It’s Thursday, September 13, 2012. My friend is taking me to the airport. I am thinking how fortunate that it isn’t a Friday the 13th or Tuesday the 13th. The first is an unlucky day in my American culture, the other one is unlucky in my Latino culture. I’m not superstitious but… It occurs to me that the other thirteens on other days of the week must be unlucky in other parts of the world but for now I am giving thanks that it is neither Friday or Tuesday. But is it really Thursday? Yes, it is… just making sure that my travel day has actually arrived. I tend to be a bit compulsively insecure on my departure date.
As she talks to me about exchange rates and how to benefit from them, my mind wanders for I cannot seem to be able to grasp the concept she is so patiently explaining. I could perhaps grasp it on a normal day but today all I can manage is to check my passport and my permanent resident card for the third time in a row. I say out loud –though not meaning to- that maybe I shouldn’t go. But I’ve already paid my for my round trip, nonrefundable Qantas flight ($1,505.64), plus $20 for my seat assignment and for the Australian visa ($115) and for the New Zealand visa ($140), all for a grand total of $1780.64 which I would lose, so I think it best to go ahead. She, with her humor puts me at ease once more. Reality is that for the first time I am a bit hesitant. So weird that being a long time traveler, I am concerned about going to Australia. They speak English (well at least some sort of it) and even if I can’t understand the accent at times there is nothing a “What?” or “Could you repeat that?” can’t fix. Perhaps it’s the length of this trip. It will be even longer than my Asia trip. Seven weeks of suspending my life-as-I-know-it and forming part of life there. Is it the flight itself? 14 and ½ hours is only a bit more than my flight from Hong Kong. Is it the weather? I don’t like the cold and it will not be that warm yet. Who knows? But I do want to go.
As we park in front of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at the Los Angeles airport (LAX), we hug and I feel the warmth of true friendship. “Contact me when you get there, okay?” I like to have someone who cares and wants to be assured of the fact that I’m safe. Oh gosh… Internet. I don’t think I’ll have it where I’m staying so the worrier –one that I thought was pretty much defunct- starts wondering how I will manage without it. But as I walk into the terminal my wondering and hang-ups disappear. It is here, at the beginning of a trip, in an airport, where I go into another mode. I am happy here. I am confident, assertive, in control. I am now hearing in my head Helen Reddy singing “I am woman, hear me roar!” How appropriate that she is Australian born!
I check in and watch as the Qantas rep rips off about 3 of my tags from my Southeast Asia trip. I see them go remembering what a wonderful, life-changing trip that was –forgive the cliché. Two of the tags are labeled Business (it was my suitcase that was labeled as such since, unfortunately, I had traveled coach). The girl asks me about it. I don’t want to explain but do tell her that unless she intends to upgrade me I am not flying business this time. Oh well, it didn’t work. No upgrade for me. Not even remotely so; worth a try, however. I am handed the economy boarding-pass and sent on my way. At the gate the Ecuadorian that checks boarding passes says to me “Must be a mistake. You have an economy boarding-pass when you seem to be a first-class person.” I’m sure he says it to all, but he made me smile.
I go to the cantina and have, of all things, a hot dog and do what I usually do, establish conversations with total strangers. An impeccably dressed and stylish couple sits at the table next to me. The man lovingly runs his fingers through his wife’s hair. Well, it could actually be his lover and not his wife. The place is packed so a man in a stocking-like wrap around his head asks if he can sit with them. What a table of opposites. They start talking and it turns out that he is headed to Auckland, New Zealand where he lives; they are headed to Fiji for two weeks. I’m going to New Zealand as well as Australia and I’ve always wanted to go Fiji so I interject. Turns out, the couple has been together for 25 years. From North Carolina. High-school sweethearts. And he still runs his fingers through her hair in public? I want that! The other guy is traveling with his sister. He tells me to prepare for very cold weather in New Zealand. The couple tells me it’s been a dream of theirs for years to visit Fiji. We all talk about Southeast Asia, the Islands, New Zealand and before we know it an hour has passed. I go to my gate.
All doubts have left my mind. It is Sydney where I want and need to be right now.
I go to the window seat I have been assigned after consulting with www.seatguru.com (a site that gives you seat recommendation on the aircraft you are flying) and start hoping that no one sits beside me, knowing that as tired as I am, the window and I will become one no matter what. Don’t think there is much that can keep me awake until I feel a kick, and another, and another. The child in back of me is sitting on a booster seat, which shortens the space between him and me. I debate whether to say something or not. Now, not having someone beside me is the least of my concerns. So I turn and in the best of ways tell the parents that I know it’s hard to travel with a small child but could they possibly see to it to keep the kicking to a minimum? To my surprise they are more than accommodating and understanding. And now a woman is sitting in the aisle seat but no one is in the middle seat. The doors close and we look at each other and go “Yes!” The whole plane is packed to the max. We are the only ones with an empty seat and my row partner can’t be more pleasant. Ah, it’s going to be a good night. Anyone hearing The Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta A Feeling”?
Nine hours later I awake. The flight has been the best one yet. Qantas crew has not been the most solicitous or charming –hope that is not indicative of the population- but they are definitely efficient. Some turbulence at the beginning caused by a plane ahead of us -according to the co-pilot- and smooth from then on. The five hours that are left are interspersed with mini-chats with my row companion and listening to Aussie music and discovering that some singers that I actually have on my iPod (like Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu) are Australians.
As we approach landing my heart starts beating faster. No trepidation left, just excitement for a new adventure. I go through immigration and customs and frankly they are the friendliest of any of the countries I’ve been to (and there have been many). For some reason going through immigration always causes me some anxiety. And that’s without anything that should concern them or me. So, thank you Australia for welcoming me so kindly. You will be my home and home base for almost two months so I love that we start off in such good terms.
I left on a Thursday and today is Saturday, September 15. I have lost a day that will take me almost two months to recuperate. And I feel no sadness for it. 🙂
I enter the “other side” the place where I will reunite with someone dear to my heart and… there is no one there. It becomes clear to me that I have changed dramatically through the years. I am not troubled or annoyed or even worried. As the minutes go by I chat with a couple that says there was a bad traffic jam as they headed for the airport and they offer to look after my bags as I get my coffee. I sit, open my Mac and was going to send a message, then look for a hotel if necessary but crisis averted as I see him arrive. I am home for now.
Nothing seems foreign really. The climate is as Los Angeles. It’s sunny tending to be on the warm side. Perfect weather. Then I see the dark clouds and it starts raining for a little while. Then the sun is once again out and it is beautiful and warm. I am staying in Bondi Beach. As we go through the corridor to the apartment, the beach lies ahead. A park is right in front. I am reminded in some way of Venice Beach in California. It all seems so relaxed and laid back. He goes to work and I am left to go explore. I am wide-awake so choose to unpack. I open the door and the beach feeling surrounds me. The park is becoming crowded. People sunbathing, some are alone, some with kids, some with friends and/or lovers. The sounds of laughter, conversation, and even different languages pour into the room and, for some reason it comforts me. I start getting tired. 3:30 pm here. Since I don’t have Internet and my brain is a little fuzzy I can’t and don’t want to figure out what time it is in Los Angeles. But I’m fading fast. I take a shower to wake up, determined to stay up and suffer from no jetlag. It has the opposite effect. That bed is looking goooood… No! So I get dressed and open the door to head out to the café where I can get some caffeine and some Facebook time. The park is now packed but it’s gotten really much colder. So I take a step back, get undressed and crawl under the covers and start writing. That ought to keep me awake, right?