Somewhere over the Pacific


Well, I am truly and well on my way home now.  To kill some time, I’ll start a Ramblings.


Tuesday morning I had one of my Woolworths chicken and vegetable pies and an orange, and I got myself packed up for airplane travel.  That meant packing my scope and wearing my traveling clothes, and getting everything back into four bags.


I hit the road about 10 I think, after doing some internet stuff – I had to check the American stock market, as it has been a pretty exciting couple of weeks.  The drive down to Cairns was fairly slow.  The Gillies Highway is winding and slow for about a half hour of driving, but I was ready for it, as I had gone that way back in 2002, on my first trip.  I had made myself a peanut butter and cheese sandwich before leaving, and I ate that along the way.


It was raining off an on all the way.  I maybe didn’t mention it, but it had rained all night, as far as I could tell, and it had showered for the last couple of days.  Anyway, I filled the rental car with petrol and turned it into the airport Budget people at about noon.  My flight to Brisbane didn’t leave until 5 PM, but with all my stuff packed and wearing my traveling clothes, and with the rain to boot, I didn’t really have anything else to do, so I turned in the car, in the hopes that I could get an earlier flight.


Well, that didn’t work out, so I tried my next plan, and that was to try to get into the Qantas Club lounge.  Technically, I was not eligible on that day.  Because I was traveling business class, I was entitled the next day, but I had talked my way in before, so I tried it again.  This time I ran into a woman who believed in the rules, and so I ended up having to wait my 5 hours in the general passenger area with the hoi polloi.  It turned out to be not too bad, actually.  The Qantas lounge looked pretty crowded anyway.


One of the reasons I had wanted to be in the Qantas Club lounge is that they have a free wireless network, and I thought I would kill some of the time online.  As it turned out, the Qantas wireless network reached out to the general passenger area, at least at one end of it.  So, after entertaining myself watching the people waiting for flights, I fired up the computer and found that I could get online for free.  There was also a café there in the airport that had a wireless network, and they were selling time online at $5 per half hour.  Free seemed better than that, so I used the Qantas network.  I wonder how many customers pay to use the café’s network when the Quantas network “leaks” out to the general public like that.


The whole internet thing was very interesting on this trip.  As previously chronicled, it turned out that the motels and other accommodation that advertised wireless internet access almost always were offering a chance to pay an exorbitant price to get online, not free access, like American places of accommodation.  A different business model.  I wonder if Australia will change, or if it will just stay like this – you pay through the nose to connect to the internet.  It is particularly interesting because the Aussie government has done all kinds of things to make internet access easier and cheaper by offering subsidies and other incentives, but in the case of motels and such, it doesn’t seem to apply.  An interesting cultural difference between Australia and America, it seems to me.


So, eventually I got out of Cairns and had an easy 2 plus hour flight to Brisbane.  I was flying coach for this segment, because I had to buy a ticket, rather than include it with my Frequent Flyer itinerary.  Fortunately, I had an aisle seat and no one sitting next to me, so that was just fine.  As big as I am, having someone next to me in a coach seat is not comfortable for either one of us.


While sitting in Cairns, I reviewed my motel information in Brisbane, and I realized that the front desk (reception) closed at either 7:30 or 8, and I was going to probably be too late.  They asked you to phone if you were going to  be late, so I put two bucks in a pay phone and called the motel in Brisbane, not knowing if I had enough money to talk to them or not.  As it turned out, the 2 bucks covered it, and the clerk at the motel gave me a code to punch into a key safe outside reception, to get my key.


So, when I got to Brissie, I got my bags and joined the long line for a taxi.  It moved pretty quickly, though, and 26 bucks later, I got to my motel.  By then I was sweating like a pig, in the humidity.  Even though Brisbane is a thousand miles or more south of Cairns, it was still too hot for me, and way too humid.  At the motel, it turned out that the clerk, who seemed to live there, was waiting for me, even though it was after 8.   The reason for that was that I had booked on the internet, way back in March, and their records were inadequate to show the transaction.  The clerk needed to call her manager, but we eventually got everything straightened out, while the sweat was pouring off me.


My room was on the second floor, and there was dumb waiter to lift the baggage, and the clerk helped me deal with that, and eventually I got into my last humble home from home.  The a/c had been off (of course), and it took many hours to make it comfortable for me, long after I had gone to bed.  I took a cold shower, to cool down and sat around in my underwear and watched TV until it was time to settle down.


I slept more poorly than any other time on the trip, maybe because I was leaving the next morning, or maybe because the bed was hard and the temperature took a long time to stabilize.  Anyway, I got up about 6:45, which was fine.  I had ordered a taxi for 8:30, and so I didn’t have a lot of extra time.  I need some protein in the morning, or my blood sugar gets low and I feel crummy (hence all those ham and cheese sandwiches for my brekkie on the trip), and I had arrived too late to order brekkie through the motel.  So I went out looking in the morning, and I found a Subway sandwich place about a half block away and across the street, so I had a ham and cheese sandwich (what else?), with double ham and double cheese, and that was just what I needed.


