Sunday, January 25, 2009

In Papua New Guinea

The first leg of our trip to Bougainville has been successful.  I am now sitting in lovely 90 degree heat in Port Moresby, PNG.  The trip has gone amazingly well - both of our flights left and arrived early.  All my luggage made it through.  Utterly revolutionary.  Are we sure the US is a civilized nation?  

The country is beautiful.  Rugged hills and mountains, winding rivers and the colors one expects in a tropical country.  We were met at the airport by a quartet singing to greet us.  Coming through customs was a breeze and the greeting by the people friendly and warm.  

We are spending the night at a mission house in Port Moresby and then off to Bougainville in the morning.  Right now, we are relaxing in the lounge talking with other missionaries who are in transit.  It was interesting reading a local newspaper and find how much our culture influences fairly remote places.  Other things strike you as different and let you know you are in a very different place.  One of the interesting bits was a plan for a funeral service, starting with the casket leaving the home, at what time it would arrive at the church, etc..  

The country is very clean and the people show great pride in their homes and city.  A huge contrast to a couple Carribean island nations I’ve been too.  It is incredibly warm here - about 90 right now, but there is a light breeze that carries with it the scent of the charcoal fires from the neighboring area.  

So far a delightful trip.  I probably won’t be able to update until we return to this mission home on the way home on Saturday, February 7.
video

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Felt Right At Home

I went out for a bike ride yesterday morning.  The hills are still amazing, but I'm getting the hang of them again.  I rode out to the shore and then back out.  A climb of 300+ feet in about a kilometer.  So I am beginning to feel a bit more at home.

What made me feel like I was home were a couple other incidents.  Twice I had trucks pass uncomfortably close.  In both cases, I looked up to see they were from Waste Management.  I felt like I was right back climbing the hill on Wood Rd!  They are a plague upon the earth.

The other event happened on a lovely quiet road that is exceptionally hilly.  I had just finished climbing a quite steep hill (lowest gear at about 7 mph) and was enjoying a short coast down the other side.  Ahead of me was another rather picturesque climb that was quite steep with several curves back and forth.  About halfway up the hill (1/4 mile away) I saw two exceedingly large creatures walk into the roadway.   I didn’t recognize what they were until I got much closer.  Rottweilers!  

As I approached one moved off the road as if to let me pass.  Instead, he was waiting in a rather
 un-obscure ambush.  The dog’s head had to be close to a foot across, he was enormous!  I pulled along side and he jumped out into the road barking in a very unfriendly way.  It is impossible, at my level of cycling, to outrun a Rottweiler uphill.  So, I talked to him.  “Have you had breakfast?”  He seemed entertained enough by this to not take a chunk out of my leg, so I continued to talk, he continued to bark and we, together, made our way up the hill.  The other dog must have been an apprentice Rottweiler, because it just watched and took notes, thankfully, because I really can only engage one oversized canine at a time.  I heard a brief whistle and both animals turned for home as I sprinted away - at 6 mph.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

38:29:44

As we left our home in DeWitt on Monday morning around 10:00 a.m. to fly to New Zealand  I punched the start button on my stopwatch just for giggles - by the end of the trip, I wasn't giggling anymore.  The trip promised to be a long one - about 26 hours, it ended up being much longer.  This is our story (roll "Dragnet" theme music).

Monday, 10:00 a.m.  DeWitt, Michigan.  There had been a bit of snow overnight, but not much and the roads were in good condition which gave us hope.  The trip to Grand Rapids was uneventful, we checked in without waiting in line and only had to remove one item from one suitcase to make weight limits.  All our bags weighed in within 1 1/2 pounds of the 50# limit.  

We drove across town to pick up Jill and Cole.  Kent and Jill are car sitting while we are away.  We had a delightful lunch with them and they dropped us off at the airport in perfect time.  We waited with the only worry being the short (40 minute) lay over in Chicago.  Then the delay notice came up - 15 minutes.    We boarded and found out basically the battery was dead in our plane and we needed a jump.  They finally got the engines started and off we went.

