It’s 7am, November 15, 2012, and I want to remember this last moment of laying flat in my comfy bed. It will take 2.5 days in transit to get home. What were we thinking!
We are underway to the airport a little before nine even though our flight is around eleven. As we head towards the long one lane road that leads through the first round of airport security, the train of cars heading our way grinds to a halt. Apparently when a plane is landing the cars have to stop their approach to the airport as the sun might glance off the windshields and temporarily blind the pilots. This is to be avoided as the flights all come in and leave based on the air crew’s ability to see both the ground and the surrounding mountains. I’m happy to wait. We are next!
Jaim Yong and Dorji drop us at the terminal entrance and are off to a three-day weekend. We have been fortunate to have them to introduce us to their amazing country. On Monday, Jaim Yong heads out with three Brits on a trek that will take them to 4000 m. No doubt that would do me in, but my mind is willing even though the flesh is weak!
We do airport stuff — wave goodbye to the luggage, get water, go to the bathroom, cruise the souvenir counter….and eventually board Druk Air headed for Bangkok via Dhaka, Bangladesh. As I head out, I dump the last of what I think is my Ngultrum into a charity box by the check-in counter. The sign said that they were collecting funds for youth initiatives.
It’s a steep climb to clear the 16,000’ peaks that surround the Paro Valley. The rice paddies slip away and morph into a straw-coloured, patchwork quilt. At 32,000’ the landscape appears to change quickly as the mountains give way to twisting rivers and what looks like fairly flat terrain.
As we descend into Hazkat Shahjalal Airport in Kurmitola, 20km north of Dhaka, I again feel the need for an atlas or at least Google Earth. This part of the world is so unfamiliar to me. The city is large and green and intersected by rivers that are part of the delta of the Ganges. Five and six storey buildings stretch to the horizon. It shouldn’t be surprising as Dhaka itself has a population of more than thirteen million.
Some folks depart and others join us for the remaining two and half hour flight into Bangkok. Military jets do take offs and landings as we wait for our flight clearance. its hot.
In Bangkok, Druk Air deposits us on the runway and we take the tarmac bus to the terminal. There is time to wander, have lunch and find our way back to Jim Thompson where LeeAnn buys a purse and I decide I “need” another scarf!
Supper is on LeeAnn as I appear to have given the Youth Group in Paro, all of my Thailand money and the waitress here is not that impressed when I try to pay my share of the dinner check with Ngultrum (Bhutan currency) instead of Bahts (Thailand currency).
By midnight, we are in the air and once again in the care of the size six flight attendants with the chopsticks in their hair. The orange glow of dawn surrounds us as we land in Seoul. Already it seems like we have in transit forever but we have only completed eight hours of flying time with, in my case, sixteen hours to go before Toronto.
LeeAnn and I head through the massive terminal complex at Incheon and find an Italian restaurant for breakfast. Cappucino…perked me right up!
We walk the mall and see more high-end stores than I recall seeing on Fifth Avenue. Who spends three thousand dollars on a purse in an airport anyway?
We find some inviting benches and stretch out. I am fading. Even though there is wifi, my eyes will not focus on the screen of my iPad. I nap by the orchids, waking periodically to hear a message on the clearest speaker system I have ever heard in a public building. I can actually understand the English version of what is being said.
We are not ready or interested in KFC or Burger King even though they have infiltrated this part of the world. When its time to eat lunch, it’s back to the Italian restaurant.
Flight time draws near and even though we are both dragging our feet we resist the temptation to have yet another cappuccino. We want to sleep at least part of the way to San Francisco.
Now the good thing about not having yet another beverage before take off was that the flight was the roughest I have experienced and much of the time we were confined to our seats with our belts tightly buckled. It was like the turbulence amplified as it made its way along the plane. The big spenders in first class were probably fine.
We are an hour late getting into San Francisco. At Customs and Immigration, Lee Ann sends me off to the Visitors line up and I am never to see her again. Two customs officers, four hundred people… You do the math! LeeAnn was probably home, being licked to death by her dog-child Max, before I even made it to the carousel to collect my luggage and hustle through to the Air Canada desk. I missed the required “one hour before check in” and had to fly standby but it all worked out and I gratefully squished into a seat between two fellow passengers. The gentleman to my right said he was heading for Buenas Aires. I didn’t want to be the one to tell him he was headed the wrong direction. I fell asleep.
Re-entry into what passes for my normal existence is always sort of strange after a journey like this one. I am once again a round peg trying to fit into a square hole.
I will never be the same as I was before I travelled half way around the world to see a place and a people that live a life so different from mine. I wouldn’t want to be the same. That’s why I go. I want to evolve. I want to be better than I was and not as good as I can and will be as I continue to grow through these experiences.
It will take a while before the true meaning of this amazing adventure will become clear to me. For now, my head explodes with visions of snow-clad peaks, paddy fields, monasteries that cling to cliffs half way to the sky, and prayer flags that spread blessings for a better world.
And etched in my brain, is the smiling face a woman who lives in the Pjhobjika Valley. There are lots of things she doesn’t have, but she has joy and she had time to smile for me.