I was ready for my 8:30 taxi, and it had good a/c, which was good.  My trip out for my sandwich had started the sweat flowing.  Even at that time in the morning, it was 78 degrees and very humid.  I had cooled down in the room before I left, though, and I was okay when I arrived at the airport.  Getting through all the airport procedures (check in, security, immigration, customs, etc) got the sweat going again, though.  Today I was entitled to use the Qantas lounge, though, and it was only 69 degrees in there, and not humid.  I cooled down and used their network to do a little internet stuff, although the network was flakey and kept dropping me off.  I finally gave up and just waited for my flight at 11.


Once on the plane, in my business class seat, I was pretty comfortable.  We had some kind of technical problem, which I couldn’t really understand because of the Aussie accent of the pilot, but we got away about 20 minutes late.  A 12 hour and 20 minute flight, or close to that, to Los Angeles, where I am to catch a flight to Seattle on Alaska Airlines.


Well, business class is certainly the way to go, if you can do it.  I generally don’t drink at all on long flights, as it tends to dehydrate you and you end up regretting it, or at least, I do.  But today I decided to give it a try.  So, at noon, I found myself sipping a single malt scotch and listening to Slim Dusty, munching on delicious cashews and almonds.  Very nice indeed.


(Sidebar)  If you are new to these Ramblings and not Australian, you might not know Slim Dusty.  If you are American, think of Johnny Cash, and then think that Slim Dusty was a far bigger star in Australia than Johnny Cash was in the USA.  He was a country music singer who performed from the forties until his death three or four years ago.  My original interest in Australia came from my discovery of Slim Dusty’s music, and if it weren’t for his music, my four Aussie trips would never have happened.  I have all 100 plus of his albums, in mp3 format – over 800 songs, there is a lot of duplication on his albums.  Needless to say, I like his music.


The scotch and nuts were followed by a very nice lunch.  For a starter, we had a nice green salad, a prawn salad (three very large, and very nice prawns, with spinach and white beans), and a choice of white or whole-wheat roll.  I chose a beef fillet for my main course, and it was delicious, with a nice sauce, green beans and scalloped potatoes to go with it.  Very nice indeed.  A nice Aussie chardonnay accompanied it, with Slim Dusty still serenading me, of course.  Dessert was strawberry and pistachio ice cream with strawberries on it.  After a couple of refills of the wine, I had a cognac with a couple of chocolates.


So, that brings you up to date, and now I have to take a leak.  There are several movies I want to watch, including the recent Indiana Jones one, so I will sign off for now.


Barry, somewhere between Downunder and home




Home again, home again


Well, the above was written while in the air, and I didn’t take out the computer to add any more during the trip.  I did watch the Indiana Jones movie – perfect for an airplane.  It was all action, didn’t make a lot of sense, but it passed the time and entertained me for two hours.  Perfeck!  I also watched a documentary about the making of the upcoming release called “Australia”, which is an epic style film about the northwest of Australia around World War II.  The documentary was interesting, and I look forward to the movie, which is supposed to be released this fall.


The time passed.  I had it wrong in the last Ramblings about the flight.  It wasn’t an endless daytime flight.  Instead, it got dark early and we had a short night, as we were flying with the Earth’s rotation, “toward” the sun.  Breakfast was served as we approached LA, and it was also excellent.  It is evidently possible to serve very good meals inflight, if you are willing to spend enough money on it.  All in all, it was a pleasant enough flight, just very long.  I drank a lot of water, after my alcohol consumption, and I didn’t seem to have any adverse affects from the alcohol.


In LA we went through customs and I walked over to the Alaska Airlines terminal to catch my flight home to Seattle.  It also went smoothly, although I “hit the wall” during the flight and was suddenly just too tired to even think straight.  Christina picked me up and when we got home, I fell into bed to take a nap.  I wasn’t able to sleep without my CPAP machine, so I got up and set it up, and then crashed for four hours.  I don’t know when I’ll sleep tonight or for how long, but at least I am home, so it doesn’t matter.  I have tons of things to catch up with, including reading six weeks of the comics in the newspapers, which Christina saved for me.


So, that is the story of my 2008 Aussie trip.  288 species of birds seen, including 71 that were life list birds, and 72 that were new for my Australian list.  It is my intention to put up a link to a spreadsheet that covers all Aussie bird species and my four trips, showing which species I have seen on which trip.  I know that very few of my faithful readers will be interested in that, but one or two might like to look at it.  If I am able to do that, in the next couple of days another link will show up right after the one that got you here.


Thanks again to all who emailed me while I was on the trip – it really did help me a lot to hear from people, and it made me feel like I wasn’t so alone.


Barry, now home again, home again