Friday, 1 October 2010

I have nothing to declare, except my genius.

I've been very lucky in the last six weeks. No missed flights or connections, no illness, no passports or wallets lost or stolen. It all went very smoothly - too smoothly, almost. However, it appears the travel gods realised this a little too late and decided to give me a shake-up on the way home just for good measure. The story begins in Kota Kinabalu...

On my return from Sepilok I was driven from the bus station back into central Kota Kinabalu by a lovely, friendly, English-speaking taxi driver. I arranged for him to pick me up at 6am the following morning to take me to the airport and, as he requested, called him later that evening to confirm. That evening I packed everything in anticipation of my early start and headed out for dinner. I ate an extremely average meal at a local restaurant - I was forced to send the meal back because the chicken was hot on the outside and cold in the middle - clearly they hadn't microwaved it long enough. Classy. I had a beer, sat on the restaurant balcony and watched the world go by, contemplating my last few hours in Borneo.

Upon leaving, I decided to go across the road to the fancy bar at the Hyatt hotel and get myself a double whisky. I never sleep well the night before an early start so I figured a little helper wouldn't go astray. Crossing the road in the rain, I was met with a large sign outside the bar stating 'NO SINGLETS, NO FLIPFLOPS'. I was wearing both, and a pair of jeans. Dismayed, I turned away and crossed the road in search of somewhere else. I reached the corner of the street when I heard someone calling out to me. I turned, and saw a well-dressed local huffing and puffing - I remembered bumping into him at the restaurant earlier that evening. Evidently he'd been chasing me along the road, and said he saw me alone and wanted to know if I'd like to join him and a couple of friends for a drink. I figured why the hell not, so off we went. He led me back to the hotel bar, where I pointed out that shabbily dressed backpackers were not welcome. He waved it off and said "Don't worry, you're with me" and in we strode - nobody batted an eyelid and he was greeted warmly by all the staff. I deduced from that he was either someone special, or a raging alcoholic.

It was a brilliant night - whisky was ordered by the bottle, free shots of Japanese whisky were shouted for us by management and there was an enormous cheese platter set in front of me which I got stuck into - a year in Korea without cheese does that to a girl! I reeled out of there around midnight, politely declining his offer to put me up in the Hyatt for the night if my accommodations weren't up to standard. Er, no thanks.

My 5am start was hideous - my mouth felt like I'd been brushing my teeth with a cats tail, my head was pounding and I was suffering from a whisky and cheese hangover. At 6am I waited patiently outside for my pre-booked taxi which didn't actually turn up. Given my flight departed at 7.25am for Kuala Lumpur I was definitely cutting it fine, and ended up running down the road in search of another taxi which I eventually found. He drove me to the terminal like a bat out of hell and I made check in by a whisker.  That was one major stress I didn't need, as if I'd missed that flight there were no more connections that would get me to KL in time for my flight to NZ. But, crisis averted. Phew!

On arrival to KL, I made my way from the LCCT across to the international terminal which took around fifteen minutes by bus. I made the decision to take a sleeping pill on the flight and try and get a few hours kip despite the fact it was daytime. Down went the valium and a couple of small bottles of white wine for good measure. Evidently this was not sufficient, as I only dozed on the way to Melbourne and got off the plane drugged up to my eyeballs and rather incoherent.

I was meant to transit in Melbourne for six hours, however in my drugged up state I decided I was in New Zealand and needed to go through customs. Stamp in passport, I proceeded to the baggage collection where it took around ten minutes to dawn on me that in fact my luggage had been through-checked to Auckland and I was in fact land-side in Australia - exactly where I wasn't meant to be. I trudged back through the airport and approached the check-in counters, intending to check in and return to the warm, comfortable transit lounges. By this time it was around 1.30am Melbourne time, and there were only two check-in counters open. I explained (slurred) my predicament to the highly amused check-in guy who advised me to take my boarding pass to security and go through - "no worries, mate". Apparently security didn't see it that way and refused to let me through until three hours before my flight. So there I was, drugged up to hell, no luggage, a thin sweater and stuck in the public terminal where the temperature inside was the same as outside - six degrees. All of the seating was lumpy and made of metal, and in the interests of public comfort the construction work currently being undertaken by the airport was done only in the wee hours, when nobody was around. Except for idiots like me.

I staked out one of the few solid metal benches around the terminal and decided to try and get some sleep. Right behind me a jackhammer was going full tilt and every ten minutes or so an enormous trolley laden with scrap steel would be pushed out the door, past my head and out through the terminal - the noise was incredible. As I was settling in and making my 'bed' (head on suitcase, curled up in fetal position with metal seat digging into my hips) I made a comment to a uniformed guy near me about how some forgetful idiot had left their backpack behind. The look of concern on his face failed to register in my drug-addled brain and I promptly fell asleep. I was rudely awoken by a large group of over-zealous security guards advising me that I was required to leave the area immediately as the 'team' was coming in to dispose of the suspicious bag. It was at that point I wished I'd kept my mouth shut. 

I wandered around the terminal for quite some time, pondering my predicament and feeling a great deal of empathy for Tom Hanks' character in 'The Terminal'. The one cafe that was still open was off limits to me as their credit card facility wasn't working and the only cash machines I could find dispensed a minimum of AUD$50. Against my better judgement I ended up first in the breakfast line at McDonalds as they were the only ones who would accept plastic - given that's what my breakfast tasted like I thought it was rather apt, really. 

Finally I was permitted to return to the lovely warm transit area, where I promptly fell asleep on one of the comfortable chairs. On my return to New Zealand I managed to screw up also. After clearing customs, I waited in a long queue for the xray machine (which is about ten feet from the arrivals hall) only to discover on reaching the front that I didn't fill out a customs declaration. In my defense, my microchipped passport declaration had included a customs declaration so I thought that was it. Apparently not. I announced to the customs officer that I didn't know I had to fill one out - he listened to my Kiwi accent and looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face. I'm sure he thought I was a complete muppet. I was escorted by a customs officer back through the airport and back through customs where I had to fill out a form and be escorted back through and trek all the way back to the xray queue. All this to hand over a piece of paper declaring that I have nothing to declare. It did cross my mind to quote Oscar Wilde and say 'I have nothing to declare, except my genius' however based on my series of aforementioned actions this probably wasn't that appropriate. 

On top of that, my own mother didn't recognise me in the arrivals hall, and I quote - "I wasn't looking for someone blonde". I ended up greeting myself and searching for 20 minutes before I found her.

Still, I made it home safe and sound, no bags lost or major dramas occurring. Travel gods, you're good to me! Valium, you're not.

1 comment:

  1. Diana this is one of the best horrible funny travel stories I have ever read!! Glad you made it home safely and things are going swimmingly now!