I woke up Tuesday morning in Las Vegas. The bus didn’t leave until 10:45am local time, and I was still on Kansas time. That meant my internal clock thought I should be up at 6:45. If you know me, you know I’m not a morning person. I decided to make the most of it, though, and caught my last sunrise in the U.S. for a few months as it came up over the Strip. After a long, hot shower, I went down to the lobby and got a coffee. Not a bad way to start the morning.
The bus showed up late, but finally arrived around 11am. There were around 30 of us that boarded from my hotel and it made a few stops at other hotels on the way out of town. By the time we hit the road, it was mostly full.
Riding the bus was an interesting experience. Forget about the typical customer service and niceties; this is a no frills ride.But, for $25 bucks, I wasn’t complaining. At least not too much. They way I see it, any form of transportation here in the States is bound to be nicer than what I’d experience once I got to Southeast Asia next month.
I did some work on the bus until my laptop died, then dozed off for a while. I was awakened to the bus screeching to a halt in front of a McDonalds somewhere in the desert of southern California. Several of my large, less than classy bus mates hopped off to get a cheeseburger. I opted for no lunch. That coffee and donut would have to tie me over for a few more hours.
Finally, around 3:30pm, we hit the outskirts of Los Angeles. The bus made a few stops for pick ups and drop offs, and eventually we made it to the downtown drop where I got off. Immediately upon stepping foot off the bus, several taxi drivers swarmed us to find out where we needed to go. I needed LAX, and the first driver said he’d do it for $50 bucks. I told him to do better, and he agreed to $35.
Come to find out, he was one of those “illegitimate” cab drivers who didn’t work for an actual taxi company and thus, didn’t have the usual taxi license. Or a meter for the fare. His name was JJ and he seemed nice enough, and I felt confident I could handle myself should he decide to get shady, so off we went. On the ride to the airport, which took about 35 minutes, we talked about his family. His mom died when he was two, and he has seven brothers and two sisters. 10 kids! When I seemed surprised, he told me he has an aunt that has 18 (!) kids. He said he hated living in LA, but that’s where his family lives, so there he was.
I got the LAX and checked in for my flight to New Zealand. Security was quick and before long, I was scouring the terminal for an open power outlet. More than bathrooms, food, or anything else in an airport terminal, power outlets are the hot commodity. I eventually found one and juiced up all my gadgets for the last time, not knowing when I’d have power again. More on that in a bit.
My last meal in the U.S.: Burger King. Bleh. It was the least of all evils in that particular terminal, so I grabbed a Whopper, fries, and a Coke, thumped my chest and said ‘MERICA, and woofed it down. Whatever.
Eventually we boarded and let me tell ya, in all my domestic travels in/around the U.S., I’ve never been on an airplane like this. It was a Boeing 777-300 that was fairly well loaded with passengers. Only a few empty seats remained by the time everyone got on board. I got lucky – or so I thought at first – and had my entire row of four seats to myself. Just before takeoff, a guy came and asked to sit in my row since he was originally seated at the back of the plane, but his wife was in the row in front of me. Fair enough, I thought. I can make do with just three seats to myself!
In the back of the headrest in front of you was a touch screen monitor that really had some cool features. You could pick any of nearly 300 movies to watch, and a decent handful of them were new releases. Watch as many as you like at no cost. They also had an extensive music library for tunes, but I didn’t go through it. If you wanted a snack, a meal, drinks (alcoholic or not), a blanket, a tooth brush, or nearly anything else you can imagine, you ordered it on the touch screen and it was brought to you a few minutes later.
Around midnight, they served dinner. Two choices: beef casserole or chicken and pasta. I opted for the chicken, and it was decent. I wasn’t even expecting a meal, so it was a nice surprise. I washed that down with a couple glasses of complimentary Pino Noir and popped on a movie.
Back to the guy who sat next to me — when it was time to sleep, it turned into a nightmare (pun intended). Since I was sitting in the far chair opposite him in a row of four seats, it seemed reasonable that each of us could occupy two of them. Wrong. He wanted all three, and while I was dozed off, took them right over. I woke up to find his face next to my leg and no extra room to spread out like I’d initially been excited about.
More than once, he flopped his legs out into the aisle and the steward shook him awake to ask him to move his legs. Once, he jammed the beverage cart right into his legs. It gave me a good laugh. He asked me on a couple occasions if I wanted him to have the guy move over so I could spread out, but I declined. It wasn’t a huge deal and plenty of the people on the plane only had one seat anyway (and that’s all I had originally planned on having), so whatever.
Eventually, he moved over and I got a second seat to use anyway.
The flight landed on time without issue in Auckland and I set about finding my pack, which I’d checked in LA. Everything went smoothly and it was waiting for me at the baggage claim. Next, it was time to go through Customs. Since I’ve never traveled internationally before, this was a new experience for me.
The lady who took my Passport had a thousand questions, but was friendly enough. What are you doing here in New Zealand for 18 days? Do you have friends or family here? Where do you intend on staying? How are you getting around? Where are you going after you leave New Zealand? After four or five minutes of feeling like I’d just come home late or broken curfew, she stamped my Passport and I was off. But not quite yet.
After clearing Customs, I had to talk to yet another Customs officer for “special screening.” That never amounted to anything more than a few additional questions. Did I have tobacco on me? Was I bringing in any food or drinks? Alcohol? Did I have any plants or plant food? What countries had I been in within the last 30 days? Everything checked out and he finally sent me on my way.
Last, they sent my bags through an Xray scanner and I was promptly cleared. Finally, I was done.
After getting out of the secure area of the airport, I found a local shop selling SIM cards and picked one up for my iPhone. $30 NZD (about $26 USD) got me 3 GB of data for the next 60 days. I’m only going to be here for 18 of that, so that should do just fine, especially considering many of the hostels I plan to stay with have free WiFi – including the one I’m in typing this right now, Queens Street Backpackers in downtown Auckland.
I realized once I got here that I literally lost one entire day, Wednesday, by crossing the International Dateline. I left Los Angeles at 10:15pm PST on March 25 and arrived here at 7:02am NZDT on March 27. Kind of interesting. Back home, you all are reading this on Wednesday, but I’m already a day ahead. Specifically, New Zealand is 18 hours ahead of Central Standard Time in the States.
I’ll rap it up for now. Time to venture out and find a coffee and wonder around the streets. I’ll have another post this evening (while you’re asleep) about my hostel and exploring Auckland. Look for it when you wake up.