while I was looking for the area with the sleeping pods. The price was up from the $9 I saw on the airport website, it was now $13/hr. I decided I was not going to spend it and would find some chairs or somewhere to crash.

Going back to the shopping area, I went up to the food court and thought WTH! I'll spoil myself with some fast food for the last time in awhile. Burger King it was then, while there Ai started chatting with another SA guy. He keeps telling me I look familiar blah blah, turns out he probably does having been in Hermanus when I was there during various periods and also worked for Sunway, a southern African tour company. Chances are we met in Vic Falls, Livingstone or somewhere around there.

Sunrise at Abu Dhabi Airport
Down along where the gates were, became my "home" for the rest of the night. My head on the fleece covered daypack and stretched out, It didn't take me more than a few moments to fall asleep. The sleep was in 30-40min increments but that was fine. 
c.5:30am I was around the food court again looking for a breakfast on the food voucher I had. Like a bunch of other people up there too, we had to wait for 6am. Breakfast was another large pizza quarter and a Pepsi, if
Waiting to go!
there were other options, nobody told us but it was good though.

 The morning started with a gorgeous sunrise at the airport. Soon after there was a bit of waiting but then getting through to the waiting area of the gate I was boarding through was quick and painless. 

Next stop...BRAZIL!

**Note: I received no incentive or rewards from any company, business or entity mentioned in this blog post and all opinions are my own.
Up and away over the F1 track and amazing hotel in Abu Dhabi.
Thank you Etihad!!


Thursday, 12 June 2014

More Than Just a Boarding Pass!

Arriving at Guarulhos International Airport
Sao Paulo, Brazil
At a glance Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil is not an impressive airport, whether your first view of it is from the plane or from the highway approaching the entrance. Granted, the new terminal buildings finished a 3-4 weeks prior to the start of the FIFA World Cup 2014 give a minimalist yet grand appearance in their dark glass coats.

Once inside and you start using facilities, or in fact look for them, you realise that this is one airport well geared for its main clients, the traveller. All areas are very well sign-posted from everywhere - the chances of getting lost here is very slim indeed! In fact, as an English speaker I had no problems and this was my first time I was spending more time than just collecting my baggage off the carousel before leaving the airport. I had to spend a few hours here before my flight was departing to Lima, Peru.

For the smokers I have bad news, albeit good news for the anti-smoking lobby - smoking is only allowed outside the terminal building and sufficient provision is made for cigarette butts so this not something I saw lying around. 

Domestic & International Departures
For checking in, there are large screens denoting the areas that cater for the various airlines with counter numbers noted for specific flights. “Most airports have those now!” I hear you say - yes, bear with me, I’m getting to the good stuff! Furthermore, all the other screens around the departure and arrival terminals show various domestic and international arrivals and departures. 

International arrivals - terminal 2
Now for the facilities; bag wrapping services can be found near all the entrances to the departure terminals and bathrooms; well, I have not encountered many public places that have such an abundant number of bathrooms everywhere on the premises. Very unlikely you’ll find yourself on a 10 minute hunt or 5 minute walk to a bathroom. Once inside these bathrooms, there is space - a lot of it!! Going in with your baggage trolley or just a backpack you’ll find shed loads of room to put your things still close to you without blocking access for other people. (Sorry ladies, I didn’t have the opportunity to see what your bathrooms look like.) The amount of space really impressed me as I’ve found myself less than impressed at times when squeezing into a bathroom and there’s hardly space for a mouse, never mind your luggage too.

Thirsty but not buying drinks or anything? No worries! Bring over your water bottle and fill it at one of the many drinking fountains scattered around. Yes, there are drinking fountains once you’re through security as well! Speaking of which, security checks is where my jaw dropped! The security personnel were very friendly and even helpful, which in itself is quite a novelty as many of you will know! They “process” people through the security check so fast and efficiently, I found myself on the other side wondering what just happened.  The immigration line was starting to grow with only three officers at the counters but very quickly they had more officers in and things were on a roll again!

Power outlets at each seat
Then, the star of my experience - needing a place to charge your laptop, tablet or mobile phone usually entails plonking yourself down at some wall or pillar and staying there till everything’s charged up or you have to go. Here, all the areas have sections with rows of seats where every
single seat has a power outlet! Ingenious in its simplicity! Once again, these are in the pre-check-in areas as well as the areas around the boarding gates. It’s possible to sit right at your gate, on a proper seat, while charging your kit, talking on your mobile phone or whatever electronics you play with pre-flight. If you then fly LAN (in South America) like I did or Etihad (which I’d arrived with in Sao Paulo with) then you can just continue charging your electronics as each seat also has a power outlet.

Sunset at Guarulhos International Airport
Anyway, well done to Guarulhos International Airport - I was well impressed and hopefully the many people you will have passing through your gates during this World Cup will find it as great an airport!


Monday, 2 June 2014

Space at a Premium (Packing notes)

(Just a short rundown of how I’ve packed for my lon-term South American trip that starts with a 1-way ticket to Brazil)

Packing a backpack for long-term travel can be challenging and that’s putting it mildly!  My backpack is a travel-bag i.e. the straps are covered for when the travel is by air or road (bus/taxis). Quite handy this as there’s less risk of the straps being used to catapult your bag to the other side of a packing area. 

These bags do present a small problem though when packing pre-flight as a sleeping bag is best off inside the bag. Personally I don’t feel like getting my bag back minus the sleeping bag at the other end. Once out walking or trekking, it can be attached to the bottom of the backpack. With the sleeping bag inside though, space is suddenly at a greater premium than before.

I’ve managed to squeeze quite a bit of things in mainly made possible by rolling clothing items up really tight. In addition to that, what many people won’t have, my SMB & reel (inflatable buoy & reel for diving) and dive log are in there as well. You want to take certain things with, you have to be willing to compromise on others. So here’s photos showing the 3 levels of packing that I went through with the back pack…;

In this bag other than the sleeping bag, clothes, and the mention dive log and reel, there’s also a small 1st Aid kit, Mozzie net, Sleeping bag liner, gaiters, rain trousers, toiletries (including a few extras/spares) and a few smaller bits and bobs like small screwdrivers, AA batteries etc.

As for the tripod, Manfrotto have a really cool bag for their tripods which I’m using to put a few other bits and bobs plus a hiking pole in. This is in a ‘net’ dive bag which could later on serve as an extra bag if needed. If airline allowances only allow one bag, then I just strap the tripod bag to the backpack.

Cameras, lenses, hard drives, other gadgets and laptop go into my day pack that’s my carry-on for the flights. Obviously, also a clear plastic packet with my travel size toiletries (as required for security checks after checking in).