Arriving in Chicago, to the credit of American Airlines, only a few minutes late, we dashed down one concourse, over two and back up.  As we were between concourses, we heard the last call for our flight.  As we arrived at the gate, both breathless, we saw them pulling the jetway away from the plane.  The ticket agent, seeing we were international went to work to get us on the plane - what a thrill to be that guy - the one everyone looks at thinking, "So you are who we've been waiting for!"  And where are our seats?  Last row!  

We backed away from the gate and got de-iced.  Then pulled back up to the gate, because the flaps were no longer working properly.  We waited about an hour and had the pilot tell us several different versions of what was going on and how they were going to get us on another plane if this one couldn't take off - none of which turned out to be right.   We deplaned and headed out to the gate where they told us to wait only to find out that was the wrong gate.  We went to the right gate and found out there wasn't a plane waiting there, just one harried AA ticket agent.  Someone suggested calling AA and so I did.  To my amazement, I got connected right away and before I could get to the front of the line, they had us booked on a United flight to L.A. and then - big change - a Quantas flight to Sydney and then to Auckland that would get us to Auckland around 5:00 p.m. Wednesday instead of our original 6:00 a.m., but it was still better than an overnight in either Chicago or LA and then arriving on Thursday.

To get to the United ticketing agents we had to go from Terminal 3 to 1 - a walk of nearly a mile.  We got in line behind a family from Germany with an adorable little girl who kept us engaged and helped pass time.  We finally got our tickets and headed for our second security check of the day.  We had plenty of time - until....

Because of the number of cancellations and quick bookings, the number of "random" extra security checks went way up.  I was one of the lucky ones.  I asked the right question: "Do I need to do anything more with my carry on than take out my laptop?" and got the wrong answer, "no".  It took 1/2 an hour for the line to move through and when I did get in place, they took my backpack through three times and delayed us even more.  By this time our time cushion had evaporated and I sent Marcia ahead to the gate with the intention of catching up.  I finally made it and the jetway gate closed behind us as we got onboard.  For the second time that day in Chicago I got to be "that guy".  

It was 7 pm and the snow was falling heavily.  The wings were covered in snow (my fault probably) and so we had to de-ice once again.  Half an hour later we pulled away on a snow covered taxiway.  The runway wasn't much better and after we got away I was thankful that we didn't have to land there.  10 hours after leaving home, we had only covered about 200 miles of our 18,000 mile trip.

We arrived in LA @ 9:45 p.m. local time (12:45 on our body-clock) and had to find our way to the Quantas ticket desk.  This involved a shuttle bus ride, getting off at the wrong spot and walking nearly a mile again.  The agents were relatively helpful and did finally manage to get us seats together.  We were, however, chastised for not having arrived sooner if we had wanted se
ats together:  An indication of Aussie hospitality that was going to become far too familiar in the next several hours.  

We actually had time to wait before boarding in LA.  As I was getting on the plane they stopped me and told me I had to check my carry on because it was too large - never mind that it was smaller than Marcia's.  Regardless, I had to check it through.  I assumed it would be placed in the front of the plane and I would reclaim it as I got off in Sydney - they didn't ask me for my final destination.  Arriving in Sydney I was told I had to go to the transfer desk and get it sent to the right plane.  

I stood in line for 45 minutes waiting to talk to the transfer agent.  When I finally got to the desk the agent told me "You will have to put in a lost baggage claim for it when you get to Auckland.  It's too hard for us to try to find it."   There was a woman of Indian descent right behind us and she was told the same thing.  She had had a similar experience to ours with rerouting of her flights and had been trying to get to her destination about the same duration.  

We arrived in Auckland finally and found a very welcoming environment.  The immigration stop was well manned and therefore had short lines.  The agent who took care of us was friendly and efficient.  While waited for our baggage on to come off the belt we had a very nice lady talking to us.  Later when it turned out that NONE of our luggage arrived, she directed us to the next very helpful person who put in the report.  Our large luggage is to arrive today (Thursday) and my carry on....not too sure.

So, I'm setting here finishing this long entry after a good night's rest, but without a change of clothes since Monday morning.  (Be thankful that technology hasn't advanced to the point of sharing odors!)  The total time upon arrival at Brett & Kristen's new home:  38 hours, 29 minutes, 44 seconds.  

But this makes it all worth it!