Travelblips

Travel blog by a global nomad

29 Nov

Snorkelling with sharks

scoveI was sitting in a pink bus outside the hotel. This was to be the start of my afternoon of snorkelling with Stuart Cove diving in Nassau, Bahama’s. Turns out I wasn’t the only person staying at the Hilton (ka-puth) – a family of 4 french people got on as well as a young, possibly honeymooning couple. We then drove west towards Cable Beach, stopping into all the various ‘all-inclusive” resorts to pick up other people. I was kind of glad I wasn’t staying this far out of town – there wasn’t much to do apart from romp around in your hotel…

We then drove to the far southwestern part of the island where we pulled into a gravelly parking lot lined with quaint looking wooden shacks. All very cozy looking. Somewhere between the bus and the place where I paid for my afternoon of snorkelling, it became pretty clear the movie,  “Flipper” with Paul Hogan had been filmed here – plenty of little ‘reminders.’ I went inside and paid for my snorkelling trip, asked if they rented out towels (having not bought one thinking this was an all-inclusive trip at the price they were charging), was told no but I could buy one over there.. I went and had a look at the $US35 tea towels they were passing off as beach towels and decided it was 25C and I could survive with no towel…

After about half an hour, we were finally all paid up, kitted out with flippers that fitted and receiving our very laid back safety briefing from a couple of black dudes. I was on the upper deck, snuggled in between an American family of dad, stepmother, and dads 3 sons, and 4 young american friends. The French and latino collection were down on the lower deck. I felt very quiet amongst all the loud American’s all yelling jovially at each other…

We exit through the narrow mouth to the Cove’s harbour and head out into the open seas, heading west to the some low lying islands just off the west coast of Nassau. Within about 10 minutes, we are pulling up at Hollywood reef. We are told we have about 30 minutes here. The American’s work themselves into a frenzy, grabbing the fish food they had purchased back at Stuart Cove’s. I frowned slightly. Nothing good comes of feeding animals!

Everyone exited to the back of the boat, but I slid over the side and swam around to the front. I could see coral way down but it wasn’t very exciting. So I swam around to the front of the boat and then headed towards the tiny low lying island. I quickly came across a reef rising up about 20ft from the ocean floor. I looked up… no one was around, they were all still hovering way out beyond the back of the boat. Okay… Wasn’t sure what was out there – maybe plenty of those large yellow fish that were near the boat, but there were plenty of colourful fish all around these rising spires of coral! So I contented myself with diving continuously down to investigate the spires and chase the little coloured fish around the spires. I was a bit surprised how tame the fish were!

After about 10 minutes or so, I thought I’d go and check out what was attracting everyone at the back of the boat. When I got there, there was a school of yellow fish (about a foot long) but apart from seaweed encrusted coral lieing 30 ft below, not much else. Okay… I still didn’t know why everyone was there and having ascertained I didn’t have much longer, I just went back to the coral spires I’d been swimming alone around, and played around there, while keeping half an eye on some SUB aquanauts being lowered into the water – looked like a rather fun way to see the underwater life if you didn’t snorkel or dive…

I got back onboard to see utter pandemonium amongst the mixed family. One son had had all his fingers bleeding copiously after being nibbled at by the fish ferosciously attacking his little pre-paid fish food baggie, (never a good thing to feed the animals…) and another  had a bleeding ear having dived down to retrieve a conch shell – which after photos were taken, one of the black dudes told him he had to throw back into the water… Eventually Dad and Stepmom calmed them down and we got underway to our next stop. I seemed to be surviving with no towel thank goodness!

We headed back to the sheltered southern side of the island at a bouy called in an area we were told was called Piri Piri, which was near a Cessna plane wreck, in about 40ft of water. Being a little closer to the coast, the water was murkier. We were told the wreck lay near the end of the bouy. I slipped over the side and swam to the front of the boat. I thought I’d be followed by everyone else, but no… they all swam with the new school of yellow fish at the back of the boat. In fact, in all my time there, I only saw two other people swim over to have a sticky beak at the wreck. Two divers swam beneath me at one point.

