Sunday, 2 November 2014

Touch down in Viti

If you intend to travel overseas, and you get on an aeroplane in Canberra's not-so-international airport, you have no choice but to go via a functioning international airport that has customs. That airport will still be in Australia.
Ironically, had I left on this trip 10 years earlier there was a six month window in that year that I could actually get on an international flight from Canberra to the country I am headed for. Not anymore. Progress?
For me, my customs check was via Sydney. The first of my first world problems in the lead up to this was in fitting a year's worth of living into 2 x 23 kg suitcases. That, incidentally, wasn't going to happen because my suitcases either took 10 kg or 30 kg.
So, oversized luggage charges came first domestically. This 2 x 23 kg domestic limit in no way aligned with the 1 x 23 kg limit for the international leg of the journey.
Requirements for holidaying on an island in the South Pacific could easily pack inside 23 kg. 7 pairs of bikinis, 7 pairs of havianas, 7 sarongs  and 7 cotton dresses, underwear optional (because you have so many bikinis) with some shampoo, conditioner and a toothbrush for good measure. You would even have room in the suitcase for gifts on your return journey.
However, planning for a year required something a bit more substantial. This resulted in more excess luggage charges for the international leg also.
The 50 minute flight from Canberra to Sydney was the shortest and most successful forward movement in this journey in that whole morning.  I spent the better part of my time trying to kill myself carting around tonnes of luggage from the domestic to the international airport on the Sydney end before replicating the same heavy lifting in between Nadi's* international and domestic airports to finally get to Suva's** international airport later that day.
At this juncture it is probably wise to point out that I have moved to Fiji known as Viti to the indigenous folk of this particular group of 330+ South Pacific islands.
I strongly suspect Suva's international airport actually gets international flights on occasional days unlike the capital of Australia, a far bigger nation.
Call me crazy but I kind of expect that if you leave from somewhere that has an international airport (whether it is functional or in name only) you should be able to check in your luggage once, just once, and the next time you see it is when you pick it up at your final (international airport) destination.
Even for a three flight journey. You should not have to collect it and check it in again. Three times.
Maybe I'm a before-my-time visionary or maybe efficiency and customer service just aren't a priority in the airline business. Well, not enough to warrant the streamlining of services across carriers and across countries. Man on the moon, sure. Streamlined air services, nah. By the time I arrived at my destination, I was sure I would need surgery for my newly acquired hernias.
In the week prior to this trip I had changed time zones twice, this trip added another dimension.
For another week I would be totally confused as to what the real time was. It didn't help that the departures board at the Nadi International terminal gave me a time different to what the staff were saying. It didn't help when the domestic terminal had a departure board in the check in area, to say my flight had already left although the time (according to staff) was still an hour away.
It didn't help that flight 25 became flight 27 and then reverted back to flight 25 once you stepped into the departures lounge where another departures board told you flight 25 had already left.
It also didn't help that computers and phones around the world have been programmed to think daylight savings for Fiji starts on the last Sunday in October. Fiji didn't agree this year. They wanted to mix it up and decided to start daylight savings a week later. Ahhh, I see what is happening here - Fiji time.
I alighted from the international flight 3172 km later (plus add on what feels like another 50 kms for Sydney's long runway) in darkness.
An airport policeman took pity on me with my tonnes of excess luggage and my time zone confusion and quite possibly the way I rolled my eyes when he told me I had to walk (with my tonnes of excess luggage) to the domestic terminal which was 3 kilometres away, well …. maybe closer to 500 metres. But it was all outside. No air conditioning. Not clearly signposted and in parts of the journey an SUV would have come in handy to negotiate the walkways with all that luggage.
Thanks to him, I made it, I could get on the last flight to Suva that night (25, 27, whatever) and as there were only three other passengers, and two crew, I could take my tonnes of luggage also. Hallelujah.
This aeroplane was a model I'm sure Amelia Earhart was familiar with. It had 24 passenger seats built for either Lilliputians, pre-schoolers or people without lower limbs.
I'm not a tall person by any means but my knees were tightly squeezed into the wall in front of me. That would be the wall of the cockpit cabin wall which was about six inches from the co-pilot's back. Compact little machine.
The security (not) door between the passengers and pilots dropped off its rollers on a number of occasions during the flight. The pilot fixed this minor safety issue by putting his left hand behind his head on the wonky door and ramming it back into the wall cavity from where it came. One hand on the wheel, one doing running repairs.
I don't know what I am more in awe of:
  • a man multi-tasking (always astounding when you see that happen), or
  • what he was multi-tasking - a man who's name I don’t know# but who is at this point in time was responsible for the continuation of my life, driving a tin box at 2100 feet above the ground, juggling a laminated paper map on his lap and containing errant objects such as doors and sliding folders on the floor, or
  • that me and my tonnes of luggage arrived in one piece and roughly on time.
#He didn't multitask so far that he took on the role of steward as well. He kind of said, 'I'm your pilot, we will be there in 35 minutes, don't use any electrical equipment and buckle up.' I was on an economy flight after all.
Arrival on the other end was just as insincere with the pilot and co-pilot getting out of the plane once we had taxied to a standstill. They opened their doors, stepped out onto the tarmac and headed off towards the terminal. Leaving the 'seatbelt on' sign on.
I wondered what else they had neglected to shut down or turn off properly before their quick exit. Fuel maybe? Autopilot? The engine? I didn't hang around to find out. I disobeyed the sign, as did all the other passengers, unbuckled and got out as soon as I could.
The luggage carousel made me smile. There were four of us on the plane. One without luggage. But they took a trolley to the plane, unloaded the luggage and took it all of 75 metres away from the cargo hold to an outdoor luggage carousel. They could have just stood the luggage next to the carousel or just next to the plane to save those one hundred steps.

All five pieces of luggage on the carousel never even made a half cycle of the carousel. It was roughly the length of a car. Three pieces of the said luggage was mine.

As I had the lion's share of luggage I needed a trolley. My next job was to use my depleted muscle power to pry apart two rusted Siamese trolleys so I could get to the carpark and a waiting taxi.
one night's accommodation only! I later heard stories that bed bugs were an additional feature to this hotel last year.
I was checked into a motel by 9.45pm and ordering something for dinner by 9.50pm before the restaurant closed at 10pm. I munched on kokoda (pronounced kokonda) a raw fish in coconut milk dish while trying to follow the story of an Indian soap opera, in Hindi, on TV.
The BBC were reporting on Jokowi's ministerial selection, a prime minister in another country I had lived in not that long ago when he was still a governor. Here in Fiji, they had just finalised their first democratic election in decades. Good on them. Coups are so old hat.
Well, that news report was my segway for bed before I could draw too many parallels between developing countries that I had or would reside in.
Nadi – pronounced Nandi, it is on the west coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's main island.
** Suva – the capital of Fiji

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