It's a week since I left, so I thought it was about time to let you know I'd arrived safely.
My parents and sister kindly escorted me to the airport, where we had a predictable but heartfelt teary goodbye. I progressed dewy eyed through the controls, and immediately realised I'd left my shirt in the café . . . I am sincerely hoping I have not contracted Natalie's unfortunate condition, which I believe is technically known as possessionus seperatus, and is a disease which also affects my poor mother (whom I have just been informed by text has lost her camera).
At 1615 on 1st June my large, spacious plane took off, bound firstly for Los Angeles. The psychological effect of having an epic 35 hour flight ahead of me meant I felt totally knackered before we'd even taken off, but I soon perked up once the food came along. I had a total of six meals on the flight, and am pleased to report a first - Air New Zealand managed to supply me with the required vegetarian selection on each and every occasion! If you don't have special dietary requirements (the unkind amongst you are thinking 'fussy bugger' here, I know) yourself, then you will have to take my word that this is an unheard of accomplishment. I was most impressed.
Aside from regular feeding, I also had the chance to watch no less than eight films during my journey . . . and could have seen 'Chicago' twice, had I so wished (I didn't, mind - not even once - but it's the thought that counts). We got into LAX an hour early, and were herded into a small room with a sticky floor and provided with free beverages (you can see that I've got back into the travelling mindset by my excitement over free food and drink!). Our wait here (an hour longer than planned due to aforementioned early arrival) was enlivened by first class passengers complaining that they were having to mingle with the riff raff - which certainly gave me a chuckle.
Fourteen hours after flying out of Heathrow and I was taking off again on the longest portion of my flying extravaganza, bound for Auckland. I did manage to get a couple of short bouts of sleep in between meals, which saved my from lapsing into full blown zombie mode. I had a couple of hours to kill at Auckland, and freedom to roam the rather plush airport. I made a 'phone call home whilst I was there, and found out that one of my 'lost' packages form Africa had turned up the very morning after I left! It had travelled via Sydney, hence the delay, but how typical is that? There were a few casualties within, but my chair had survived in one piece, so that's something. I have now re-crossed my fingers for the last package, addressed to Austria (but sent to who knows where!).
I watched the sun rise on the Southern hemisphere, then it was up, up and away again for the final five hour flight to Cairns. By a stroke of luck I'd previously established that a friend of mine who I'd met when last in this part of the world would be in Cairns for one day only . . . the day of my arrival. He kindly picked me up from the airport, and we went straight to a bar for some post flight booze - which went down very well. On leaving there I had one priority before checking into my digs, which was to sort out a sim card for my mobile 'phone.
I'd been waiting in the 'phone shop for quite some time as other customers were being served. As I gazed around aimlessly - in my tired and now slightly alcohol befuddled state - I happened to glance upon the guy being served in front of me. To my amazement I realised that it was my friend John whom I was on the Middle East trip with. I had bumped into the only other person I knew in all of Cairns (or indeed Queensland) within a couple of hours of touching down! What are the chances of that?
We caught up briefly, and I sorted my 'phone then it was off to the Shooting Star Apartments, my home for the next four weeks. The place is just gorgeous, I have a double bed, sofa, table & chairs, wardrobe, TV, fridge/freezer, kettle, toaster, electric rings, balcony, it's en suite, and I have air con and a fan!! Excuse my excitement, but this is most definitely several cuts above the sort of place I usually stay in - and of course the sort of place I will be staying once my time here is up - and I am constantly applauding my decision to treat myself to a bit of luxury to begin my trip.
In actual fact, it was only slightly more than a single room in a backpackers would have been - and with copious amounts of studying standing between me and a divemaster qualification, a dorm was out of the question. Any excuse! I've taken to sitting on my balcony as the sun sets watching the myriad of birds including pelicans, swifts and flocks of small squawking starling-like ones head home to roost, handing over control of the skies to the wonderful huge fruit bats. I am considering trying to entice one of the small geckos that hang around here (quite literally) in to share with me, but as the place is fly-free I feel that may be cruel.
It was my intention before I left to buckle down to some serious swatting and swimming practice once I'd settled, and to my great astonishment, I have!! Okay, so it's early days yet, but for the last three mornings I've been waking up at 0600, doing some yoga and then heading off to the pool. It's a 30-40 minute walk away, and it's most enjoyable soaking up the early morning sun, surveying the different styles of houses and watching the unusual birds doing their thing.
Once I got there the first morning I changed and jumped into the pool. For my course I have to be able to swim 400 metres in 10 minutes, which probably doesn't sound too much, but to one as unfit as myself, I know it will prove to be a challenge. It's been around a year since I was swimming regularly, so I thought I'd ease myself in by just doing the required distance, in whatever time it took me. I'd been expecting a 50 metre pool, but when I got there it didn't look any bigger than the one in Dover, which is only 25 metres, so resigned myself to completing 16 lengths.
I just barely managed the first length of crawl, gasping for breath at the end of it, pulse racing. After a considerable rest I headed back down the pool, stopping exhausted just short of the end. Not being one to give up - and basically having no choice other than to improve if I want to qualify as a divemaster - I persevered, trawling up and down the pool in a variety of strokes at a painfully slow rate, with heaps of breathers in between. It took me almost an hour to complete the set distance, although I did think the lengths were coming slightly easier by the end.
I dragged myself out of the pool and got dressed, checking on my way out just how long the pool was. To my great relief it is 50 metres, so whilst I may still be pretty crap, the end result of eight lengths in ten minutes does seem vaguely achievable . . . as long as I keep up with the practice. And you thought I was out here on holiday?! This morning I managed to complete 16 lengths in a little over half an hour, and was able to manage a length of crawl followed by one of backstroke with no gasping gap in between! I've five days to go before my course starts, so fingers crossed I can make the grade.
As far as the studying goes, I've become a veritable book worm, and am spending hours every day wading through all the technical stuff. Mind you, having just completed a chapter covering rupturing eardrums and lung expansion injuries in gruesome detail, I'm wondering whether I can ever face descending into the depths again! I am joking, of course - although some of that stuff really is gross. I shouldn't have started reading it over my dinner - that was my big mistake.
It's not all been exercise and study, I went out with John last night for an enjoyable evening reminiscing over the middle east and playing pool - I'm pleased to report that my form has improved, and I am no longer the abysmal pool player I was in Africa. It's really good to know that I've got a friend and drinking partner here for when the studying gets on top of me, and he's promised to show me around if I get my head out of the books long enough.
Cairns has changed quite a bit since I was last here four years ago. It's bigger, has a beach (courtesy of the Japanese, apparently) and a rather splendid Esplanade, complete with large pool - all free of course. With the mind blowing selection of shops, variety of foreign eateries and casino, it's resemblance to Dover is uncanny. Hmmmm!
Well it's no good, I've had a long enough break from them . . . time to get back to it. I've an exciting chapter on decompression theory to tackle next . . . yawn