However despite the wreck of the cessna – and schools of yellow fish, this wasn’t a very scintillating stop. I swam inshore and came across a small lone coral spire and eeked as much enjoyment out of it as I could, chasing the technicoloured little fish into crevasses in the limestone. I then headed into the shallows to see if I could see what was causing little small sand mounds on the bottom. I saw one tiny crab…

I then swam back out to the cessna wreck. By now, most people were either back in the boat, jumping off the upper deck into the water or… swimming with the yellow fish… However, with most now depleted of fish food (or so I thought), there were less injuries when we were finally summoned back on board.

At this time, one of the black boat dudes decided to strike up conversation with me. Awkward conversation. I felt so quiet voiced amongst the dense crowd of Americans…. Suffice to say, he thought I was really weird to fly alone all the way down from Canada for a weekend and felt (as most Bahamians did) that I should have stayed longer… I said I didn’t know many people who would make such a long flight for a such a short trip so since I had credit with an airline it was better to just come rather than dither and find a travelling partner who also wouldn’t think twice about a 16 hour return flight for a 48 hour vacation… I was clearly too strange for him and he gave up on making polite conversation after that introduction other than to add I needed to come back for longer next time. I smiled politely. Beach holidays are not my forte – with or without travelling companions!

sharkWe drove out to sea at this point and tied up to a buoy about a mile offshore. There was one other boat tied up to a buoy nearby. Our two dudes gathered us up and began to explain that this was where the lemon (or tiger?) sharks were (which indeed we could see swimming menacingly under the boat) and we were…. not to put… (wince) fish food in the water. As he said that, a latino girl was obliviously pouring in another packet of fish food to the sharks below which swam up awful close to the surface. Her companions reached over and horrified, wrenched the fish food out of her hands.

We were then told one of our guides would jump in and ‘assess’ the mood of the sharks before we would be allowed in, all holding onto a rope that had been extended from the back of the boat. I didn’t know it at the time, but they had dropped a baitball to the ocean floor. So I was shocked when the black dude who had been making polite conversation with me jumped vertically into the water! However, he surfaced soon after and gave us the all clear.

Vexingly, somehow I ended up right at the back of the line of people viewing the sharks this time, so by the time I got in, there was about 2ft of rope left and the people at the end were being asked to start getting back on board! I turned my facemask down and furiously watched the sharks circling the baitball (now evident) below – as well as our friends the yellow fish.

At this point, the black dude tapped me and motioned for me to duck under the rope! So cool – he basically gave me extended time as a result, as everyone else climbed back onboard the boat while I got to stay there watching the sharks circling below until everyone was aboard! Nice dude!

shark2When everyone else was back on board, I was told to take my last look at the sharks (now starting to rise slightly…) and get back on board. I did so and then once I was onboard, the black dudes began to lift the baitball, bringing the sharks to the surface until we could see the back fin, swishing menacingly through the surface of the water!

Everyone poured over the back of the boat and it was a long time before I again got to have a look and snap some photos of the sharks on the surface of the water. I could only guess how well fed these sharks were with probably around 5-10 diving trips and 2-3 snrokelling trips out here per day. No good can come of feeding the wild animals….

Once the bait ball was all gone, they pulled in the empty rope and we headed back to the cove. Once there, I had about 10 minutes to go in and change into my dry clothes, (slighthly horrified at the knotted mess my wind-dried hair had become…) before climbing on a pink bus and taking my lift back to the hotel.

It was a quieter evening (2 of the cruise ships were now gone) and I went to Senor Frogs and had a quick meal there before deciding it was to quiet for me and went back to my hotel for the evening. It has to be said, travelling solo in Nassau wasn’t really working for me as a social experience!

29 Nov

A stroll to Paradise Island

nassauAfter a very deep sleep the night before (10 hours, out cold, since I put in earplugs to block out the amorous activities next door to me in the Hilton…), I was up by 10am and wondering what to do before my snorkelling trip. I decided to push on past the seedy limits of the cruise ship shopping area and walk to the causeway that lead over to Paradise Island and the curiously tall pink towers that dominated the island – Atlantis I believe. Wasn’t sure what that was all about – I just knew it was very very expensive to stay there for one night and wasn’t in my budget at this time!

