Pre-Arrival to South Africa #2: Paris

Hello once again from a plane! I apologize in advance if this entry is a little addled and poorly written, my brain is running on 5 hours of sleep over the past 52 hours, so it is not operating at its peak efficiency. I am on the 10 hour flight to Cape Town after spending 23 hours in Paris. If you thought my last entry was a little bit dry, then you are in for a treat this time because things got much crazier in Paris.

After having an extremely comfortable flight from Seattle to Paris, I disembarked in the City of Love to find myself completely disoriented. Since I wasn’t able to get much sleep on the flight (my body just wouldn’t get tired, it didn’t have anything to do with the comfortability of the environment) I had planned to spend my first few hours in the airport snoozing. However, after getting bustled along through the corridors of Arrivals I was back to not feeling tired again, just more worn out. This was probably helped by the atmosphere of the airport which was hot and extremely humid. It was the kind of muginess that makes you feel sticky all over, definitely not something you want to sleep in. The Paris airport is also massive, and very confusing. After wandering around for a little while, not being able to read the signs and not finding people that spoke much English I finally sat down and found something comforting to do where I did know what I was doing: and that was eat.

While snacking I realized that I would have to get rid of some of the objects I was carrying around in my backpack, because I was not able to go more than 30 seconds without my shoulders aching in pain from the weight of the bag. I had been carrying a backpack around stuffed with books, my laptop, and entertainment for the plane rides as well as anything else I would need in between airports since my luggage had been checked all the way to Cape Town. This pack was completely full when I started the trip, but after the plane ride it was absolutely bursting because I had swiped the two blankets from my seat and the empty seat next to me to use for sleeping in the airport. In addition I had also stuffed one of the pillows under my sweater when leaving the plane for the same purpose.

Using the power of the Internet I found out about the Left Luggage service, and eventually found the one in Charles De Gaulle (the name of Paris’ airport), then left half of the contents of my backpack there wrapped in a plastic grocery bag. This drastically reduced the weight of my backpack down to a manageable level of heaviness that would only start hurting after around 10 minutes of carrying it (my pack probably went down from 18lbs to about 8lbs). With my newfound mobility and a ton of time on my hands, I decided to try and see Paris before the evening arrived. I located a bus terminal, missed the first bus, but then got on a second one when it came around a half hour later. Some lady waiting nearby told me it was going to “the center of Paris” (which is where all the famous landmarks are) so I boarded the vehicle thinking it was just what I wanted.

My bag of stuff on its way to Left Luggage!

The people in front of me paid for tickets as they entered, but when it got to my turn I asked the driver if he took card and he told me ‘no’. I had no cash euros because I had only brought a credit card and a debit card not yet loaded with money, and I didn’t want to take a cash advance using credit. As I tried to explain to him that I had no cash, the driver shut the doors behind me and began driving with me on the bus! I didn’t really know what to do, so after a few moments I quietly walked back and sat down in a seat out of the driver’s vision, just in case he decided to change his mind and make me pay. The bus left the airport but then started weaving through narrow streets of neighborhoods, making frequent stops. That’s when I realized my first assumption of the bus had been wrong – I had thought it was a shuttle bus going between the airport and the city center, but in actuality it was just the regular public transit bus that ordinary citizens use to get to work and move around town. The airport happened to be the first stop, so though the vehicle started out nearly empty it began filling up with more and more people until there was hardly even room left for a person to stand. The ride was also very, very, long – at least over an hour and a half – and there was no air conditioning. By the end I was stuffed shoulder to shoulder in a very warm bus full of strangers, but I was at least still able to view out the window; what a way to see the city!

Also near the end of the ride was when a particularly talkative man sat next to me. He immediately launched into conversation in a language I couldn’t understand, and when he found out I could only speak English he began listing off all of the American cities he had gambled and partied at and how much he liked or disliked them. Most of his jammer was in French and even though I was only catching about every fortieth word I tried to keep up with what he was saying. He was also very intent on demonstrating to me how “fresh” he was, with his well-kept hairdo, trendy clothes, and expensive watch that he pulled out of his pocket. While he was talking, there was also a man in the aisle who kept poking my arm and trying to make eye contact, which I thought was weird but assumed was some cultural familiarity between strangers that I wasn’t aware of. When we finally got off the bus the talkative guy wanted to give me his number, and the guy who had been poking me in the arm hung around, hovering beside us. I eventually let him give his phone number to me, and when he walked away the quiet, arm poking man waited beside me until the talkative man was out of earshot.

“You need to watch out” he said to me in very broken English, “people like him… big, big liars”. Obviously struggling to say what he wanted, the man pulled out his phone with Google Translate and punched in a word. “He is…” the man said, holding up the screen to me, showing me the word “thief”. Now I understood why the other guy had been so talkative and interested in interacting with me. I realized this man who had been poking my arm had realized I was a tourist and had been trying to warn me on the bus. I showed him I understood and thanked him for telling me, and the guy walked away out of the bus stop.

