Traveller's Tales

It is a sunny day on Symi with a whiff of spring in the air. In the fortnight I have been away the wild chamomile has started to flower and cyclamens scent the shady places. After a fortnight of whizzing about the highways of South Africa it felt strange to be negotiating the muddy puddles and tethered sheep on the way down to the office this morning.

Although I usually keep this column fairly strictly to events on or affecting life on Symi, you are all seasoned travellers and I thought I would share with you the tale of my return from South Africa to Greece. The journey started innocently enough with my father dropping me off at Durban International Airport at 4 pm, in good time to check in for my 5 pm flight to Johannesburg. As my flight from Johannesburg to Athens was only scheduled to depart at 8.40 pm and the flight from Durban to Johannesburg only takes an hour I should have had plenty of time, or so I thought, to do some last minute book shopping at Jo'burg.

Durban airport seemed rather more chaotic than usual, even taking into account that it was a Sunday afternoon and weekend travellers were returning home, and the cause was soon revealed. Apparently (for the fourth time since Christmas) the cables for the airport computer system had been stolen at Johannesburg Airport with the result that all the check-ins for domestic flights were being done manually. As this had delayed the departures of various planes from their points of origin, it also meant that the entire flight schedule had more or less come apart. It was announced that my flight with would now be departing 45 minutes late and my luggage was duly checked in.

We eventually took off just before 6 but I thought, even arriving in Johannesburg at 7 I would still be alright. Tuning in to the conversations around me I realised that I was not the only one on board with an onward international flight and some were on flights earlier than mine.

An hour later we duly arrived in Johannesburg. The plane touched down and we trundled for miles through a torrential downpour before finally coming to a stop in some deserted corner of the airfield. There we waited. And waited. And waited. Not a word of explanation from the pilot or the cabin crew while lightning fizzed around us and rain lashed the windows. All of us transit passengers managed to make our way to the front of the plane and some had dug out their mobile phones. One man tried phoning the airport management company but directory enquiries told him the number was unlisted... Then a sheepish announcement was made by the pilot to the effect that he had been assured that the stairs and busses were on their way to us but the ground crew had not been able to find a) the stairs and b) us.

After 45 minutes the stairs finally arrived and we were able to disembark into a typical highveld storm. It was now 7.45 pm and my flight was at 8.40... After a 15 minute busride with international travellers anxiously working their mobile phones, we were dumped at domestic arrivals and told our luggage would be appearing shortly on carousel one. The place was packed with desperate travellers and the only luggage to be seen on any of the carousels had evidently been going round for hours if not days. There was one particular item in Burberry check which I can still see if I close my eyes...

A German film-maker en route to Munich via Athens managed to phone his wife in Germany. She phoned the Olympic Airlines desk at the international side of the airport and told them that we were on our way. They said they would not hold the flight for us as it was not their problem we were late but the gate would close at 8.30. It was now 8 o'clock. The people said they would send the luggage after us on the next available flight if it did not come through in time. Heaps of luggage from other delayed flights started to appear but nothing from ours and time was now running out. took all our details, bundled us onto a golf cart and delivered us to International Departures where one of their staff rushed us through Passport Control and Security, along countless endless passages to the plane. By this time Sevaste, the Greek lady in the group, had jettisoned her 4 inch heels and was running along the corridors in her stockinged feet. We tumbled onto the plane and collapsed in our seats at 8.45 pm, expecting immediate departure.

We waited. And waited. And at 9.15 pm an announcement was made that a passenger who had checked luggage in but failed to turn up was to be left behind. After they had removed his luggage from the hold...

We eventually took off just after 9.30 pm, nearly an hour later than scheduled, which meant that we arrived in Athens an hour later too... There we had to watch and see if by some extraordinary miracle our luggage had indeed made it to the plane while they were removing the no show's bags before filling in reports at the lost and found counter.

So far I have not heard a word and have no idea if and when my bags will turn up.

And I changed my left over rands back into euros and bought some books at the bookshop in Athens airport before catching a little prop plane back to Rhodes.


The Symi Visitor

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About this Blog

I sailed into Panormitis Bay, Symi, by chance one windy July day in 1993 and have been here ever since. The locals tell me that this is one of the miracles of St Michael of Panormitis. A BA graduate with majors in English, Philosophy and Classical Civilisation, the idea of living in what is to all intents and purposes an archaeological site appeals to me. Not as small as Kastellorizo, not as touristy as Rhodes, Symi is just the right size. I live on a small holding which my husband and I have reclaimed from a ruin of over-grazing and neglect and turned into a small oasis over the course of the past 22 years. I also work part-time for Symi Visitor Accommodation, helping independent travellers discover and enjoy Symi's simple pleasures for themselves.

This page is kindly sponsored by Wendy Wilcox, Symi Visitor Accommodation.

Adriana Shum

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