I had thought I would grab a Subway sandwich on the way to breakfast but it turned out it was just a painted logo on the side of the building and if there had been a Subway place there, it has since closed down. So I pushed ever eastwards to the causeway. The streets were sleepy but very bright in the Sunday sunshine. A few bahamians loitered near bus stops, but once I got throught the area that was dominated by “For Lease” signs and out into a boulevard lined with gated shops and government buildings (all closed), I was the only one on the street apart from the cars constantly zooming past me.

It was about 3km to Atlantis Bridge (as I see it is called on Google Maps…). Crossing this bridge by foot had been recommended, being a cheaper way to get up high over this rather flat island. Hilton, probably annoyed I had not paid much for their room (or lack of service) had given me a ground floor so this was going to be my one chance to get up high!

atlantisI paused half way across the bridge to admire the deep turquoise waters (the Bahama’s do have nice coloured water!), and the odd pink towers of Atlantis. Cars streamed steadily behind me but the only other people out were very fit American’s jogging. I paused and took a few photographs before continuing my wander across the bridge to Paradise Island.

Once on the other side, sign posts were somewhat confusing, pointing in varying directions to Atlantis and shops etc. I followed the signs to shops and found myself in a very ordinary part of the world which if I hadn’t know better, I could have mistaken for any sleepy, sunny, neighbourhood in Florida which had seen better days. I came across another ‘straw market’ and had a quick sticky beak before concluding it might be more spacious than the one downtown, but it had no more to sell.

I then crossed the road and found myself at the back end of a strip mall. It contained a couple of stores selling beachware – all ‘steeply discounted,’ a cornerstore advertising itself as supermarket and a resturant which promised breakfast. I went in and took a seat near the front of the restaurant and was profoundly ignored by the staff milling around a bar. I moved myself deeper in to the restaurant so I could blend in with all the TOURISTS! Immediately I was handed a menu – why was I directed to the front of the restuarant initially????

I ordered an orange juice and a bagel with cream cheese. I got a glass of Tropicana orange juice (ugh! you’d like to think in the tropics you’d get fresh juice..) and a hastily defrosted bagel. Yum… and for that I paid $10. I have to admit, by now I was not sensing anything cheap about the Bahama’s other than the flights there! Hotels were expensive as was food and taxi fares!

With the food leaving a decidely sour taste in my mouth and pocket, I paid and went back out and followed signs to the casino which seemed to be generally heading towards the Atlantis Pink Towers. I took bit of a circuitous route to get in as I kept trying to avoid large burly guards. But eventually I found my way into a shopping mall filled with Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo and Versace… I then dawdled into a casino… Lasted about 2 seconds in there before drifting to some large glass doors emitting sunshine. I went through them to find myself facing a veritable artificial landscape of pools, palm trees and people. I started to walk down some steps when a girl stopped me and asked me to show my pass. I asked if I could just look around, and she said only if I paid.

atlantis2Right. Back out… I think I’d seen somewhere it was about $27US just to enter their private playground and gawd knows how much if I wanted to swim there! So I just cut through the casino again and walked past the designer stores and back out into Little Florida (my name, not anyone else’s…). By now I was getting slightly concerned about time as I wasn’t exactly sure what the time was! You see… when I arrived, the Westjet people announced the time as the same as Toronto. But in the Hilton and in a number of clocks around town, they’d all been an hour ahead…

So since I had my snorkelling at 1pm, I thought it better to be safe than sorry and started to make my way back. However, on the way, I came across a little harbour, lined with your usual American chain restaurants and art stores. Huge fishing yachts filled the harbour.

I found the sandwich place which had been recommended in some brochure but wasn’t feeling like a ‘mega-sized’ sandwich so soon after the awful bagel and orange juice. So beginning to panic slightly now I’d seen another clock which had the time one hour ahead, I thought I better start walking back to my hotel (a good 4km away now) and hope for the best with regards to my 1 o’clock pick up for the snorkelling!

So I began to walk back to the hotel, first slowly and then  gaining speed with every clock I saw an hour ahead of what I thought the time was. I began to wonder how much a taxi trip would be to the snorkelling place and if it would be worth it…

But when I finally got to the hotel, slightly hot as the midday sun meant Nassau was in its 2 hour hotspot for the day, I raced to the counter, asked the desk clerk for the time and with relief, she said it was 12.15pm! Phew. I was on the right time – just all the clocks around the island were not….

