Sunday, June 12, 2011

Loss and Gains - A Tale of Transit

24 hours is a very long time to be in an airplane, even if you get to walk around for an hour half way. I just checked the time and at 7.30pm Saturday night (NZ time) we still have six freaking hours to go before we even reach London.

We were incredibly spoiled by Gin and her family. After a very hectic few weeks packing and saying our goodbyes, Christchurch was just what the doctor ordered. I’ve spoken of the bed and our joy at sinking into the many blankets and the warm air of our guest room. The next morning was no less indulgent, being welcomed into their home by her parents, whom we’d never met, and spending the day lying in front of a wood fire, on thick carpet with views of their chilled and foggy country garden. Not a moment were we cold, despite the rapidly decreasing temperature, which started at 7 degrees Celsius. After weeks of panic, stress, lists, last minute purchases and teary departures, this was pure luxury.

We were spoilt for company, sitting around the big dining table swapping stories and catching up. Gin and I only lived together for 6 months when she gave big city living a try 5 years ago, but we are family, and her parents welcomed Courtney and me as such. It was heartbreaking to hear the real stories of the Christchurch earthquakes. The news doesn’t tell you the horror of a ground-level kindergarten crushed by the stories above it, with no one walking – or toddling, or crawling – out alive.

You don’t stop to consider what happens in the central city aquarium when the many blocks surrounding it are cordoned off for safety. Sharks, an octopus, hundreds of fish - and, from memory, lizards and other native animals – perished when power no longer kept their water pumps going and keepers no longer fed them. Without permissions to go into the central city ‘red zone’, keepers had no choice but to let their beloved marine life die a slow death by starvation, drowning or illness.

To hear the stories that only locals know, and to see the look on Gin’s face as she recounted her own experiences, with sculptures falling around her from the ceiling of Canterbury University, the whole ordeal hit home in a really different way. As much as we sat glued to the TV for days afterwards, aching for the people of Christchurch, it gave us no real indication of what was really happening.

Despite the eye opening conversations of the morning, we were soon back laughing and recounting stories of our time together in Auckland. Courtney and I were incredibly spoiled. Despite not even knowing us until they awoke to find us in their house that morning, Gin’s parents took us out to dinner at an amazing Italian restaurant, refusing to let us pay, and following it with hot chocolates and coffees at their favourite coffee house. We both felt incredibly grateful and spoiled and welcome and it was the perfect start to our holiday.

I could have happily stayed longer, longing for the comfort of that amazing bed, but after all this waiting; our adventures were now waiting for us. Gin and her Dad drove us out to the airport after her Mum hugged us goodbye and invited us to stay for a couple of days on our return trip in September. We were stoked to find that my retentive planning and resultant web-check ins meant we could join a baggage-drop queue of 3 instead of a check-in queue of hundreds, that hadn’t moved by the time we moved on. At least I earned brownie points from Courtney for that one. We waved goodbye to Gin and her Dad and looked at each other, a little incredulous that this was actually it now.

Nineteen and a half hours later, and with another sixteen to go before we actually reach our destination of Athlone, Ireland, we have slept in the most awkward of positions after my plans to stay awake until Irish night time fell apart a few hours in (PS Air Asia seats are made for Asian people, i.e. People that aren’t just shy of 6 foot such as myself), read countless magazines (thanks Nana, love you!) and eaten way too many lollies. We’ve spent a fortune on Air Asia-branded bottled water and smelt the humidity of Malaysian air after gazing down on miles and miles of identical plantation rows. We’ve eaten real Malaysian curry puffs, found Bickfords Creaming Soda (made us think of you Steve!), struggled with Kuala Lumpur’s airport Wi-Fi and failed to find a cheap PSP for a bored Courtney (Malaysia is not cheaper!). 

Courtney managed to leave things on the first two planes and is now very paranoid. The first flight he lost his gloves, which isn't such a big deal. The second flight - his cellphone.

Kuala Lumpur airport did not live up to its reputation as a ‘shopping mall with a few planes on the side’ although we were ushered through an empty and dimly lit ‘holding cell’ of sorts for transit passengers, so I don’t think we saw the best it had to offer, just the departure lounge shops. The highlight was an airport staff member who greeted us with a big ‘Kia Ora’ and then ‘Ka Kite’ (Maori words from back home) accompanied by a proud smile. I’ve read Kendra Wilkinson’s autobiography front to back and Courtney has played more Bubble Blast and Angry Birds than my now-flat phone cares to remember. We have no window on this second flight but according to the Captain we’ve flown over India, Afghanistan, Russia and Eastern Europe and will cross over Holland’s airspace before entering the United Kingdom. We caught glimpses of desert through someone else's window, and only a few hours later, glimpses of snow capped mountains.

We’re looking forward to stretching our legs for our 5 hour stopover in London, hopefully finding a power point somewhere and maybe a cafĂ© that sells better coffee than Air Asia. We need to find new Sim cards for our phones, and then it’s one more flight to Dublin and a bus to Athlone, our new home away from home for the next 6 days.

As I sit back in my seat with now five and a half hours to go, I’m very thankful this flight is empty and we have 3 seats between the 2 of us. I’d be lying though, if I said I didn’t dream of that beautiful luxurious bed back in Christchurch whenever I closed my eyes.

PS If anyone at home wants to borrow Kendra’s book let me know and I’ll post it at some point so I don’t have to carry it round! xx