Friday, January 19, 2007

take the long, long way home


Our particular itinerary to Australia allowed us to cover a significant portion of the globe.  That's my whinge-free description of our trip. 

Before leaving, Geoff laid down law number one - no complaining, period. That lasted about seven minutes. For those who know me well understand that exaggeration and complaint hold a critical place in my rhetoric. strangely enough, the worst of our travel experience happened in Lexington (tiny airport, one hour to Atlanta, how hard can it be).  Not only was the arriving flight was late, when we boarded the plane at last, the wings were frozen.  Out on the runway, our plane was doused with a toxic orange chemical. We couldn’t see out the windows for a while and the pilot counseled us not to worry about the brief smell of ammonia. Nice way to start a 4o-hour trip. One of our engines didn’t turn on, we went across the runway and back twice and eventually took off almost two hours late. Really, this wouldn’t have been a big deal because our flight to England didn’t depart until much later, but my dear parents were waiting anxiously at the Atlanta airport to eat a meal with us and say goodbye, especially to their darling Isaac. Once we reached Atlanta, our gate was occupied giving us the unwelcomed opportunity for more time on the tiny plane. We raced through the extensive and notorious concourses of the airport, met my parents, ate sandwiches in record time, kissed a teary goodbye, and were ushered through the maze of security checks for our international flight. Let the games begin.

As we settle in for our skip over the pond (a fleeting six hours), the pilots told us the tracking device that lets them know that we are on object in flight, wasn’t working. After about ten minutes of breath-holding tension on the runway, the issue got sorted, the plane took off and we arrived to a dark London with time to spare. Throughout our trip, the prayers of many were answered. Straight away, this was evident when we boarded the plane and our three seats were in front of an entire row of deaf passengers. It’s not funny, but those of you who know how Isaac can behave in confined spaces, realize this could be none other than God’s grace manifest.

Nearing the customs/passport queue at Gatwick, we could see about 400 people in front of us. Just as this reality sank in, an official approached us and said “follow me.” He took us up to the front of the line and ushered us to the next available clerk and we were on the other side in moments. Within a few minutes of collecting our bags, we contacted Rachel to find that she was just outside with the car, ready to transport us to Heathrow. Those of you in America who are conservation-conscience would have been painfully envious of this vehicle they were just given by generous friends who moved to Switzerland. It is a French car with the gift of anticipation - the wipers work without being told, the hand brake comes on when needed, and the car can receive text messages. They call it a “people mover” in the UK because of its size and it is still smaller than your typical mini-van in the U.S. and it just fit all our things.

We had a delightful visit with Rach. We caught up on numerous things and our children had a chance to play. Rachel was so gorgeous, she had a parcel for Isaac to open on the next flight with books, interactive cards, sweets, and a 2006 year-in-review Economist for us. Being with her completely renewed us and recalibrated our travel clock to zero again.

Because she is so familiar with the airport, Rachel escorted us through everything at Heathrow. Again, as we arrived at the check-in for our Qantas flight, the queue was heavy-laden with worn passengers. An attendant from the airline came right us to up, guided us through the empty, first-class line and we were able to check our bags right away. Under other circumstances, I might have begun to feel a bit guilty with the unexpected preferential treatment, but since we were traveling two days with a three year old, I gladly accepted and didn’t look around.

Our flight to Australia began with such relief – it was our last leg of the journey, no matter the daunting distance. But we were tired. Isaac had slept some, however, our travel clock was now up to a day without sleep. Usually, I can sleep anywhere, but thanks to a week-long illness, I was popping Sudafed every four hours to keep my ears from bursting (Maria, I’m remembering your story all along) and poor Geoff just isn’t an adaptable sleeper. So, we watched movies. When we got on the plane, I put my watch away, committed to not checking it until we arrived in Hong Kong because it was a 13-hour flight.

I was doing fine until I slipped up, after watching “The Departed” (very, very good movie) and turned the inflight channel to the travel tracker. Everyone has seen this thing that records both inane details such as wind speed and outside temperature and vital updates on flight time and distance to destination. You either end up ignoring it completely for the sake of self-preservation or becoming glued like an addict. And the thing that ticked me off about this maddening accessory is the airplane on the screen has absolutely no scale – it’s about a third the size of Africa. I’m thinking, please don’t make it look like this plane can make three leaps and cross the expanse of Asia in no time (at one point when we were over the Philippines, the oversized computer image of this 747-400 completely eclipsed the entire country). Back to what I was saying – I’m so stupid, I check this thing and we are over Kazakhstan with city names like Qyzylorda and Shymkent, and my morale bottoms out. Any stored up goodwill or hope of ever seeing Australia leaves me and I turned ugly.

We arrive to the ethereal beauty of Hong Kong – pointed mountains covered in mist – with the no-sleep counter at 32 hours, a new record for me. Isaac, on the other hand, feels renewed and rested from his reclined position of head on Geoff, feet on me rest. He tore up the airport’s moving sidewalks. After about sixteen laps of bounding past startled Asian travelers, he re-boarded the plane with us for our final journey to Oz.

The trip time from Hong Kong to Melbourne is eight hours. That span of time has never seemed so brief, I was almost giddy. Relieved that after passing through four airports Kev and Kath would be waiting for us on the other side of baggage claim, we let go and slept. By the time we arrived in Australia, it was 10 p.m. and we had traveled 40 hours.

We were testy, but in one piece. Of course there is always icing on the cake. Back in Atlanta, Mimi had given Isaac the supreme gift – a small, plastic Buzz Light Year – that sustained him throughout our journey. He talked with him, consoled him (“OK Buzz, we’re about to take off”), and slept with him. As we arrived at baggage claim, moments away from seeing Kev and Kath, we realized Buzz was gone. Isaac really cried. Geoff raced around desperately and found someone to connect back to the plane. In our travel haze, we’d left him on board. Within 10 minutes, Isaac was restored to his beloved companion and we passed through customs without a problem. Kev and Kath were eager and overjoyed as we stepped out into the balmy Melbourne night. Home sweet home.


lisa g said...

So glad you all arrived safely, and I hope you have a chance to catch up on much needed sleep today. We miss you here already!

WITWATW said...

Sherry - i LOVED this write up. You should do a travel book! Very funny. Good one.

Blue November said...

I can't believe you went back for Buzz Lightyear. On forty hours of sleeplessness, I would have just stuck the kid in the luggage and pressed on for a bed.