Tuesday, August 27, 2013

An Airport Travelogue

An airport is both nowhere and everywhere, an in-between place where people from all corners of the globe are gathered together like a folded quilt, squashed shoulder-to-shoulder on hard-backed seats to wait, amid goodbyes and hellos and plastic-wrapped deli food. I find them fascinating places, and recently, when I travelled back to the US from Papua New Guinea, I spent plenty of time in eight of them!

Several of our Kodiaks in Ukarumpa waiting for the weather to clear

First, there was Ukarumpa. I’m pretty sure the sun decided to pull the covers over his head that morning, because our 7 am departure was delayed by several hours as we waited for the fog to reveal the mountain tops and the drizzle to dissipate. I chatted with my friends in two languages and wondered what was ahead.

Hanging out at our airstrip :)

Then, I sat in the Port Moresby International Airport which is strange mix of Papua New Guinea and the Western world, with a relaxed, slow, handwritten atmosphere, mixed languages, and the largest number of expatriates that I have ever seen all gathered at the single gate.
Port Moresby even had a mini restaurant at the gate!

This was the airport where I received my first introduction to “How to Start a Conversation with a Western Stranger 101.” Apparently, the very Papua New Guinean method, which includes a starting glance at the person and then staring out the window during the bulk of the talking, with only one or two glances back at the recipient (without strong eye contact, of course), results in the other person thinking I’m talking on the phone (which, of course, confused me to no end, because how could he think I was talking on the phone when I obviously wasn’t holding one? Later, I discovered the invention of the earpiece.)

This was also the airport where a fellow passenger thought I must be a nun (due to my work) and my seatmate was eager to share with this disconnected (and trapped...) missionary all the intricacies of American politics in the last two years. Oh boy.

Brisbane was an interesting airport simply because I not only got to spend lots of time in customs (and started listening to my voice automatically change into my Aussie accent until no one knew where I was from), but it was also where I ate lunch...a bacon sandwich. Mmm.

Actually, this picture looks a whole lot less appetizing than it did at the time. Well, hunger does wonders, I guess.

I had a 24-hour layover in Sydney (I’ll blog more about that later), which made for more fun adventures including whale-watching and forgetting how to use a crosswalk, but I think my greatest surprise in the airport was watching the fashions of the world parade past me. Let’s just say that PNG’s skirt and loose-fitting meri blouse (so loose that I could be 9-months pregnant and it would still fit) are a wee bit different from what my Western peers might wear.

He looks as lost as I was at one point...

My flight from Sydney to Honolulu was 10 hours—the longest leg for this trip, and I was more than enthused to depart that plane (though the flight crew did feed me yogurt and chicken and an apple and all sorts of delicacies, to the amusement of my seatmate). Honolulu was a pretty airport and perfect for the linguist once I discovered that every loudspeaker announcement was given in both English and Hawaiian.

Pretty Honolulu in the distance!

San Diego was the only time when I had to move from one gate to another, and thus I didn’t have to collect my luggage and wait in long lines (which also meant that I didn’t get to see much of the airport). It is a lovely city at night, though.

All right, so it's not that attractive. But, flying over the city at night was pretty!

In Orlando, travel between the main terminal to the gates requires boarding a train. It was so cool. I really liked that train. Orlando was also the first city where I felt decently warm—even Hawaii felt more like PNG dry season in the Highlands (our version of winter).

Looky! I'm going back to Minnesota!!

The Minneapolis-St. Paul airport is like a small city. If you didn’t see all these harried looking businessmen hauling their little wheel-y bags and touching their bluetooth ear devices like secret agents and children trotting behind parents with their Disney Princess backpacks, you would think you were in a mall. A mall with moving sidewalks, that is. Which, is also pretty awesome because it makes you feel like you’ve got some kind of superpower or seven-league boots that allows you to take a single step and bound past all those lowly, sluggish Earth People.

Back to Minnesota! YAY!

But the best thing about this airport was three waving, smiling people waiting at the bottom of the escalator before the baggage claim. ;)

Two weeks of traveling over 11,600 miles through 3 countries and, 8 airports. Welcome back, Catherine!