Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - The longest day of my life

My Kiwi Quest 2010 travel blog is dedicated to my Grandma. She didn't live to see it finally finished, but she loved all the entries she read, enthusiastically followed my trip vicariously from home, and it's from her that I get my love of travel.

Photos: 1) Uncle Ross & Liz bid me a fond farewell at the airport in Auckland 2) Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge 3) Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco 4) Can I take this plane home? I'm tired of waiting... 5) Currency confusion back home: (L-R) Australia, US, New Zealand, Canada

March 2, 2010 is officially and literally the longest day of my life thus far. By the end of this calendar day, I will have landed in four different countries, spending about 22 hours in the air along with about 15 hours on the ground. I know that adds up to more than 24 hours, but I crossed numerous time zones as well as the international date line so while I will leave New Zealand on March 2, I will also land in Toronto on the same day. I still can't wrap my head around this.

Alas, it's that time. It's 0520, but it's also my last day in this country until I come back. I'm full of mixed feelings today. I'm still sick with this horrid sore throat so there are parts of me who just want to go home, get hugs from my parents, and sleep in a familiar place, but I've had such an incredible time here that there are other parts of me that clamour for more time! more time! I've done so many things in the last 3.5 weeks: finally seen California, Australia and New Zealand, counted more sheep than ever before, gotten to know my uncle and aunt much better, met some really cool people from all over the world, pushed myself mentally and physically much further than I ever thought I could, feasted my senses on an incredible country, and even learned bits and pieces of a new language. It's really hard to realize it will probably take me some time before I can get back here for another visit. My to-do list for my return is growing by the minute.

One more shower to come to my senses, a quick breakfast, much grunting and heaving of luggage out to the car (where did this third bag come from?!), then Ross, Liz and I are whipping off to the airport. Thankfully, the check-in process goes smoothly and we've got good time left for some shopping. Seriously, these airports are really good places to shop! It's a previous unknown to me and I'm glad I brought that extra bag with me. I get a little worried when Liz presents me with a pop quiz about the postcard in her hand, but as soon as the word "pohutukawa" rolls easily off my tongue, she presents me with the postcard as a prize, a smile of delight on her face. You see, three weeks ago, I couldn't say that word properly to save my life, and now it feels nearly second nature to incorporate Maori words into my vocab.

Uh-oh, time to say good-bye. This part's always hard. I barely knew these kind family members of mine when I came here, and they took a flyer on having me stay with them, so I'm incredibly grateful to them for helping make my first trip to New Zealand such a great and memorable one. One more hug, one more heartfelt thank-you, and I'm airside, looking up to see them waving me off. I'll be back, don't you worry :)

I must have done something right today: I have two empty seats beside me! Can I tell you again how much I love flying with Air New Zealand? I love my hot pastry breakfast (free) and I'm entertained by watching "Up In The Air" as well as re-watching "The Hangover" for some laughs.

Hey, look! It's the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge! Ok, they're a few thousand feet below me, but they're still really super cool. I think I even see Nemo! And I'm quite sure that's Louise down there waving at me. I've got a 6 hour layover here and have thought about seeing a bit of the city like I did in Amsterdam a few years ago, but in my travelling haze, I accidently stay airside and will need to find a way to occupy myself in the departures area. Grrr. Oh well, I'll just have to come back and Louise can show me 'round. Lucky for me, the airport in Sydney is pretty good for killing time with free internet at kiosks and lots of shopping opportunities. The only annoying part is that I'm having a lot of difficulty figuring out how to call home on my calling card. Time for tea and to read my book.

My concentration is soon interrupted by some commotion at a nearby gate. A man with a Mexican passport is not being allowed to board a flight to Vancouver because he doesn't have a Canadian visa. Oh dear, he's REALLY upset; no screaming or threats, but I'm certain he's on the verge of tears, most likely compounded by the fact that the rest of his party has already boarded without problem. Air Canada tells him repeatedly that they're very sorry, but if they let him deplane in Vancouver without a Canadian visa, they face a $10,000 fine and he faces jail. Eeep! I can't watch this anymore. He's crying now.

