It’s just one of those immutable facts I’m afraid. When we travel, people tend to think that because we live in Australia surrounded by all its inherent life threatening dangers, we must be somehow tougher or braver or perhaps faster than they could ever possibly be just to have survived to a reasonable age of retirement.
But we have a natural instinct for avoiding nasty things. Today for instance was Fathers’ Day, the first I have spent on the same continent as our kids in perhaps a decade, so the three of them decided a monster family gathering was in order. No doubt concerned that travel fatigue may have slowed us up a little, they decided to mitigate some of the risk by getting us together at a safe distance from the water where as best we could we would avoid the threat of shark attack, blue ringed octopus bites, cone shell stings and death by box jellyfish.
Instead we barbecued in the bush at the Koala reserve in Daisy Hill, eating bacon fried to a crisp, with egg that tasted vaguely of someone else’s lamb chop cooked yesterday on the same bush barbecue, while bathed in a veil of eucalyptus smoke, all the while keeping a careful eye on the littlies noisily stalking wallabies, with only stinging trees, poisonous ticks, vicious snakes, poisonous spiders and possibly the odd drop bear to worry about. Ahh, we are home at last.
Jet lag I think, is a little like being almost five. We run around and squeal a bit and hug anyone who stands still long enough, but at the same time we don’t really understand what’s going on. They could give us a train that should have spelled our name and instead they could use the letters to say something vaguely rude and we’d be happily oblivious too.
And we, like them, manage to remain happy through it all until that point where fatigue finally takes over, although unlike them hopefully age and experience means that we sink into silence rather than compound the issue:
Lily: Mr Nine won’t let me throw the ball to him.
Lily’s Mum: Well Papa will throw the ball with you.
Lily: But Papa’s a grown-up.
Papa (in his most consoling tone): I am quite immature though Lily.
Lily loudly now (and sobbing with her heart truly broken): I don’t even know what immature means!
I am not sure what anything means at the moment, but this world is spinning faster than the way we remember it. In a few days the spinning may stop and we will try to work out how we got here.
There’s a pattern to any long haul flight, which goes something like; watch movie, eat dinner, watch movie, wriggle and fidget for a few hours wishing sleep would just happen while the cabin staff disappear somewhere for the rest of the night, give up and watch another movie, eat breakfast, fall fast asleep with fifteen minutes to landing time.
Last night, we were only a little while into the wriggle and fidget bit when we began to get the impression that just possibly someone was smoking. After a few more wriggles and fidgets the bloke in front of us stood up, as did his wife across the aisle, his father beside us and his mother from somewhere else. It seems his in-flight entertainment system had of its own volition, put on a display of pyrotechnics and was attempting to fill our little bit of the cabin with some nasty rich substance which bore little resemblance to the air we usually quite like breathing.
It is fair to say that the cabin staff, by now to a person bright eyed and bushy tailed, did not exhibit any natural aptitude for tracking down smouldering wiring mid flight. Shutting down the bank of entertainment units for the duration seemed to be a wise and logical thing to do. Every so often for the rest of the flight some hitherto unseen crew member would wander in to our space, nostrils aquiver in the manner of a sniffer dog, and declare that perhaps the smell was getting better. In our sleep curtailed state it was all we could do not to throw them a toy to tug on as a reward.
We have but six more hours to wait in Hong Kong, feeling as washed out as the tarmac, with the smell of half-finished movie lingering in the sinuses.
It’s that time of our journey once again where we wake up earlier than we need to, then watch as the clock ticks ever so slowly towards departure time. We find ourselves sitting anywhere we can, mostly for hours on end. It’s late morning in France right now, and we’ve already queued for the shuttle and for check-in and for customs and for the security checks. Shortly we’ll be queuing for a snack because our flight doesn’t leave till after one, and it would be a shame to be hungry before we consume the first of two thousand meals and snacks we will be offered over the next thirty-six hours or so.
