Monday, March 25, 2013

"Are you diplomats?"

March 23, 2013

Today was the longest consecutive travel day I've ever experienced. If you consider only the local time at our final destination, we got up at 1am on March 23 and traveled until 12:30 am on March 24. Thanks to our amazing producer, the bed was ridiculously comfortable and exactly what we needed to collapse into after today.

We woke up with Mouhsine at 5:00am and laid there in bed while he packed feverishly getting ready for his long travel day to South Africa. He got the short end of the travel stick because his travel was covered by the conference. He just told them his final destination for the return trip, and they booked him the worst (and probably cheapest) route to get there. He had to catch a flight from Phnom Penh to Shanghai at 6am to wait at the airport for 7 hours before flying down to Capetown via a few connections. We were going to leave after him and arrive before him. Ouch.

He left around 6am, so Matt and I cat-napped until 7am when we had to get up, get ready and pack up to catch our first of three flights to Johannesburg, South Africa. We found a few items that Mouhsine had forgotten, and bagged them up, too since we would see him in Capetown. We got our executive taxi that we had scheduled to get to the airport because we were afraid the tuk-tuks would be too slow. My travel philosophy is more in the realm of leave early and chill if needed because I'd rather have extra time to write my blog than be sweating in a traffic jam watching our flight leave without us. It was a whopping four dollars more for the closed vehicle. I love Cambodia.

That said, we got to the airport a little too early. They don't take their international flights as seriously as we do in the States, so they open up the ticket counters an hour before boarding. We had 45 minutes to kill, so we found a bench and a nice Canadian scuba diver to chat with. He told us his stories of training other divers and opening up a new world for them and also giving an octopus a head massage.

We got our tickets and made it through the we-don't-care-what's-in-your-bag security people and found the Taste of Asia Cafe to have a late breakfast. Matt said goodbye to spring rolls and I bid adieu to curry and rice. Matt tried an avocado milkshake which was delicious, and I had my final Vietnamese coffee for the trip. Both drinks that we'll attempt to replicate when we get back to Colorado.

Our first flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was delayed by a half hour, which turned into 45 minutes. We had two hours to make our connection on the other side, so we weren't too worried as we boarded the late plane. It was a 2.5-hour flight, and they had movies, so we were happy campers.

We landed in Kuala Lumpur where it was over 100-degrees, but raining. It was humid and stifling. The airport was the coolest airport I had ever been in. It was modern and made of mostly metal and glass and had long glass corridors and a jungle boardwalk complete with birds in the middle of the round airport. We headed all the way to our gate in a hurry, then realized we had to get our boarding passes at the transfer station we had passed. We jogged back to the station and waited our turn and got our bags transferred and our new boarding passes. We made it back to the gate just as they were opening security. No problem!

We were the first to board because we were in the last seats on the plane. Well, the first to board after business class and people with kids and disabilities. It only makes sense to load the plane from the rear forward. Malaysia: you make sense.

As the plane loaded, Matt and I picked out the films we were going to watch with our 7-hour time slot and decided to divide and conquer and let each other know if they were with watching. I liked Robot and Frank, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. It was just okay and I feel like the first 3/4 were given away in the trailer. Matt enjoyed The Campaign and watched The Bourne Legacy which we both rated as the fourth best Bourne movie. I started then lost interest in a couple others and decided to try and sleep. Impossible. They design economy class so that you are not physically able to get comfortable. I'm impressed by the ingenuity. Very impressed.

This flight was on time, but we only had an hour to get to our next connection. This was where the trip got exciting. Mind you, we were the last of the last on the plane, and we had to make it through immigration, get our new boarding pass then get to and board our next flight that took off 50 minutes after this plane's wheels touched the ground in Port Louis, Mauritius.

We got off the plane and were in the very back of a long transfer line. I pulled out our flight confirmation hoping I had read it wrong, but just as I pulled it out, we heard a man yelling, "Shoots! Shoots!" over the crowd. We were sure he meant us, so we butted our way through the line up to him, and he grabbed us and put us in the front at the counter. "Gooo!" he yelled.

We handed our passports to the lady at the counter who stopped helping the small, disgusted family giving us mean looks, and quickly got us through the process. She gave us our new boarding passes and pointed us to the door on our right where security was. We quickly got through security, and they didn't even double-check us because of the camera. We walked out another door to a packed terminal only to realize that our gate was literally on the other side of the wall. We had joked about the plane next to us being our flight, but it was true.

