Monday, October 1, 2007

The journey is the destination - Part I

It has been said that the journey is the destination. I'm not certain that's true any longer. What with the security lines, the flight delays, and the baggage restrictions, flying anywhere just isn't fun anymore. To me, the journey is something to be endured before the good stuff happens.

In any case, we started our trip down to McMurdo Station via commercial airlines. First, we had to board a small commuter plane to LAX and then boarded a Qantas flight down to Auckland. The people of the Southern Hemisphere must be hardier than us (or a good deal shorter) since my knees were already touching the seat in front of me even before the guy ahead flipped his seat back. After his seat reclined, my knees could no longer fit in the remaining space if I kept them bent. Did I mention that this Qantas flight was 12 hours long? Trying slouching in your seat that long. I guess that the only saving grace is that it did wonders for my frequent flier program.

Qantas very thoughtfully gave us a list of exercises to do in our seats to fend off deep vein thrombosis. What they neglected to note in their instructions was the lack of room to do them. Honestly, has anyone at Qantas tried to do their exercises in a "C" seat on a fully packed plane? Can't be done unless you are under 5-feet tall. And that's all I'm going to say about that....

We crossed the International Dateline and lost a day. (Makes us sound absentminded.) However, we were flying so far ahead time zone-wise that we were now only a few hours behind the West Coast. To complicate matters further, New Zealand went on Daylight Savings Time while we were in transit. So, when we boarded our flight, New Zealand's time, relative to home, was one day ahead, but 5 hours behind us. When we deplaned, we were still that day ahead, but now only 4 hours behind.

Confused? Don't be. All you need remember is spring ahead and fall back. The rest is background noise.

Once we reached Auckland, we had to clear immigration and an agricultural inspection. The New Zealanders take their island's isolation very seriously and x-ray each arriving passenger's baggage. This inspection is not to check for drugs or bombs (no one hates them, anyway). They are looking for smuggled food, plants, animals, etc. They even inspect the soles of your hiking boots for foreign dirt.

It surprised me that the agricultural inspectors wanted to know what countries I had visited in the past 30 days. I think that they were particularly concerned about people coming from the U.K. because of the hoof and mouth outbreaks. This caution is understandable; a great deal of the New Zealand economy is based on agriculture. Fortunately, Germany was the last country I visited and it seemed to be off the radar, agriculturally speaking, so I passed the inspection.

We finally reached Christchurch. It took almost 24 hours of travel to get there, but we made it along with all our bags, boxes, and bangles. Forget about traveling light when you do research in the Antarctic. They give you that medical exam to ensure you won't collapse en route under that ton of equipment you must carry. No doubt, it would be a blow to national pride for an American scientist to keel over while porting bags in the airport.

More later. I'm hungry. The journey ain't over, yet....