Mostly though, in between all that queuing, until we are ushered to that reclining padded seat and handed our headsets, we’ll perch anywhere we can find.
That pretty much sums up the glamour that is international travel!
We’d planned it. We’d made a dozen phone calls wherein we explained to all who would listen that we were going in to the city for the day today. We’d even gone as far as marking out a nice little walking tour and were just about to put the map in our carry bag when we turned to each other and asked “Why?”. It’s not as if we haven’t been there before, and we’d only walk until our feet and knees hurt and then we’d have to walk some more to get back to the bus and we’d feel like sleeping all the way back to Roissy.
We could instead we thought, amble through the park at Roissy-en-France and linger over a very long lunch which would cost less than the price of the bus fare to town, wander back to our room and sleep as we would were we on the bus, but without the nodding, and perhaps fill in anything left of the day by tidying up loose ends.
Which is how this journal so suddenly came to be up to date, and we are already ready for the shuttle in the morning. Roll on tomorrow.
Politely, we refrained from mentioning the notable absence of wentelteefjes (pronounced “wait till dave hears”) from the breakfast menu this morning, having not so politely cast some doubt on its ethnic origins yesterday, but none the less, for the third time in three days breakfast took longer than it should. This was in part because of having to deal with the feast that Davo and Bluey had prepared and in part an intentional delaying tactic by the four of us trying to prolong our hour of separation.
Tempting though it was to stay just a little longer, fear of putting unnecessary time pressure on the return of the car had us away in good time, and we were again sitting with cruise control on “max” down the motorway, watching the best of rural France roll by for the hours that were left in our journey.
Dropping a rental car at an airport does bring one back to earth with a certain jolt though. Even on a Sunday without the crowds there’s a certain grubbiness about parking stations and transit terminals that seeps in to one’s pores. Thankfully there's nothing like the smell of cheap disinfectant in the hallways of an airport hotel to make one feel fresh and clean again.
Dave and Ria, no doubt concerned that the three days we have just spent away from the water (if one doesn’t count the rain) may be starting to take an emotional toll, suggested that we might visit Max on his mooring at Beernem today. The prospect of yet another picnic hamper filled with superb goodies from the shops downstairs would in itself have been enough to ensure success for the day, but the thought of consuming those during a gentle tootle on the near-deserted canals of Belgium under a gloriously perfect sky sealed our fate.
Perhaps it goes without saying that we didn’t want the day to end. We did our best to delay things, stopping in Veurne for a gentle wander as the sun began to set while the church clock inexplicably struck something like four hundred o’clock but eventually once again we returned to those cosy familiar surrounds of our hosts.
It’s all a bit surreal to think that two days from now, we will be imprisoned for a time in a silver tube, our fling in the northern hemisphere over for another year. We simply can’t imagine not being here, but it will be real soon enough.
If Dave and Ria hadn’t accidentally crossed paths with Graham and Iris all those years ago, we would probably never have heard of Sint Idesbald.
We wouldn’t have known about its miles of beaches and huts and it’s laid back holiday atmosphere to say nothing of what are reputed to be among the finest butcher, fishmonger, and baker in all of Belgium, and it probably wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say, possibly the world. Yet here we were, following Ria this morning through those very same best-food-in-the-world shops where we loaded ourselves with surely enough bags of glorious things to feed an entire airforce. If that sounds like an exaggeration, there was certainly at least enough food to feed that part of the Belgian airforce which came home to lunch with us, and enough left over for dinner and possibly lunch tomorrow as well.
All we wanted to do after that was sit in the sun or perhaps lie about in the shade, but we didn’t give in. We needed no reminder that sunshine is not in quite the same abundance in these parts as fine foodstuff is so took advantage of the weather while we could. We walked the three of us, not up hill nor down dale because Belgium doesn’t have those, but along the dunes and through the leafy streets until we were certain that Dave would be home after a hard day at work, preparing dinner.