Cape Town. Beautiful Cape Town. In a few hours I will see you below me as the plane brings me home to all that is familiar. How surreal and wonderful.
In the past three months I have been to and through over eight cities, several national parks, three Canadian provinces, and five States. I have flown, driven, and bussed hundreds of kilometres and seen so much more of this amazing planet. There have been extreme highs and devastating lows, but travel inevitably involves great risk and it’s these contrasts that make for the good stories. It’s been an adventure indeed.
But back to today: My journey home only starts this evening, which means only one thing. There’s still time to see those Orca whales in the wild! I book my space on a whale watching tour that departs from Granville Island.
For the next six hours I am sitting on an open boat with several others, wearing what can only be described as a sexy oversized astronaut’s onesie (hey, it keeps me warm!), and scanning the water for signs of marine life.
We see flashes of a dolphin or a porpoise or two. Some fat seals lazing on logs and shallow islands. Cormorants. The Vancouver skyline. Ferry boats and enormous ships. But killer whales? Not one. How disappointing.
But it would seem they are truly in hiding today as none of the whale watching tours have spotted any today. I guess that’s the risk you take with these things. Our guide – a charismatic, informative and friendly guy – tries to hide his embarrassment four hours in when he says: ‘Well, we sadly haven’t seen whales, but we did spot some birds and seals and …’ Whatever buddy, we all came to see the orcas. You can’t sugarcoat our sadness.
Still, it’s a fun outing, despite the fact that I am tired and cold and wind-blasted. I make a mad dash for the CIBC bank before 4pm to close my account, but I’m too late and opt to just draw out my remaining cash at the ATM. It’s not much to be honest.
With packed bags and a full heart, the time has finally arrived to take the train to the airport again. I can’t help but think back to the last 24 hours and how things have changed. He answered my prayers, He heard my cries for help.
There is, however, a moment of panic at check-in when I spot the same staff who initially turned me away. The panic rises when the guy issuing my ticket leaves to show his manager my emergency passport and I hope they don’t recognise me, but I explain that the other manager sorted it out (and can I just get on the plane already?)
An hour or so later I do. No problems.
Goodbye Vancouver. It’s been real and it’s been fun, but it hasn’t been real fun. I’d like to come back one day, when circumstances are different and less tainted. And to see those killer whales in the wild.
I find myself chatting to a gorgeous Swiss girl on the plane, but of course only after eight hours of sitting and semi-sleeping next to her. Our breakfast conversation centres around her finding the Rockies a little underwhelming. But I understand because she would see that landscape in Switzerland all the time, so it’s hardly exotic. I also listen with much jealousy how she recounts her incredible whale watching experience and how close the whales surfaced by their boat and … well, lucky you.
The nine hours from Vancouver to London pass quickly and there’s the last moment of anxiety as I pass from the one terminal to the next – the one where I allegedly need this transit visa. Here’s the thing though: I’m entirely convinced that the woman at the checkpoint only looks at my boarding pass (and not my passport!) before I proceed through security and into Terminal 5. So … when do they check this transit visa? Maybe I did have ‘a file’ online and she let me through. Or BA are making a big fuss about nothing. Either way, it seems ridiculous that it all boiled down to this one moment that lasts a couple of seconds and I am clear to go without so much as a second look.
Five hours pass and I can’t remember what I did. Watch people probably. Go to the bathroom. Browse shops. Sit. Watch people. Oh, the lost hours of a traveller spent at the airport. If only we can get them back …
The best part about the London Cape Town flight is recognising ‘your people’ and their wonderful accents while we wait to board. Jis bru. Lekka man. An elderly couple next to me phone their adult children to make arrangements for airport fetching. I feel at home before I’m even on SA soil.
The long flight back seems irrelevant to the joy of that mountain and city coming into view. Suddenly it becomes the most beautiful thing you’ve ever laid eyes on.
And when the woman behind the booth takes my emergency passport to keep, looks up at me, smiles, and asks ‘happy to be home?’ … I grin and think out loud:
You have no idea.