Inside a wall

We arrived in Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo Airport this morning after a long and uneventful flight. In at least one way, it was a throwback to the old days of air travel: someone met us at the gate.

I vaguely remember those days, before layers upon layers of security were added to air travel. You could walk your friend or family member to the gate, helping them with their hand luggage (there was no wheeled luggage in those days, either) and delaying the inevitable goodby to the last minute. And the reverse was true: people would crowd around the gates, waiting for their someone to walk down the ramp and emerge to smiles and hugs.

In our case, we were met by an escort waiting with our name on a sign – someone we paid for who guided us through the airport, helped us get our luggage at the carousel, and expedited our passage through passport control and customs. After a tip, he handed us off to our driver, also waiting with a sign, who took us to our hotel in the suburbs. Where he got his tip (1).

Guard at the gate to the Saxon, July 2017

The Saxon Hotel is quite lovely. It is also a fortress, completely surrounded by a high concrete wall. As are all of the other properties in this wealthy suburb. Many of the walls are topped with electrified wires.

Saxon Hotel, 2017

The staff here seems extremely attentive to the guests and are quite pleasant. When we approach one of them in the halls, they invariably stand to one side and wait there until we pass; this is a bit disconcerting to us, accustomed as we are to a less formal and more egalitarian relationship with people.

We kind of stumbled around the room for a bit, then stumbled around the hotel a bit looking for a place to eat, then decided on room service for lunch. A nap, some showers, and we felt better. We have dinner reservations in the hotel restaurant.

Tomorrow we leave at 9:00 for our full day “Soweto and Apartheid Tour with Robin Binckes as a guide”. Hope it’s interesting. It’s a full day.

(1) We received detailed instructions on tipping from our travel company: drivers, porters, guides, trackers, etc. Each has a price and a currency. In South Africa, where we are for nine nights, it’s the South African Rand, or ZAR.

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