I went to my room and was just putting together my gear when I got a call as the pink bus was here to take me snorkelling with sharks with Stuart Cove Dive Bahama’s.

28 Nov

The Love Boat rolls ashore

Too early to go to bed… to late to to not do something…

Thus it was I found myself arriving in the Bahama’s at 2ish in the afternoon – absolutely wiped out after my red-eye flight and brief sleep in Toronto airport.

Confusion would seem to be the order of the day when I arrived – a pleasant sunny afternoon. Bein someone who had no luggage, I breezed through immigration and while all the Canadians are standing around waiting for their luggage, I went to stand in line behind numerous Bahamians returning from somewhere and who were all in various stages of emptying their suitcases for the customs people. Nothing was left unturned! Fortunately I didn’t have to wait to long – a lone blonde girl with a small backpack on… (kinda screaming “TOURIST!”), a security guard saw me, asked if that was all I had and asked where was I staying and lifted a cord up and let me outside.

Well. Where were the taxi’s? I admit a bunch of sleezy men all accosted me as I walked out (the big “TOURIST!” stamped across my forehead now working against me…). But once outside, the only taxis were all lined up and the drivers were holding signs indicating they were there to pick up people.

I walked through the throng of Bahamians all crowding the exit door… got out to the end of the entrance and was in a big empty parking lot. Taxi??? I wandered back to a small cluster of Bahamians in a uniform, and asked where the taxi stand was. No taxi’s I was told. You are supposed to order your taxi’s before you arrive in Nassau. What??? I didn’t believe that every single other pasty white Canadians inside had pre-ordered  a taxi! But not to worry, I was told, we’ll get you a driver. Uh oh.. I thought. But it was a long walk to my hotel…

Anyway, a few minutes later a large beige American ship… er boat… er car, sails into the empty parking lot, parks and a lady breezily gets out and waves me over.  I turn and look at my uniformed accomplices and they shoo me in her direction. I ask the uniformed Bahamians before I go how much this will cost… fixed price I am told. Its always one price from the airport to town. OK. Cool. $27US. Ugh. About 1/4 of my budget…

My drive in is pleasant nontheless with my native Bahamain driver chatting away, vocally expressing her horror at the temperatures I’d left in Canada (3C) and how cold it was right now in Nassau (25C) and how it was necessary to wear a coat and wool hat at nights (16C…). She gave me a few tips and we arranged for her to take me back to the airport when I leave in 2 days time. She didn’t try to swindle me and I felt slightly bad I had not yet grabbed any change so wasn’t able to give her much of a tip as I had only a sparten handful of $US on me.

Due to time constraints, I had decided to stay in the heart of downtown. It was a case of $50 more to stay there or save $50 staying further out of town in a dump of a hotel. Mind you, I was staying in the British Colonial Hilton Hotel and although it had been about 5 years since I stayed in a Hilton, my opinion of them was not destined to change during this trip either. Well. It was a roof over my head – nothing more. I’d go out to do everything else… I was bemused the last time that someone took offense at my dry critique of the Hilton hotel and reckoned you get what you pay for and apparently they felt silence was one thing you get in a Hilton. Let me assure you, it isn’t. In the one I stayed in in Alaska, I heard every single conversation as people exited and waited for the elevator, and this time, I heard the chattering of the maids outside my room as well as the very intimate honeymoon ‘conversation’ next door. You know.. I can hear that in a Super 8 motel as well – but I pay a lot less to hear that kind of crap in a Super 8! Ergo, my opinion of Hilton hotel’s remains unchanged – overpriced hotels which offer less than a mid-tier hotel, but think by offering up fancier decor they can get away with that. Sorry… Not in my books!

Anyway. So by now it was 3pm and again, still too early to go to sleep and too late to do much either. So I quickly unpacked, and then headed into town, where I’d spied 3 honking great big cruise ships toweing above the town. I figured it maybe Saturday afternoon, and who knew what it was like here, but the shops wouldn’t be closed with that many cruise ships in town!

