Tag Archives: Air Travel

Scrambling, Scrabbling

Week six of UK lockdown is behind us.  Tonight Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, will outline changes to our restrictions.  The Sunday papers have already broadcast what those are likely to be: once-a-day outdoor exercise will become unlimited exercise, it’ll be okay to go to the beach, garden centers will open (all of these assume two-meter distancing).  Boris is likely to advise the wearing of face coverings in shops and public transport.  A mandatory 14-day quarantine for people entering the UK and stiffer fines for violating the rules will likely be announced.

For me, nothing much will change.  It’s snowing in Scotland, but I would be unlikely to request a day on a North Sea beach even at the height of summer.

As I wrote in another post, my flight home was cancelled by Delta.  I scheduled a new one; it was cancelled the next day.  I will be issued a credit, but Delta has ceased flying to the UK so I can’t use the credit to get home.

There are no more direct flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul from the UK.  I prefer not to stop over in New York or Chicago, where there are coronavirus outbreaks.  I found an itinerary on Icelandair that would take me through healthy Reykjavik but my gut told me to wait a few days before booking it.  Two days later, Icelandair was no longer flying to the UK.  I thought about flying from Scotland, which has less coronavirus than the UK south, but Scotland’s airports are shut down completely or offer only two-three stop itineraries.

As I see it, every stop, every additional flight or airport, is a new opportunity to catch the virus if it’s present.

I continue to get updates from the US State Department.  The latest informed me that Heathrow has closed three of its five terminals.

Today was the day I was supposed to join Lynn and Richard and two other friends in Crete, after traveling through France, Switzerland, Bulgaria, and other points unknown and never to be known.  It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago my biggest concern was whether to take the Eurostar to Paris or get off in Calais and take a train down to Bergerac to meet a friend.

Wah, wah!  As usual I pinch myself that I should have such “problems.”  I keep thinking about the Ethiopian refugee camps I visited three years ago for work.  There was no running water.  People lived in tiny cinder-block houses with half a dozen others.  Activities were carried out in groups, sometimes very large groups.  I feel helpless to do anything but “hold them in my thoughts,” which doesn’t mean a thing and just makes me feel guilty.

Meanwhile the days pass, fast but slow.  Until today the weather was fine, enabling outdoor projects and hikes.  On one hike I saw a giant slug crossing the road.

“Now, if this was a turtle, I would pick it up and deliver it safely to the other side,” I thought.  “Isn’t the real test of compassion whether I care for creatures I find repulsive?”  I kept walking.  Another thing to feel guilty about.

Richard and I hiked to Wormy Hillock.  It’s shaped like a donut was pressed into the earth, then removed.  It was probably built by Picts, and probably prehistoric (which just means before there was a written language).  Its purpose is unknown.  Worship?  Sacrifices?  Entertainment?

Back at the house, I moved my finger around on the local map and chuckled at the names: Knappert Knows, Little Riggin, Green Slack, Bogs of Noth, Muckle Smiddy Hillock, The Lumps, How of Slug, Darnie Heuch, Mairs of Collithie, Buried Men’s Leys, How of Badifoor, Grouse Butts, Shank of Badtimmer, Slack Methland, Hill of Glack-en-tore, and my favorite, the Glen of Cults.

Another day, Lynn and I visited a neighbor across the road who maintains the garden her late husband—the former head gardener at Cambridge University—created.

Lynn’s garden is coming on as spring progresses.

A visit from the fishmonger was a highlight.

My award for most creative pastime goes to a friend who has been playing x-rated Scrabble over the phone with friends.

Stay well, and don’t forget to laugh!

Tail End of Australia

In real time, in positive news, my son was featured in a nice article in his local paper.

How can I complain about the weather, or anything, when he is doing so well?

Back at Auntie Margaret’s flat, it was time for packing and laundry for the both of us.  But first, Heidi locked herself out.  The laundry room is outside, she didn’t take the key to the building with her, and the door clicked behind her.

The house phone kept ringing and I ignored it. I was busy!  I had to somehow cram all these kangaroo hats and koala candles and goanna t-shirts into my suitcase—what could I jettison?

“Gee, Heidi’s been gone for a while,” I finally noticed.  “She must be waiting in the laundry room while the wash runs its cycle.”

The phone rang again.  “Wait—maybe she’s not …” and I picked up to hear her voice, a bit strained, “Annie, I’ve been out here for 20 minutes, calling over and over!”

