And so it begins

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
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Trip End Mar 21, 2008


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Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Saturday, October 21, 2006

Well, this is it. The beginning of our trip. What lies ahead is probably the most interesting year of my life. Actually, I can't say that with certainty, because I don't remember much of my first year. My second and third years are a bit blurry too but could perhaps be partially recalled with some intense regression therapy. It's probably not worth it though as, from what I've heard, it was just a lot of crying, pooping and vomiting. The other 20-odd intervening years had their moments but for concentrated adventure, fun and memorable experiences, I expect this 12 month, 23 country, five continent odyssey to take the number one spot.

And so it begins, with a marathon series of flights from Toronto, our home for the last six and a half years, to Wellington, New Zealand, where I spent most of my formative years and where my parents still live. En route, we have brief layovers in Chicago, Los Angeles and Auckland.

The excitement and realisation of what is about to happen has not quite kicked in yet, which is a bit weird. For Jane and I it just feels like we are going on a plane ride, not embarking on an adventure that will catapult us out of our comfort zones, emotionally, physically, geographically and gastronomically. We are finding it difficult to grasp the fact that we will be away for a whole year, will be experiencing things as varied as tramping the bush of New Zealand, sleeping in a Tokyo capsule hotel, teaching English to Nepalese orphans, safariing near the birthplace of civilization in Tanzania, camping with Bedouins in the deserts of Jordan, standing beneath the mighty pyramids in Egypt and lying on a beach in the Greek Islands - to name but a few. These are things you only read about, things that other people get to do. So, it may be that, until we actually do them, they will remain somewhat abstract concepts that appear only in our heads and on paper as an itinerary, rather than as imminent realities.

Our apartment before

and after

Thirty hours after leaving our Toronto apartment for the last time, we arrive in a rainy Auckland at 7am, with almost five hours before our Auckland to Wellington flight. Our good friend and ex-Toronto roommate Tim meets us at the airport. Tim is a real global traveller and one never knows whether he will be in town at any given time or not. Fortunately he is staying with his parents in Auckland now so he drives us to their place for a wonderfully pleasant and entertaining breakfast. We have plenty of time, so we sit around and shoot the breeze with Tim and his mum and dad in their oddly-shaped but very comfortable house, sharing conversation that flows as though we were the oldest of friends. Tim's parents, like Tim, are lovely people and we could easily have spent hours more with them if time had allowed.

With Tim

Tim drives us back to the airport and we get to the front of the check-in line at 11:20am for our 11:45 flight. The lady tells us that we needed to have picked up our checked bags when we arrived in Auckland. I should have known this from previous trips but the check-in lady in Toronto had sworn on her mother's life that our bags would go straight through to Wellington, so we didn't bother collecting them. This development gives us exactly 18 minutes to scurry across to the international terminal, pick up our bags from the unclaimed baggage department, scurry back to the domestic terminal and catch our scheduled flight. The odds are against us but we give it a good shake, running in the rain, zipping past cart-wielding travellers and bursting into the Baggage Services area, out of breath and dripping wet, to explain our situation. "Oh, sorry mate", the guy says, "we'll have to get your bags through customs, could take some time". So, resigned to missing our flight, I call mum to explain the situation, and we wait. At 11:50, five minutes after our plane left, our bags arrived. A minor inconvenience, yes, but much better for it to happen on this final leg of the journey than on any of the previous flights. We end up on the 1:30 flight that drops us into Wellington an hour later.

Flying to New Zealand is always a bit disconcerting because you lose a day when you cross the International Date Line. Travelling westwards from Toronto to Los Angeles and then from LA to the Date Line, you are going 'back' in time. Then, suddenly, you cross the Line and you leap forward a full day. Basically, Sunday October 22 didn't happen for us at all. Who knows what exciting things that day may have held in store for us? And, what's worse is that, because we continue our trip heading westwards, we don't cross back over the International Date Line, so we won't ever get that day back. Ah well.

Mum and Dad meet us at the airport and before going home we go for a coffee and cake at the Maranui Surf Lifesaving Club. Not as odd as it may sound, actually. The top floor of the very basic 80-year-old beachside clubhouse has been transformed into a funky cafe, with surf-lifesaving paraphernalia, colourful decor, delicious food and drinks and great views of the Lyall Bay beach. Today is wet and blustery, so a good day to be indoors.

When we get home, we settle in, shoot the breeze with the olds, look at their nice new kitchen extension and have some dinner. Dad has a big public lecture next week to mark the end of his term as Head of School at the university. The topic of his speech is 'The Geography of Happiness', which explores the parts of the country that are the happiest and what can be improved as a result. We chat about this for a while then, exhausted, we are asleep before our heads hit the pillow, at about 9:30pm.
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