In almost 10 years of traveling, I have had plenty of unique experiences and faced with various troubles on the way, nothing like anything. Each trip is a journey filled with surprises, which sometimes are interesting, but several times take my breath away. The story in Port Elizabeth, South Africa probably is the “One of a kind” incident, which never I can forget.
An UNBELIEVABLE and RARE thing happened to me !
We were enjoying our 3 weeks road trip holiday in South Africa, departing from Cape Town and driving to Durban. The incident happened in the middle of the trip when we were in Port Elizabeth.
Originally, we had planned to drive from Port Elizabeth to Durban (approx. 600km) and stopped over a few places along the way. However, my friend had an urgent work and needed to be at Durban on the next morning, we changed our plan to take a flight instead of driving.
From Tsitsikamma town to Port Elizabeth airport was 2 hours drive and we were short in time. Hence, 6 of us in two cars were rushing at 160-180km/h. Suddenly we realized that our car was running out of fuel, faster than expected. We tried to reach the nearest gas station, but unfortunately, it was not enough fuel. The car stopped in the middle of the street, about 5km away. Luckily, the other car still had gasoline to drive to the gas station and bought 4 liters to us (contained in a milk bottle as below pix).
It was just good enough for our car reach the station to fill more. At that time, we were about 30km away from the airport and 45 minutes to the flight depart time. As a result, everyone was extremely tensed and in a hurry mood.
THEN, THE RARE INCIDENT HAPPENED.
When our car reached the station, I rushed to the restroom with empty hands and without notifying my friends. After trying as fast as I could, I got out just in time to see the 2 cars were leaving. I ran after the car but my friends didn’t see me since it was a bit far. I had nothing with me, all of my stuffs were in the car. At that time, I just simply thought that they would have come back soon since the car had only 4 of us. Therefore, I continued walking down that road. Kept walking for about 15 minutes and wondering why they didn’t come back, then I reached a T-junction. Didn’t know which way they took, I stopped and thought that when they recognized I was not in the car, they would go back to the gas station. Then, I walked all the way back to the station, asking for help.
The owner, a young guy, was surprised by my story. He laughed & asked “Are you left by your friends? Are they really your friends? Give me their number”. Ironically, I didn’t remember any number as we all changed to local sim card when arriving South Africa. And all the number were long, I even didn’t remember mine. The only thing in my mind (I didn’t know why) was an email address of my friend, so I asked him to send an email for me. He said that the store didn’t have internet, so he called his sister at home who could help me with it. Then I thought, my friends had been rushing, they wouldn’t check email till they reached the airport. Big question in my mind was “why they didn’t realize my absence in a 4 seats car”.
Naldo, the owner, kept asking if I could remember anything. I said we had rent a car from Cape town airport and planned to return it in Durban. But the plan was changed, we were on the way to return it in Port Elizabeth airport. He then found in Yellow page book 3 car agencies who were providing similar services. He called all of them but couldn’t find my friend’s name (later I knew that she wasn’t the one who had book it, but another friend of her).
He continued asking which airline I was supposed to take, I didn’t remember the name (as my friend had just booked the flight the night before), but the departure time at 1:15pm. Then Naldo called the airport, asked them to announce my case in their public speaker, also asked which airline had a flight at 1:15pm and found the airline named Kulula. It was 1h10 when he called to the check-in booth of Kulula airline, and suddenly shouted out “I found your friends, they’re there”. OMG!!! He passed the phone to me and the first question I asked my friends was why they didn’t realize that I wasn’t in the car. Their answer was shocked me. They thought I was in the other car (since we had 2 cars).
UNBELIEVABLE and INCOMPREHENSIBLE!!!
We didn’t have a lot of time to explain the situation as my friends had to catch their flight. They asked me to wait there, so that they could discuss the solution. After 3 min, they called me back (of course via Naldo’s phone), said that they would bought a new ticket for me on the next flight at 3h30, hired a cab from the airport going back to the gas station to pick me up and drive me to the airport. Also the ticket, my passport, my phone, a bit of money were left at the ticket booth of British Airway (in fact Kulula is a cheap airline of BA). They still pursued their flight (actually delayed 45min because of waiting for us) and waited for me at Durban airport.
It sounded good, at least I had a way out of here. After 20 min, a taxi came. I expressed my appreciation to Naldo as without him, I didn’t know what to do in the middle of nowhere, specially with nothing on hands.
HE SAVED ME, indeed!
Arriving the airport at 2h45, I walked straight to British airline stand and got all of my stuffs. Holding the phone on hand, I called Naldo to let him know that I had reached the airport safely and was waiting for my flight. I couldn’t express how much thankful I was for everything he had done for me.
After settling on the plane, I started crying. Surprisingly that I didn’t feel panic at all in those several hours, but burst into tears then. I felt self-pity, very angry with my friends who left me there. Why they thought I was in the other car? How possible it was as my stuffs still there? I was holding a Coke can but couldn’t drink it, instead kept crying non-stop. Many scenarios were running in my head on what I would do with my friends: not talk to them, quarrel at them, cancel the rest of the trip and fly back home immediately, ect… It went on and on…
Landing at Durban airport, walking down the hall and I saw 3 of them waiting for me at the gate. They run toward me and apologized while hugging me tightly. At that moment, all scenarios that I had thought before just disappeared, the only thing left was a warm feeling in friends’ arms. It was really touched.
THE STORY FROM THE OTHER SIDE …
On the way from Durban airport to my friend’s house, the story from the other side was gradually released.
As we were in a rush, after filling the gas, the girl who was driving started speeding up. The girl sitting on behind row, next to me was so tired since she had been checking -in online for all the us along the way. She had finished just before we reached the gas station, hence falling asleep. Driving about 15 km, the girl next to the driver turned back to find something and suddenly realized that I was not in the car. She asked “Where’s Ha?”. The girl next to me waked up and said that she didn’t know. Then they thought I might be on the other car as this car had been running so fast that scared me away.
As the other car was just in front of them, they tried to get closer to it to check if I was there. When they passed it, somehow, they saw me inside that car. As both cars were running at high speed of 170km/h, probably their view was not clear enough. Then they got lost to each other, each car went to different road. My car ended up reaching the airport first. After they had returned the car and reached the check-in stand, the other car arrived. At that time, they knew they lost me. Naldo’s phone reached them when they were trying to find the phone number of the gas station. It seems that they also experienced as multiple layers of emotion as I had.
On that night, we had peaceful moments together, admiring Durban beach at night and realized nothing could change our friendship. In such dramatic situations, we understood each other even deeper and felt more bonding.
So, now, I have something to tell, something to remember!!!
Since that incident, except in sleeping time, I always keep my personal stuffs with me (such as money, phone and passport), no matter what. It is an unforgettable lesson for me, as well as my friends.
Traveled in May, 2013