Despite snow accumulating around us, the take off from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles went smoothly. A cool hour and a half later, we were sitting in LAX on the edge of the US West Coast. Am I leaving home or returning home? It is odd that I am unsure. Usually, after celebrating Christmas, we would get on the road to head back to Las Vegas and return to normal life: law firm by day/week, mountain bike in the evenings, and drive to San Diego to see Sonrisa on the weekends. This year, we are flying off to New Zealand, and yet, leaving Utah to go to New Zealand feels like we are "getting back to normal." I'm discovering that "normal" isn't necessarily doing what everyone else is doing, or even what we usually do. We aren't going back to sailing and Sonrisa right now. Getting back to "normal" is the feeling I get when we return to the plan: travel.
A couple hours later, we take our seats in the emergency exit aisle on American Airlines flight 83 to New Zealand. Andrew stretches his lanky legs into the aisle big enough for us to swing dance. I am very happy about this arrangement until the flight attendant straps himself in backwards just across the way from us. We engage in that mass-transit moment where you don't want to stare at a fellow traveler, but it's hard not to because you are seated facing directly at each other. I smile and say "hello," then stare off at the lavatory. It occurs to me that everyone will congregate in this aisle way while fidgeting and waiting for the lavatory. Hopefully, I don't snore. Then I hear my mother say to me: "No one is ever thinking about you as much as you think they are."
As we take off, the weight and size of this trans-ocean plane feels enormous. As soon as the plane heaves itself off the ground, we are flying over the ocean. Dinner is served. Steak in a little plastic box or fish in a little plastic box. It is much better than I thought it would be, and I would go so far as to say the chocolate cherry mouse thing in a paper cup was good. Every few minutes Andrew elbows me and the lady sitting on his other side while trying to saw through his "steak". I kept a good hold on my plastic cup of wine, just in case his elbow swung wide. After dinner, I cheated and took a Dramamine to make me fall asleep.
9.5 hours later, I awoke to Andrew still watching some horrible action movie on the little screen next to me. I have no idea if any the flight attendant ever sat down across from me, or if my fellow travelers watched me snore. "Wave hi to Sonrisa!" Andrew says. We are flying directly over Vava'u Tonga. The screen in front of us says "mileage to Auckland 1500. Time to Auckland, 2.5 hours." I laugh and think to myself, 2.5 hours or 10 days take your pick. We would have ten sailing days to go if we were sailing in Sonrisa -- and that is if we made our average of 150 miles per day! Seriously, people. One or two 20 day ocean passage does wonders for your perspective on the length of a twelve hour flight. I highly recommend it.
As we fly over New Zealand, the lady in the seat next to us informs us that it looks like Ireland. I have not been to Ireland, but as I look at the lushly green rolling hills, I imagine she is telling the truth. We touch down, and the giant jet-bird wobbles side to side. The air flaps fold down and the plane lets off a throaty roar as we slow down.
We are led through customs where our bags are X-rayed even more carefully than when we left the United States. They look for biosecurity hazards like food, seeds, dirt, radioactive material, and my two chocolate bars. We are carrying a tent, two sleeping bags, hiking boots, mountain biking shoes and scuba gear. I can practically hear alarms going off around us: "WARNING WARNING WARNING, BIO SECURITY HAZARDS IN AISLE THREE!" But they were nice about it. They imprisoned our tent in the "lab" for testing, but cleared us to go with everything else. Fifteen minutes later, a woman slides open a window and our tent pops out. "How much do I owe you?" I ask her - signs posted everywhere about their refusal to accept cash. "No charge! Enjoy your stay in New Zealand!" Free to go, less two chocolate bars. We pile our bags onto a "trolley" and head toward the rental car vans.
I take a deep breath as soon as we are outside. The air is cool, and a breeze is rustling trees, flowers, and my hair. It smells sweet and salty, a mix of ocean, flowers, grass and summer.
Soon, we are on the road in our rental car. We have driven on the left in islands with 1400 people total on them, but city driving is a whole extra can of worms. "Death from the right" becomes our mantra, a reminder that we should look right (not left) before we inch out or step out to cross a street. It is so easy to look left and see no one coming in the closer lane and think you are safe. All the freeway exits are on the left. A right hand turn is "the hard one" that crosses two lanes. It is just awkward. It takes the full concentration of both the driver and the passenger.
We head directly to the marina where we say hello to Lufi. She made the crossing safe and sound, and she is waiting to welcome us to New Zealand. Her owners found a new spot to live (sshhh! Don't tell Lufi), and they are letting us stay until we can find our "land yacht."
So, here we are in New Zealand! The adventure continues.