I walked out of the Hilton, walked along the narrow, bright concrete sidewalk around a corner past the hotel, slightly in awe of the many Canadian banks which had ATM’s here… And then I was in the thick of downtown – a slightly seedy looking street, absolutely heaving with pastel-clothed pasty plump white tourists (I admit, I am well within the pasty white category – but was wearing more ‘colour…’). Right near the hotel, there was all sorts of bahamian musicians dressed in hawaiin shirts playing steel drums and other carribean sounding intruments. I wondered down towards the wharf as I had read somewhere that the main tourist centre where the ships docked had free internet access. Security guards lined the steel fences everywhere, but once again, my loud “TOURIST!” stamp on the forehead swung back into action and I slipped through the crowd unnoticed. I eventually found the tourist centre, discretely broke out my ipod Touch (thought I’d give it a go but I wasn’t fond of it – with no computer with me on this journey, I had no way to charge it… And people look at me stupid when I ask for an mp3 player which runs on batteries… we don’t always travel with a computer folks!). No connection. Eventually I found a booth advertising free wifi – if I signed up for the cruise ship equivalent of time share. Yep. Right. Pass.

I exited the crowded tourist centre with its collection of little stalls selling what can only be called, tacky goods. I then made my way back to the main street, West Bay Street. It seemed to be full of duty free shops selling cosmetics, watches and jewellry only, and clothing store selling cheap chinese made beach ware. Ho hum. And meanwhile, the sound of the steel drums wafted over the thick crowds and it all just felt like the Love Boat had docked in Mexico and the border had blurred between land and ship and it had all become one seamless entertainment venue…

I weaved my way through the milling American tourists until I was past the last possibly entrance to the cruise ships (about 2-3 blocks). Abruptly the number of shops dropped off and the number of “For lease” signs increased dramatically. Knowing this was the way to Atlantis on Paradise Island I kept on walking but after another 2 blocks it was really beginning to be very run down and my safety radar was kicking in… Thank goodness I hadn’t booked a hotel further out towards the eastern end of the island – not only would it have been quite a walk, it may not have been the most pleasant walk!

So I turned and went back to the tourist crowds, vowing to see the famous “Straw Markets.” By now it was coming up on 5pm and this being Saturday and the Carribean, cruise ships or not, things were starting to close. I found what looked to be a large cavernous hall with the entrance largely obscured by blue canvas. A few people seemed to be selling cheap knock off bags and coconut toys. Lots of tourists seemed to be dithering near the blue canvas. I plunged into the narrow opening and found myself in a surprisingly large warehouse filled with narrow aisles. The sides of the aisles were lined by tables piled to the ceiling (almost) with either cheap knock off desginer bags, chinese-made straw bags or t-shirts and towels. And everywhere blue canvas covered up stalls not currently being attended, making it all the more dense and cluttered.

Hmm. The Straw Markets I presume.

I went down a couple of the aisles but not being a straw handbag type of person let along a designer knock off bag kind of person, I somewhat deeply underwhelmed by what I was seeing, quickly found myself exiting the other end of the warehouse. Well. I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned – this is what people had said the Straw Markets had become on reviews I’d read on the web!

I went back to the hotel and watched TV and booked myself on an afternoon trip to go snorkelling the next day, having found an extra $50US in my passport. I was rather glad my taxi driver had pointed out the Fish Fry, supposedly a collection of people selling fish under the wharf… Well. I in my innocence had thought that mean under the cruise ship wharf, but thanks to having the Fish Fry being pointed out to me by my taxi driver, I know knew it lay about 2km west of the cruise ship terminal, and near an industrial area. Might have been a port or wharf hidden behind the concrete, I dunno.

Anyway, I started to walk along the coastline to the west. By now it was dim and I was bit surprised given it was only just after 5pm. I also appeared to be the only TOURIST! walking to the Fish Fry… Oh well. I kept my wits about me and got there unhassled. Truth be told I didn’t feel very threatened in Nassau – just wanted to be ‘aware’ of my surroundings is all.

As I got to the outskirts of the Fish Fry, there were a few stalls set up with speakers absolutely blazing out loud dance music. I am sure the fish would have been cheap, but it was all fried and since my time clock was absolutely messed up, I didn’t feel like fried food! Approaching the ‘bright lights’ of the Fish Fry I stumbled into a one-sided alley which was distinctly filled with large wooden shacks which looked anything but temporary. One of them proclaimed on just about every square inch that it had been featured on CBS and NBC. It was packed with American tourists. I walked past it.

