The 25 hour journey to Bali …

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Frustration at my door this morning waiting in line to check in with Nature Air for my flight back to Costa Rica.  A new kind of patience is required in Costa Rica and Panama because time means nothing. I had a few occasions when I would say okay what time, people would look at me like I had suddenly grown a second head.  A challenge for a person like me who is “on time” to a fault. Perhaps another challenge to be overcome on this journey of mine, letting go of time.

(I know what some of you great minds are thinking … its seems ridiculous that she just spent a day travelling from Costa Rica back to Panama to take a flight back to Costa Rica.  In theory it sounds ludicrous, I know, but in order to get back to San Jose it would have been an 8 hour bus ride from Cahuita, the flight was already booked and paid for and it was 45 minutes in the sky.  It made sense, trust me, to make my way back to Panama and fly for 45 minutes, I weighed out all the pros and cons.

I arrive at the airport after rolling, yes I said rolling, my luggage down the streets to the airport arriving on time which means at least an hour before my scheduled flight and just to make sure a half hour before that.  I find my counter, I had walked right past it originally because it wasn’t the typical counter that airlines use to check in passengers it was inside a small, hot, un-air conditioned room with a woman sitting at a desk at the very back of the room.  Asking someone in the mounting line up if this was the check in for Nature Air, indeed it was, I got in line and waited and waited and waited.  Four people ahead of me it shouldn’t be long, one would think, but there is always that person wants to use a credit to pay for their baggage fees even after the clerk told him no that it was not possible, not backing down he persisted asking her again, explaining it again, she declined, he persisted, she finally made a call to the higher ups which turned out to be a long call and yielded the original answer, NO YOU CANNOT USE YOUR CREDIT!

Feeling panicky as my flight departs in 45 minutes, I start to notice some conditioned behaviour rising up inside of me, my body reacts first, it remembers the cycle and I start to feel anxious, my solar plexus are firing up, my mind is thinking some not so nice things to and about the man stalling in front of me, everything inside me wants to assist in some way to push this process along, provide some support to this young clerk who cannot seem to assert herself with this challenging human being.  A button has been pushed and the old patterns of behaviour have come flooding back as though they had never left in the first place.   I witness the familiar  perfectionism & controlling behaviours right away and momentarily get caught up in the loop … being on time (extra early), having everything in order (why can’t other people have their stuff ready), anger and frustration at the human causing this diversion (why can’t other people be respectful to those in line behind them), a deep desire to step in and assist the young woman behind the counter (why can’t this woman assert herself as the line up continues to grow).  Noticing the familiar feelings and patterns showing up I reach into my toolbox and start breathing intentionally, focusing on the breath going in and going out of my body, intentional noticing and following the breath all the way in through my nostrils, holding, and gently releasing it out through my nostrils.  I immediately notice a calming, a slowing down of both my mind and my heart, I start to relax and settle.  Next, I start to stretch, I give my mind something else to focus on closing my eyes and going inward, temporarily shutting out the world around me.  I ground.

Finally … he hands over his credit card and slowly, sloth like, stands and gathers up his stuff strewn around the room.  One more person ahead of me, he was been waiting longer than I and both of us witnessing the transactions of three people in front of us you would think he would have all of this paperwork in order and ready (or is that just a perfectionist thing).  But no, this guy has no return transport out of Costa Rica, you must have a exit plan to enter a country, always, so the agent cannot check him in without a confirmed way out of Costa Rica, he starts savagely trying to book a another flight, his fat, sausage like fingers pounding down on the tiny keyboard in his hand, gasping out in frustration, no fucking internet, he sighs in deep frustration.   I start breathing again.