My spirits lift a bit later (after some shopping for er, therapeutic reasons) when the overhead paging system starts announcing to the specific passengers missing from a flight about to leave that because they haven't shown themselves at the gate, the ground crew are now unloading their luggage. You've got to love their honesty. Reminds me of some of the weird and entertaining announcements I hear on the paging system at the hospital where I work. The other cheery part about this airport is trying to figure out why their air traffic control tower across the way has what looks like a covered slide winding down around the outside. Is it a crazy carpet slide? A waterslide? A fun way to spend a break from a stressful job?

At last my flight to San Francisco is boarding, but not before I've had to go through an additional security check complete with bag search (in the Departures lounge, as in I've already been through security with a bag search there) and had to get a different boarding card unexpectedly. I'm really tired and I just want to sleep for this 17 hour segment. I get some good luck with an empty middle seat beside me as well as a blanket and pillow waiting for me, but it's somewhat offset by the loud Canadian woman behind me complaining about everything to the two Canadians beside her. Am I seated in the Canadian section? I can't even pick what movie to watch because this United flight only has the old-school overhead screens that show you what they feel like watching. Sleeeeeeeep......where are you? I stare out the window at the Pacific Ocean for hour after sleepless hour.

Ok, what the heck country is this we're landing in? Let's see: heavy fog, rain, water, a red bridge.... I'm hoping this is San Francisco, another first for me. By now, it's March 3 in New Zealand, but it's still March 2 where I am now. I only know the actual time by the announcements because my watch is on NZ time (and still is although I'm writing this in May - I can't quite bring myself to change it back yet), but thankfully I've only got a three hour layover here. That should be time enough to find my gate and get some food. Tired + hungry + sick = cranky.

First, however, I have to get past the US Department of Agriculture people to whom I am directed by the US Dept of Homeland Security (that's what their stamp in my passport says) after I indicated that I had been on a farm in the last couple of weeks on my customs card. What now? Please tell me I don't have to dig my hiking boots out of my giant pack again like I did when I landed in New Zealand last month. Nope, they just want to wash my running shoes. Hey, I like this gig! I stand around for a while in my socks, watching various people attempt to hide illegal things they're bringing into the country (WHY would you tell them you didn't pack your bag yourself, you idiot!?), then when my beat up shoes are relinquished, I squelch off to my gate. I think this is cleanest my shoes have been since I bought them.

Time to board, line up with the cattle class to watch the important people go first. Wait a minute, they're coming back off the plane. What the hell? After a while, the gate crew announces that there's a mechanical problem with a circuit breaker and we'll resume boarding again "soon". I wish I spoke gate attendant better - I'm not sure when "soon" is so I daren't wander too far afield. I eavesdrop shamelessly on other people asking when "soon" is, but when the answer is "soon", I give up and try to find a seat. I can't concentrate enough to read so I call my parents who are meeting me in Toronto to advise them of the delay. I pace the boarding lounge, I pace our end of the terminal, I listen to my iPod for the first time since leaving Canada weeks ago, I watch a DEA agent patrol the terminal with his dog, I watch the rain falling outside, I watch luggage fall off unnoticed from luggage carts whizzing across the tarmack, I watch my plane sit there for hours. Three extra ones, to be precise. Is this day ever going to end?

When we finally board for real, I assume that some other airline lent mine a new circuit breaker after we were told that the maintenance crew would have to go scrounge one at some other airline hanger because Air Canada doesn't have a base in San Fran. I don't want to know if they just decided to go ahead without a new part because at this point, I just don't care. Once again, I have an empty middle seat beside me and I settle in diagonally to watch "The Blind Side" which I really enjoy. This is my 10th flight in less than a month. I know how to occupy as much extra space as I can to my benefit without distrupting the other person in the row. I touch my screen gently because the lady behind me is pounding on hers and it's bouncing my head somewhat. I'm too tired to tell her off.

At last! we are landing in Toronto and I can recognize the highways around the airport in the dark. I'm something of a customs expert now, and although I'm a bit worried that they'll confiscate my new bowl made of reclaimed kauri wood, I'm prepared to deal with it because I'd be stupid not to declare it and risk getting busted. I saddle myself with my ridiculously heavy bags and stagger towards the customs dude. He asks me if the bowl is finished, I silently praise myself for spending the extra bit of money on the finished one and reply yes, then I'm out the doors and looking for people who gave me their DNA. It's about 11:30pm on March 2 so I have completed this journey home in one calendar day to officially make this THE longest day of my life. I hug my excited parents hard and mutter, "There's no place like home"...

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