I ended up at the end of the ‘strip’ in a dark wooden shack which seemed to be filled with dating and flirting Bahamians. I sat down at a high table and was promptly handed a menu. I ordered a Strawberry Dacquiri to keep me entertained as I watched some french TV. I settled for a conch salad, not quite sure what I was going to get. I was a bit surprised when it did come out – all steaming and wrapped up in silver foil! However, when I dipped my fork into it, it was incredibly delicious – conch and some vege’s all cooking away in tomato flavoured water. Mmm! It was delicious! I was pleasantly surprised and ate it all!

Once dinner was over, the night may still have been young, but I was still very tired from my red-eye flight from the night before. I kept my eyes peeled as I walked back along the sea front to the hotel again (but the Bahamians were as polite and faultless as ever), decided to go quickly walk past the hotel to see what the action was like along West Bay Street with 2 cruise ships in (one had sailed out as I ate my meal), saw Senor Frogs (popular chain of bars in the Carribean…) was cranking… and turned tail and went back to the hotel. Too tired to deal with the crowds!

I admit it, the red-eye flight from Vancouver had wiped me out. I was going to be a wuss on this saturday night…

27 Nov

Who takes red-eye flights?

Apparently parents with young families and idiots like me with ‘Use it or loose it’ unrefundable credit with an airline…

But that said, it’s weird that taking a flight for 8, 12 or even 16 hours (as one tortuous flight from Los Angelese to New Zealand once was – yes, I didn’t know planes could stay in the air that long either…) usually entails either a very long day or a very long night. Its endurable and rarely are such long distance flights called “red eye” – probably because they entail crossing time zones – lots of them.

Yet to fly a 3-4 hour flight and arrive tired, tossled and jet lagged from a short night is rough! Such was what I endured on an overnight red-eye flight from Vancouver to Toronto. That means I leave Vancouver at the quite civilised hour of 11pm – just the right time to go to sleep right (unless you are like me and not one who can sleep on a short flight if you haven’t been travelling for 48 hours or more…), but arrive in Toronto a scant 3.5 hours later (because the prevailing winds blew us across at a blistering 620km/hr). And of course, its 6.30am there… the day has begun even though my body is struggling to be awake at what it percieves as being 3.30am…

I blearily walked out of the plane, glanced at the screens – my connecting flight was 4 gates away, except in Toronto that apparently translated as practically the next terminal… I staggered there… got a hot chocolate, and then made the mistake of using the rest rooms.

Surrounded by bright and perky Torontan’s, I looked (and felt) like a wreck! My hair had become limp and greasy (only planes seem to take freshly washed hair and wreck it withing a few hours…). My eyes felt swollen – and to my horror, when I looked in the mirror, they were swollen! Worse, they were red and blotchy! And what people couldn’t see was the constant eruption of red hot sand behind my eyes….

Sighing, I staggered over to the gate. I was the first there and the seats were a very unpromising hard green leather with chrome. I sat down and thought I’d finish my drink playing a game of sudoku, but my mind couldn’t focus and even though the game was marked ‘easy’ I still botched it up twice…

When I looked up from my game (a game which took 3 times longer than usual to work out), I realised the lounge had filled up with frazzled, bleary eyed young parents with anywhere between 1 and 4 kids. They were all in various stages from ordering spread out and fast asleep, fussing over beyond tired kids who were just crying and crying and trying to get them to sleep on the seats, to ordering hyperactive kids to sleep. I hastily spread out my bags to cover 3 seats adjacent to me…

I decided since I had 4 hours to kill before my flight (and only know was it dawning on me.. I was about to leave Canada and I had yet to show my passport to anyone resembling a passport official?). Overhead a TV played something… but very annoyingly, the Air Canada advert jingle that is played on their planes was constantly being played – and I wasn’t even flying Air Canada! It was very irritiating – bad enough I have to hear it every time I start a new program on Air Canada’s inflight system!

At first, I was heavily distracted by the constant noise from people chatting as they walked to their gates, security guards trundling by with carts or in carts, kids giggling and shrieking – and the annoying TV ads… And then magically, it all faded away.