Leaving him to his little circle of fury she calls me to the desk, he still sitting in the chair meant for the next person in line with his things littered all around the counter; I get the royal treatment from the side of her desk.  As usual, I have all of my stuff ready and in hand passport, flight information , case on the scale, pay $30 and I am on my way. I overheard the clerk tell someone earlier that there was a $15 departure tax to be paid to the government on your way to customs.  I ask again, my anxiety mounting  knowing I have $8 in my pocket.   I stopped at the bank machine earlier to find the bank machine was literally out of money.   The guy searching for flights says “it’s been out since Saturday”.  What bank machine runs out of money?  Only in Costa Rica and Panama I swear.  I ask her if she can give me some money? No Can she run it through on my visa? No she has nothing to do with the government.  I start spinning … a gorgeous young man behind me steps up and opens his wallet, he asks me how much I need and hands me that $7 I am short.  God shot!  Thank you for your kindness young soul.  Pay it forward as the story goes.  It comes back every single time.  I am grateful.

Pay the tax,  through immigration and customs again and now waiting for the plane to show up, a tiny Cessna with the capacity of 15 passengers.  No plane in sight, flight 12:00pm its is now 12:26pm.

Side Bar – The AM/PM quandary   ….  not too long ago I found myself in this exact place.   I landed in Denver, Colorado on January the 7th midday, firmly planted in my mind that my next flight was January 8th, my birthday at 12pm.   The following day a text message arrived from Linda who I was meeting in Costa Rica saying she would see me at 3pm that day, my heart started hammering, sweat stared tingling my pours, realizing in that moment I had messed up am/pm and missed the flight.  I immediately consulted google am/pm, my mind boggled and confused not believing I made such a mistake.  Check, check, double check, I actually missed my flight.  I would be arriving two days later at the horror of my friend who was travelling on her own for the very first time.  I booked another flight, a $300 dollar mistake!  There would be many!

The plane arrive, we boarded, and a quick 45 minute flight landed back in San Juan, Cost Rica.  A few hours lay to over to squander some time, replenish my chocolate supply, get a new book, then wait.  Travelling is simply waiting, a gift really, a space of time to just be, to sit back and watch, close your eyes and rest, read a good book, or as it seems most people do, with your face planted in your phone lost in la la land, unaware.  Finally back on yet another plane, thankfully a much bigger one, destination Los Angeles, 6 more uneventful hours in the sky, landed, customs, immigration and a desperate snake through the massive airport to find my next gate, to fly to Hong Kong.

Customs and immigration now thats a treat, at the end of this journey today I will have had the pleasure of cross through Customs and Immigration 6 times.  If you’ve travelled you know that this simply means line ups lots and lots of line ups, prime people watching, patience, breathing, finding some way to entertain your brain while you wait, again most people with their eyes glued to their tiny hand held devices  Overall most of the agents were pleasant.   There was an agent in LA taking full advantage of his massive audience, a large black man with a booming voice stood up on his soapbox bellowing out to the weary traveller sending reminders for all the  do’s and don’t at airport security.  He had a good sense of humour making people laugh and smile.  Once you are finally at the front of the line, you grab the notorious grey boxes for loading your stuff inside, removing the “million dollar” cherished laptop out of its cushy case and putting her down to lay naked inside a grey, cold, used bin all by herself, shoes off, everything out of your pockets and finally walk through the electronic security device, a holding of the breath and the hope for silence, a silent prayer that you are not the chosen one for a random check, today was a good day.   Another successful pass into yet another country!    

Side Bar- Out of all the Countries USA is by far the most aggressive and in your face as far a security goes, perhaps they are taught in training, this is serious business do not ever crack a smily, be fierce, look fierce, make them think they did something wrong.    Early on in my travels I encountered such an agent.  I had successfully walked through the security screen device with a beep, my stuff sailed through the electronic scanning machine and I was happily on my way, or so I thought.  A line of security agents lined the wall in front of me, all talking, laughing and giggling to one another.  All of a sudden a large, woman is approaching me, she doesn’t stop at the usual personal space line, she walks right through it until she is inches from my face.  She says ma’am you have been chosen for a search and we are going to look through your stuff, she turns to grab my bins and knocks into my shoulder as she starts aggressively piling one onto the other.  I felt encroached, impinged, and violated.  As she was piling my bins one on top of the other without care of concern for the contents inside, she looks up to see her co-workers giggling and laughing at her, she stops in her tracks and looks up at them, they say in unison, “not her, him” pointing to the guy beside me.  She literally drops the bins where she stands and runs to her coworkers burying her head between them as they all have a good laugh.   Me standing there with my mouth gapping open, processing this situation, shocked at the unprofessionalism and the aggression.  I pull myself together collect my stuff and carry on my way. 

