Attending Sergio and Zita’s Wedding

December 4, 2021

I cried today more than I have in 20 years:

On the way to the wedding, Sergio was getting nervous. Isn’t it strange all the stories we make up? Is she going to be there? What if the car breaks down? Etc. In hopes of distracting him, I asked him to share some fond memories of Zita and getting to know her. His first story was about how Zita’s job when he first met her was selling beer on the beach at night as a means of putting herself through school. Zita was paying her own way through med school, working nights on the beach. She decided to stop because she didn’t think it was something Sergio would approve of. Sergio was touched, it really meant a lot to him. I was emotional already with the upcoming wedding, but this was too much, I started to have to hide my tears and suppress my cry. (Those of you who know me know that I don’t cry so I must have been tired or something.)

He also mentioned how he had asked Zita four times to go out with him and each time she had refused, but how she had continued to find ways to hang out with him so that the relationship continued. It was so difficult for Sergio to figure out whether she liked him or not. (She did. 🙂 He also talked about the time earlier that year when Zita’s father had died, and she was getting kicked out of the house.  Sergio stepped in and took her to stay with family in Nacala, Mozambique while he helped finish construction on a small property that Zita’s father had left for her. Once they were dating Sergio also started to contribute to Zita’s school fees. Sergio’s own story is a rags to riches story (see upcoming blog post), and Zita’s marrying Sergio seems like a Cinderella story of its own. My emotions were building, and this wasn’t good. I was supposed to be supporting Sergio.

As Sergio started to walk down the aisle for the wedding, we were both crying. I looked away. Next Zita drove up and I helped her out of the car. She looked gorgeous (of course). I took her arm and we stood waiting for everyone to be settled. She too had tears of joy in her eyes and I squeezed her arms multiple times to encourage her. Finally, the music started to play, and we began to walk down the aisle. It was beautiful.

Wow! I was truly honored to be asked by Zita to walk her down the aisle

After handing Zita over to Sergio I stepped into the background. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long as I was requested to come forward and sit upfront. The advantage of this was that I got some of the best pictures. The wedding lasted about 1.5 hours and included both a Christian portion and the official state portion. Afterward, were more pictures and the wedding reception. We left the reception at around 9 PM and I drove both the bride and groom through their village honking our horn with the stream of cars behind us. We went to Zita’s house where everyone got out and sang songs. Awesome. The same happened when we finally reached Sergio’s house. The couple emerged from the car and the wedding party greeted them in song. Wow!!

At the end of the evening, I drove the photographer home and proceeded back to Sergio’s house to pick up the bride and groom to go celebrate with Zita’s family. However, just as I approached the house Sergio called and (wisely) told me that they were tired and they didn’t need to go back to Zita’s family.  I turned around and made the 30+-minute drive sans GPS, maps, and on dirt roads at night back to where I was going to stay. I finally made it and was ecstatic that I found it. My only consolation in not making it was that the worst case would be sleeping on the beach – which would have been just as good.

Walking along the beach the day after the wedding

Flying to Pemba, Mozambique

December 1, 2021

Flying to Mozambique was non-trivial. In the end, I chose to fly Delta into Johannesburg, overnight in the Johannesburg airport, and then continue you on with a separate ticket on LAM Mozambique Airlines (LAM). For the most part, it went relatively smoothly but there were a few complications. Firstly, I was carrying a Leatherman to Sergio for his birthday, which meant that even though it is against my religion to check bags, my desire to give him the gift was stronger than my religion and I ended up having to check a bag.

Packaging - Tanya Kornikova - Visual Designer
This gift forced me to check my luggage… what a pain!

