When President Ramaphosa announced the impending lockdown in South Africa, I was in Cape Town. We had been staying with family for the past few days, and the following day we were leaving on a road trip where we would be doing media reviews at four amazing hotels and lodges in the Western Cape that had been on my local bucket list for a long time. These had been booked for the school Easter holidays – long before “Coronavirus” and “Covid-19” became buzzwords.
Our travels, of course, were not important in the bigger scheme of things. More important was the impact on our country and its citizens, especially those who live from hand to mouth. I did not envy the President, who had to make such tough decisions, and I was anxious about our country’s future.
Although the lockdown was not effective immediately, we had to make a few urgent decisions too. We had flown down to Cape Town via British Airways. Our return flight was on 31st March but the lockdown began on 26 March. So, we needed to get to back to Johannesburg asap.
We made an (incorrect) decision to wait till the morning to call British Airways and ask them to change our flight – because we had booked the flights with our Avios loyalty points. After about 45 minutes on hold, we were transferred to an agent. She said that there were no flights left. Our original flight on the 31st was also cancelled. We are yet to receive a refund.
We found a Mango flight on Travelstart and booked it. Then we got an email to say that it was cancelled, because their systems were not properly synced with Mango’s and they sold us a flight which wasn’t actually available. Flight prices were going up by the second and the only remaining flights had price tags of over R4.5 k per person on Kulula. That would have been hefty for 4 of us. So, we had to come up with Plan B – drive down to Joburg, which was a bit of a problem since we didn’t have our car with us.
We had rented a vehicle for a week, planning to return it to the Cape Town branch we had rented it from. We called the car rental agency and asked them if we could drive the car to Joburg and leave it there. This of course incurred an additional surcharge. We would also have to pay a huge premium for additional kilometres over and above those included in our contract. But the worst part was that their branches would be closing at midday, which meant that we would have to leave for Joburg asap.
I booked an Airbnb in Beaufort West for the night within 10 minutes, and packed everything within 30 minutes. We got ready and left Cape Town at 14h30, reaching Beaufort West at 19h30. The Airbnb was comfortable and after a good sleep, we left the next morning at 09h00.
En route, we passed familiar places from previous road trips to Cape Town, vast open plains and sunflower fields. We saw graceful impalas and ostriches, and grazing sheep, cows and horses. I saw a fully white impala, and a lake of full of flamingos, but there was no time to stop and take photos. The only stops we made were for refuelling, and drinks. We passed a couple with “Just Married” scrawled all over their vehicle, and I reflected that it couldn’t have been pleasant for them to have to cut their honeymoon short.
At 19h30, we finally reached Johannesburg. The following morning, we had to return the car and do some stocking up for the lockdown. The traffic and the queues were horrendous, but we survived.
It is now Day 8 of the lockdown. It is heartening to see our infection and death rates not skyrocketing like other countries, and to know that the earth is healing without traffic and pollution. But it is disheartening to see reports of huge businesses like Edcon and Dionwired closing down, people losing their jobs and income, our Moody’s downgrading, and the rand plummeting against the dollar. The travel industry is also suffering greatly.
Apart from not being able to go out, my life hasn’t changed drastically. I normally work from home. My children have not been able to return to school, and there is talk of the June school holidays being cancelled – although their schools have been providing them with online lessons and homework. Many other companies have generously made online learning resources available.
However, I do look forward to the world returning to normal again, and to being able to travel, and supporting the travel industry, again. For now, it’s armchair travel only.
Stay at home, and stay safe.