Friday, January 8, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - The Deets

I hesitate to say this, but I think I might have reached the point of not having to change any more flights! Quick, I'd better knock on wood so that I don't jinx myself and have to call Aeroplan yet again. We're practically on a first-name basis now although I still hate their hold music, and their automated attendant pretends she can't help me when I speak to her in my "frustrated, angry traveller" voice, even though I e-nun-ci-ate very carefully.

Prior to Dec 25 and the foiling of the Wanna-Be Panty Bomber in the US, I was originally supposed to fly from Pearson in Toronto (YYZ) to Los Angeles (LAX) where I would connect in about 2 hours to my flight for Sydney (SYD). Now that airport and airline security have gone into hysterical, knee-jerk, zealous overdrive, I have had to change my departure plan. I just don't see 2 hours being enough time to get off a plane (providing it's on time leaving Toronto which is always a gamble), get through an unfamiliar airport and any potential security/customs stuff, plus locate my luggage to check it for the next segment. The Aeroplan nazis were quick to assure me that "everything would be fine", but I've travelled enough to know better than to rely on other people telling me everything will be fine. Ask me sometime about my passport problem in Cuba.....

In this, my 4th flight change and 10th? call to Aeroplan, I learned a few more valuable lessons. I'm all about learning so I'll share them with you:

1) Their hold music sucks. I'm stuck on it, I know, but it's pretty bad. Call GAP Adventures if you want some relief. They've got the best hold music ever.

2) If you redeem your hard-earned Aeroplan points for free flights, be willing to flex a little, especially if you're travelling to a "popular destination" like New Zealand during the North American winter. Personally, I think "popular destination" is an Aeroplan code phrase for "we don't feel like making this easy for you so we'll pretend we don't have the flights available that you need".

3) If your flights are chosen like mine, you MUST begin and end your trip in the same city which is YYZ in my case. When I called to ask about getting an earlier flight to LAX and was told nothing was available (see #2), I hypothetically asked about paying my own way to get from YYZ to LAX on a flight that would work for me, then resuming my already planned Aeroplan flights at that point. From her reaction, you'd think I'd asked her to run naked through Times Square at rush hour. "Absolutely NOT!!!" was her answer. She then proceeded to admonish me, emphatically outlining their policy, blah blah blah. Jeez lady, it was a hypothetical question! Pose yours carefully. She went on to annoy me with further detail that if I had kept my original YYZ-LAX flight (on paper), but not showed up for it (because I'd foiled them and paid for my own [hypothetical!] flight out of pocket), I would have arrived S.O.L in LAX because the rest of my Aeroplan flights would have been forfeited. Are all point redemption programs this rigid and nasty?

4) It costs $94.50 (with tax) each time you change an Aeroplan flight. To contrast, it cost me $40(NZD which was cheaper than CDN at the time) to change my Air NZ flight, only because that was the difference in the two flights after I had changed where I was headed. AND they have much cooler accents although it always takes me a few moments to get used to it over the phone. They even have a special 1-800 number for Canadians. How can you not like them better already?

So now I am leaving this cold, snowy country a day earlier, on Feb 7 for LAX, an airport and a state I have never been to before. I have about 23h 45min there to amuse myself and find ways to get into trouble before I take off again for the bottom of the world. Snaps to my dad for suggesting I look into Venice Beach while I'm in LA. [I still think it sounds odd to hear myself say, "...while I'm in LA", but I'll get over it] The man is a genius! And I don't think he even knew that Venice, CA is on my Go There List of places to see. I've read books set there and heard of it in passing so I've had a yearning to see it in person. I'm not much of a Doors fan ("Light My Fire" makes me want to set the song on fire), and my baby pipes need some work, but I'm excited to have booked my hotel there nonetheless! Beach and sun in Feb? Are you kidding me? I'd be an idiot to turn that down. I can't wait to walk around and explore the boardwalk (I don't sunbathe well), all the cool shops, and most importantly, the cool houses and canals. After all, Venice in CA was modeled after the Italian Venice which I enjoyed a few years ago. Check it out for yourself:,_Los_Angeles,_California

If nothing else goes beserk on this journey that has been nearly 8 years in the making, I should be arriving in Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) on Feb 10, hopefully greeted by my Uncle Ross and his wife, Liz. They are kindly putting up with their niece for a few days before I take off again (I'm not very good at staying put for long in case you hadn't noticed...), this time to Queenstown in the South Island in NZ for a day of sheep farming and leisure before I begin an 11-day hiking trek around the bottom of the island. I won't see the South Pole, but it will be the furthest south I've ever been in my life:

I'll rejoin Ross & Liz in Auckland after a night in Christchurch, exploring Auckland and probably taking a day trip or two further north on the North Island as my uncle will be preparing to go back to working at the U of Auckland, then all too soon I will be homeward bound once more.

Just for kicks, I'll be meeting up with my cousin Victor in SYD. Yep, my family is pretty scattered all over the place. I have a 6-hour layover in Sydney on the way back to Canada, and on a whim I got in touch with Vic to see if he'd be interested in having coffee or something since he lives in the area with his two boys, Joe and Charlie. I stayed with them for about a week back in 1998 when they were living in York, UK, so I don't know if the boys will remember me at all. They were quite young at the time, but apparently they're still just as mad about football these days. Vic was so excited to hear I'd be popping round for a visit that he offered me to stay, but unfortunately I had already booked my flights home. There's an excuse to return now...

I also have a layover in San Francisco on my way home although by then, I probably won't know what time zone or country I'm in. I got some advice from friends who've travelled to and lived in SF for ways to kill the 12 hours between my flights, then I got in touch with an old grade school classmate who lives there now. Depending on when her baby decides to make an appearance, I just might get to see her again after all these years. Crazy, eh?

Stay tuned for more updates to come.... Less than a month to go!