Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011: With great eagerness, we left Vernon at 12:30 PM and headed to JFK. There is nothing like travel to rejuvenate and inspire one’s soul! The anticipation of “hitting the road”, meeting new friends or visiting old, exploring places near and far has a way of affirming you’re alive! Even knowing we have a preposterous amount of travel time ahead of us does not dampen our spirits and it's off we go!

Before we even left NY, I spotted our first person with a story to tell. While we were finishing a meal in Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grille in the airport, a man with a most curious hat arrived to wait for a flight, as well. This hat was obviously something indicative of the man’s life and experiences as he wore it proudly and with confidence and some of us speculated where the hat, and possibly the man, were from - Vietnam? Thailand? The Far East? Who knew? But to me it screamed, “Come and talk to me!” and since I was not about to let this opportunity of a story pass us by, I grabbed my camera and decided to find out more. The man’s name was Linden, from West Orange, and he could not have been more gracious as I approached him to present, what was to be, a question he has been asked for years: Where did you get that hat? It turns out he is an avid lifelong traveler and bought his remarkable and curious head covering in Ghana over 41 years ago. It was all shiny leather and straw, completely waterproof and surprisingly sturdy, having been handmade by a local Ghanaian to whom he paid $20 USD’s. I asked him what drew him to this particular hat and he said, “I knew it was unique, one of a kind, and I saw it as a true piece of art. I had to have it.” Indeed, it was an exceptional purchase! He told me he and his hat have had their picture taken by complete strangers in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza, on the canals in Venice (where they were headed, once again with other friends), in Macchu Pichu, and in markets in Southeast Asia, and now in a bar in JFK, to name a few. He wears this hat all the time and welcomes the inquiries he has gotten and has even been offered hundreds of dollars for it, as well. But, he would never part with it. I got the sense that Linden and his hat were an inseparable pair, two friends who have shared over 4 decades of life and adventures together and that neither of them would be complete without the other. He extended an invitation for me to try on his hat and I happily obliged. He seemed genuinely eager to share his “companion” with me. It was fairly heavy for a hat and it did not reveal it’s age through wear and tear at all. It was still unscathed and tightly woven, its condition a clear indication that it had been well cared for, just like friends should be…Linden and his hat - just two traveling buddies exploring the world and open to new adventures and unexpected friendships…I hope we will all be like Linden and his hat as we travel together on our journey.

On our flight to LA, I sat next to a young man from Long Island, a UPenn
student on his way to spend 6 months studying abroad in Sydney.
He was friendly and excited about what lay ahead for him as he leaves family and friends to spend time in another country on his own while preparing for his future. He had an easy-going nature, was eager to help me navigate the world of video games (BTW, while I had fun doing it, I really was not very good at be honest I s***** at it!), he happily shared in my picture taking of the sunset, and showed all the signs of someone who will take full advantage of this opportunity he has been offered. I was fortunate to have made his acquaintance and he was a pleasure to have as a seat mate.

We arrived in LAX with a little over an hour to wait for our flight to Sydney.
They were weighing carry-on luggage, much to the consternation of some of us, me included! The limit was 15 lbs. Some of us had some adjustments to make but all was well in the end. It was a group decision that we would all try to get some sleep on the plane on the longest flight of our journey. Some just accomplished that in a more fashionable way than others!

We are currently 8 and ½ hours into our flight to Sydney, a bit over half way. The lights are out and most are asleep as we prepare for adjustment to the new time zone. I should be doing the same but I have never been a sleeper and my body says it is 10:30 AM, well into a day for me on Eastern standard time. We go through customs upon our arrival and then board our final flight
to Cairns, where we begin our adventure.

We have not yet crossed the International Date Line but are about an inch or so away…on the flight map! That’s where we will lose a day only to recover it on our way to Honolulu.

Saturday, July 16, 2011:

We are south of the equator now and, after passing Papeete and Apia, Samoa to the south, we crossed the International Date line and have 5 hours and 6 minutes to go…but who’s counting?! It’s now Saturday as we’ve skipped right past Friday!

We are 2,532 miles from Sydney , having already passed Honolulu to the southwest and, later on, Fiji as we cruise at an altitude of 32,000 ft. with speeds of 539 mph, Noumea is to the southeast, Port Moresby and the Philippine Sea to the west and northwest, the air temp outside is minus 36 degrees F as we have traveled 5,019 miles from home. We will be passing the Coral Sea as we head into Sydney …and how is it that I am listening to some hardcore country music?! I think I may even be tapping my feet and bobbing my head along to these stories of love lost, taking risks, finding that last beer, and analyzing decisions made! See what I mean about learning about yourself when traveling?! Who knew I wouldn’t change the channel?!

3 hours and 29 minutes to go…now at 36,000 ft. and can “see” Noumea to
the direct south and Port Vila and Santo, as well...The air temp had droppedto minus 52 degrees F! Sure beats 's hazy, hot, and humid but a bit extreme, don't you think?! To the northwest, Manila, Osaka and Taipei are showing up on the map now, too - quite a different perspective from the tri-state-centric one we are so accustomed to seeing. We have been flying for 10 hours and 44 minutes Our ground speed is 520 mph and the “natives” are getting restless here on Qantas Flight 108! Even Mater was wondering when we would land!

Still Saturday, July 16, 2011...6:40 AM local Sydney time…
Rockhampton, Southport, Brisbane, Newcastle, Broken Hill, Alice Springs, Falls Creek, Adelaide, the Great Dividing Range, Auckland, and of course Sydney and the Tasman Sea, are all on the map now…less than an hour to go… minus 82 degrees F at 38,000 ft. flying at 516 MPH for 13 hrs. and 16 minutes. The anticipation
is building right along with the lines at the bathrooms! 54 minutes to go…53, 52 and counting…We are now filling out our “Incoming Passenger Cards”…

We’ve successfully completed our first 3 flights and have arrived in Cairns at our hotel! Gotta go…out to walk the Esplanade and take some photos before dinner! Chat later!

Newsflash: There are these giant bats here in Cairns and you can see them hanging in the trees all around the Esplanade. A group of us spotted some up in the trees and Heather decided to get a photo of one by standing right under them...seemed a reasonable thing to do at the time! Well, at that precise moment, the flying rodent directly above her decided he/she would leave his/her mark as a reminder that they are in control...all over her face! Sorry - no pics but the visual is priceless! (Heather, we really did sympathize with you even though the moment was unforgettable...and funny!)

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