Tuesday, October 6th, 10.50 am, I’m taking off to Sydney.
This is it. Boom. Simple. Neat. That’s a kicking intro.
Well to be more precise I take my flight after a nearly-sleepless night. I was staying in a hotel next to the airport the night before, but the stifling heat in my room pulled me apart from the arms of Morpheus.
This detail is going to be important, because it’s not like I was going to spend the next two nights in a plane!
So I board with Etihad Airways. The guy from the travel agency praised this air company as one of the best ranked world-wide, and I must admit he was right.
Everything is new and very modern. Touch screen offering you an impressive library of applications, movies, games… and even tv chanels. Incredible. So I watched a rugby game live 10 000km up in the sky.
Pillows and headrest are provided.
Gentlemen from Abu Dhabi, honestly, what a luxury.
The luxury, well it’s particularly luxurious within business class. There is always a moment when you have to walk through business class. And, oh Lord, how different it must be to travel in these small units, quiet, laid back, with all the space you need to stretch your legs.
But let’s not complain!
I found myself seated next to a beautiful young blonde american girl. Yes, sometimes the Lord is with you.
And not any girl. But a diplomat’s daughter who speaks a perfect French. It should be said that her father worked at the US ambassy in Paris and that she studied some time in Montreal.
In short, a life in first class.
She was fed with a silver spoon right after baby’s bottles and she came to like it.
Nowadays she works in a communication agency, more specificaly in what could be called e-reputation. she ensures that the companies she works for have got the best reputation possible. It’s not very clean but that’s what every student of Science-Po dreams to do. Down with morals as long as we get the money.
She lives and works in Abu Dhabi, and confirm that being in a muslim country you can’t do anything you want, but there is still some places where you can go to have fun.
We don´t really feel the muslim part of the culture during the flight, apart from a short prayer broadcasted on every screen and loudspeaker before the take off.
Speaking of screens, we have the possibility to turn on a camera located under the nose of the plane. It’s both great and terrifying. Like, we’d like to say to the pilot “are you sure we’ve got enought speed, yeah? You don’t want to wait a little bit more before taking off?”
But the worst is still the landing, because you can actually see how the plane deviates once the weels touched the ground. It’s clearly not straight! Finally it goes well, and here I am in Abu Dhabi.
An urge to light up a cigarette, but doubt fills me about the possibility of doing it here. And even more because it’s just a stopover, therefore I can’t leave the airport to find a quiet spot.
In the vast and luxuous hallways of the duty free shops, I’m watching out for any sign, and I luckily come across a smoking zone. Hope is coming back, and actually this sign leads to a typical amercian bar where people are eating juicy beef ribs with French fries, just how it’s supposed to be.
You have to walk through the entire bar to reached a closed room that serves as a smoking room. Around ten people can sit down here, the remaining people are standing up to be able to have a smoke. It feels like you’re in an aquarium, the atmoshpere is oppresive, and you have to fight to get close to an ashtray. For want of anything better, in between two flights, in between two time zones, in a place where you don’t exactly know where you are, it will do.
Three hours later, 10.30 pm, I’m supposed to get going.
Yes, but actually no!
Lots of delay, and then follows an unexpected manual inspection of personal luggages. Security makes us all leave the departure area to make us enter again one by one to search the belongings of the (numerous) passengers.
While boarding, first class passengers receive a small bag with a few products as a compensation for the delay. Don’t worry, we, little people, didn’t receive anything!
In the plane that’s taking me to Perth it already feels a bit like Australia. Yes, Australians are here, with their unique broad appearance, and their national flag colored headrests. My neighbour is a member of team kangaroo, but we’re both collapsing on our seats in the hope of finding sleep.
From the window I can see the 2 jet engines. So 4 in total. It’s reassuring and frightening at the same time. I realize that during almost all the way we will be lost above the ocean. Not really the place where you want a shit to happen. The camera with a forward perspective is even more impressive, because we really feel the weight of the beast and the power needed to make it leave the ground.
Despite the tiredness I start to feel, it’s impossible to find sleep. Anyway, I force myself because, well, jetlag or not, it’s dark outside, and in the end I can more or less doze… for a few times. It’s always a strange atmosphere. The softened lights, the visual pollution of passengers’ screen spreading more or less everywhere, the passengers siting in various strange positions to sleep. And the little ballet of stewardesses, coming and going with gentleness, like a nanny watching over a cradle.
After many hours in this bubble out of time, out of everything, I realize that the day is knocking on the window. It’s even close to midday here in Perth. I’m trying to figure out what time it is in Abu Dhabi, then in France, but my brain is doing an organ descent. At this stage “it does not compute”.
We receive a small lunch. I’m not very hangry but, well, everybody seems to be eating with appetite, so let’s do the same.
Once the table is cleared, we have to quickly fill in the immigration documents. The shores of Australia’s western coast already show up. The color of the sea is turquoise blue, one of the most enchanting, worthy of photoshop. A few saling boats draw their route, bathing under an intense sun.
While approaching Perth, we can see that this region is very arid. Orche yellow dry land for as far as the eye can see. The city itself seems rather modest. We figure out the city center, for the rest it’s only similar medium height buildings. Like a line of suburban houses.
The landing runway ends in the sea, better not miss it!
Outside of the plane, I put my first steps on the Australian ground, with a serious fog in my head. Yet, one has to come to his senses to pass through customs. Actually I only had to say hello, and 15 seconds later my passport was stamped. No supporting documents asked. Well very well, thank you, goodbye mate!
