Pallets, freighters, steaks and magic

The second winner of the #NetworkingTheWorldContest has redeemed his prize and travelled to a Lufthansa Cargo freighter station. Kristian Cruz from the U.S. tells us all about his journey into the world of Lufthansa Cargo in Johannesburg.

'Try to catch up.' Those were the words kindly uttered by Pete, the Export Supervisor/Operations Agent assigned to the freight loading last night. Words that I will never forget because I underestimated how literal it was. Having never been inside a freighter plane nor seeing a plane being loaded, I was shocked how fast people moved inside.

Imagine, gigantic pieces of cargo, with equally massive amounts of weight, need to be loaded into the plane in less than 2 hours. To make it more dramatic, their load time allowance was reduced by 15 minutes. And to make it even more dramatic, this plane was predicted to be fully loaded. Let's add to the mix that they have to unload the plane first and then load the new cargo in once the plane is emptied.  In case you forgot... let me mention again... less than 2 hours.

Pete, his partner Hein (Operations and Loadability) and their fellow staff members, in perfect harmony and with such intensity, went through all the steps, with such speed that it made me feel like I can survive a zombie mob chasing after me (or even a group of ostriches) because of how fast I ran. By some miracle, I was able to catch up (thanks to my sneakers).

And by some miracle also, I was able to squeeze between the walls of the plane and the cargo positioned close to them. Not kidding, I still don't remember how I managed to slither through. When I go back to New York, I intend to cancel my gym membership and use the time instead to work loading freight in my spare time. Last night, it felt like I lost 15 lbs from going up and down the plane, in and out, squeezing through gigantic piles of cargo then repeat the cycle again. Don't get me wrong, it was one of the most magical experiences in my life. It's been a while since I've last been that engaged as a photographer/filmmaker. The freight loading visit had that much energy to offer and the physical challenge reinvigorated my creative juices. This whole Johannesburg visit, actually, was nothing but magical.  On my first day with Lufthansa Cargo, I immediately visited the office and met the extremely friendly staff from each department. Also, it was nice to finally meet Ruediger and Elani in person, both of whom I've been communicating months in advance during the preparations.

After that, I had a tour of their gigantic warehouse, both the Import and Export areas, thanks to Jurgen, which was filled with numerous forklifts that moved with the calm precision of an army of ants. The highlight there was seeing the gigantic freezer rooms that house cargo that need a cooler temperature. And then that night, I learned that steaks were extremely popular in South Africa so of course, I had to act local and eat at a steak place thanks to the welcome dinner organized by the Lufthansa Cargo team. And, I can now boast of the culinary achievement of tasting the following steaks: ostrich, antelope and warthog. These are not just cute food names. They're the real thing. And yes, they were good.

This trip came at a good time because I was able to escape the 'snow apocalypse' that hit New York recently. In Johannesburg, I was able to enjoy not only the warmer weather but the warmth of the South African people as well. Thank you Lufthansa Cargo for the trip of a lifetime. Huge thanks to everyone at the Lufthansa Cargo station in Johannesburg for showing that it's possible to combine a friendly demeanor and an exemplary work ethic. Because of the people at the station and not only because of the ostrich steak, the city of Johannesburg will be missed.