Antipodean Travelogue

Oct 16 - New York

Monday 4:45am. I’m awake, I’m awake. I wasn’t really sleeping. But it’s a good thing the alarm was set. Coffee. Shower. Or maybe reverse order. Last minute packing of an extra hat for Richard on safari, bottles of the three pills. Where are the compression stockings? You took them down, you tried them on, and then you hid them someplace that you now have neither time nor interest in finding. Luckily there is another pair. Pack them in a place to remember. With the comfy shorts I plan to wear during the 14 hours of air travel. In economy. The compression babies will turn up after I’ve gone through security and am fishing around in my back pack. Very nicely folded and placed. Forgot to shave. I’ve been home alone. Haven’t shaved for days. Before the shower this morning? After the shower? Sure, when my mind has leapt ahead to fifteen other things and shaving has completely fallen off the list! I have a razor in my pocket. I will shave before I get on the plane. At JFK, early is better than on time. Even at 6:30am the Van Wyck was backed up for 10 minutes. And then there’s checking in, and security, and now ...

The reality of the trip has yet to really sink in. It’s not only far, it’s very foreign. The electric plugs are different. The English spoken has very weird twists and turns. I’m not really ready for the pinch that seems to be South African.

And sleep. I need sleep. I can, after a desultory breakfast from a fast food post-security, feel sleep stealing through my body. The plane leaves at 11:15am. I hope to be asleep by 11:45. Though there may be food. I’ve brought six “healthy” bars just in case. Now for shaving. And perhaps some coffee. And a look at more of the Times and the crossword puzzle.

Oct 17 - In transit

It could have been a total and complete disaster. I’m in coach. I’d booked the first left seat by the bulkhead to be able to stretch out my new knee. It’s a 14 hour flight. Please imagine the expression on my face when I reach the seat and discover that the seat next to me is occupied by Young Mother With Very New Baby. “That’s my precious darling, that it is, isn’t it? Isn’t it?” The first mother with the first baby. Both very loud. Fourteen hours. I look at the flight attendant as she passes.

“Please,” I say, quietly and professionally, with only the barest, tiniest bit of desperation which could, at any moment, escalate to full-volume pleading.

“I’ll see,” she says. Longest five minutes of this year, including the time between being told I was going to get a spinal anesthetic for the knee surgery, and actually getting the anesthetic. No memory of it, really. I would have had a very long memory of fourteen hours next to the baby. Any baby. It’s actually only 4.5 minutes when the flight attendant motions me to come with her, through the curtains, into…the heaven of economy plus…where the seats are a fraction wider, the entertainment system actually works, I can stretch my leg into the aisle, and am sharing a four-across with a woman at the other end of the four. Bliss. And, I think, actual food.

I must have slept, because I’m fairly awake now, and will work to stay awake in order to screw the jet lag and get myself on South African time like the champ traveler I am. Only an hour to get through immigration, shuffling in a snaky Disneyland-style line. Now in a hotel-casino-theatre complex with a view of a manicured garden, fountains and peacocks, blue skies, temperature in the high 60s. I think I’ll probably stay awake. Or at least not take a very long nap.

Oct 26 - Australia

I gained a day through ignorance. Or did I lose it. I’m not entirely sure. The glorious safari accomplished, and a two-night ensconcement at a posh Johannesburg airport hotel enjoyed, I was ready to depart for Australia. Two very long flights in front of me. So I’d prepared. Kindle. Snacks. Exercise regimen. The first flight was at 12:30pm, so a nice leisurely morning, hotel breakfast, packing up, at the ticket counter at 10am, plenty of time. Except that there’s a problem with my passport. 

Did you know you need a visa to enter Australia if you’re a US citizen? You, dear gentle reader, dear Very Smart Person, undoubtedly did. I may have read about such a thing somewhere, but if I did, the info whistled around inside my overstressed brain and flew off to some dark corner of my barn-psyche with the rest of the flitting bat and swallow thoughts.

No problem says the very competent Cathay Pacific manager, as he rips the luggage tag from my suitcase and bundles me around the corner to the well-hidden ticket office, where a really nice guy calms me down, tells me we can apply on line, but that it will take 24 hours to process. I’m re-booked on the same flights the next day, almost the same aisle seats, given the receipt for my visa application, and return to the hotel I thought I’d left forever. When I get to the room I review the application print-out. The name on my e-mail address on the form is spelled incorrectly.

It’s at this point where I suddenly become awash with despair. The application will never come through, I will have to re-apply, I will be stuck at this airport for weeks, Australia is too far, the trip was too ambitious, what were you thinking, how could you have been so ignorant as to not know about the visa, what kind of person … Well, you get the general picture.

And until 7:30 this morning when the visa approval came through via e-mail to my account, the negativity has been, in a word, overwhelming. No reading, no TV, just laying on my back on the bed drifting in and out of sforzando negativeness. Which cleared immediately when I received the visa. Go figure.

I don’t know if there’s a lesson. I do know that seeing the sights beats batting off despair. I can hardly wait. Melbourne and The Great Ocean Road, here I come!

Oct 31 - Melbourne

Following four days in Melbourne, I’m at the beginning of a road trip to Sydney. Took a detour today to the Mornington Peninsula and the town of Mornington. Gorgeous little seaside town. After dinner stroll, I’m thinking I could use a better map. And there’s a book store that seems to be open. It’s open because they are having a book club meeting, but I weasel in and ask about maps. And while they are finding some for me, I mention Cry, Heart. Nice, say the three women owners. I leave. I’m walking down the street. I hear my name. I am being chased. I thought I’d left my credit card. No. One of the owners is holding a copy of Cry, Heart. Amazing. They asked me to sign. The name of the book shop is Farrell’s in Mornington, Victoria, Australia.

November 15 - NZ

“Drive on the left. Drive on the left.” I’ve now driven a rental car in Melbourne, up the west coast of Australia from Mornington to Lakes Entrance, inland to Canberra, then to Sydney; and now in New Zealand, Auckland to Coromandel to Rotura to Taupo. And I’m still going to the left-hand side of the car (the passenger side) to get in. Even better, the windshield wipers and the turn signal are reversed from US cars. I don’t think the other cars can see my wipers swishing when I want to change lanes.

But the “drive on the left” in Australia and New Zealand has been fantastic. Views of the coast and the countryside, especially in NZ, where a half mile can take you from a hill of bright green grass dotted with sheep and plunge you into a rainforest that opens up to huge and expansive views of mountains and lakes.

And being able to stop and see, even if it means stopping a quarter mile later, saying to yourself “take the time to see this…” and finding a place to turn around and come back…means, for instance, taking a day to walk through the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, around steaming lakes and hot bubbling springs, crater lakes from early 20th century eruptions, giant ferns, and the sudden appearance of black swans on a blue lake.

This side of the world has so much to offer. I’m already planning my return. Drive on the left won’t be half so difficult next time.