The past 9 days have zoomed by. As we look back at all that has consumed our time since our arrival in Thailand, we can’t believe that we fitted so much into such a short time.

Our final Thai morning consisted of waking up and having breakfast, packing our stuff and being ready to leave the hotel by 9:00. At 10:00, we were still waiting for some to finalise their packing etc. When everybody was ready we left our stuff at the hotel for safekeeping and headed out for some final shopping before needing to be back by 17:00 for the bus ride to airport. Unfortunately Katherine wasn’t feeling very well so when the time came to depart for the mall, she and Mr B stayed behind in the hope that it wouldn’t be too long before she felt better.

We made our way past the smelly shopping stalls towards the shopping mall for the 2nd last time. The smells are rather consuming at times. Thai ‘street’ cooking makes use of the durian fruit in many dishes and it is this smell, combined with that of fish, chicken or meat and the unfortunate addition of the smell of sewage that provides a memorable but not too pleasant street smell. The smell of sewage is as a result of the Bangkok sewerage system being flooded by the monsoon season rainfall, leading to sewage being forced up and onto the streets at times. Lovely.

We arrived at the mall and dispersed from outside the Starbucks. Thailand is going to miss our group immensely since most of our group purchased at least one drink from Starbucks per day with some purchasing as many as three or four. We arranged to meet back a Starbucks at 13:00 for a regroup. This gave us about two and a half hours to ’empty our wallets’. Our shoppers of the week had been Cameron, Amo, Enzo, Ethan, Calem and Gavin so it was none too surprising when shopping bags began to appear in the hands of a couple of those mentioned.

At our regroup Enzo and Amo arrived with a few bags. Enzo’s explanation was as follows:  “Amo made me buy jeans.” So we asked “How did she make you buy jeans, Enzo?” “I mentioned that I wanted some jeans, and when I found some that I liked she made me buy them.” Much head-shaking took place and signs of disbelief were evident on the faces of those present. Amo is approximately 1,5m tall, friendly and very petite – intimidating only to flies, ants and Enzo’s (evidently).

Cameron arrived with many bags in hand, looking sad and frustrated, complaining that he had run out of time. We negotiated an additional hour of shopping, meaning that the final meeting time was 14:00, sharp. Cam skipped out with renewed enthusiasm. Ethan, Meyric, Enzo and Sergio chose to sit in the Starbucks for the hour but everybody else rushed out to find the last few things.

Eventually the clocked ticked over to 14:00. A quick head count revealed that three people were  missing. Immediately my thoughts were that the three missing members must consist of Ethan, Cameron, Amo, Enzo or Meyric – since they have been the usual late suspects during our trip. It turned out that it was in fact Taylor, Lerato and Micaela that had not yet arrived. The thought crossed my mind that we should leave the Starbucks to hide nearby and view their reaction but a prior incident involving Lerato wand Amo where tears were shed led me to err on the side of waiting patiently instead. The girls arrived at approximately 14:05, though Lerato argued that they were inside the Starbucks by 14:02. No matter, we had all arrived and since the general consensus was that we should head back to the hotel for the last few hours, we did just that. We braved the Thai streets for the final time, Lerato holding her nose throughout the trip. We even managed to see some rats on our journey, our first sighting. Upon seeing the rat, Taylor almost jumped into Miceala’s arms. Micaela was already mid-air, jumping in the opposite direction from where the rat was, both landing in the vicinity of Lerato who was none too impressed.

Upon arrival at the hotel it didn’t take long for us to find a comfortable spot in the hotel lobby or outside at the pool. While no such words were uttered, it was immediately understood that it was now nap time and any spot would do. Thankfully, the hotel was very accommodating of our ‘squatting’ otherwise were would have had some very unhappy campers. The scene resembled one of war, where the soldiers had been struck down, lying on their backs, prone or even on top of other bodies. Fortunately the only war we were taking part in was the one against our eyelids, and we were losing.

Kit arrived at 17:00 sharp, ready to escort us to the airport. We were very fortunate to have such a kind and friendly tour guide during our trip, he is definitely worth contacting should you ever wish to make a trip to Thailand. The bus trip to the airport took approximately an hour. The traffic was only at a standstill until we exited the Bangkok city limits, thereafter it was plain sailing. Kit was kind enough to provide a running commentary once again of all the landmarks we passed along the way. At one point we passed a section of shacks built on stilts over the river. The living arrangements very much resemble the squatter camps we have in SA but only with more engineering to enable the houses to ‘levitate’ above the water.

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We arrived at Suvarnabhumi (pronounced Su-var-na-bum) airport and disembarked, double-checking that we had all our belongings with us as we made our way into the airport. As a going away present we gave Kit and our bus driver a Vuvuzela each. Both had no idea what this strange ‘instrument’ was, though they were very grateful to receive it. Enzo kindly demonstrated how to use the Vuvuzela. Both men were suitably impressed but were not enticed into trying to blow into it themselves. Perhaps they will annoy their neighbours on a regular basis when they are watching local football, boxing or Muay Thai.

