The longest trip I've taken is the semi-regular trip I take to Tokyo from Montreal. The estimated door-to-door time from my parent's house in Montreal, to my grandmother's house in Kunitachi is around 24 hours. My trip to Botswana shattered this record by a fair bit, but it was a pretty good time.
The fun began when I left my house at around 13:00 to get to Nippori station. I was to meet the rest of my traveling gang (4 students from Hitotsubashi) at the station at 14:40. I got to Nippori early, so I decided to have a final Japanese meal at the local Tenya. I also took the opportunity to convert my yen into some good ole'USD. I must say that the US dollar is a mighty ugly currency from an aesthetic point of view. Nothing like the African currencies I'd get my hands on later.
Once we all got together at Nippori we took the fastest route we could take without paying express charges, Which meant we were on the train for around an hour and a quarter. Still not quite believing that we were headed to Africa we talked about stuff and the time just flew by. So for those keeping track, the trip to Narita airport took a good 3+ hours. Once we got to Narita, we checked in smoothly, and had some time to kill prior to boarding at 18:30. Everyone did some last minute shopping for some odds and ends. I got some instant soba for potential Japanese New Year tradition purposes, and got some extra mosquito repellent.
We boarded our flight as scheduled and we were on our way to Singapore! At this time I'd like to give big shout out to Singapore Airlines. I'm a patient traveller, a point that becomes important later, so I'm one of the few people I know that doesn't vocally complain about Air Canada at every opportunity. But I will give props when they are due, and I think I can easily say that Singapore Airlines provided the most pleasant air travel experience in my life. I watched 2 films on the video-on-demand player during the 7 hour flight, Hot Fuzz and Hanamizuki. Both good fun, although I find the limited but slightly more arty selections of Air Canada to be more up my ally. But time was well wasted as a certain Canadian cable station likes to say, and we got to Singapore right on time. Which was very important, as we only had a 30 minute window to transfer to our flight to Johannesburg. We took a short series of rides on the airport shuttle to a nearly deserted boarding gate. We got on the plane and saw some familiar faces as we made our way to our seats near the back of the plane. So after surviving a 7 hour flight we made our way onto a 10 hour flight with only a short 30 minute scramble to the gate in between. But again the Singapore Airline service made it a very comfortable 17+ hours. On the flight to Joburg I caught some sleep, watched some random episodes of How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory, and spent the rest of my time starting Ffyona Campbell's On Foot Through Africa.
We touched down at Joburg around 6:30, and after fairly smooth immigration proceedings we were out on the arrivals floor at around 7:10. We were supposed to take a OrgComm chartered bus from Joburg to Gabarone, but we couldn't find any trace of the bus. But while we wouldn't get any official confirmation that the bus was indeed coming until much later, my worries subsided quite quickly as I found some familiar faces in the crowd. After we had made up a significant crowd of debaters we were finally greeted by a tournament organizer around 8:30ish. Unfortunately this didn't mean we'd be getting on a bus at 9:00 as we'd sort of assumed. What follows was a LOOOONG wait at the airport for busses that never seemed to arrive, all the while the number of debaters grew and people's nerves were starting to fray. I decided to mentally check out in order to save my sanity, I figure we'd have strength in numbers and that we wouldn't be trapped or be in any danger. We ended up in the final row in an old Isuzu bus packed to the seams with luggage at around 13:30. The bus probably didn't start moving until around 14:00.
I had been refraining from using my iPod to save batteries for this trip. I listened to music while I watched the scene outside change from suburb, to rural farmland, to land devoid of humans beyond the road we were on. The greenery almost made it look like scenes from the rural section of the 401, the major difference being the color of the ground, which was a red clay. A caught some nap time here and there, but compared to my travelmates I didn't sleep all that much. Watching the expansive nature along the road made me think of driving along Ontario and how much I missed such scenes in Canada. Luckily I'm a person that can be lost in such thoughts for a long time and enjoy such a new experience, even after loads of travel and endless waiting. Which bode well for me as the trip that was advertised as being 4 hours (I thought I had read 6 hours on the website) turned out to be more like 8.
We stopped a couple of times for gas and snacks, crawling over peoples' luggage and the seats to get out. We might have also gotten lost somewhere, but that might just have been rumors. When we finally reached the Botswana border the sun had just set over the hills. The border, which was nothing more than some fences and some house-like buildings made the US-Canada border look like a fortress. As Japanese passport holders we were able to get processed fairly quickly, but some of our busmates were not as fortunate as there was some mixup with their paperwork. So by the time we left the border it was quite dark. By the time we made it to the University of Botswana where we were to stay, it was almost 22:00. Registration had its own hitches and were really weren't settled until midnight, but I can honestly say I'd do it again. (Although if a similar thing happens during the return trip we might be screwed, as airlines are less lenient than tournament organizers.)
I've already talked to and seen a lot of old faces and I look forward to the next few days bringing even more excitement and stories for the old folks at home.