Pnina and I arrived at our first destination a short while ago – Johannesburg, South Africa.
We were picked up at the airport by our family friends, Sidney and Patricia, along with their 11-year-old boy Pamolo (they also have 2 19-year old twin sons, Pareng and Kareng, who stayed home because we arrived late and they work early in the morning). What’s our connection to them? Sidney’s parents and his sister, Lynnie, live in the same kibbutz where Pnina grew up, in Israel. Personally, I’ve met Sidney’s sister and dad at the kibbutz before, but it’s my first time meeting him and his immediate family. Pnina met him many years ago.
We’re a bit exhausted now, as you can imagine. We had a 10-hour flight to Amsterdam, then a 3 hour stop, then another 10-hour flight to South Africa. The local time is 1:22 AM, in Seattle it’s 4:22 PM, and our internal clocks are totally screwed up. We’re going to turn in soon and get started seeing Joburg tomorrow morning.
But before I turn in, here are some random thoughts about the last few days…
Pnina and I both had our last day of work on Sept 30, me at Redfin and she at QFC. A bunch of my coworkers organized a little farewell gathering at Imo’s and Pnina joined us too. It was a good time and I’m glad I had a chance to say good-bye one last time.
The real heros of this trip are our friends Tyler and Sarah, who agreed to look after our cats Wesley and Buttercup while Pnina and I travel. Their act is especially kind considering all the other stuff happening in their lives – a new house, plus their first child due later in October!
We brought the cats to their place Tuesday night, after Imo’s. Neither cat enjoyed the ride very much but that’s expected. Wesley, who is the more nervous of the pair, spent the evening tucked away under the couch or in the corner of the room, behind a bookshelf. Tyler told us that at some point during the night Wesley relaxed enough to start wandering around and that he ended up under their bed. By contrast Buttercup was a trooper – it didn’t take her long to start exploring her new surroundings.
Tyler and Sarah are role models for us. They did their own trip around the world a couple of years ago, so before we left they gave us some last-minute advice for the road.
While we travel, Pnina and I are renting out our condo.
Finding a renter was a bit of a stressful experience. We placed an ad on Craigslist in late August, just before we left for Burning Man. I didn’t actually have any cellphone reception at Burning Man, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t get a single response to the Craigslist ad! When we got back I tried reposting the ad, and this time I decided to get clever – instead of listing a single all-inclusive price, I listed a base price that didn’t include parking or the storage unit, for which I asked for separate fees. Is that shady? It felt a little shady, but then I noticed other people were doing the same thing. Anyhow, this base price made my place look much cheaper in Craigslist searches and indeed I started getting lots of phone calls about my place (in retrospect, the sudden iterest might have had a lot more to do with timing – people probably don’t do much apartment hunting the week before Labor Day). The trouble is that the people who came to see my place didn’t want the whole package; nearly all of them said they’ll take the apartment and the parking spot, but not the storage unit. Eventually one gal came by and agreed to take all three. Pnina and I were thrilled. Except this gal eventually flaked out — she stalled for several days when she was supposed to turn in the tenant screening application, and eventually she emailed me to say that she can’t afford the place after all. This left us with no tenant, back in square one, and with much less time. Luckily, another person, Steve, came along, and he turned out to be a great fit all around. He’s moving into our place this week. Whew!
In order to make the place ready for Steve, Pnina and I had to pack up and remove all our stuff. OK, not *all* our stuff – Steve asked us to leave some bedroom furniture behind, but everything else had to go.
Packing sucks. Nobody enjoys it. But at least in a typical move you have the luxury of just bringing all your stuff to the new place and sorting it out there. Pnina and I didn’t have this luxury because there is no “new place”. To simplify things, we decided to just get rid of our couches; our friend Jordan took them. We moved a few larger items to Noah’s storage unit in Everett, with help from Nathan. We then moved the majority of our stuff to my parents’ place in Portland by packing our two sedans to the brim (to the point where Pnina couldn’t see her side-view mirror). And the last remaining items went to Devorah and Nathan’s place. Pnina and I were both shocked at just how much stuff we had. Maybe when we get back we’ll devote time to sorting / donating / recycling / trashing all those things that we don’t really need.