The specific complication was that my flight Delta codeshare with KLM so when I arrived at the airport at 5 AM to check-in (I was accompanying my uncle whose flight was 8 hours earlier), Delta informed me that I had to check my bag with KLM at the international terminal and they wouldn’t be there until 11 AM at the soonest. Well, stink. How was I going to go to a lounge inside security if I couldn’t check my bag? Fortunately, a Delta baggage attendant agreed to hold my bag. Pheww! I passed through security in Terminal A and walked to the International D terminal to find an airport lounge for my now less than 8 hour layover. And, around noon when my work calls were over, I left my bags in the lounge and went outside security, found my (to-be) checked bag after a struggle, and checked it through with KLM. I’m guessing it wasted 1-2 hours, so I sure hope Sergio appreciates it. 😊 Unfortunately, the challenges didn’t stop there.

I knew that Delta and LAM are not partners. What I didn’t realize, what that I could only check the bag as far Delta (or their partners) went – Johannesburg, South Africa. Therefore, while I could stay overnight in the international transfers rather than enter Johannesburg all I wanted, picking up my checked bag required me to go through immigration into South Africa. Arghh!!!  (What do people do when they don’t have the requisite passport or visa to enter South Africa?)  All I wanted to do was pick up my bag. Why force me to go through immigration. Oh well! I decided to delay till morning. Perhaps I would just abandon the bag.

The night in the international transfer area was rough to say the least. I was prepared to sleep in the airport and even brought a sleeping pad with me. However, what I was not prepared for was the automated announcement blasting every 15 minutes detailing COVID procedures or baggage security protocols. I tried the noise-canceling headphones and loud music approach, but it wasn’t sufficient. I barely slept. And when I was fed up and went to look for a hotel that was supposedly inside the international transfers station, I discovered it was closed. Supposedly misery loves company, but I felt bad for the 5-10 other passengers suffering the same lot (including a family). And, regardless of what the announcement protocol detailed, I wasn’t gathering up all my luggage every time I went to the bathroom or a stretch – even in Johannesburg.

t around 6 AM I decided to go look for my checked bag. I verified there was no other way and passed through immigration. Not surprisingly, my little bag was nowhere to be found in baggage claim. I asked around and discovered the was a lost and found outside the airport somewhere. Upon reaching the location, I asked, and low and behold, they had my bag. 😊  Now I had to figure out how to find LAM airlines and check the bag. I, on the other hand, didn’t need a boarding pass because I had already checked in online. No such luck! Checking in I was informed that firstly, my COVID test didn’t have a QR code on it making it suspect. And secondly, my passport didn’t have the requisite visa. Sergio had assured me this would not be a problem when I arrived in Pemba because he knew all the officials there and was sure any issues could be worked out. Of course, I wasn’t in Pemba yet and now it was questionable whether I would ever arrive there. I shuttled around to various LAM desks and eventually, using the right passport and yesses and no’s, they checked my bag.  Phew!!

The next challenge occurred when I landed in Maputo. They insisted I have an invitation letter and a hotel reservation. Furthermore, I no longer had Internet so I couldn’t make a hotel reservation or even pull up my return flight that showed I wasn’t permanently moving to Mozambique. (Why would I, why wouldn’t they love it if I did (from an economic perspective, and why would a return flight mean anything, especially in a time when I can cancel and change flights?) To make matters worse, communication at this point was in my broken Portuguese or their, even worse, rudimentary English. Fortunately, my flight to Pemba was delayed by 3 hours as I would never have made the 45-minute connection that was scheduled. They set up a hotspot from one of their personal phones, which allowed me to connect with Sergio. They talked with him over the phone and he sent over an ID document of some kind. Finally, after I got to know them all just by hanging out with the immigration folks waiting for things to get settled, they issued me a visa and I was allowed in. I even had time to go get a bite to eat and connect to the Wifi and re-establish communication with the outside world. The final flight into Pemba was eventless and it was wonderful to give Sergio a hug.  It made the ~30 hours trip all worth it and water under the bridge. I had really missed him and it was fantastic to meet his future bride, Zita, as well. The challenges of getting home given that Europe had already shut down their border to Subsaharan Africa, I was already convinced that this trip was well worth it.