I ran down the hall to let her in.  “What a dolt I am!” I apologized.  This was the only time I detected the slightest hint of irritation in Heidi’s demeanor, although she was soon over it, busy packing and repacking for her week to come.  Clothes for work, for driving to the farm, for bunking at her cousin’s, for one night at Auntie Margaret’s.

In the morning, we pushed my now-much-heavier, bulging suitcase up the hill to McMann’s Point station.  At Central Station, we waited on the platform until my train to the airport arrived, then hugged fiercely and waved good-bye as the train rolled away.  Heidi would catch a different train to work.

When I boarded the plane I discovered that miracle all travelers live for—an empty seat next to mine!  I was in the very last row across from the toilet, but I could live with the whooshing noise.  I am short enough that, curling up in the fetal position, I am able to lie down in a two-seat row.

What I hadn’t counted on was the loud talkers who soon congregated in the open space behind my seat.  Even with ear plugs, I could hear them yammering away.  I turned around and asked them to lower their voices.  They did, for a minute.  Some people just can’t help themselves. It was already a long flight, but this was going to make it seem like eternity.  I got up and stood behind the seat myself.  “I thought I’d join you,” I said, smiling like an imbecile.

They quickly dispersed back to their seats.

Home.  Like I’ve written before, I love leaving it and love coming back to it.

It’s satisfying to dump all the clothes I’ve worn over and over for a month into the laundry bag and to take out something fresh.

I look forward to unpacking all the cheap crap I bought and bestowing it on people who have no idea why I thought they needed a wallaby-themed calendar.  Taken out of context, much of what I buy on trips seems lame.  But my nephews appreciated their koala and wombat hats.

And lucky me, I will be going to Japan with these guys in June.

Power Trippin’

I am a morning person, but 3am?  I sprang out of bed, threw on my clothes, grabbed my bag, said a silent farewell to the Reef Retreat, and met the airport shuttle.

As I wrote at the time, if I hadn’t lost my passport and had to fly back early to Sydney, I wouldn’t have seen the World Wide Wallaby convention on the side of the road.  Those little hoppers made it all worth it.

At the airport I ate banana and a protein bar while waiting for to board.  It was me and about 50 retirement-age Chinese couples who were wide awake and yammering at full volume.  Thankfully the plane was half empty so I was able to lie down in the fetal position across three seats but it was so cold I kept waking up.  I flagged a passing flight attendant and said, “It’s freezing in this plane.”  She gave me a look that said, “You’re crazy,” and when I very politely asked if the heat could be turned up she replied with barely concealed rage, “Ma’am, it’s a plane,” as if that explained it.

She did bring me a cup of very hot coffee a few minutes later, so maybe she felt bad about being a bitch.

Off the plane, and it was a good thing I had done this routine with Heidi a few weeks previous. I knew where to find the train station, which train to take, and where to get off.

On the street, I consulted the paper map I’d marked with red circles.  I found the photo shop and smiled for the camera.  “Don’t smile,” said the photog, so I didn’t, and I walked out with two passport-sized photos of me looking like I’d just been booked at the county jail after a night on the town.

On to the consulate, which was in the MCL Building.  Hooray, I spotted a tower with MCL in giant letters at the top.  But at ground level, there were no unlocked doors.  I walked around the building, dragging my suitcase behind me.  Finally I spotted a delivery man and asked him.

“Oh, you want the new MCL Building,” he said. He was super friendly and helpful, pointing out not only the new MCL Building but which entrance I should use.

I rode to the 10th floor, where a cheery Australian guard informed me I would have to check my laptop.  “There’s a photo shop just down that hall, with rental lockers.”

A photo shop.  I paid $10 to check my laptop, then got in the “American Citizens Services” line outside the consulate.  I was the only American.  The “All Others” line lived up to its name.

There was another elevator ride to the consulate’s floor, with an armed guard. I would have to go through security, fair enough.  As I entered the security hall, the Aussie guard at the baggage scanner was barking at a couple in front of me who were flustered and had lost whatever English they had had.

“Who speaks English here!?” he yelled jeeringly.  They appeared to originally be from India or Sri Lanka.  “Do you speak English?  Speak English!”

My blood boiled, and I also felt panic. I knew exactly what was happening.  I was being “triggered”—to use an overused word—by this bully. All the feelings associated with being bullied, leered at, and jerked around by prison guards while my son was inside came to the fore.

I was next.

“You can’t bring that suitcase in here!?” he screamed, as though it was the first time anyone had brought a suitcase to an embassy.

“You’re going to have to go leave that somewhere and come back,” he said.

