I wrapped up my two-week blitz of Australia, arriving back in Christchurch today. Since the last post, I've been to the Sunshine Coast, the Glass House Mountains, Brisbane again, Sydney again, and some more touristy stuff around Sydney (Manly beach, the Blue Mountains).
I've had a very lucky, easy time of it so far. At least until this morning, that is.
My luck was to take a turn for the worse today. I was booked on JetStar airlines for my flight back to New Zealand. I knew from my trip out that arriving early is a very good idea with them-- long lines. I got up early, took a shower, packed up my stuff and headed across the street to the train station with plenty of time. I got a ticket, got on the train-- no problems yet.
Got to the airport with time to spare. Read my book for a while, then got in line to check in. It took me over half an hour to get up to the check-in kiosk. I gave the woman my passport and itinerary, which she checked over carefully. She asked to see my ticket back out of New Zealand. What?! I hadn't even booked my trip from NZ to the states yet-- my travel plans were still open. That's not unusual-- all we have to do as USAP participants in name the date we'd like to fly home, and they issue us tickets. I wasn't sure how long I would be travelling, so I left my exit tickets open. Well, it turns out you can't fly into NZ without a hard copy of your exit ticket. I had no idea-- nobody had ever mentioned that to me.
I ran over to a pay phone and called the USAP travel agent in Christchurch. They put me on hold for what seemed like forever, then told me I'd have to pay hundreds of dollars over my travel allowance to travel anytime in the next couple of weeks. I knew that couldn't be right, so I had them explore my options while I tried to get my ticket extended-- it was pretty clear that I wouldn't find a solution to this problem in the next hour before my flight took off.
I called the airline. They told me I would have to talk to the staff at the airport to beg to have my flight extended. I went back and waited in line again. When I got up to the front, they suggested that I talk to their customer service folks at another desk. I went over there, and (thankfully) didn't have to wait in line there. I was now completely sure I had missed my flight, and was throwing myself on their mercy. They said that pretty much the only thing I had hopes of doing was to purchase a refundable ticket from NZ to somewhere else, so I could legally leave Australia for NZ. I went over to the Quantas ticket desk and told the man that i would like the cheapest one-way ticket from Christchurch to anywhere (knowing that I would cash it in as soon as I landed). He sold me an $800 one way fare from Christchurch back to Sydney. I raced back over to the check-in kiosk, waited in a short line, then talked to the agent. She said I couldn't do that, since I didn't have a visa to go back into Australia! Argh! (Of course, I had no intention of actually using the ticket.)
Another ticket agent looked up my visa information in another program, and proved that I was legal to fictionally fly back into Sydney in about a week. Whew! I got my boarding pass, and raced across a huge expanse of airport to get to my gate. According to the time on my pass, I had three minutes to get to customs, fill out my declaration form, wait in line, clear customs, go through security, and get to the gate. I made it to the gate about one minute after the supposed cut-off time, to find that the plane hadn't even arrived yet, and was delayed about twenty minutes. I was home free!
The plane eventually showed up, and we boarded. The flight was completely full, but it looked like I had my little row all to myself! My luck was improving! Wait-- here comes a couple with a little baby. They sit right next to me. Another couple with a baby comes and sits down right across the aisle. Groan. Then I notice that the couple in the row in front of me has a little baby too. What are the odds of sitting with three screaming babies in a ten foot radius around me?
Luckily, the babies took turns with their blood-curdling, apoplectic screaming. Never two at once. The little girl next to me was a professional screamer, though. She screamed at the top of her lungs for at least a half hour straight, and nothing the parents were doing was working. I may be deaf for life in my left ear.
I survived the three hour flight okay (if you disregard the deafness part...). I hustled over to the Quantas counter to cash in my temporary ticket. Guess what? They didn't let me, because I didn't have a hard copy of my real exit ticket in my hand. Argh! I got with the folks at the CDC (USAP travel office), and got them working on getting me a real ticket back to the states (which they actually do through Denver, for some reason). When I get it, I can get my $800 back, minus about $A105 in fees.
I have to admit, it was my responsibility to know what my visa requirements were, and I didn't have the right information. In the end, it all worked out all right, except for the loss of a few bucks and a portion of my ability to hear, forever.
I can't help but wonder what it was that I did to bring this horrible string of luck upon myself. I can't imagine what it was... I didn't steal any hotel towels. I didn't double park. Not sure. I did engage in some questionable Indian food, though. A couple of days earlier, I had some Beef Vindaloo. Now, Hindus regard cows as holy, so there is no such thing as beef Indian food. I thought it odd at the time, but it looked good, and I was really hungry. I wished I had been more careful, in retrospect. Now I see the error of my ways. I undoubtedly angered Brahma, or Vishnu, or whichever Hindu god it is that is responsible for travellers. I was punished in the most heinous of ways-- I will never do it again! I have been smitten by the triple-screaming-baby demons, and I must repent.