Finally on the ground in Pemba, Mozambique

Crisscrossing Serbia

November 20, 2021

At about midnight on Friday, November 18 I picked up my rental car and took the advice of the rental car agent. This had me head South and then West rather than my intended Eastly drive. I drove for about 2 hours and then pull off on a side trail and parked in a riverbed at about 2 AM to take a nap.

At about 7 AM I awoke and continued my journey South stopping occasionally for pictures. My impression is that Serbia is a beautiful, mountainous country. It is winter here now with some fall color still on the trees, but I expect I didn’t get the full sense of the beauty, but I expect that the other three seasons are quite spectacular.

At around 8:30 AM I reached a holiday town called Zlatibor where I had breakfast. Specifically, I had yogurt and komplet lepinja (thanks again to my rental agent friend’s recommendation). He mentioned a second dish – lambs blanket?, but I didn’t eat again until I arrived back in Amsterdam late morning on Sunday so that will be something saved for the future.

From Zlatibor I headed West to the Tara National Park, specifically to Banjska Stena (view). I hiked about a mile after parking and then had a spectacular view across the Drina River into Bosnia Herzegovina.

After visiting the Zaovine Dam, I noticed a second “stena” (wall) on the map that was in the general direction of where I wanted to go so I had Google map it out for me. The road was fairly steep, zigzagging back and forth until, well, until it simply no longer seemed prudent to continue in my Serbian economy rental car manufactured in Romania. I reluctantly turned around, even abandoning my inclination to hike when I couldn’t drive.

After leaving the Tara National Park I headed to the border with Bosnia Herzegovina. Shortly before reaching the border, I picked up a hitchhiker. He knew the work “Thank you” which was more than I could say, especially since I couldn’t even identify the language he spoke. The border crossing went smoothly, and I proceeded East into Bosnia Herzegovina (stopping briefly to purchase a car charger for my phone). However, it wasn’t long before I realized that my hitchhiker friend was perhaps expecting me to go all the way to Sarajevo, something I just didn’t have time for. Instead, I turned around and took him back to a small village before heading to the only interesting thing within a few miles, the Dobrun Monastery. A beautiful retreat that was seemingly undamaged by the war.

I re-entered into Serbia at the golden hour (just before 3 PM) and you could tell it was going to be dark soon. Figuring my plane didn’t leave until 6 AM the next day, I still had more than 12 hours to explore. I decided to drive back up towards Belgrade and then detour East into Romania, crossing the border at around 11 PM in a thick fog.

At Romanian immigration, the border guard asked me where I was going. I replied that I didn’t know, what would he recommend? After a brief hesitation, he replied, Ukraine! Wait, what? You’re the Romanian border guard and you are suggesting I just cross through Romania and go to Ukraine (about a 16-hour drive)? I’m not sure if he was implying that he didn’t like me and, therefore, didn’t want me to stay in Romania, or that he didn’t think enough of Romania that there would be much for me to see, but I suspect it was the latter.
I drove North along the border, took a picture of a church before evaluating what to do next. It was around this time that my gas light came on and I had to decide whether to venture further into Romania to get gas or turn around and drive back into Serbia even though that was a longer drive. I decided to head further East into Romania. The first gas station I came to was unattended, and I couldn’t get my credit card to work. Ughh!! I continued onto the next town Oravija where I found an open gas station and refilled my tank. Good! (It reminded me of the Blue’s Brother’s quote, “We have a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.)

I crossed back into Serbia around midnight and headed for my last destination – Belgrade. Arriving there at 2 AM, I determined I could see some of the highlights before driving back to the airport and for my rental car return appointment at 4:30 AM and my flight out at 6 AM.

By the time I boarded the plane to Amsterdam I had driven 500-600 miles in 28 hours including my 5-hour nap along the river. I was tired and ready to head home but pleased with how much I had seen in my short visit to Serbia.