The bus had left me at its final stop which is where they forced everyone off. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the city center but was still ten or so miles from it. Instead, it was a transit hub for buses and the subway where a collection of street vendors congregated to try and hawk stuff to the people getting on and off transportation. It was still hot and muggy, I was tired, and I did not want to try and find another mode of transportation to go even further into the city because I didn’t even know how I was going to get back to the airport considering I still had no cash. ”Paris, you win” I said out loud, and my body also chose that time to finally start feeling the effects of my lack of sleep. At that moment all I wanted was to just get back to the a place that was familiar and that I could rest at. However, I didn’t want my excursion into Paris to be completely wasted, so I found a food truck selling rotisserie chickens and ordered a meal.

Eating revived my spirits quite a bit and I felt much better about my situation afterward. I decided it was probably best to just go back to the airport while I still knew how to find transportation, so I figured out which bus was going back in that direction and got on. This time instead of dealing with trying to pay cash, I just waited until a large group of people were all crowding in at once and inserted myself into the middle of the group, avoiding the bus driver completely. The bus took me back to the airport, and I decided to try and go to my plane’s gate and sleep there for a little while, away from more of the noise. When I tried going through security, though, I was unable to get through! Because my ticket was for a plane leaving in the morning of the next day, I was not allowed to pass through into the boarding gates a day early, so they told me to come back tomorrow. Less than thrilled by this news, but resigned, I finally just found a small lounge area above Arrivals that had some chairs filled with people and plopped down in one. I put in some earplugs, pulled a facemask eye-cover on, and drifted into some fitful sleep for the next hour and a half.

When I woke up, I was surrounded by a completely different set of people than I had fallen asleep to. I was a bit disoriented, but now there was a very large group of elderly people in all of the seats around me, and it was obvious they wanted my seat based on the way some would stand with their hands on the back of my chair and speak over my head to their friends. None of them spoke English, so I soon picked up my stuff and moved it a ways to a small, walled workstation that I happened upon which had electrical outlets. I sat down and worked on my laptop there for a few hours until it turned dark outside and the airport shut down. Most of the employees left the building, as well as passengers, until the entire building turned into a big empty shell of its daytime self. I kept working until at some a group of Indian travelers came up and asked for help finding directions to their terminal. I packed up my stuff and lead them to the area it was in, and as I was walking along I found that the entrances to all the departure terminals had big gates closing them off. The airport really was empty, save for a few people scattered around and some fully automated cleaning robots polishing the floors. I wandered around a bit and then tried to return to my work area only to find it blocked by a gate that had been pulled down while I was guiding the Indians!

Even though I had been there for 13 hours at that point, I still had no idea how the airport was laid out and trying to navigate it was as confusing as humanly possible. I spent the next while walking around the place and finally piecing together a general idea of how things connected as well as how they related to the maps strewn around. As I wandered, I began to notice the ecosystem of night time in an airport – everyone finds a spot against a wall and lays down with some blankets or whatever they have on them. Some people sleep across chairs while others make little shelters out of carboard or luggage. I probably saw nearly a hundred people as I made my way up and down the complex, each of them finding a way to sleep on the hard and uncomfortable materials of the airport. At this time I called my girlfriend as I walked around and ate the leftovers of my meal from lunch. After calling, I found the most secluded spot that I could in the building and onto the hard floor laid down the two thin blankets I had stolen from the plane. Laying my head down on the tiny pillow I had also snatched, I dozed for three hours through the night.

Early in the morning I got up and moved over to the Left Luggage shop a half hour before it opened at 6:30. When it opened I picked up my things I had left the day before and then proceeded through security to get to my terminal. As I neared my departure gate, I happened upon a site that made me both equal parts incredibly upset and incredibly happy. I found a free airport “comfort lounge” which was this extremely plush and fancy set of rooms made up to look like “a slice of Paris”. They contained tons of comfortable chairs, footrests, and even couches! Everyone inside was very quiet and kept to themselves so you would have never guessed you were in an airport just looking at the carpeted floors, mood lighting lamps, and elegant bookshelves stocked with books for patrons to read. They had a dining room and even showers in a section! I was very peeved that I had just found this place an hour and a half before my flight and not last night or really any time before now, but the place was really tucked away in a separate part of the airport that contained only one terminal and was only accessible by train. It didn’t even show up on most of the maps, so it was especially hard to find, and I had noticed the night before that the entrance to this terminal area was blocked off by a gate (though I don’t think they would have kicked you out if you were in there already).

I spent a half an hour there and then waited at my gate for the remaining hour before boarding. So that was my time in Paris! I will arrive in Cape Town at around 10:30pm after this 12 hour flight and finally get some decent sleep! I’m extremely excited to see what South Africa has in store, and props to you if you made it through reading this whole post! I’ll probably write again tomorrow, so goodbye until then!

For those of you who are prayerfully inclined

For those who believe in prayer and would like to pray for me, here are some things going forward:

  • Praises that I made it through Paris safely.
  • Praises that boarding my flight went smoothly.
  • Petitions that I can catch up on sleep! I have a whole lot to make up for!


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