Packing was no fun, and after that came cleaning, which was also no fun. We spent an entire day just dusting, vacuuming, and scrubbing our place, top to bottom. Pnina literally spent 5 hours just on the kitchen, and she’s no slacker. We had to be especially detailed about it because Steve’s wife is highly allergic to cats. And we had some help from Jasmine (thanks!).
All this work, packing and cleaning, really consumed the majority of our pre-trip time. We literally dropped off the rug doctor at Home Depot right before heading to the airport. It was hectic and stressful, but now that we made it through that ordeal I have a lot of confidence that we can take on any challenge in our trip! 🙂
Packing for the trip
While packing our stuff for storage was no fun, packing for the trip was actually kind of fun, especially because it naturally involved a couple of trips to REI. As a basis we used the packing list from Tyler and Sarah’s trip, though we made some modifications.
I was hoping I’d get a chance to post our own packing list here on the blog, but I just ran out of time. I may do it later.
One thing I will mention, though – music. For the trip we decided to leave our regular MP3 players behind (my iPod, Pnina’s Sansa) and instead use cheap Sandisk m250 MP3 players. Why? Several reasons:
1. If they’re stolen, it’s not such a huge deal.
2. They don’t have color screens, so the battery life is much better.
3. They take regular old AAA batteries that we can buy along the way (one less thing to charge)
4. We can hook them up to any old computer around the world and put new (free!) podcasts on them, without having to first install iTunes or worry about lock-down issues.
I think it was a good choice, but again it was one of those last-minute things. I was up until 4 AM the night before we left ripping an audio book from CD to MP3 to put it on Pnina’s player.
Bills and Accounts
We canceled a bunch of accounts – no more cellphone, no Tivo, no Blockbuster online membership, no car insurance. The electric bill had to be changed such that Steve’s name was on it instead of mine.
I brought all my paperwork to Portland and showed my dad how to take care of my bills while I’m away: my credit card, the mortgage, and home owner association dues. I also showed him where to find my tax-related stuff because he will fill out my tax return next year (Dad – you’re awesome for doing all this!). Pnina handed her paperwork to Devorah (also awesome!).
I opened up a new checking account at First Tech because I discovered that it’s more travel-friendly. In what way? It turns out that my other bank, First Internet Bank of Indiana, charges 3% when you withdraw money overseas. By contrast, First Tech charges just 1% (which is the minimum imposed by the VISA corporation).
That’s right – we still had some lingering post-wedding stuff to deal with. In particular, thank-you cards. Pnina and I decided that each thank-you note we send should include DVD’s with our wedding video and photos, so besides all the time it took to write the actual thank-you notes we also had to spend time burning DVD’s. Again, my dad helped out in a big way here. We literally left a big stack of envelopes for my mom to take to the post office just a couple of days ago! 🙂
We each had to get some vaccines, some for the first time, some boosters. We also picked up some anti-malaria pills, pills for altitude sickness, and other assorted pills.
We actually didn’t get any visas yet for this trip. As far as we know, the only countries for which we’ll need to arrange visas ahead of time are India and China, and we plan to take care of those while in Israel. All the other countries give you a visa upon arrival to the country.
And with all those preparations out of the way, we were finally ready to go.
Miriam and Devorah took us to the airport. Miriam did the actual driving, which is interesting only because she just moved to the states and she doesn’t have her license yet, only her permit. By the time we return from the trip she’ll be a full-fledged driver. Another thing that will be completed while we’re away – the light rail to the SeaTac airport.
When we went through security it occurred to me that I have nothing metallic in my pockets – no cellphone, no keys, no change. Weird. Still, I have my CPAP machine and that always makes getting through security a little slower.
