March 12. Last Odo reading 49823
So, there you go. 2985 km total via Red Scare. Far better driving than I can find pretty much anywhere, especially around T.O. And with some great people. And with some very fine locals, over both islands. A great trip.
No briefing today, so most people show up for breakfast at 8:30. David leaves with the van, returning to his home in Christchurch. I gave him some cash, so he can send me some Britten-related merchandise. For those who aren't in the know (like me before I arrived in NZ), then Britten was a race-winning motorcycle, designed and hand-build by a Mr. Britten. Only 10 were completed. One is the focal and starting point of the Te Papa, NZ's national museum in Wellington.
We're tired, elated and sad. I keep telling people "No Tears, and no hugs". Everybody heads back to the rooms to re-pack. I have to wash off my New Zealand Insect Collection. The day is grey and humid - once again the pathetic fallacy is true-to-life, if not to art. After a judicial re-pack, I get everything stowed away. I go back down to the lobby - the Austrians are gone, and the Germans, who are all leaving on a 3:30 flight, are assembling to go tour ... something. I decline, saying "My head is full", which they all accept easily. Christian finally shows up for breakfast - there's a man who deserved a lie-in. Also, with David gone (they shared a room) he has no snoring to contend with. I return to my room, and finish up the March 11 page, and upload it, just before the 12 P.M. late checkout deadline.
I sit in the lobby for a while, reading The Bone People, by Keri Hulme. It's way cool to read the book, and just have been in the locations mentioned in the previous two weeks. The Germans return, soaked in sweat. It is much more humid than any other place we've been. We have our good-byes in the lobby. Everybody has my web pages' URL, so I expect some e-mails. So they're off, although I do submit to hugs from Silke and Renee.
Suddenly hungry, I chat with Charles, the concierge, who is (like everybody) excited about the bike tour concept. When pressed for something good and close, with good fish'n'chips, he suggests a diner named D-72. It's downhill, but so is everything from the Hyatt. I leave the knapsack full'o'toys, and toddle off. I have a great lunch, with the first real bottle of Heinz Ketchup I have even seen in NZ. Most places had "tomato sauce" only. I wish I hadn't left the computer. Once again, the people have their imaginations captured by the bike tour , and they say things like "You've seen parts of New Zealand I never have". So, I enjoy my lunch on the patio, surrounded by a flock of chatty servers, listening to Sarah McLachuan (I bet that's spelled wrong). The clouds have parted, and my mood lightens. Yes, the tour is over, but we're all fine, and will have these memories for the rest of our lives.
Of course, some of the memories will be standing in line at the airport, watching stupid tourists who can't be bothered to read the signs, and have the proper forms filled out before approaching the counter. So - I'm in line at 3:45, I'm next in line at 3:55, and I get to the counter at... 4:45. If the American couple who were some sort of athletes, with 6 heavy bags, including the 75 kg bag which had to go to "Oversize", who had no forms filled out, and who hadn't paid the departure tax, and who were generally clueless are reading this - you have proved that I have no magical or paranormal powers, because if I did, you'd have been in Rotorua at Hell's Gate, seeing it from a perspective visitors normally can't!.
After that, things go well enough. The 12-hour leg is 11:03, because we're headed west. There are no empty seats, although Maureen and I, who are in the row first, hope desperately that there will be. There's a guy from Calgary on her side, and Ken, a lanky ex-Kiwi on mine. Ken settles in and goes right to sleep. He's done this before. I get 5 or 6 hours in, despite being surrounded by children, one of whom seems only capable of communicating by shrieks. Air New Zealand has more legroom than Air Canada, and has cool folding headrests. Plus the inflatable pillow comes in again. Thanks, Norb'n'Al! When we land in L.A., though, there's a bit of a hiccup. We have to go through U.S. Customs, pick up our luggage, carry them 25 feet, and then walk to the gate. It's line hell again, because there aren't enough Customs guys to do the stamping. We had an hour-and-a-half for this connection, and it's one hour and eighteen long minutes before I get through. Maureen gets stopped and her bags searched. I keep going and find our flight info (she's from Toronto, too), and a break. Our flight is delayed due to snow in T.O. Oh, boy.
We board the Air Canada plane, and take off about half an hour late. I nap, and work on this page. Maureen refuses to be photographed, and I look, well, wilted, at best. I nap during the movie (Galaxy Quest) but am wide awake during the sports news, and find Schui has won the first race of the year. After waking up, more or less fully, I do some work on this page, to the delight of the crew. We land in Toronto, and go through one more line hell - waiting for the luggage to appear. Maureen and I compare the codes given to us by Canada Customs staff (mine by a lovely Asian lady) - I got R49, and she got R88. We spend the time waiting for luggage trying to scare each other as to who will be stopped and searched.
My bags show up, so I've won the luggage lottery. I head quietly for the exit and... am let go. AnnaLisa and Norb (my entourage) are waiting. As we leave, I see Maureen - I guess she wasn't searched either. The entourage whisk me and my luggage away, to the Lone Star for a light meal, and then home. All seems O.K., and AnnaLisa has thoughtfully brought me a loaf of bread and a box of orange juice, so I'll have something for breakfast tomorrow.
Well, that's it for my vacation. It's been a lot of fun, and I hope all of you have enjoyed following along. I will be adding further thoughts and info to this page, so keep an eye out. Think about visiting New Zealand - it's stunning.