Thursday, August 2, 2012

From Here to There and Back Again

I just dropped my friend Kat off at Bart in West Oakland. Her flight from San Francisco to Rwanda leaves at 10:30am. I'm usually all for airport runs. Pick ups, drop offs, trips to get lost luggage. But this time, it just made sense for her to take Bart. The traffic on the way to the city during commute time would have added an extra hour or two to her whole travel day, which is long enough as is. I do love going to the airport though, even if I'm not flying. Almost more actually because I'm not a big fan of flying, I just like being in that travel vibe.

I feel like I've had my fill of airplane hours. Hearing Kat run through her flight itineray, I went through a strange wave of emotions. Four hours from SFO to Chicago, eight hours to Brussles, another eight hours to Rwanda. A few hours for layovers, that's a lot of plane time. I do love that sleep deprived, semi-delirious, strung out feeling from all those hours in tiny seats, malnourished by airplane food, if you're still lucky enough to be served any, arriving at your destination, unsure of the time zone you're in or the day of the week. I remember when I went to South Africa. The process of getting there was as memerable as the time spent in country. I was 16 and flying by myself for the first time. I was going with a Lutheran Church group, Our Savior's Lutheran Church of Lafayette, CA. I'm not Lutheran, but my Grandma invited me to join after I had been in Japan earlier that year with a friend. She knew I had been "bit by the travel bug". She, having been to over 70 countries, clearly understood that I needed to keep going places now that I had a taste for it. She was also not Lutheran, but a friend of hers, who was Lutheran, was going with this group and, hey, if you have an excuse to go to any part of the continent of Africa, I say take it.

My Grandma was on a different flight than I was, both going there and coming back. When I got to the airport, I knew  some of my fellow church group travelers would be on my same flight, but I hadn't meet them all and didn't really know who I was looking for. Sandy, an older, sweet woman and her husband Ted, recognized me and took me under their wing for the trip, and I was grateful. We first flew from San Francisco to New York, 6 hours, where we were late arriving so we almost missed our flight. We had to get rushed over on one of those luggage carts, racing through JFK, holding on for dear life. We were the last people to board the flight to Johannesburg. It was a "direct" flight to Jo'burg in that we didn't get out of the plane for the next 15 hours, but we did stop and refuel in The Cape Verde Islands. This always stuck with me: the fact that we had to get more gas to get where we were going! You would think a huge airplane like that, one tank, and you're set. Not when you fly to South Africa though. It was literally on the other side of the world. But that travel experience was short compared to the return flight.

On the way home, we had done ground travel from Jo'burg, more in the north of the country, down to Cape Town, at the southern tip. So, to get home, first there was a two hour flight, back to Jo'burg. Layover. Flight from Jo'burg to Heathrow, London, my first time in Europe. Layover. Flight from London back to JFK. Layover. Flight from JFK to SFO. Pick-up. When that was said and done, I had been traveling solo for 36 hours. A day and a half had passed. I felt crazed. Not to mention the rush of emotions and the strangeness that comes from traversing half the globe and going from corrugated tin shanty towns to two story houses with two car garages and strip malls and traffic.

It really is a mad, mad world that we live in. Hop on a train, hop on a plane, and just like that, you can be anywhere in the world within a day of traveling. What used to take months, now takes hours.

What a trip.....

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