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Trans-Pacifica Part V: Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sydney international terminal

The International Terminal in Sydney Airport.

The final leg of our journey to Indonesia began in Sydney, Australia. The Garuda flight wasn’t in any hurry to board, probably because the plane got in a bit late. I walked over to the gate and asked if it was time to get our official boarding passes and they told me yes, but it took some time as the attendant wanted to know a complete, detailed description of my baggage, despite the customer service person in San Francisco going through the same details. As it turned out, I’m glad she did. Once the boarding began, they didn’t call out groups as in most boarding procedures except that they boarded business class first, then everyone else in a kind of mob. But we got onto the plane eventually, taxied out, and took off.

Sydney departure board-relax

The departure board at Sydney International Airport. I like their advice for waiting: Relax! It’s also interesting to see departures to places like Ho Chi Minh City that you can’t get to from the United States.

This is wintertime in Sydney, but its latitude gives it a climate something like Southern California. The bays and inlets of Sydney Harbor shone invitingly from the air. I could see the downtown area, but never spied the famous opera house. No little clown fish or blue tang in the water, either. But it looks beautiful. I must return sometime. I don’t think staying in the airport without feet actually on the ground counts as having visited a place.

Currencies

International currencies in a donation box at Sydney airport.

We flew south, then turned west and flew over the center of Australia. There wasn’t much to see, and I spent most of the time talking with my seatmate. His name was Paul and he was originally from Germany, working in Australia among other places, and on his way home to visit his wife and children in Jakarta. He had served for many years in the German Army as part of UN Peacekeeping forces around the world. He had five brothers, and all had been in the German military. Two brothers had died in the line of duty, one while rescuing hostages in Mogadishu, Somalia (I tried to find more information on this, but haven’t been successful). Paul had lost his left eye and been wounded in the left arm and leg when a land mine exploded, which he was tried to disarm in the former Yugoslavia. After this accident, he was put on Embassy duty, eventually winding up in Indonesia. Lost in the streets of Jakarta, a kind man took him home and fed him. He met the man’s daughter, became friends with the family, and married the daughter. Now semi-retired, he runs a security firm on the side.

Coast near Sydney

The coastline of Australia near Sydney Harbor as seen from our flight to Indonesia.

We crossed over Alice Springs – not much to see below, just flat desert with some meandering watercourses. At the northwest coast there were many ridges and islands, evidence of submerged valleys from the rise of oceans after the last ice age. Our flight attendants were very attentive (I guess that’s what their job title implies) and kept us well fed and watered. I learned a few Indonesian words, such as kamar kecil (restroom) and keluar (exit) from reading the signs on the airplane. After Australia a large stretch of ocean appeared with occasional rings of atolls below. I tried to sleep without much success. Finally, after six hours of flying, we saw the coast of a large island made visible by the stacks of clouds above it, clustered around a central volcanic peak. I took a few photos out the window. I’m not sure which volcano it was, but it was definitely a composite cone. Let’s hope I get to see a few of these up close! If one of them ever erupted while I was nearby, I would be like Pliny the Elder, last seen running toward Mt. Vesuvius as it erupted.

Sydney Harbor

Sydney Harbor as seen from our plane’s window. I was using an iPad camera here with low resolution and I am zoomed in quite a bit, so the image isn’t very good. Plus, it’s taken out of an airplane window, after all. The white blob at center left may be the Opera House. Hard to tell.

We crossed Java and turned for Jakarta as more clouds appeared below in ordered puffs over the sea. We landed about 30 minutes late and deplaned. We walked through embarkation (I got my passport stamped) and were met by representatives with a sign. Both Mike and Alicia had been told as they boarded the airplane that their luggage had not been transferred to the flight, so they had to fill out claims in the luggage department. Alicia had a change of clothes in her carry-on, but Mike was forced to wear the same clothes for three more days until his bags finally arrived at the hotel. My bags were on the flight, thank heavens, so I got a trolley and walked through customs (basically a hand-wave as the representatives just handed our forms to the officials and we walked on through). We had a car waiting for us outside the terminal. As we walked outside, I could feel the humidity soak into my clothes. I’m back in the tropics again. It’s been a long time – over 36 years.

Volcano from air

A volcano on Java as seen from our Garuda Indonesia flight to Jakarta.

We drove into Jakarta and it was a bit disconcerting to have the driver on the right side of the car – I kept thinking the driver was missing or that we were in an automatic car. Maybe in 10 years this will be true, although I don’t see it being successful in Jakarta’s heavy traffic. It took some time to get to the Le Meridién Hotel, as Jakarta is a huge, sprawling city. But we did arrive finally, put our bags through the security scanner at the front door, and got our rooms. Sarah Sever met us in the lobby and was visibly relieved to see us, after missing our connection through Narita with the rest of the group. She will be our mother hen for the next three weeks. We arrived at the hotel at 5:30 and our welcome dinner departs at 6:15. I had just enough time to go to my room (620) and shower and change, which felt wonderful after two days of flying in the same underwear and compression socks. My right leg is not happy.

Garuda flight from Sydney

Our Garuda International flight before leaving Sydney.

I am here at last. My adventure in Indonesia can finally begin!

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