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The South African Phone

As you may recall, my first solo trip overseas was to South Africa. I definitely learned a lot of on that trip, including some experiences that would shape my future travel and which explain why I do what I do when I travel.

I knew I would need a way to communicate while I was there, as well as a way to find my way around. However, my phone service at the time was CDMA, which means that it didn’t use a SIM card. So in order to accomplish both of those goals, I decided to buy a cheap international phone — basically, the cheapest phone I could buy that had GPS support.

The phone I bought was a Samsung Galaxy Mini, a phone that I don’t think is sold here in the US. As the name implies it’s a very petite three inches, making it about a quarter of the size of most modern phones. But it had GPS capability and could send and receive text messages and phone calls, so it fulfilled all my needs.

As I would discover, it had another feature which was somewhat less desirable: when left running for a long period of time, it would overheat and then completely lock up. There would be no indication that this had occurred except that the phone would become nonresponsive. This situation was less than ideal even under normal circumstances, but it happened the most frequently when I was using GPS. After driving for a while I would think “you know, the phone hasn’t told me to make a turn in quite some time,” and then I would look down to discover it had frozen some minutes back.

When this occurred, the only way to restore its functionality was to remove the battery and completely restart the phone.

Once, I was driving to Johannesburg from Kruger National Park, and I needed to catch a flight that day so while I wasn’t in an absolute hurry, I knew I had a timetable. And I was just driving along, enjoying the scenery, when I reached what seemed to be a tiny village. There were donkeys around, chickens in the road, not a lot of modern technology in evidence. I realized that my phone had betrayed me yet again.

I pulled off to the side of the road, muttering imprecations at this faulty device and hoping this unexpected detour wouldn’t affect my ability to make my flight. When I looked up, a lady with a significantly large basket of something on her head had whipped a phone out of her dress and was taking a picture of me.

I still laugh that somewhere in rural South Africa, a woman has a photo of a surprised and flustered white guy trying to get his phone to work while sitting on the side of the road surrounded by livestock.

For the record, I did make it to my flight OK.


4 thoughts on “The South African Phone

  1. You never told us how it shaped your future travel or why you do what you do when you travel. Will that be another entry for another day? Your comment at the beginning made me eager to hear about that.


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