Silence. Black out. For the first time in over 24 hours, I was asleep.

At first I became aware of the annoying ad jingle playing. Then of the incredible volume of people talking all around me. Then the carts of the security guards. I was back in the airport. I raised my arm. 9am. I had managed to grab about an hour of blissful sleep before waking up and still had 2 hours before departure. I tried to return to the land of nod, but I was awake now. Not happily! Body protesting loudly and red hot sand in eyes now almost blinding me! But I wasn’t going back to sleep. I slowly hoisted myself vertical, my thighs protesting heavily from having been pressed against the hard leather seats.

So I sat there like a zombie as more and more bright and perky people arrived at the gate. They squeezed their way between the sleeping families, and as they gradually woke up as well, quickly nabbed the seats formerly taken by their supine bodies.

I guess this is why there comes  a point where people start to ache to fly business class. I’ve long past that point but it still doesn’t seem to be my destiny to fly business class. Worse, even business class facilities don’t necessarily offer beds or even reclining chairs! They just offer more comfortable chairs…

And I can’t believe that later this month, I will be doing another red-eye effort! After years of only long distance flights, returning to shorter hopes with true red-eye horrors, and twice in 1 month!!! Horrors!!!!

06 Nov

My BIGGEST blonde moment ever…

I’m visiting a friend in the Yukon, where the road conditions in the last week have deteriorated as the first winter snows arrived. I was collected by my friend in Whitehorse where we then picked up a ‘new’ truck for her partner, which she drove the three hours to where she lives in the Yukon.

Since arriving back in the snow playground of home, we’ve begun to wonder if the vehicle does have ‘no problems’ as the seller assured us – specifically, the four wheel drive seems to be temperamental and the low drive seems to be non-existant. So that is the pretext for what follows…

There are no, er, dedicated cleaning facilities where I am staying, so to clean up, I have to drive to a nearby hotel on the Alaska Highway and use their public showers. I proceeded to do so and had a pleasant shower, chatted with the fellow at the front desk and then got back in the truck.

My problems began almost immediately. I had a terrible time reversing. I managed to angle the truck out just enough to get it so it blocked the adjacent tow truck and then my wheels just sat there, spinning. I popped the truck into low range… still spinning going no where… put the car in first gear – no where, popped it back in reverse, still spinning. So I put the 4WD drive train into neutral and then tried in 4WD high again… inched back just enough to now be completely blocking in the tow truck and then stopped, tyres spinning furiously.

I got out of the car in case I had inadvertently backed over something but no, I was clear of the tow truck and there was nothing but packed snow under my tyres. I got back in… put the car back in low range… managed to reverse a smidgen more. I popped (grinded?) the 4WD train into 4WD high again and just gunned it and managed to lurch forward – but almost immediately, theback end of the truck began slewing violently to the right, which was bit of a worry since the tow truck lay in that direction…

So I revved it again and slowly inched forward, the truck fishtailed momentarily and then seemed to swing around and straighten up for a second.

“Phew!” I thought, “it’s finally popped itself into 4WD!”

But as soon as I tried to drive forward at any speed faster than 5km, the truck rear end began to fishtail speedily to the right again… So I revved it up and crawled through the hotel carpark, stopping frequently before the truck could do a 360 on me. I was cursing furiously under my breath and wondering whether to just walk back to my friends (probably about half an hour away by foot and of course, I had no coat on and its minus 10C…).

However, I managed to edge the car in a stop start fashion out of the hotel carpark and pointed it at the highway.

Well, pointed is a bit loose… More precisely, I still in the hotel carpark, facing the highway but the truck was at 45 degrees to where I was going. Yet somehow it was going straight and as long as I didn’t exceed 10km/hr, I wasn’t fishtailing. So I figured I may as well try to get this truck back to my friends place.

Getting on the highway looked like it was going to be tricky – there was a very small, gentle incline. I was going to have to rev to get up that incline and onto the highway. I made absolutely sure there was no traffic coming in any direction and then caustiously revved the truck up to 10km/hr and literally spun onto the highway, ending up perpendicular to the traffic, which fortuanately, there was none.