“But I have a 10 o’clock appointment,” I said.

“Well it might fit through the scanner, but if it doesn’t, you can’t enter.”

I knew from eyeballing it that it would fit.  He probably did too, but he had to make his point—that he was in charge.

A second Aussie guard, who was manning the scanner yelled, “She’s got electronics in here!” as though he was seeing the outline of a bundle of TNT and a lighted fuse.

People with Points

As I waited for my flight, I reflected on how wonderful it is that people welcome me into their homes.  I knew Dean and Lisa from UK days, but we hadn’t been close.  I had never met Auntie Margaret.

Getting to know new people, and getting know acquaintances better, is such a huge attraction of travel for me.  Spending time with people I care for, like Heidi, is a luxury.

That said, I do like my alone time.  I’m an introvert who likes people, but I’m still a loner.  I can happily spend days in my house without hearing a human voice.  I’m never bored.  I get lost in household projects, a book, or long walks in the woods.

After 18 days of being crammed into planes and trains and cars with fellow human beings, I was ready to be alone.

As I boarded I was diverted from these lofty thoughts by a woman behind me asking the flight attendant for a seat belt extender.  This was my first knowledge that there was such a thing.  Australia doesn’t have quite as high a percentage of its population who are obese as the US (33%), but it’s up there, at 27%.

A flight attendant asked if I would like something to drink.  I replied yes, a Diet Coke please, which was when she informed it would cost $3.  Three dollars for a can of coke!  Way to nickel and dime, Virgin Australia!  I asked if I could have a cup of water, if it was free, and she gave me one, smirking like I was a cheapskate.

I read the thick weekend edition of a newspaper from front to back except for the sport section.  I compiled a list of new Aussie vocab to Google when I had wireless: squiz, spruiking, chook.

There was an article about young members of rich Aussie families who posted photos of themselves with products on Instagram.  They had millions of followers and made millions of dollars which they didn’t need.  They were beautiful, vapid, and dull eyed.

Another article was about an immigration scheme to make people settle in “regional areas,” meaning underpopulated areas that need workers.  To quote:

“Australia is in the self-inflicted paradox of having vast amounts of space but no room.

“Australia has pursued a big immigration intake for the entire post-war era for the very selfish reason that it’s in the national interest.  It boosts the economy.  It lowers the average age of the population.  This means that national aging is slowed.  As a result, the rising cost to the taxpayer of healthcare and aged care and welfare is slowed.  And it adds skills.  And cultural richness.”

The debate is: is it unconstitutional to dictate where people must live?  Is it impossible? Is it unconscionable?

“It is none of those things.  Australia already has such a program in place. It’s a category known as designated area migration agreements. There’s only in in effect, in the Northern Territory, but it exists in principal and in practice.”

In the proposed national scheme, people applying for Australian work visas will be given extra points if they indicate they are willing to live in Tasmania, for example.

Why can’t America have debates like this about immigration?  All we talk about is whether to build a wall or not.  A wall—such a 15th Century solution.

Australia has its version of a wall.  It’s the island of Nauru, where desperate migrants from Syria and Congo are penned like animals. But there seemed to be a lot of other ideas afloat.

It’s about control, right?  Any country justifiably wants to know who is entering and how they will contribute to the common good.  The US is one of few countries with a diversity lottery—most countries manage immigration based on merit, conferring extra points for engineering degrees, fluency in the native tongue, or big bank accounts.

As we approached Cairns, I looked down at the verdant scenery.  No wonder people want to come here.

I made a note to partake in the airport wine tasting ahead of my return flight.

My van driver was a British immigrant.

“Twenty years on, and me and the wife ain’t never been back.”

How Ya Goin’?

Greetings from Palm Cove Australia, where I am on my own in this country for the first time since arriving 18 days ago.  I am reading the guest information book in my room and under “Swimming” it says:

Crocodiles are occasionally seen off the beaches but generally they inhabit creeks and estuaries that flow into the ocean. They are ambush predators and generally do not actively hunt or expend a lot of energy in the process.

Is this supposed to make me feel safer?

Visitors are discouraged from wading in creeks, waterways and mangroves where water is shallow or knee deep. Visitors should NOT swim in the ocean at night.

