54hrs

After a 54-hour journey, I’m safely back in Australia.  And it’s, so, weird.  On the one hand, over the past year, everything’s changed for me; on the other, Sydney is more or less exactly as I left it.  It is amazing to have food I like again, though: hello, raisin toast, snack chocolate, nudie smoothies, Thai spices, and being able to buy whatever I want in supermarkets.  Yes!  I’ve been gorging myself.

It seems completely surreal that this time a week and a half ago (I’d say ‘a week’ but I’ve really lost track of time zones), I was in Colombia.  Which, as you’ll have gathered, was amazing.  I loved it, from meeting incredible people to David Attenborough-ing it up in the Amazon.  There are definitely things I’ll miss other than just the people I met and the experiences I’ve had though, things that were uniquely Colombian.  The air of magic, as I’ve mentioned before (in what turned out to be my most popular post thus far); the music, definitely (buying some Colombian dance music is going on my list); the amazing graffiti in Bogota; the swagger of guys on the bus as they jump off into traffic and usher you on; and of course, the unbelievable friendliness.  Colombians are by far the friendliest, most open people I’ve ever met, and I absolutely loved them for it.

My last evening in Bogota was spent with Laura and Angelica at a local Chia restaurant.  It was a groovy little place actually, with a good menu, cushions rather than chairs, mood lighting and board games.  Needless to say, all of this (barring, perhaps, the board games) meant that the place was otherwise occupied by couples, who were all passing the time by making out against the wall.  It was hilarious!

I was to leave Laura’s place at 2.15am (how awesome were she and her family, by the way—I met her for a couple of hours in Athens nearly two years ago, and they let me live in her house for a few weeks).  I had a 54-hour journey ahead of me back to Sydney, and it did not start well.  At around 4am when I got to the airport to check in, I discovered that my completely incompetent travel agent hadn’t told them I was vegetarian, so I lost my temper and poemed him:

Good morning Ben, it’s a hell of a day,
And I’m sure you’ll be glad to start in this way:
After all, it’s great—what could be better?—
Than receiving a poem, rather than letter.

I will at this point happily admit
That it’s 4 in the morning and I’m feeling a bit
Put out, and tired, and a bit peckish
So it may be that I’ll be a bit feckish.

But we have to talk, it’s true to say
About the service you provide, for which I have paid
And I’ll tell you all (though hardly in confidence,)
About what you’ve done, and gross incompetence.

But where to start?  There’s much to discuss
Perhaps I’ll begin by making a fuss
About your complete lack of timeliness, in responding to emails
It doesn’t take three days to write out some details.

I know I’m a pain and I do change my mind
And I’ll admit, I was surprised to find
Your precursor replaced, it was all quite a shock
And compared to him, you’re easy to mock.

But let’s be fair, I booked flexible flights
(because I knew when I booked them indeed I might
choose to stay longer, or stay not at all
a trap into which I constantly fall.)

And I don’t expect to be told “there’s no way”
Especially when I’m willing to pay
But really?  Two grand?  On top of what was?
I don’t remember reading that clause.

So then I suggested, I ventured ideas
That perhaps we should use our mental gears
And arrange for a flight, not out of B Aires
But rather instead from further north prairies.

“No!” you cried, with simple disdain
As if the effort caused you great pain.
“It can’t be done, no flights can I find,
there’s none from L.Amer at round that time.”

So I jumped online and had a purview
And found many options—far more than you.
“Why not LA?  There’s many flights from there,
and I can see there’s competitive fares.”

“Mm maybe,” you concede, though not til days later
(while perhaps still trying to be vindicator)
I answered right pronto, with preferred carriers
(I shouldn’t have thought there’d be any barriers)

“This this or this”, I instructed directly
And to help out, quite correctly,
I did your job for you and found me a flight
All you had to do was book the delight!

And then, days later, you get back to me
With not that flight, nor the carriers three
But a different airline (I was put out
But already too tired to point it out).

“Okay!” I said, and agreed to pay more,
than the flights which I’d found, but my temper was sore.
At least this way I’d have a way home
And if not directly, at least not via Rome.

Next what do I find, but epic layovers
With no suggestion to have a stay-over.
(I would have asked but you can’t do your job
And no more time would I allow you to rob)

Bogota—San Salvador, and there to LA,
And there ten hours, but whatever, okay.
LA—Fiji, and there stop again
But now 16 hours, far more than just ten.

Fifty-four hours it’ll take me to travel
If I were a judge I’d thump down the gavel
And declare you unfit to hold down your job
(and then, perhaps, the gavel I’d lob)

And finally, the last straw, I came to check in
And you’ve committed the cardinal sin:
Though I told you three times, including yesterday
You didn’t tell the airline I’m fucking vegetarian, asshole.

Now it’s 9 hours til I get to LA
At which point I’ll finally be able to pay
to have a meal, and in the meantime am hangry
(don’t know what it is?  It’s hungry plus angry!)

