It seems a waste not to take advantage of our stay in Cairns and we are hungry for lunch. We catch a taxi down to the Night Markets (closed, it’s not night) and eat at one of the Vietnamese restaurants there. It seems right to have South East Asian food here, the hot and sticky weather certainly reminds us of the region.
A sip of fresh juice delivers us there.
Cairns has many attractions, but none that we feel like seeing right now in our half asleep state. Instead we buy some ice cream and cross over to the lagoon, dip our feet in the warm waters and relax.
Rather than catch a taxi, we decide to walk back to the hotel along the Esplanade. It’s the wet season, very hot and humid, and we soon feel some regret. But the views are pretty and there is some informative signage about the history of the region.
At Muddy’s playground we try our skills at a human sized hamster wheel and fail miserably!
By the time we reach the hotel room again we are smelly and sticky and ready for another nap.
We use the airline meal credit of $30 each to eat a dinner of fish at the hotel rather than venture out again. Then it’s early to bed.
I wake before the alarm sounds. It’s not quite 5 AM and still dark outside. We checkout and board the prebooked taxi for the airport. It’s raining quite heavily outside.
I’m a bit anxious about the flight, knowing that there’s cloud at both ends and wind in Sydney. I look forward to it being over.
I’ve already checked in online, so all that remains is the bag drop and queuing for security. It’s a long queue and passengers for earlier flights are being called.
We’ve been given a pair of $8 meal vouchers each for breakfast. I wonder how we can manage to spend $16 each on breakfast, but then I see the food prices in the terminal. It costs $7 just for a 600 ml bottle of Coke!
Unfortunately, the service desk didn’t book us seats together yesterday, but I’ve managed to squeeze myself into a forward window seat and Alex and B a row behind on the opposite side of the aircraft, which is absolutely full.
Clouds of condensation are billowing out of the air vents as the warm moist tropical air collides with the refrigerated air-conditioning.
Captain Mick Cochrane apologises for the delay, caused by transferring bags from today’s Jetstar flight from Japan and air traffic control in Sydney. We push back late, but I’m not certain that’s a bad thing.
I’m half asleep, drifting off as we make our way to the runway, waiting for a Toll 737 Classic freighter to proceed before us.
I wake as I am pushed back into my seat by the sudden acceleration. We rise, then turn sharply to avoid the city and the mountains. Passing up through the cloud layers, we avoid anything too big and the bumps are manageable.
There are cloud layers above and below us. Sometimes we pass through the tops or bottoms of the high cloud and there are bumps and shakes, other times it’s right through them and smooth.
The cabin crew perform a meal service. We have $15 credit each on our tickets, but none of us is hungry, so we just use it to buy snacks like cake, Pringles and cheese that we will consume later.
The clouds break below and I think I see Great Keppel Island from above. The normal flight path would have us crossing the coast further northwards. An inspection of FlightAware shows that it was probably Palm Island with us passing inland near Townsville, as is the usual case.
It is easy to lose track without a flight map. The late departure means I’m not even certain when we will land. I’m listening to my flying playlist on my MP3 player (yes, a Walkman, not my phone) and when it switches to Christopher Lloyd Clarke’s ambient Adrift I suddenly relax. I’m using my Fear of Flying course teachings to cope and it seems to be mostly working.
There are periods of smooth flying. Now and then it gets a little bumpy.
I even fall asleep for a while.
In the distance I see some masses of cumulus beginning to tower. It’s okay, we are passing by in the distance over a flat carpet of cloud.
No, wait. Why are we suddenly turning towards them?
Are the pilots mad?
We get closer and closer.
But we pass right by and without feeling anything.
The First Officer Carla Brunhill (not sure of the spelling) announces that we will shortly begin our descent and that Sydney is overcast.
Looking below at the quality of the clouds, I’m not certain that they flat and smooth enough for my liking. But things may change as we get closer.
We make more turns. To avoid clouds? To delay for air traffic control purposes? I’m not certain.
The descent becomes more urgent. There is a layer of cloud below. Threatening? Or not? I’m still uncertain.
There are whirrs and clunks as flaps and leading edges are extended.
Down we go, closer and closer to the cloud. We go in. Everything is white, then grey. I spot hills below. They disappear again.
We’re through! And there’s Sydney’s Olympic Park.
More familiar landmarks on final. Iron Cove Bridge. The pink building of Annandale. IKEA Tempe.
Finally, the airport terminals and aircraft as we land on 16L, the leftmost and shortest of the runways.
I’ve survived. Actually, it was a pretty good flight.
Our luggage emerges quickly on the belt and we are soon on our way out by train to Revesby, back to Padstow.
While we wait for the bus, B buys us a lunch of takeaway noodles from a Thai restaurant.
A tiring dragging of our luggage along the street in the humidity of a Sydney summer and we are home.
The fish are all alive and the ants have done some exploring. Alex has the subjects he wants and what remains is to wrap his books in Contact and for me to try to do some afternoon work, buy groceries and cook dinner.
When I park at the shops I am shocked by the number of huge utes and others giant cars when compared to the compact vehicles of Japan. It feels strange not to see everyone wear a mask or to have one on my own face. The accents. The noise! Foreigners are so much louder than the Japanese, the COVID exhortations not to speak while too close in public making them even quieter.
Life has returned.
But I’m very glad we had that holiday. I’m glad of the Cairns detour. I enjoyed them both. I needed that holiday, that escape from everyday life. And I survived the flights. I won’t say that it was like the old days when flying felt special, but I tolerated flying and even the turbulence that accompanied them. It was a start, but I would still rather go via land.
It leaves me conflicted, because this trip reminded me how much I love travelling in Japan. I want to go back, go back often. It’s just so far away.