PART 1: JOHANNESBURG

By Bert Duplessis, Fish Eagle Safaris

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May 21/22 2013 – Houston to Amsterdam to Johannesburg

Intercontinental Hotel – Oliver R Tambo Airport

Once more and again, Kathy and I made sure that we had our passports, braced ourselves for the TSA ‘scare-port’ treatment and plunged into the maelstrom of ultra long-distance travel, which would take us from Houston to Johannesburg in just about 24 hours total.

Flying this far this fast plays havoc with almost everybody’s sense of time and place.  Our human bodies were just not designed to be suddenly transported over multiple time zones at 500+ mph.

Somewhat bleary-eyed and jetlagged, but happy to be back on terra firma, we were met by a smiling representative of the Intercontinental ORTI.  It was hardly necessary – the hotel is less than a 3 minute walk from the customs exit – but it was a nice touch anyway.

Soon enough we were up in 7th floor room with (good security, need room key to access any specific floor), where a welcome hot bath and a change of clothes revived us somewhat.  A very late dinner (several vegan side dishes in addition to an array of more standard fare) and not too much later we were fast asleep, totally exhausted from the two long back to back flights.

The first leg from Houston to Amsterdam was rather uncomfortable in an ancient 747-combi with very little leg room and less than comfortable seats.  The movie selection was ho-hum, the food totally unremarkable, but there were some good music choices so we strapped on our noise-cancelling headphones (standard equipment on all flights taken by Fish Eagle Safaris personnel), fired up the Kindles and got to grips with the latest Reacher novel.  Well at least I did; I am sure Kathleen had something a bit more substantial going.

Just after landing in Amsterdam a strong horse-manure smell wafted through the rear section of the plane, emanating from an open door between the main cabin and the cargo section.  It turned out that there had been 15 horses on the plane with us, all the way from Houston.  As I said to Kathy, I bet those horses had more leg room and better food than us.

We whiled away a couple of hours at the giant Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam with some over-priced coffee and Dutch apple-pie (not bad!), checked some e-mail and had to submit to yet another frisking from some rather over-zealous Dutch cousins of the TSA.

Just after 9:00Pm the day after we had left Houston in the early afternoon, our feet touched African concrete. A longish walk to the immigration counter where formalities were dealt with quickly and efficient (no visa required, no silly forms to complete) and our luggage was on the carousel in a matter of minutes.  All that was left was the brief walk over to the IC Hotel.

We slept solidly until after 7:00 on the morning of May 23, enjoyed a very tasty breakfast at the InterContinental’s exceptionally well-provisioned buffet breakfast.  I took some exterior photographs of the hotel which is a little oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of Africa’s largest airport.

We checked out a suite (impressive!), the spa, gym and pool area (nice!) as well as an executive room.  Considering the high daily tariff for the room, the ‘standard’ deluxe rooms at the IC are on the small side.  However what you are paying for here is mostly location and unquestionably it is #1 in Johannesburg in this respect. The hotel is almost ridiculously close to the international arrivals hall.  Even so, the rooms are practically 100% soundproof and even during the very busy early morning take-off frenzy, we could not hear a single jet taking to the skies.  Very impressive. The same can be said for the curtaining which turns the room into a pitch-black dark cavern any time of the day or night. Just what a jetlagged body needs.  I quite liked the bath – just a good size – and there is a very amply proportioned shower as well, and a separate toilet with door.  The room had a good quality TV, handy plug points, plenty of space for clothes & other stuff.  Also the bed was super comfortable with some of the nicest, softest pillows we’ve ever come across.  Kathy liked the espresso coffee maker and while we did not have much time to use it, the mini-bar was more than adequately stocked.

I have nothing negative to say about the IC; perhaps it would be a good idea to have a light switch for the bathroom inside the room, rather than on the bedroom side of the sliding door. At night it makes for a few awkward moments as the ‘awake’ person tries to sneak into the bathroom and has to switch on the bright bathroom light in view of the ‘asleep’ person.

The Intercontinental is of course also the safest option of any Johannesburg hotel.  There is just about zero exposure to any kind of danger or potential danger.  You walk (escorted at night) across an interior airport road, look up to your right and there it is, a few meters to the right.

FAIRLAWNS HOTEL, SANDTON

By 1300 a driver from Wilro Tours picked us up for the approximately 30 minute drive to Sandton. Wilro is the always-reliable company which we use through our destination management company Wilderness Safaris for all of our clients’ Johannesburg and Pretoria transfers and tours.  As always they showed up in a spotlessly clean, seemingly new vehicle.  Smoothly and efficiently we made our way back to Fairlawns Country Hotel in Sandton, on Alma Road just off Bolling Ave.

We had spent a night at this property before, in November 2012, but we arrived late and left fairly early the next morning. Not what you need to do at Fairlawns.  Ideally this should be a 2-night  stay.  Take the time to enjoy this absolutely splendid jewel of a property, with an authentic country hotel feel, yet just a couple of miles from one of the busiest business centers in all of Africa – and the world.

This time around we were in Room # 15 – the Mandela suite – appropriately decorated with some African artifacts, and with walls reminiscent of a light ochre clay.

The room itself is absolutely massively proportioned in every way: huge entrance foyer with couch, a business nook with adaptors and a second phone, a divider, and then an huge middle area  with a king size  bed, facing a large HD television set.

The bath is equally large, with exceedingly hot water – don’t burn yourself! – and a jacuzzi function if you are so inclined. I soaked for quite a while trying to burn away the jetlag.  It didn’t work.

That evening my brothers Francois and Nick joined us for dinner at the Terrace Restaurant and we had perfectly splendid time, reminiscing over times gone by and reflecting on the various scandals currently besetting both the US and the South African presidencies.  It’s a small world.

May 24:  Breakfast at Fairlawns

We enjoyed a very convivial breakfast with John and Anna Thacker, owners of the Fairlawns Hotel.  What a gracious couple – and wonderful hosts. We shared a few comments about children and grand-children (theirs, not ours), agreed on the fact that Jo’burg has the world’s finest or possibly 2nd finest climate after Harare, and tucked into  the superb cold buffet with perfectly ripe fruit, including gooseberries, even prickly pear and our favorite – papaya.  There were also many cheeses, cold cuts, smoked salmon, an array of breads and much much more.  In addition to that you’re free to order one of many hot breakfasts (eggs to order, bacon, sausage, Eggs Benedict, crumpets, oats, omelets and frittatas.

Continue to Part 2


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