I step outside, blue sky and fresh asphalt.
And yet, I’m in the shade. In order to do the little smoke break of the day, the only smoking spot is located 50 meters in front of the airport, near the parking lot. You have to face the flames of the sun to reach it, but once you´re there, there is a roof over all benches to protect you from the full sun. Cigarettes are extremely expensive, smoking areas are limited, but still we’re humans.
While leaving, I step on a greenish note left on the ground. I look right, I look left, no one. Well, dans la poche! Unfortunately fortune is still far away because in my hands I hold a 5-ringgit note. Hey, it’s going somewhere! Actually it’s Malaysian currency. So peanuts.
After leaving one of my backpacks in a locker, beneath the very eyes of 3 Asian people wondering how this machine could work, I decide to take a quick walk inside the airport. It´s new but very small in the end. Most international trafic takes place on the east coast.
The gift shops are full of blue flags, kangaroos, and aboriginal items.
But where is my Eiffel Tower, holy moly?!
Walking up a few stairs you can access a large corridor, which actually is a big bay window offering an unobstructed view on the airport runways, and it’s nice. Even if the activity is quite low, it’s always enjoyable to watch these huge machines that, later, will defy gravity.
03:00 pm already, I go away at 10.55 pm but since I have to check in 3 hours beforehand it’s actually at 07.55 pm. Looking for information, the bus that goes to the centre of Perth takes 30 minutes to go there. You have to count as much for the way back. It only takes a bit of walking around, stoping at the wrong bus-stop or I don’t know what else to miss my flight. Let’s stay that I don’t feel full on so I don’t feel like going. The hammer blow was the price of the bus, around 20$. One way ! Are you kidding me ?
So here I am, wandering around this quiet and empty airport, where the outside world seems so distant. Spending a little (long) time on my Iphone, visiting a few shops, reading moto magazines (one doesn’t change) and finally eating a slice of pizza.
When I was paying, the cashier looked at me struggling with the notes and stared at the malaisian note. Like, he was fighting not to have a big smile from ear to ear. So I asked him “Hey, what’s so funny about this one?”. And there he informed me that it’s worth nothing at all. I suspected it of course, but at this point he destroyed the hope I had to get at least a few dollars…
Time flies slowly, but finally the afternoon comes to an end.
I found out that you need to take a shuttle to go to the boarding area for domestic flights. I can walk to another boarding area but it’s not the good one. And it turns into a melee, everybody trying to get on the bus with family and luggages.
I’d had to wait for the second shuttle to be able to get on.
The night fall, but the warmth stayed. The bus starts its 10 minutes ride, lighted by street lamps with bright white light. We follow a little road then a high-speed way. And it’s so strange to see the torrents of cars driving on the left side of the road. For them it’s normal, but for me it’s absolutely not normal. A little bit like reading a book upside down. My mind is already lost as it is, it’s only increasing the confusion.
The domestic flights airport seems less modern but much more alive. After asking for some information at the Virgin Australia counter it’s time for some more waiting time. It’s funny to notice that there is less tourists among the customers now. For them it’s a bit like taking the bus. Well a bus without wheels. Which would flight 10 000 meters above sea level. At nearly 10,000 km/h speed.
From the waiting room we can see in the distance the arrival – or the ball – of the stewardesses for our flight. It would be difficult to miss them, beacuse it’s Virgin their long blood red skirts signal their presence kilometers in advance. Why a ball? Because oh la la. Tonight, if beauty had a name I would have named it australian. Beauties so close, but so unreachable at the same time. A foretaste of hell.
The boarding starts, and on the footbridge that leads to the plane, I found myself standing not far behind a couple with their 7 year-old son. The kid is very excited even though it´s very late. His mother explains me that it’s his first time flying and that it’s a big day for him, after missing a chance to fly away a few month ago.
I look at this family and think that Man is crazy.
The kid is as nervous as one can be, and his parents are very proud to go with him. With blind trust in this transport, this technology. A technology I admire, but don’t prevent me from thinking it’s a flying coffin from time to time. I don’t go in there as easily as in a taxi, but yet for some people it seems very easy.
In this thicker and thicker haze my brain is, I even make a comparison with exploration on Mars. Yes it will happen, and no there will be no problem to find volunteers to go there. Homo sapiens is adventurous by nature.
11.00 pm local time, there it goes again for a night on a plane. I feel like throwing everything on a bed but no, once again I will have to pretend to sleep, in spite of my eyes stinging.
The worst part is that I finally fell asleep for fifteen minutes… before refreshments were served. After that, interruption, I certainly felt I lost my only opportunity to sleep. Damn. Sigh.
Next morning, 06.00 am in Sydney, dawn comes timidly and we fly over the city. What a contrast with Perth. Here the urbanisation seems much more important, the city center worthy of worldwild city, ans its big arteries contain an endless flow of vehicles, which, at this early time, look more like yellow and white pastilles.
I walk around the arteries of the airport to reach the luggage area. There you can feel that you’re in the big city. Retro styled coffee shops and bars with typicaly Anglo-Saxon atmosphere endlessly punctuate the place, and they’re already filled with customers drinking their coffee while reading newspapers. After a never-ending wait in front of the baggage carousel, a place of high anxiety, I regain possession of my 70 liters backpack. On my belly, another one of 40 liters keeps me company.
Well well, let’s go now!