Sea of white

An ambulance and paramedics wait for us in Cairns as our aircraft pulls up at the gate. Earlier in the flight a call had gone out requesting assistance from medically trained personnel.

The medics board through the rear door of the aircraft. From what I could hear it is a case of a baby vomiting up a few seats behind us.

Been there, done that. Alex was sick with gastro flying back from Singapore when he was almost two years old. I had his shit and vomit all over me by the end of the flight. He was okay, just in need of a bit of Gastrolyte according to the hospital emergency room. Hopefully the same for this kid.

We collect our luggage and walk across in the heat and humidity to the International building. Annoyingly, you now have to pay $3 to hire a luggage cart.

The check in desks are all closed for another hour and there are no shops open in the departures area. But we do run into B’s cousin, also taking the flight to Osaka to celebrate her graduation.

Eventually we line up to check in and are told to head back to Domestic if we want a bite because there’s bugger all here.

Well, we can’t be bothered walking back and going through security again. So up the escalator, through customs and quarantine and into the Corridor of Duty Free full of things we have zero interest in.

She was right about the lack of dining options, even worse now than last time in 2019. The only hot food is toasted wraps and buns. All overpriced, of course.

I try to kip on some torn cushioned seats. Not very successfully.

It is a relief to finally board our Jetstar 787, itself looking a little worse for wear. I take my seat by the window, Alex again in the centre and B on the aisle seat.

The weather outside is looking a bit worrisome, with big clouds appearing nearby.  I hope our ascent won’t be too rough.

We have seatback entertainment. Despite the meagre movie list on the website there are actually a few decent movies to catch up. Some Marvel, even The Empire Strikes Back. I don’t want anything intellectually taxing.

What really impresses me is the Classical music selection, and by Classical I actually mean soundtracks. Three, that’s right, three John Williams, including The Rise of Skywalker. A Michael Giacchino Spider-Man soundtrack and the collections of Superhero themes and James Horner music from my last flight. Even some other tracks hiding away elsewhere. Bravo!

So I set music on (sure I could have used my phone, but I don’t want to) and switch on the flight map.

It’s time to go. My anxiety rises, but I am surprised to see us taxiing to the southern end of the runway. Oh yes, I think.

We launch quickly into the air, the huge wings flexing.  There are nasty clouds ahead, but we turn out to sea, avoiding the CB and storms hugging the coast.

Up we rise! But soon we enter the high cloud and the faint views of coral reefs and tropical coastline disappears altogether.

A sea of hazy white cloud lies beneath, it’s only features the occasional storm protruding through the layer. Then as we approach Papua New Guinea it becomes a wall of white, ready to swallow us whole.

Aotearoa might be the land of the long white cloud but PNG is land of the bloody tall one. Every time it is covered by these huge remnants of storms.

The air never settles and we bump our way. Sometimes we are immersed in white, other times skimming the top.

The whiteness appears to go on forever.

I have microsleeps, awoken by bumps and changes.

Eventually I decide to watch a movie to distract myself. Bullet Train sounds appropriately inappropriate. Yes, not one of the Christopher Nolan perfect-for-flying options, but at least it’s not on one of my streaming services back home.

Bullet Train isn’t exactly realistic. Mindless entertainment.

The cloud thins briefly and I spot an island. Is it Guam, home of the storms and turbulence as one pilot told me? I don’t feel like quitting my movie to check and indeed I am wrong. For though the skies do clear and the flying becomes pleasant, Guam awaits with some more high cloud and I can tell our flight path is dodging more storms.

The others sleep or watch movies on the phones rather than the screens. By the time I finish Bullet Train we have well and truly passed Guam and the sea has the golden shimmer streak of the low sun. The skies are usually calmer until we approach Japan itself.

This part is what I wish flying was all the time. Except I’m getting hungry and tired.

The sun sets behind the horizon of cloud, a distant orange fireball. Venus is a pinpoint of bright light in the indigo sky that fades to black with only a line of hazy glow remaining on the horizon.

The captain finally pipes up, saying he has been rather busy as he has just returned from annual leave.

We begin our descent from 43,000 feet to 30,000, where we continue for a while before the final descent. The path through the upper cloud layer is rather rough and we stay in cloud for most of the journey down, streaks of rain flashing past the landing lights.

Eventually we emerge into clear air. Shikoku is on our left as we follow a path into the artificial island that is Kansai International Airport from the south.

The landing is hard. Then the windows fog on our long, long taxi to gate 1L

The process of getting out into Japan is long, slow and bureaucratic. Our phones refuse to connect to the mobile network in order to retrieve our immigration details. A staff member helps us to connect to the free wifi, but it’s slow.

Quarantine and immigration, customs. Both have separate long queues.

The queues continue as we line up to collect our JR Passes.

It’s 9pm, 11pm Sydney time, when we finally catch the Darth Vader shaped cathedral and leopard print interiored Nankai Rapit to Osaka.

Then we need to find somewhere to eat when most along too touristy Dotonbori Street are closing. The donburi place is so very slow and the food too much for our tired stomachs.

At least our room in the Cross Hotel has a proper Japanese bathroom with a sit-down shower and big bath. So nice after such a long day.

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