As the arid landscape slips past, the girl next to me is carefully applying fake eyelashes from her collection of at least a dozen. She slips out of flip-flops and into stilettos before disembarking the bus at a road stop for our lunch break. Our chariot is a Greyhound with 2 elder Aussies blokes taking turns at the wheel and as storytellers on the microphone. I am on my way to Monkey Mia and it is day 4 of my expedition. (It was a trip, but quickly developed into something far more challenging)
My journey began Tuesday morning at 4:30 am while I frantically packed for my 6:00 am departure. Reading 17 on the thermometer forced me to slip on sneakers and stow my flip-flops. It would just until I got inside the airport I convinced myself. Mom took me to Portsmouth where I grabbed the bus to Logan. The bus ride was peaceful, no cell phones please. I feel like in American society today this is worst than burning the flag. We were detoured due to heavy traffic, but a back road sent us past 6 deer on a frozen lake. I do believe an appropriate way to bid New England farewell.
Once in Boston the adventure truly began. I composed myself, although I knew I was going to be a sweaty mess, disheveled and looking as though I had run up several flights of stairs wearing a heavy winter jacket and carrying a large sack of potatoes. I rolled my entourage of 4 bags up to the self-check and the computer beeped at me with each failed attempt to get my boarding pass. Oh shit. I will be honest, leaving this time felt a little off. We had just put Maggie, our beloved yellow lab down on Friday and as a family we were all struggling a bit. Duncan called from the Bob Barker and was able to say goodbye over speakerphone. Not the week I had planned on having at home. I really felt bad for leaving and wondered if it was the right thing to do.
A Delta assistant informed me I would need to go to the counter. Mind you, I had attempted to do this in the first place and was told I needed to self-check in. Once there I slung my bags onto the scale, wincing. The first was one was clear, but the Pelican case was giving me the stink eye, knowing full well it would tip the scale. 67 lbs and that will be $150.00. YOWZA. I asked her why the charge. I was flying Virgin across the Pacific and their limit was 2 bags up to 70 lbs each. Does not matter she insisted. I asked kindly if she could check for me because in the past it had been the baggage limits for the carrier you were going international with. “ I have been working here 27 years and I think I know how it works.” Anxious to prove me wrong she called the manager over. He informed her that I, in fact, was correct and this was confirmed by another coworker. I could literally see the steam coming out of her ears. 27 years, but maybe time for a refresher course? I thanked her and my smile was reciprocated with a glare. Glad to see I was flying the friendly skies.
Now 3 hours to kill. No worries, due to heavy complaint, Logan now has free wireless Internet. I am terribly behind on work, as I spent most of the prior week lying on the floor with a cancer-ridden dog that still continued to wag her tail. I kept thinking of that as my adventure continued and each step became more challenging than the last. No matter what if you can keep wagging your tail, things will be better. Easier said than done.
My flight from Boston to Minneapolis was over quickly, as I slept the entire way. Another quick hop to LAX and then things started to get interesting. The flight was delayed and I fell asleep waiting next to the gate. A nice lady woke me up, so that I could board the plane. I really wasn’t paying attention to the time or the delay; just wondering how much of the 15 hour flight I would be able to sleep. My vegetarian in flight meals weren’t bad and I watched parts of several movies as I moved in and out of sleep. As we were being told to put our seats in the upright position I decided to pull out my itinerary and see how much of a layover I had. It was then that I discovered my connecting flight had already left. I asked the stewardess and she said ground crew would be able to help. I disembarked and all Hell broke lose. The baggage claim at Sydney airport might be one of the most manic places on earth. With no logical flow of traffic, it is complete chaos.
I waited patiently as both my cases came flying off the shoot and onto the belt I managed to score a cart with a great white shark on it. I felt that maybe the situation was improving; I was wrong. I turned around and saw one of my travel companions and said I would be late getting into Perth. No worries there flight was delayed as well. See you on the other side. Now that I had my bags I was at the back of a line of what seemed like millions of people. I found an official looking bloke and asked if there was a possibility if moving ahead as I needed to catch a flight because I had already missed my first one. He pointed to a line and I quickly moved through. No questions asked by the customs agent just a stamp and on my way. This is when I entered the gauntlet. When you clear customs you are dumped into a whirlpool of families, drivers and worn out travelers. I wove my way through trying to be polite as I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I am sure I hit at least one small child, but it was such a blur. I just needed to get to the Virgin Domestic travel counter on the opposite end of approximately 150 people crammed in a small space like cattle. No problem.