You call yourself ‘expert’, it’s a complete fucking joke
I’m surprised your clients in anger don’t choke
So, dear Benjamin, I surely hope
You’ll open the job ads and straight away scope.

I hope I’ve conveyed the proper esprit:
You’re not fit for this role, evidently.

I boarded the flight soon enough, and caught the first leg to San Salvador.  As the next leg was to the US, we then had to go through some fairly hectic security procedures.  I’m used to having all of my stuff scanned of course, and to having the magic wand passed over me, but this was a whole nother level: the agents pulled everything out of our bags in public and went through all of it.  It felt really invasive, and put me even further off actually travelling to the US.

I spent most of my time in LAX hanging out on the free internet, looking up Masters programs and job-searching.  I was getting pretty hysterical with exhaustion by this point of course, but narrowed down my choices significantly.  I should also mention how lovely everyone at the airport was; it’s always nice to be in a smiley, helpful country.  *Eye-roll* the TSA agent thought he was a right comedian, and was cracking jokes at high volumes about every person whose details he checked.  My weirdest moment at the airport though (other than paying an outrageous $20 for two sushi rolls—wtf?!) was when I was by the boarding gate on my laptop, and a guitar-playing unwashed guy came up to me and asked to charge his iPod via USB.  I obviously said yes, at which point he leaned down, hugged me and introduced himself as ‘Sam’.  You should have seen my face (it certainly felt affronted)—I’m definitely not a stranger-hugger.

My flights from LA were with Fiji Airways.  They’re not as good as my favourite airlines (Virgin, Etihad, Avianca), but weren’t awful, either.  I was sitting behind a bulk-head with a young Kiwi couple and their seriously adorable (and well-behaved) baby.  Granted, I was asleep for most of the flight, but I was glad to be sitting with such fun people.  They were also as confused as I was by the Fijian customs declaration form: why on earth did we need to declare whether we had holy water or not?!  Is there a big holy water smuggling trade through Fiji?!

Upon arrival in Nadi, I had little idea exactly what I was doing or how to get there.  I’d booked a spa package for 11am, and wanted to visit some gardens, but that was about it.  I was told to get a taxi, so jumped on in.  The driver, Rakesh, ended up being my driver for the morning (yes, it was expensive.  No, I wouldn’t do it again).  First he took me to town, Lautoka, which was a complete waste of time, and the most expensive leg.  Then we went to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant (completely worthwhile), before I headed to the spa.  Were I to do it all again, I’d save around $100AU on the taxi, and only go to the gardens and Novotel.  The hotel do day-stay rooms (around $80FJ for the full day), and there’s a really nice restaurant, a pool, and spa: an infinitely better use of the day.  It’s also only around 15 minutes’ walk (or $5 Fijian, ~$3AU) from the airport.

Lautoka

The Garden of the Sleeping Giant

When I returned to the airport that afternoon (after my first-ever facial; incidentally, I had my first-ever manicure a few days before that: I am terrible at being a girl), I realised I had a slight problem.  Other than my lack of timeliness.  As I’d been walking through the markets earlier that day, lots of people were talking to me.  But, as it was in Fijian, I had no idea what they were saying: until one man said “sweetie, your bag’s open”.  I was so annoyed at my arrogance in instantly responding to the nomer ‘sweetie’ that I didn’t check that the contents of my bag were still there, other than my passport etc—so I didn’t realise that my padlock keys were missing.  My padlock, meanwhile, was on my suitcase at the airport.  My laptop was inside my suitcase, and I didn’t want to put it through the baggage compartment of the plane: but I only had five minutes until check-in closed, and no way to get the padlock off.  Happily, the airline let me check in sans bag, and I trotted off with security to try and break the padlock.  It took the attempts of about ten staff, some bolt cutters, a few sets of keys, a lock-picking set, and assorted pieces of metal before we finally got it open.  As I said on my facebook, it just wouldn’t be me at the airport without three big guys and a set of bolt-cutters:

I’m now back in Sydney and have been applying for temp policy/project jobs.  So what’s happening with the blog?  Well, I’ve still got a Scotland photos post to do, and I’ll likely do posts for any travel I do within Australia/NZ this year, but I don’t anticipate doing anything other than that until I resume proper travels again.  My intention is still to relocate back to Europe in about a year’s time, either doing my Masters or working, and I’m sure I’ll resume writing then.  I think Australia’s too familiar (oddly enough) for me to be really able to write about it—and certainly to rant about it.  But I could be wrong.  I will also do a post once my book is available for purchase/download, and of course any new posts will as usual be posted to both the ‘explaurafying’ facebook page and my twitter feed.

In the meantime, thanks to the crazy number of people who’ve been reading, commenting and emailing me.  It’s been fun!

Until next time—до встречи, счастливо, à bientôt and ciao.