I can abide by those guidelines, but apparently others cannot.  Before I left Melbourne my friends were telling me about recent croc deaths. A park ranger was fishing with her family—wading in a shallow creek.  One minute she was there, the next she was gone.  They found her dismembered body a few days later. A German tourist went swimming in a creek that had a sign warning, “NO SWIMMING—CROCODILES.”  It even had a picture of a crocodile with its mouth gaping open, for non-English speakers.  That was his last swim, ever. As I was riding into town on the hotel shuttle, I saw dozens of people fishing and wading in the creeks and mangrove swamps.  What gives? These are probably the same people who would swim in the ocean at night.

The one thing I dreaded about this trip was the 15-hour flight from LA to Sydney. I have to say, it wasn’t that bad.

I had my compression socks, eye mask, ear plugs, down pillow, crossword puzzles, and a book, which I thought might be overkill but the movie selection wasn’t great so I was glad to have it.

I did watch one really good movie, All the Money in the World, about the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s grandson.  It starred Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer, and his grandson Charlie Plummer as the grandson.  This was the movie Kevin Spacey was cut from after his #MeToo moment.

There was an Aussie sitting next to me on the plane who was returning from a vacation in Mexico.  He raved about Mexico, took a sleeping pill, then didn’t move for 15 hours except when I shook him awake so I could go to the bathroom. It’s interesting how Mexico was exotic to him but he was dreading going back to Australia (and work).  I have spent a lot of time in Mexico and it no longer feels exotic.

And Australia—does it feel exotic?  There have been moments when I thought, “This could be Minnesota.”  Like this view of Heidi’s family’s farm:

But then there were the roos.  These photos aren’t great, but they are candid.

There are other landscapes, of giant gum (eucalyptus) trees that feel alien, in a stunningly beautiful way.

The language is English but they shorten many words (a journalist is a journo, a medic is an ambo) and so much slang that I have often found myself staring blankly at the speaker.  A newly arrived immigrant is a FOB (Fresh off the Boat) and going to hang out with your friends is hooning around.

In the UK I was thrown by the standard greeting, “Ya’ll right?”  In Australia, the greeting is “How ya goin’?” instead of, “How ya doin’?” as we would ask in the US.  Aussies really do say, “G’day”—not everywhere, but here and there and more so in the country.

People are so friendly. Yesterday when I was checking my bag at the airport, the agent told me about her favorite tour here, while hundreds of people waited behind me.  None of them seemed irritated.

Is Australia as expensive as I’d read?  It depends.  Hotels are very reasonable, while meals out are outrageously expensive, and food in groceries is somewhere in between. The American dollar is strong against the Australian, so I get to take 30% off everything.

Heidi and her family have been so welcoming.  Heidi’s Auntie Margaret gave up her flat in Sydney for us to use for a couple nights.  This is the view.  Horrible, huh?

The People

Terminal One, Addis Ababa Airport.  There seemed to be a few issues; the sign here says, “We are under a major and complete roof maintenance.  We sincerely apologize for the inconveniences caused due to any leakage that may occur during the rainy season.”

There was a half-hearted security check.  I think a camel could have walked through and they wouldn’t have cared.  Then it was up the elevator—no, cancel that.  There was no way I was taking an elevator in Ethiopia.  I chugged up the stairs and assessed my options.  I had less than an hour before my flight left, and no souvenirs.  I ran into the biggest shop I could see and after making sure they took credit cards, started throwing bags of coffee and wood carvings into a basket.  For good measure, I bought a necklace made of old Ethiopian coins with the image of Haile Selassie on them which weighed about five pounds.

Sated, I took a seat in the vast hall that served as a waiting area and people watched.  There was a line of a hundred people shuffling toward the gates.  There were people wearing turbans and fezzes and long flowing robes and skin-tight jeans.  There was a big group of white Americans taking home their adopted Ethiopian kids.  There were missionaries and mercenaries and every kind of misfit.

An Asian woman sat next to me and started telling me her life story.  She was Philippina and had been working in Brazil for the last eight years.  She loved Brazil but for family reasons it was time to go back home, so here she was transiting through Ethiopia.

My sore throat had turned into a full-blown head and chest cold.  I was blowing my nose and coughing my lungs out so I just nodded as she talked on and on.  Suddenly she stood up, wished me “good luck” (for what?) and went to join the queue.

An extremely large black woman sat down next.  Everything she wore, from her shoes to an elaborate hat, was bedazzled with sequins and rhinestones and feathers.  I didn’t catch where she was coming from but she had a French accent and was headed to Paris.

After she left a tall white guy sat next to me.  He was quite attractive and had what at first sounded like a British accent.  “I’m taking my mother home to South Africa,” he said, “from Sheffield.”  That explained that his accent sounded more British than South African, if he had lived in Sheffield for a long time.