So I cautiously tried turning the truck at very low miles back in the direction I wanted to go and it slowly came around… except the only way I could drive it forward was if the car was at a 45 degree angle to the road… Truly perplexed, I began driving down the Alaska Highway, praying no one would come up behind me. I only had to drive about 1.5km before I turned off, although I was unsure how I was going to drive this truck an additional kilometer along packed powder roads.

My luck ran out. Suddenly, there were flashing red and blue lights behind me… On the Alaska Highway, tiny community which is not much more than a blip on the map and a cop car comes up behind me just when I am driving at a 45 degree angle down the highway at 10km/hr. As far as I can calculate, he must have been the only cop on the highway for at least 300km…. and he’s behind me as I am struggling to drive the truck!

I wind down the window as he pulls alongside.

“Are you having some trouble?” the nice young man yells out to me from the cosy comfort of his driving seat.
“I think so,” I reply. “This is a new truck for some friends I am staying with nearby and it’s been having problems with its 4WD. Now it seems to be really weird, like one half is in 4WD and the other half is not so I am sliding badly.”
“Have you got it in 4WD?” the policeman asks me. Internally I roll my eyes.
“Yes… I’ve tried it in 4WD, 2WD and also in 4WD low. Nothing seems to work – it just feels like something is not working at the back – like its locked…”
“Let me pull over and we’ll see if we can’t sort this out,” he replies, and pulls a discrete distance in front the truck.

He walks by the drivers side,  waving a car by, and the asks me to try and drive. I put my foot on the accelerator and rev highly. The car begins to slide forward obliquely.
“Whoa!” he cried out. “You back tyre is locked!”
“Locked?” I said, puzzled, “like as in its not turning?”
“Yep.” Its not turning. Hang on a minute, I’m just going to go around the other side and see what’s going on there…”
I watch in my side mirror and see him gesticulate for me to drive forward…I engage the truck and slides forward again.
The policeman walks around to the passenger door and opens it and leans in. “Its defintely locked in the back…have you got it in 4WD?” he asks, leaning over to check I have it in 4WD. He sees that it is.
“OK,” he goes on, “can you put it in neutral for me?” I put the gears and the 4WD drive unit into neutral.
“Ok… now can you put it back in 4WD…good, now put it in first… ease forward on the clutch…” The truck began to inch forward slightly and then started to fishtail.
“Hmm.” he pondered for a moment. “Let’s try the same thing in 4 low.. good, pop it in and now ease up on the clutch…”

The truck continues its drive forward at 45 degrees to the straight and narrow.

The cop pulls his body out of the passenger door and looks as perplexed as I feel. “Wait a minute…I’m going to check the back again. Try moving forward when I get around the back,” he tells me. I follow his orders and he goes from first the passenger side rear tyre to the drivers side. “The back tyre is defintely locked!” he calls out to me, staring at in consternation, knowing now the truck was defintely in 4WD. As he turns to go back around to the passenger side, he tosses off a:

“Have you got the park brake on?”

I groan out loud and throw my face into my hands. Of course! I put the blasted park brake on when I parked at the hotel to make sure the truck didn’t slide out into the car park while I was having my shower! And the park brake light is permanently turned on in this truck as well – whether disengaged or not so I don’t think to check that as it is always on!

Feeling dread, I reach down to release the park brake (its one of those ones down under the dashboard) and there is a satisfactory metallic “cling!”

Park brake released. I thrust my face into my hands again and was shaking my head as the cop came around to the passenger side.

“I feel like such an idiot!” I wail at him! “How could I forget I put the park brake on back at the hotel???”

“It was the park brake?” he asked, wondering if it was going to be his lucky day after all!

“I think so,” I reply.
“Try going forward,” he urged.

Truck engages perfectly and edges forward smoothly. I stop.

“I am such an idiot!” I tell the policeman as he comes to the passenger door and closes it for me. “Thank you so much for your help!”

He grins at me, “Not a problem! Glad we were able to solve the problem quickly and without too much trouble!”

I thank him again and then sheepisly drive off – straight down the Alaska Highway.

He followed me until my turning and I gave him a polite thank you wave as I turned onto the packed powder road to my friends place.

That, for the record, is defintely my biggest ever blonde moment!

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