Back Where it All BeganJune 16 in Australia
There is absolutely no denying the fact that South America is a LONG way from Australia. No matter which way you look at it, there is just no easy way to complete a trip that takes you almost halfway round our planet. You just have to face it with as much fortitude as you can, hoping that the discomfort of the long flight will soon be forgotten once you get home.
For Paul and I the long journey began at 11.30 pm the previous evening. That was when my alarm rudely awoke me from a sleep which I had only just descended into. I switched on the light and staggered out of bed. At that time I tried hard not to think how many hours would pass by before I would again be able to lay my head on a pillow.
By 12.30 am Paul and I had checked out of our rooms and were waiting in the foyer for our driver to take us to the Buenos Aires International Airport. Outside in the street the massive TV screens were still shining brightly, showing that the Big Apple is a city that never really sleeps. I just wished that I could.
Right on time the ordered car arrived to collect us. It was not a taxi, in fact I am not exactly sure what it was. The hotel had organised it and had also guaranteed us a fixed rate for the trip to the airport. I didn't really care what it was, at least it was clean and comfortable and the driver seemed to know the way to go.
About 45 minutes later we were dragging our bags into the terminal. This was the part we were both dreading. Somehow we had arrived a little too early for the check in to open, meaning that we had to sit and wait for around an hour. It was the first of many such waits that we would have to do before our trip got underway.
When we finally fronted at the check in desk I asked the girl if we had both been given aisle seats as we had asked. She looked up, smiled and asked "Would you like exit row seats ?" For me, that is a bit like asking if I would like an upgrade to business. "Of course", we answered in unison. She ripped up our previous boarding passes and issued us the new coveted "exit row" tickets for the long flight from Santiago to Melbourne. I could not help but think that we had hit the jackpot.
At 5.00 am we caught the first flight from BA to Santiago. The plane was only partially full, so we were both in relatively high spirits.These high spirits quickly sank once we landed at Santiago (Chile) and settled down to a six and half hour wait for the next flight. This would have almost been bearable if the flight had not been delayed, extending our wait to 7 hours. I kept encouraging myself by the fact that, when I finally arrived in the plane, I would have a luxurious exit row seat waiting for me.It didn't quite work out that way.
Eventually we did get access to the plane and yes, I did have an exit row seat. The problem was that it was squeezed in alongside the huge door. The body of the door took about half the width of my seat. Although in theory I could stretch out my legs, in reality I could only do that if I sat sideways in the seat and buried my head in the luxurious soft steel panelling of the plane door. Comfortable it was not, but I could not blame anyone else. I had actually asked for this seat.
In order to sit myself in this diminutive space, I had to reverse backwards and carefully manoeuvre my rear into position. Then fumble around trying to retrieve the ends of the seat belt. It was not easy. Ahead lay fifteen and a half long hours in the steel sarcophagus.
The direct flight from Santiago to Melbourne probably follows one of the most remote flight paths on the planet. The route begins by heading almost due south from Santiago, flying along Patagonia, past Ushuaia and then continuing another thousand kilometres or so across the Drake Passage towards Antarctica. For most of the next ten hours the plane is flying parallel to the coast of Antarctica.
From time to time I would bring up the flight map on the screen. When I saw our position, so far from the closest civilisation. I tried not to think about what would happen if the plane had to make any sort of emergency landing on the ocean. The chances of any sort of rescue mission so far south ? Absolutely zero.
Gradually the time ticked by. Gradually my backside lost all feeling. I tried to ignore the DVTs that were probably growing in my veins with each passing hour. At least I was getting closer and closer to home.
I could understand why the route of the plane took it a thousand km south of New Zealand, but it was harder to understand why the pilot decided to skip Tasmania altogether and head towards Adelaide instead. After almost reaching the proverbial City of Churches, the pilot apparently realised his error and abruptly executed a right hand turn towards Melbourne. To say I was relieved when we finally touched down at Tullamarine would have been a vast understatement.
I extricated myself from the seat, staggered to the exit door and out into the frigid night air. At first I thought we had maybe landed in Antarctica after all, but then I was told that Melbourne's weather has been like this ever since we left the place five weeks earlier.
When passing through Customs I admitted that I had purchased a set of wooden pencils in Argentina. They were to be a present for my grandson. They turned out to be a gift for the Australian Customs Office instead. Oh well.
It was a wonderful feeling to see Maggie waiting for me at the exit. All that remained was to survive the Monash Freeway and I would be finally home at last. It poured with rain the whole way home. Ah, the wonderful experience of winter in Melbourne ! It seemed strangely familiar.
By 10 pm I was snuggled into my own bed and happily drifting off into an exhausted sleep. The tortuous flight was already fading into memory and I was starting to think ahead to our next adventure in three months time. Travel is like that.Read more