When we fly across the Middle East dawn approaches. From my window seat, the black night in Abu Dhabi melts to navy to a light greenish blue to a bright pink morning sky, the sun aflame and powerful. I can see how sandy it is on the ground, the beige desert earth with gridded roads cut into it. A contrast to the lush, saturated green fields over Knock Airport, the winding boreens and stone walls.
Cranes are scattered on the horizon too, another stark contrast with Ireland.
I overhear the passenger behind me mention it’s his first ever flight. ‘I’m going to Melbourne to try and find some work.’
I get a pang of emotion. Not so much for him, I’ve been to Melbourne, it’s an exciting cosmopolitan city and a young singleton will more than likely have a great time there. But I feel sad for what he represents, for who and what he’s leaving behind.
In Abu Dhabi, we have a three hour stopover. I walk aimlessly around the airport and try to stretch out my legs, try and reduce the swelling that’s filling up my ankles. Abu Dhabi airport is interesting. Arabic culture is present but so are Western influences. There are women in burqas and women in short shorts. Signs are multi-lingual and different ethnicities sit side by side in the halls. It’s a hub for world travel.
Despite the cool white tiles and air-con, it’s warm inside, almost steamy. I wait at the gate a little mixed-up about what time it is and when I’m supposed to sleep to beat the jet lag in New Zealand.
The woman beside me is agitated halfway into the flight to Singapore. She pokes at the touchscreen then turns it off. She roots in her handbag then puts it under the seat. She rolls the fleecy blanket over her, then unrolls it and tucks it away. She looks in her handbag again. Then she smiles at me and gets up off her seat. I move into the aisle to free her. It’s draining on a long haul flight.
Since Dublin, I’ve watched 4 episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a documentary on Bruce Lee and 5 feature length films (the best of these being Despicable Me 2 and the indie romance Before Sunset). I’ve listened to Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz album and a guided meditation. I’ve read a self-help book, the latest issue of the Stinging Fly and some stories from The Turning by Tim Winton. I’ve eaten loads of plane food and gulped down green tea and water and had fragmented snoozes.
If my seat-mate is agitated from boredom, I empathize.
An announcement asks, ‘If there is a doctor or nurse on-board, please can you make yourself known to the cabin crew.’
The woman never returns to her seat. I wonder.
As we draw closer to Singapore, another announcement. This time a nonchalant voice informs us ‘that carrying illicit substances such as drugs into Singapore is a serious offense and comes with a mandatory death penalty.’
I have a look around to see if anyone’s sweating or panicky.
Landing in Brisbane, we’re stalled disembarking the plane. It’s 11.30am local time. I make small talk with the Australian girl in the row beside me and the air hostess. I’ve to get through internal security and to the gate for the connecting flight. An official looking person (they have a clipboard) calls the passengers for our flight. We cut through the queues and are told to rush upstairs. When I find the gate, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do and hear another announcement – final call for international passengers to Auckland. I go to the transfer’s desk, show my passport and ticket and the attendant declares that I’ve missed my flight.
‘No, I haven’t,’ I say and try to be as polite as I can. I’m worried though. I’ve just travelled across the planet and the final stage is at risk. I just want to get there now. Get it over and done with.
‘Yes, you have,’ she says, nods in agreement at her own statement.
‘But I can see the gate there,’ I point to the gate. ‘They haven’t even boarded yet.’
‘Sorry. You’re too late,’ she says.
I feel my chest tighten. ‘I’ve been travelling since Monday morning. I’m on my own,’ I add, hoping they might allow one more. I can see though that a 20-something European skater-boy and a multigenerational Asian family are also in the same confused situation as me.
‘Sorry,’ she says and smiles sympathetically. ‘You’ve been re-booked onto a Qantas flight this afternoon with the others.’
6 hours to wait. Then another 3 hours over the Tasman Sea to New Zealand.
Brisbane is baking outside the glass windows under the Aussie sun. I can’t leave the terminal to pinken my skin. I try to freshen up in the bathroom but there’s no substitute for a good night’s sleep. I look undead and feel the same.
21,000 km and 46 hours after leaving Mayo. Baggy-eyed, thirsty, grimy, disorientated but here in Auckland. Finally. I take the airport bus to the CBD (Central Business District) and the chirpy driver gives me directions to my hostel. I check-in. It’s 1.30am. I use my phone to navigate across the dorm to my new bed, a bottom bunk in the corner. Seven random travellers are asleep in the beds around me. I try not to rustle too much getting my wash bag and night clothes from my rucksack. Nobody likes a rustler.
I pass out.
A bright summer morning comes. All thoughts of the flights, the stopovers and the delay are vaporised. There’s a new city outside my window and it beckons me to explore it.