Onto the airport antics. You should all know by now that nothing runs smoothly when there are 17 scholars traveling together, more so when so many are traveling overseas for the first time. All was well as the bags were checked in, until we got to Cameron. Cameron had left a couple of power packs in his main luggage, items prohibited from traveling in the lower hold of the plane due to risk of explosion. Now Cameron had already wrapped his bag, a small problem but we imagined we would simply have to cut open the wrapping and have the bag re-wrapped. At this point Cameron was looking more sheepish than usual – cue the bombshell, he had locked his bag with a lock that had no key. He was planning on breaking the lock when he returned home. This thrilled Mr B, Mr P and others to no end, patience was at very short supply at this point. I drifted off into a fantasy of playing in the Rugby World Cup final at Ellis Park in 1995. Joost picked up the ball from the ruck, he passed it back to Stransky (me) in the flyhalf position, time for the drop-kick. The ball had become Cameron, I drop-kicked the Cameron with all the force I could muster. It was good, through the posts and out of sight! Alas, it was only a fantasy.

We put on our MacGyver hats and considered our options. After a bit of prodding at the lock Gavin came up with an idea of prying open the zip, to release the lock. Chichi kindly provided nail clippers and we managed to lever open the zip to free the lock. Hallelujah! Cameron scratched around his bag for a while and removed both power packs. We closed up the bag, pushed the zipper closed again and Cameron headed off to have his bag wrapped once again. Upon his return, we made our way through customs and into the duty free zone. Cue the shopping disease once again. It was our understanding that most of the scholar’s money was depleted by now but to our surprise, it wasn’t. Money was revealed from wallets, purses and even socks. We had 30 minutes to wait before boarding, this was more than enough time for our ‘addicts’. The duty-free stores were very overpriced, far from the discounted rates expected when we hear ‘duty-free’. Nonetheless, many items were purchased by our group before we boarded the plane.

The flight aboard the Airbus A380 was very comfortable. We settled into sleeping or watching movies for the 6 hour flight. Before we knew it we were landing in Dubai.

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We took a brief bathroom break on our way from the plane to customs. Lerato took her turn to throw a spanner in the works by admitting that she had locked her passport in her hand luggage, along with the key to the lock. If not for the previous lock issue Lerato may well have found herself on the end of the rugby fantasy as well, but we were pros at this by now. Gavin and Calem took to bending open the zip of her bag so that first the lock, and then the passport could be removed. 5 minutes later and we were good to go. We made a longish walk to the customs cues and waited patiently as our passports were checked.

At this point I must inform you of some soap purchased by Sergio and Enzo while in Thailand. The soaps were anatomically correct, cast figures of the male ‘member’. Why they purchased such items is anybody’s guess. Sergio’s reason was that it was for his dad but elaborated no further and Enzo could provide no reason at all. Needless to say, these soaps caused a bit of a stir during our wait for clearance of the items in our luggage. Discussion led to some people, who had yet to see the soaps, asking to see what they looked like. Sergio’s bag was passed around and people peered into it as if looking at some illegal and very secretive item. What was secretive quickly became quite public. Clarice put her hand into the bag to lift the soap to get a better look, the bag being held by Sergio. Mr B suggested that Sergio put the bag down, Sergio took this as meaning immediately. He dropped the bag, the soap still comfortably in the hand of Clarice. Gasps were heard and shocked looks on faces were visible as Clarice stood, among the crowded customs cues, surrounded by hundreds of people, holding a soap in the shape of a penis.

Some of us could barely stand as we laughed and few tears of laughter were shed. Clarice looked like a deer in the headlights, a deer coated in red paint that is. She was blushing like no other person has done before. We scrambled for Sergi’s bag. Once found, Clarice literally threw the soap back into the bag and dived for cover from the hundreds of faces staring right at her. She cleared customs and once again sought cover from the group of scholars already through. You cannot make this stuff up.

We had approximately 3 and a half hours to ‘kill’ as we waited for our connecting flight. The look of excitement on our shopping addicts was quickly evident. Once again they managed to dig out more cash from various places and sought to spend any remaining money they had on anything they could find. As expensive as the duty-free zone was in Thailand, it was even more so in Dubai. As a comparison, the Burger King meal that cost approximately R100 in Thailand cost R150 in Dubai. Not to be deterred though, our group purchased meals nonetheless.

Finally, the time came to board the plane to begin the final leg on our journey home. We boarded the Boeing 777 which was a bit more cramped than the A380, meaning we were going to feel a little less comfortable than on our previous leg. Fortunately, the fact that we were all so tired meant that mos of us slept the 8 hours away and we were soon landing on our home turf at O.R. Tambo International.

It felt really good to be home. Not that we didn’t enjoy our time away but coming home is always a welcome journey. We patiently waited for our luggage to be provided on the carousel. Once we were all ready, we excitedly made our way to the terminal building where we knew our families were eagerly awaiting our return. The welcome we received as we come into the view of our families was fantastic. There were cheers and even signs on display, welcoming us home. We greeted our loved ones with enthusiasm and joy, having missed everybody very much.

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Thank you to all who have followed our blog while we were away, for greeting us with such excitement, for missing us while we were away and for being such awesome people that we all so looked forward to seeing upon our return. It is good to be home!

Until our next journey…

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