Now aboard the biggest plane I have ever seen, pods many wonderful pods, up front the sleeping pods, followed by the desk looking sit up pods, there was actually a moment I thought this pane is all pods, I actually might get to sit in a pod, my bubble quickly burst as we continue moving to the back of the pane my hopes crushed as the next section revealed and what I had come to expect, to the cheap the seats, row 41d!  I survived the 15 hour flight with movies, a blanket, a sleeping pill, meditation and a woman beside me who liked to chat sharing our stories, our pictures, and bragging about our kids.

It went something like this … upon boarding flight attendants seemingly everywhere in their little red uniforms, men and woman alike buzzing around getting everyone settled.  This flight was scheduled to take off at 00:05am (another one of those AM/PM flights) with everyone tired and exhausted from a full day of travel and it being midnight everyone settled in quite quickly, lights out, bed time. But no wait dinner was being served at 1am, perhaps to help our bodies adjust to the massive time change losing an entire day, unfortunately for me I was drifting off to sleep before the meals were served.  Delightfully sleeping for nearly half the flight but awoke to a raging hunger.  At home it would have been 7am but Hong Kong time it was 1am, certainly not breakfast time.  I went in search of a few things, food, water, another blanket (I was freezing), and a bandaid, somehow I inflicted an injury to myself while sleeping slicing open a small gash on my left middle finger.  I tracked someone down in the first class kitchen area, all the attendants who were buzzing around at the beginning of the flight seemed to have disappeared.  I asked, please sir may I have some food?  I was offered a cup of instant noodles – hard pass NO- perhaps a cup of tea, a blanket or a bandaid maybe? I did not feel confident in my pursuit or the delivery of such items.  The tea make it out, nothing else.   I waited until I could stand it no longer and asked again for a blanket, this time it arrived in the form of a thin comforter, this was no blanket for the lower class, the commoner.  The blanket that we, the commoners were given is a thin sort of flannel type blanket with no heating capacity whatsoever.  I was delighted with my new blanket but it got me to thinking that at each level of class in this structure; everything counted from service, to blankets, to drinks and warm face cloths on arrival to a tiny foil packaged wet nap that came along with the wait of the dreaded drink cart.

The airlines have the corner on CLASS from Boardwalk to Baltic Avenue.  If you have never had the experience of discrimination, take a flight, a long flight see how it feels to walk through first class, business class and then the commoners area.  It is not just the walking through the classes, it is the first taste of it but it goes much deeper then seats.   First we have first class with big comfortable seats, two per isle, a warm cloth and a glass of champagne upon arrival, dotting staff smiling inauthentically at your beck and call throughout the entire flight, then through to business class, a step above the commoners but a step below first class, an curtain separating each class.  Business class with medium sized seats, not as narrow and uncomfortable as the commoner cheap seat nor as big and plush as the first class seat, somewhere right in the middle.  A step down in service although still greeted with a cool glass of something and a warm towel to wipe the stress away from your busy travels complete with staff available to check in on the frequent flyers frequently. Separated by yet another curtain is another section at the rear of the plane, rows upon rows of narrow, tightly aligned uncomfortable seating for those of us who might be considered commoners or otherwise known as the cheap seats.  

For myself and perhaps some or all of my readers, I am a commoner, always have been and probably always will be but each time I walk past first class and business class I feel a little less than. 

I wonder what it would be like to sit up front in those big cushy chairs and have a stewardess/steward treat me with kindness and respect instead of seeing the look of distain creep across their face when you ask for something that isn’t covered in their once or twice sweep through the commoner cabin.   

Many hours of travel, many hours inside airports, airplanes, passing through customs and immigration, sleepless days and nights, seeing the worse sides of people, interrogated, running from one gate to another, waiting, waiting and more waiting.   Arriving in a new location erases all the “travel stress” and replaces it with a wonder, a curiosity, an excitement of what will show up next on this magnificent journey I am on.

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