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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sydney, We Have a Problem

Sydney, We Have a Problem
Getting to New Zealand's South Island

I write this from a cafe in our new home, Mt. Maunganui, on New Zealand's North Island. I can see the Pacific Ocean, feel the cool breeze, smell the fried fish. Already, the promise of a lunch special (cranberry, chicken and brie panini, salad and coffee) has made my tummy happy. We've been here a week, which has allowed me to gain a shred of perspective about our travels to, and on, the South Island.
First, the "going-to" part
 We left Sydney January 1st in the afternoon, with temperatures pushing 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius). I dumped another load of chlorine into our host family's pool (it had turned green, and the homeowner told me to unleash 2 giant containers of chemicals), cleaned the kitchen and took a final peek through the house before hopping on the highway to the airport. I returned our black 4-door Hyundai to the rental car lot, praying no one would notice the thin squiggles of touch-up paint snaking across the back right bumper. A low guard rail snuck up on me whilst (I can't resist the British-ism) I was backing out of the Gordon train station parking lot. The metal rail was imperceptible from inside the car. I should've noticed it from outside. However, Fiona was crying, sobbing, really - about something truly stupid: I'd asked her to carry a single sheet of 8x10 paper she'd been coloring on the train. The kids are constantly giving me things to carry, and every now and then, I get fed up with my role of "Mama Martyr Mule" (or 3M) and tell them to hold their own [damn] stuff. The paper was too much to bear for Princess Fiona, who burst into tears. After I smacked the rail and heard the kerrr-unch, I yelled, "See what you made me do?" Oops. How many times have I told the kids no one can "make" them do anything? Bad Mommy.

3M Strikes Again

Fortunately, no one seemed to notice Bad Mommy's amateur paint job, or if they did, I haven't yet received the bill. Onward to check in for our New Zealand flight. I couldn't find a luggage cart, so I carried a backpack, wheeled a large suitcase, plus carried 2 bags (3M strikes again). I asked the kids to wheel one small suitcase each. The kids-as-Sherpas scheme works until Finley gets bored, which happens in about 10 seconds. That's when Fiona takes up his slack. We arrived at the departure desk, where I didn't see our flight listed. We were 3 hours early – maybe they hadn't yet started check-in? I shuffled the kids to a coffee stand, where I drank a $5 coffee and doled out biscuits to the kids. I resisted the urge to buy a $7 glass of wine. I needed to be alert to run the airport gauntlet of departure counter, security screening and flight boarding...

We have a Problem

Fiona, Finley and I queued for 5 minutes before I realized WE WERE IN THE WRONG LINE. Crap. No problem, we'll zip over to the other counter. The queue held maybe 20 parties ahead of us, so it shouldn't take long, right? Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. 40 minutes later, I'm still standing in line while Finley and Fiona play with kid games mounted on a pillar. What could possibly be taking SO DAMN LONG? 40 bag shuffles and 3 "Fiona, stand where I can see you!" ['s] later, I'm face-to-face with the agent empowered to remove the luggage albatross from my neck and send us to the Promised Land, i.e., New Zealand. "Oh, we have a problem," said Julie, the airline employee. I hear that phrase before about a third of our flights. One time, on our Frankfurt, Germany to Cape Town, South Africa leg, the airline forgot to assign us seats. Agents are often confused by the fact the kids have 2 middles names. You'd think I'd have learned by now not to panic. But no. I'm not ZEN. I'm Zen's polar opposite, ACK. I can feel my face get hot and my pulse start to pound any time an airline employee says, "Oh, we have a problem." (Note to airline employees: Please find another way to inform your customer there's an issue). Our problem: lack of Visa and lack of outbound ticket from New Zealand. The country's list of requirements for entry, which I read and re-read online, state you must either have a visa, outbound ticket or proof of means to buy an outbound ticket. Since we were unable to secure visas before leaving the States (I did apply; My application was rejected because I applied too soon; We couldn't apply while traveling because you must send away your passport), I was going with Option #3. But Julie's airline apparently didn't get the memo about Option #3. "Oh, no," she said. "Immigration in New Zealand will need to see you've booked a ticket out of the country." (note to travelers: Tourism NZ really wants you to visit. Government NZ really wants you to leave. Only about 4 million people live here, and apparently, they want to keep it that way). "What about showing proof you can buy the ticket?" I asked, feeling more feverish, jittery and ACK with each thump-thump of my heart. "No, you need to have purchased the ticket,"How about to Sydney?" she asked. "Sure, whatever," I said. She said, "You can cancel the ticket and get a refund as soon as you leave Immigration in New Zealand." $1900 later, the kids and I, plus luggage, were cleared for take-off. 

Almost. First, we had to do something I've not had to do before: Enter immigration screening to leave Australia. Really. They make you fill out a card and everything, just like when you're entering a country. Where have you been? How much did you buy? Why did you come? Overkill, anyone? All of this stuff I must do three times, alone. Card for me. Card for Fiona. Card for Finley. The Aussie immigration agent was a nice enough bloke, though. "Hey, yohhr missing yohhr teeth!" he told Fiona, with a smile. "Yep. I sold them in exchange for two kangaroo hearts, and a koala pelt, which I've packed in my suitcase." I didn't actually say that last part. "Good on you!" said Aussie agent. "Have a nice trip."

At the gate, airline employee Julie, the one who'd hastily sold us nearly $2,000 worth of airline tickets, was waiting to scan our boarding passes. "They're so cute," she said, referring to Fiona and Finley. Then she asked, "Where's Daddy?" Finley piped up: "Daddy's in heaven. He's dead." Julie said, "Oh, I'm sorry. Well, have a nice trip."
[to be continued...]

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