At the counter I was informed the fastest way to Perth was via Melbourne, not a direct flight? Sure, just get me there. I was handed my bus ticket and whisked off across town (probably not across town, but it seemed like it) to the domestic airport. The flight was a blur and I am not even sure how long I was in Melbourne or that we even landed there.
I arrived in Perth 4 hours later than planned a sweaty mess. It is summer in Australia and about 90 degrees by 8:00 am, of you were wondering. As I moved to the baggage carousel I heard the words of doom over the intercom. Jillian Morris please come to the baggage claim area. Oh boy. So my one suitcase has decided to spend some extra time in Sydney. Why not? I tried to explain to the woman where I was staying at Monkey Mia, in a research trailer with no real address. Monkey Mia, although a tourist resort, remains under the radar for many Aussies. She made some calls and it was arranged to have my case flown up and delivered the next day. No worries the camera housing was with me and that was my main concern.
Now to head to Avis to meet my road trip buddies. I checked in at the desk and was told they had already picked up the car. Hmm… well maybe they were out getting supplies and would be back? I had seen them in Sydney, so they knew I was going to be delayed. I went to buy a phone card. No luck, so had to get a refund. Collect calls were also not working. As I stood there a little overwhelmed, the clerk from Avis handed me a note.
Sorry Jillian we had to leave. Here is Derek’s number.
The tears of exhaustion poured. I called Derek. They had left an hour ago. Time to get a hotel and book a bus trip north. I found a cab and made my way to the only hotel I know in Perth. I approached the desk worn and weathered. The desk agent informed me that they were fully booked, but suggested the hotel across the street. He called for me and confirmed they had a room, but I would have to get online to book it. Okay done. Now time to lug my 70 lb pelican case across the street to my home for the night. The concierge was lovely and gave me a coupon for a complimentary drink. I am sure I looked as though I would need several. I called the airline and told them I would be in Perth and they said my bag would be delivered that evening.
Time for some food. I wandered downstairs and enjoyed my free glass of wine and hit the IGA. Tim Tams, Jatz and party mix. For those of you who are not aware of these items then you have not truly lived. Tim Tams are the world’s most amazing chocolate cookie. Jatz are the world’s most delicious crackers with nothing even close to comparable in the states. Party mix is an array of delicious gummy candies retreated to my room to feast of my Aussie dinner. Yes, that’s right! Cookies, crackers and candy for dinner! I woke up at 11 pm and went downstairs to retrieve my case! Change of clothes and my toothbrush! YAY!
A long shower and a comfy bed were exactly what I needed. I set the alarm and was asleep before my head hit the pillow. Unfortunately the clock was off an hour so my leisurely pre alarm wake up turned into a panicked swirl of packing and trying to get massive cases out the door. I had ordered a taxi, but I was advised not to wait outside by the new concierge, a far less agreeable bloke. Another guest walked out and took my cab. I waited another 15 minutes and asked if I should go try and grab one. He suggested that was best. I flagged down a taxi dropping guests off. We headed to the bus terminal. When we arrived it was empty. I raced upstairs, but everything was closed. Here we go again. A nice young guy called greyhound for me, but they were not open. I found a security guard who said I was in the wrong place. Need to catch my bus at the train terminal. Here come the tears again. I jumped back in the cab and we raced to the correct location. Sam, my taxi driver, let me use his cell to call Derek and tell him I might not make my bus. We got to the station and I sprinted to the bus, sweaty, makeup smeared and exasperated. “ She be right,” said the old gent with his socks pulled to his knees. “Take a breath you are all set.” I ran back to the cab and grabbed my bags. Paid Sam and got his information. Thank you Sam. You made sure I made my bus and WOW what a ride! I think we put that van on 2 wheels.
And so began the 11 hour bus trek north. A cyclone was dropping buckets of rain and many of the roads were closing due to flash floods. The driver said we would drive north as far as we can and see what happened. This we did. Met a Canadian girl headed for Ningaloo to look for work as an instructor. Had a nice chat and got some reading down. Made a few stops along the way. More Jatz and party mix for lunch! Arrived at the renowned Overlander Roadhouse at 5:30pm and watched as my crew pulled in and stepped out of the car! I went inside and then came out to find my bags gone. The drive said no worries I sent them with the driver to Monkey Mia. WHAT??? I thought they were messing with me! No worries….we can grab them there. Luckily enough the guy had not left and we managed to squeeze my gear into the rental car and the 4 of us headed out for the last 155k of the journey. I arrived to a big hug from Derek and an ice-cold Aussie beer. 4 days, 6 airports, 2 buses, a cab, a rental car and I made it. Monkey Mia is a piece of Heaven on Earth and definitely worth the journey. If it had been an easy trip I would have nothing to write about.