“Oh, that’s nice,” I said.  “She misses the home country?”

“Aw, no, she’s dead.  I’m taking her body home for burial.”

He had a large duffel bag and I almost made a joke and asked if his mother was in it but I caught myself.  He started to tear up, then stood abruptly and walked off to join the line.

On the plane to London.  Whoopee, it was less than half full and I looked forward to stretching myself out across all three seats, especially since a small boy behind me kept kicking my seat.  I believe in being direct, so I stood up and turned around to talk to the mother.  She had already moved to another row and left him and his sister sitting there on their own.

“Don’t kick my seat,” I said with a smile.  They looked at me as though they didn’t understand English. I would guess they were Pakistani. I sat down again and he continued kicking.  Then I heard the sister tell him in very plain British English, “Don’t kick the lady’s seat, Russell!” He stopped.  Good girl.

Before I could lie down, a woman in what appeared to be Ghanaian dress sat down in the aisle seat.  “I will sit here,” she informed me.  Damn.  I tried blowing my nose and coughing extra hard.  She not only failed to be repelled, she propped her feet up on the middle seat.  Half way through the eight hour flight I nodded off and my hand fell onto her foot.  She glared at me as though I was a pervert.

Is it me?  Is it people?  Is it travel?

Terminal One

In Shire, I said good bye to Maki and thanked her for everything.  I know it’s a lot of work to host a visitor from HQ, and having worked with her from afar on proposals, I knew how busy she already was.

I hopped back into the Landcruiser and we were off to Axum, from whence I flew to Addis Ababa.  There was a woman in front of me across the aisle who had clearly never buckled a seat belt before, and the flight attendant patiently did it for her.  Directly across, a woman started donning gold jewelry as soon as the flight took off.  I don’t mean delicate, little things, I mean giant, chunky bracelets, necklaces, a pair of earrings that looked like they weighed an ounce each, and some kind of headdress.  I wondered if she was flying to some international destination and this was her way of taking assets out of Ethiopia and getting around some limit on taking cash out of the country.  But maybe not.  When she was done, she looked at her teenaged son, who nodded briefly.  He obviously had not given her the feedback she wanted, because she leaned over and smiled at me.  I smiled and nodded vigorously and she sat back, satisfied.

I was on the aisle and a young man was next to me at the window.  I had brought my stupid feather pillow that I carry all over the world with me.  I can’t remember why I had it with me in the cabin instead of stuffed into my suitcase.  It had a sateen pillow case.  My seatmate kept looking surreptitiously at it.  It used to be that men stared surreptitiously at my boobs.  Now they stare at my pillow.  I could tell he really wanted to touch it and finally his hand crept over as he sought my permission by making eye contact.  I nodded.  He stroked he sateen.  “Good material,” he said. I asked if he was in the fabric business or a tailor or something but he got all flustered and retreated to looking out the window.

We arrived in Addis at about 7:30pm.  My onward flight to Heathrow wouldn’t leave until 1:15am.  When I had arrived the previous week I had noticed the little shops that sold fly swatters and other trinkets and thought I would check them out when I departed, but they were closed.  There was one restaurant with an overpriced menu.  They only took cash, and there were no ATMs.  After counting and recounting the grubby handful of birr I had left, I ordered fries and a beer and sat down to watch China Global Television Network, which had news about world events on a loop.  The food took half an hour to arrive, but what did I care, I had six hours to kill in this place with no shops, no ATMs, no wireless.  Worst of all, I didn’t have a book.

I ate as slowly as I could and managed to make it to midnight without nodding off into my fries.  It took another half an hour to find someone I could pay.

I went to the bathroom and found more evidence of Chinese world domination.

At least it wasn’t called Golden Shower.

I took my time going to the security area, where a big guard looked at my ticket and said, “No London.”

“Wha…at?” was all I could stammer.

“No London.  Terminal One for London.”

I hadn’t even known there was a Terminal One.  After receiving conflicting directions from half a dozen uniformed people, I stepped out into the night with my purple suitcase, feeling very conspicuous.  It was inky dark.  There were no street lights, no sidewalk, no signs.  The only people around were men lounging against cars.  I walked for at least three city blocks, with each step convinced there was no Terminal One or that if there was, I would never find it.  I started to panic; tears welled up; I called myself an idiot.

Then I turned a corner and there it was, lit up like Las Vegas.

Inside, there were a hundred shops and restaurants, each with “free wireless” if you bought something.