The flight took off in 35 minutes, but no one was lined up at the gate or boarding. We thought maybe it had gotten delayed or something, but then saw a man go up and give his boarding pass, and they had him stay where he was. Maybe it was just business class? We started toward the gate then heard our names being called over the big speakers. "Passengers Mr. and Mrs. Schultz please board immediately." Matt and I turned to each other in horror. We were late! We hurried over and the woman took our boarding passes, and said that they were waiting on one last passenger and then the four of us would be escorted to the plane.

We were comforted by the fact that we weren't the last ones holding up the plane. The final passenger, an Indian man, made it. The British man that had gotten there before us joked that we must be the only ones on board. The woman turned to him and said, "no sir. Actually, we are quite full." There will be no joking about our tardiness.

The woman led the four of us through a back door past the line that we had just been standing in and past our old gate, down some stairs to an empty bus. It had three people in uniforms and it took off as soon as we got on. We drove down the tarmac to a waiting Air Mauritius Airbus A319. The giant plane was surrounded by people in vests. The woman escorted us to the stairway, and the four of us made our way up to the plane.

Except for four flight attendants, the plane was completely empty. I laughed aloud and turned to our British joker who had predicted this. The crew led us to our assigned seats, and the British man was unable to convince them that they should let us sit in business class. Matt and I took bets on whether or not they'd still close the curtains between economy and business. They still did. They allowed us to spread rows so that we each had our own row and said we could lay down across the seats. We were so thankful for the opportunity. It was now two in the morning in Phnom Penh, and we needed to get some shut-eye.

They went through the safety video, and the young, male flight attendant laughed along with our jokes. Matt and I considered doing a time-lapse where we would set up the camera in the front of the plane, then sit in every seat and have a silly animation. We decided not to inquire.

We were offered beverages. They didn't have ginger ale, but they did have complimentary "wine, beer, rum, gin, vodka, beer?" offered the flight attendant. Well, a whiskey and coke it is. It'll put me right out. We enjoyed our beverages and pretzels, then were immediately served dinner of chicken, penne pasta, bean salad and pineapple upside down cake. We were offered another drink with dinner, and I opted for some tea. He said it was okay if I had two if I wanted. What is this wonderful place?! Matt and I made the most of the situation. You can't turn down a flight attendant feeling this generous.

After dinner, they turned the lights low and the four of us took our three pillows and blankets each and made ourselves comfortable across our rows. I slept like a rock. The next thing I knew, I was being tapped and handed a hot towel. I bid our friendly flight attendant a good morning and he laughed aloud and offered me some juice. Um, yes, I would like some juice.

The plane landed and Matt and I decided it would be funny if we hurriedly collected our things and stood in the aisle impatiently. It lost some of its humor when our British friend did just that and stood at the front of the plane past business class to wait. He was serious.

We were so tired and now groggy from our nap. All we wanted to do was collapse. We still had to make it to our hotel. It was 11:30pm now, and the airport was completed deserted. We walked down long hallways and through the empty terminal without meeting a single person. We finally got to immigration where we found a group of six workers talking and laughing. When they spotted us they all stopped in their tracks.

We were confronted by a big, African man who demanded to know our flight number. We gave it to him, and he said he was only asking because the flight wasn't on his list. "Was it private?" he asked referring to our plane. "No. Well, kind of." I replied confusing him further. "Are you diplomats?" "Negative," I said.

He shrugged, eyeing us, then pointed us through the South African passport line. "No one else is here. You can just head through." We easily got through immigration after they found the stamp they needed and went to find our single bag going around the carousel. We were the laughing stock of the entire Johannesburg airport. No one could figure out how we got our private jet here. Our two comrades were long gone.

We found a helper to lead us around the empty airport to get rands and a taxi to our hotel. The taxi ride was pretty quick, and we were at our hotel in no time. They had a sign out front that read, "we're famous for our apples." Seemed like a good place for us. They had apples at the front desk, but we had no interest in food, only sleep.

We crashed out in the comfiest, fluffiest bed we had ever been in, and didn't wake up until...well, 3am. Thank you, jet lag.