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In case you’re wondering, I tossed and turned for a couple of hours due to excitement for the trip home. We had our alarms set for 2:30 am and our 5 jeep caravan left the guesthouse at 3:30 am. One has to be here to really appreciate the roads here. Pavement gives way to gravel, then to dirt and back again for over two hours. And they grow the potholes really big here. Some places the road is barely 1-1/2 lanes wide, and other times you could fit 4 cars across. Picture this at 100km/hr with alternating fog and dirt ever so briefly obscuring the road.
Keep in mind our drivers were professional and not taking any risks; I’m just making a statement about the road system in rural New Britain Island. We learned during our tour of Hargy Oil yesterday that if weren’t for their efforts with road maintenance, the roads would be nearly impassable. Most of the bridges we drove across are Japanese sectional metal bridges of varying lengths, but exactly the same width and shiny metal roadway. One particularly high river crossing had no bridge structure at all (it had been washed away during a flood) but was just the road bed barely one lane wide. Our driver Roger aimed the jeep straight down the center, nice and slow.
Complete darkness until the eastern sky started showing a faint blue light at 5:30. We arrived at the airport in Hoskins at 5:45, went through security and had a breakfast of sandwiches without crust and apples. We said our good-byes to our drivers, who stayed until we were airborne. Our one hour flight arrived in Port Moresby without a hitch.
Now it was time for our own farewells. Barry, Sharyn and I headed for the International terminal while the other 13 headed for a local hotel to wait the 6 hours until their flight to Goroka, PNG, which is the gateway for the Highlands, where the group will tour starting tomorrow. Barry and Sharyn are headed for Australia. I will be cooling my jets in the Brisbane airport until 11:45 pm – can’t get much more red eye than that. I will fly to Singapore and then non-stop to San Francisco.
Good news is that my bags are checked through to SFO. Bad news is that I am seated in Economy; I just pray I’m not in the families with babies section.
We were told when we arrived that Papua New Guinea is the land of the unexpected. As you recall, our Port Moresby – Hoskins flight was canceled last week. Well, today my flight scheduled for 1:30 pm showed up as delayed until 5:00 pm, but in actuality it was rescheduled for 2:30 pm. It took several hours to get that figured out, however. We were in line to check in from 9 until 9:45, when the ticket agent told us to come back at 10:00. At ten, they said to come back at 11:00, so we grabbed a quick lunch in the cafe. The mystery was that Air Niugini wanted to combine two flights into one, so they split the difference between the originally scheduled departure times.
I didn’t bring my iPad, I have no books, magazines, or even a newspaper to read except the instruction manual for my camera. There are three gift shops in the Port Moresby airport and I couldn’t find a single item of reading material for sale. Maybe I should take a nap.
The departure lounge was packed with people and even though we were sure we knew which plane we would board soon, the announcement came and we saw large groups of people head off in two directions. We checked with the ticket agents only to learn that there were actually three flights going to or through Brisbane from Port Moresby within a 20 minute time period. Our flight wasn’t even called yet! And everyone was speaking English!
It was kind of like a Saturday Night Live skit. Actually it reminded us of departing Kathmandu three years ago in which hundreds of people were jammed in a large room with standing room only. Every 15 or 20 minutes an announcement was made (which we couldn’t make heads nor tails of) and so we would gather up our carry-ons and go for the door, only to be turned around numerous times by the agent until finally our flight was called and she let us pass.
Bottom line is that the flight originally scheduled for 1:30 pm took off at 3:00. Just before our announcement, I bought a bottle of water to take on the plane. To my surprise, at we entered the end of the jetway, a ‘final’ security check had been installed, which included hand searching all carry on luggage. The PNG version of a TSA agent got my brand spanking new icy cold bottle of water to boot. How can this be? We’d already been cleared by security and were past the departure lounge. Oh yes, I remember Garua’s words “PNG is the land of the unexpected.”
I also forgot to ask for an exit row or window seat, and got an aisle seat, but the plan was only half full so lots of space. It was a three hour flight which included beef with gravy, yellow white rice, a wheat roll and some sort of bread pudding.
I found a newspaper to read on board but it was kind of like a tabloid with a bunch of articles from Papua New Guinea I couldn’t relate to. There was a short paragraph about Muammar Gaddafi being killed, but I couldn’t really tell whether it was confirmed or not.
Brisbane airport looked so modern when I popped through the transfer walkway and into the great departure hall. Three coffee shops, two bookstores, several gift shops……but no Popeye’s Chicken. I did score some reading material, including Eric Clapton’s autobiography, as I have about 5 hours to kill before I depart for Singapore and San Francisco.
For those geography buffs, Singapore is 3,800 miles NW of Brisbane and then San Francisco is 8,500 miles northeast of Singapore. That figures into more than 24 hours of flying time starting at midnight tonight. Let’s see, that will make a total door to door time of about 48 hours from PNG back to Grass Valley. I can’t deal with those figures right now. I’ll be fresh as a daisy when I go through customs at SFO on Saturday.
Gotta go for now — probably one more blog will follow after I get back on the ground in California.