London Calling/ Halfway Home

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“Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You’ll find what you need to furnish it – memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey.”

-Tad Williams

I love this quote, it’s very comforting when you’re on the other side of the world from all that’s dear to you. However, I am ready to see my loved ones in the flesh, now. I want to see my dogs/cats and I want to see my bed.

Right. Almost there now. Luggage miraculously in one piece, well as much as it can be, having lots the wheels and the zips en route in Central America. Am now loitering in Paddington Station after a restless 24 hours.

I was rather disgruntled early this morning to find out that I needed to buy a VISA just to pass through the states (Newark) in transit. Not amused. I also had to go through the USA customs and immigration (which took a good hour or so) just to put my bag straight onto the next plane and go through security again. United Airlines were undoubtedly the worst airline I’ve flown with, including isolated centres in Papua New Guinea, largely due to the appalling customer service. As an example, an Indian man in front of me was causing a bit of fuss, perfectly understandably in my opinion, as there was nothing other than beef on the menu, without even the option to pre-book a vegetarian meal. The air hostess was audibly saying to herself under her breathe ‘God, I hate that man’ in front of his two sons who were sitting next to me. I was not impressed.

I was however appeased by the fantastic selection of airport food in Newark. I had a ‘Jamba juice’ – the best smoothie I’ve had since the Brazilian Acai and some vegetarian food, at last: a delicious tofu & noodle stir fry. Yum. It was also a pleasant surprise to have great views of New York on the landing, including my first glimpses of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State.

Now back into the iconic ‘grey and green’ of the UK. Although I hate to admit it, it’s a little disenchanting to suddenly feel incredibly banal after having been ‘foreign and exotic’ for such a long time, despite all of my complaining!!

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Having Wings

In Good Hands

 Wherever night falls

 The earth is always

 There to catch it.

-Roger McGough

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My last night in South America did not pass particularly smoothly. Two girls in the group were getting the same early morning flight as me so we decided to share a room in the hotel. However when we came down to meet everyone at reception we discovered that they had already left so ended up wandering around La Paz for two hours trying to find them in order to say goodbye! Bye some miracle we did eventually stumble across them but it was a bit of a nightmare in one of the most reknowned paces for crime targeted at tourists in the dark and rain!

After three hours sleep I embarked on my bizarre day of flights: Firstly flying to Lima then El Salvador, Guatemala then finally Mexico City with absolutely no room for error; one of the connections was only 25 minutes long! As you could imagine I was highly dubious that this erratic series was going to flow smoothly, but miraculously I arrived in Mexico city last night in one peace AND, far exceeding my expectations, with my luggage! Hallelujah!

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Flying over the beautiful snow-capped Andes.

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Flying in over Mexico city was fantastically exciting. Had to get a shot out of the window but this doesn’t quite capture the city’s competition with the stars as much as I would have liked!

My flight to Cancun leaves this afternoon so on arriving, I headed straight over to the airport Hilton where Mum had kindly booked for me to stay for a night as a treat (and also to avoid the highly dangerous city!) It was such a fantastic surprise! I was so excited at the unprecedented luxury that I was running around the room taking photos of the king sized bed and complimentary shampoos.

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Refreshed by the best nights sleep I’ve had since I left home (thanks Mum!) I headed out into the city the following morning. My airport ‘authorised’ taxi was extortionately expensive. Apparently there are a large number of assaults occurring in ‘non-official’ taxis so the airport get away with charging an arm and a leg. My taxi back in a local perfectly reasonable-looking taxi cost a quarter of the price. Anyway, I went to the main plaza which is the third largest city square in the world. Unfortunately it had large marquees set up in it completely ruining any photo opportunity. The cathedral was particularly stunning, whetting my appetite for the historical sites to come on my trip!

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Soul Shake Down

So many ridiculous things have happened over the past couple of days that I’m starting to lose track. Yesterday, after the cancellation of the flight, I had my UCL interview over Skype. I’m not sure that I made any coherent sense at all. My mouth was seriously hurting as I’d tried betelnut in the morning; it was (I thought) my last day and betelnut is such a large part of the culture here – it would be like visiting Russia and not trying the vodka. Word of caution: Don’t ever try betelnut. I now have acid burns in my mouth from the disgusting stuff. Not pleasant.

This morning I eventually managed to get to Port Moresby where they arranged an alternative flight stopping overnight in Cairns. Luckily a relative of Wendy was in the area so took me to her house to wait. They have a pet crocodile called Ronda and a baby wallaby called Bali. Is that legal?! This is PNG though – they seem to make up their own rules. I eventually got on the flight to Cairns. I was assured that there would be somebody from the company to meet me at the airport. Inevitably there wasn’t. I arrived in a strange city in the dark into a completely empty airport with no plans until my flight at 5:30 the next morning.

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I asked the only staff member in the terminal for some assistance – he phoned through and Air Niugini had not arranged anything at all. After he’d given up, the pilot from my flight (who is, I may add, ridiculously attractive – looks like Chris Pine. Looks in his late twenties.) then came through to arrivals and took pity on me. He stayed with me for a couple of hours ringing the various companies on his iphone. He managed to make an arrangement and drove me to an office at the domestic airport where there was someone waiting to take me to my accommodation. A little bit bizarre getting a lift from the pilot. I was embarrassingly wearing my PJ bottoms and walking boots. Not a good look. A sweaty day in hot PNG holding Wallabies added to my general ‘homeless’ appearance. Anyway, I then bumped into an old French man who was in the same situation as me – with accommodation arranged at the same Hotel so we waited for the shuttle bus together. He’s been doing research into biodiversity in Madang with the Prince of Monaco (among other people)! They’ve discovered 200 new species in their three month program. Incredible! Their most notable discovery was a bright orange deep sea crab (surprisingly large) which was named after the prince – Grimaldi. The man didn’t speak English so it was a great excuse to practice my French for the evening – he seemed incredibly relieved to find somebody who understood him! In general it’s nice to be able to talk to men without having to discuss marriage arrangements. Things had become so ridiculous in Goroka that Verena had to tell the community that I was in fact married, I just didn’t wear the ring. Incidentally, if anyone out there is worried about not finding a husband, head to PNG and you’ll be hitched within a week.

The Cairns hotel is very luxurious! Such a nice surprise! We had a fantastic meal of locally caught Barramundi. The only rooms left were ‘superior garden view’ rooms. There’s a beautiful pool made to look like a natural rock pool with arrangements of boulders, palm trees and little waterfalls dotted about. I’m pretty sure it was shut – it was completely deserted. Irresistible. It was so nice to cool off whilst star gazing with fruit bats swooping around a couple of metres above my head. Definately makes up for the complications.

I Need Some Sleep

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.

Leonardo da Vinci

I wonder what da Vinci would make of modern flight! I’m not so enamoured. It’s around 6:00 am English time and I’m at lunchtime in Singapore airport (free wifi – fantastic!) I have done my usual – decided that I finally need to try and get some sleep (after watching 4 films back to back) about 5 minutes before breakfast is served. Not great. Singapore airport is fantastic though – slightly eerily clean and quiet in places…loved the butterfly garden!

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