We didn’t have seats next to each other on the first flight (to Amsterdam). We were going to ask people to swap seats, but before that happened we each struck up a conversation with the person next to us. I sat next to Joe, a guy who works in a firm that designs shipping ports. Right now they are designing an 8-crane port in Tacoma (Joe says that Seattle is already saturated). Coincidentally, until recently Joe’s company had their offices in the 7th floor of the Dexter Horton Building! (one floor above Redfin). Joe and his wife are on their way to Spain for a trip organized by Rick Steves. He said it’s their second time doing a Rick Steves tour. I asked whether Rick himself does the tour and Joe said “no, but the guides that work for Rick are all really good”. Apparently Rick takes his time building a network of local guides before doing his first tours there. Right now he’s working on Iran. Interesting!
We saw a few movies. First My Super X-Girlfriend. Then Get Smart. Neither was especially good. On the second flight I saw Iron Man. That movie was actually good, but I guess they started it a little too late because when the movie was reaching its climax it was time to land and the TV’s went dark. What Bullshit! Now I’ll need to rent it just to see the ending! 🙂
The landing in Amsterdam was bizarre. There was a very low layer of clouds. It didn’t look like fog. It just looked like a layer of clouds, the kind you see when you are 1+ miles high. So everyone was surprised when we suddenly hit the ground. Joe, next to me, said that this kind of zero-visibility landing would not have been possible ten years ago. Perhaps.
Pnina and I had a plan to beat our jetlag. The idea was that if we could stay awake during both flights then we would land in Joburg at night, exhausted, then go to sleep and wake up refreshed. To make this happen I drank more coffee during the flights than I usually drink in a month. It was a struggle, and it was hopeless – I still fell asleep. Pnina didn’t bother trying – she was out within 20 minutes of takeoff.
While we were awake, we managed to read about the history of Africa from our Lonely Planet guide. Interesting stuff. I’ll save it for another post. I also started reading Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, a book that was recommended by Mary at Redfin. The book is very interesting so far, not least because my mom is from that region of the world (the part of Hungary that became Romania). Thanks for the tip Mary! 🙂
Immigration at Joburg was super-slow. We waited in line over an hour, and we were the only plane to arrive. Luckily our bags made it (Tyler and Sarah had no such luck).
Sidney, Patricia, and Ponolo met us after baggage claim and we went to their car. The airport parking lot had this awesome system of red/green lights hanging above each stall to indicate which spots are open (why don’t we have that in the states?). We picked up some fast food and we went to their place. While we ate, Sidney and Patricia told us about their work at the TV studio. Patricia is working on Big Brother South Africa, now in its fourth season. Maybe my memory is whack, but I remember Big Brother US being a standard reality show, a one-hour taped/edited show, kind of like Real World. Well, here in South Africa it’s more like that Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show – they air Big Brother live 24 hours a day. Patricia flipped on the TV earlier and tuned the Big Brother show (which is essentially its own channel for 3 months), and what we saw was people sleeping. Weird.
I thought it would be cool to periodically jot down notes about events happening back home or around the world. The big thing happening these days is the economic melt-down. Last week the US government passed the $700 billion rescue package, but so far it doesn’t look like it’s working. On the morning we left, the headlines in the paper said that the Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped below 10,000 for the first time in four years. On the airplane we saw reports of stock markets around the world taking a huge beating (e.g. the Russian market down 15%!). Part of me is worried about this — how will our savings look when Pnina and I return from the trip? And another part of me is kind of happy to leave all that BS behind and deal with it in a year when we return.
A New Year
This is kind of random but Pnina and I realized that our trip almost exactly lines up with the Jewish calendar. The Jewish new year (rosh hashanah) was on October 1st, and we took off on October 6th. We didn’t plan it that way but it’s a neat coincidence.
In the Jewish calendar the year is 5769 (not 2008) but generally when you write down the year you use Hebrew letters instead of standard digits (similar to the roman numeral system). This year the letters are taf-shin-sameh-tet. When you write the letters next to each other it appears to spell a word “tashsat” which actually isn’t a real word. However, on some years, the letters do spell a real word. For example, when Pnina’s dad was born (1938) the letters were taf-resh-tsadik-het, which looks like the word “tirzah” which means “murder”. Nobody liked living in the year of murder, so the official Jewish Calendar people (whoever they are) decided to make a one-time exception and swap the letters around such that it spelled “tirhaz” which means “shower”. Much better!