Saturday, July 8, 2017

July 7 – Arrival in Phuket

We arrived in Manila around 5:15am and had nearly four hours to wait so we hung around in the transfer lounge, drank coffee, charged up devices, and the phone wielders (which I just realized is everybody except for me – I left mine at home, with great happiness) connected to the free wifi and did some internetting. Our friend David collects airline vomit bags and those safety procedure cards that are found in the seat pocket in front of you, so Ana swiped a set of those from the plane and sent David a photo of the spoils. He was virtually delighted.

We will be stopping in Manila for one night on the way back home so will get a chance to see a bit of the city then, but for now we were limited to the pleasure of looking through the terminal windows at the giant blanket of smog over the city in the distance. I rarely experience boredom, but I will admit I was overcome by boredom in that lounge. There just wasn’t much to do, so I did a bit of writing for a while, walked some laps up and down the terminal, read for a bit, and so on. I think the others were bored too. Mackenzie, in his spare time, was doing some research on the bathrooms and found that all three toilets flushed automatically, in perfect synchronicity, with great vigor – throwing water up onto the toilet seat, the wall, and any bystanders. This happened every 6 minutes. I’m thinking maybe Mac shares my intense interest in the bathroom habits and toilet culture of foreigners – perhaps we can compare notes at the end of the trip. Tony was so bored he let Magnus rope him into a game of Magic – the card game Magnus has been absolutely consumed by the past couple of years. It involves dice and cards that represent monsters, demons, werewolves, spells, artifacts, powers, zombies and lands, and you battle each other until a victor emerges, which is always Magnus, because he’s the only one who understands the rules (or perhaps makes them up as he goes). The only time anybody else wins is when he lets you win, thinking it may entice you into playing another game. I felt sorry for Tony, but I did warn him not to express any interest if Magnus mentioned the word “Magic”. I guess that’s what boredom can push a man to.

Finally, finally, the time arrived to board so we lined up and waited patiently. There was some sort of confusion at the check in gate, which delayed the departure and prolonged our agony, but eventually we made it onto the plane, got settled, and before long they were putting food on our tray tables. I was sitting beside Stella and during the flight she finished reading the story I had written for her and had a hundred questions on why things happened the way they did, and why people were the way they were and, most importantly, when I was going to write part two. I am glad she liked it.

We landed in Bangkok with about three hours to spare before our connecting flight to Phuket. Bangkok’s largest international airport, Suvarnabhumi, is massive, new and a major transport hub for the region so is always jammed full of people. Since our flight to Phuket was with another carrier we had to go through immigration here, collect our bags, and then re-check in. We reached the immigration queue and were number 37,891st in line. Although this airport was new and expertly designed, it was clear that whoever they hired to design this part of the facility was the same guy who did work at Toronto’s Pearson airport - what a scoundrel. As we steeled our nerves and started mentally preparing for the long wait ahead, Tony disappeared and Angela was wondering where he had gone. I told her he was probably looking for a Nexus line, which is Canadian/American program for expediting pre-cleared passengers. This had allowed the Henrique family to bypass the security queue in Toronto, leaving the non-Nexus card holding Olsons to languish with the rest of the commoners. Well, I was right, and I’m ashamed to admit that I felt a sick sort of satisfaction as Tony returned to the line, unsuccessful in his search. Misery loves company, they say.

We made it through, collected our bags (which had all arrived, gracias a Dios) and after navigating through a chaotic seriew of moving sidewalks, hallways and escalators, we checked in with Thai Smiles airline. The ladies had cleverly done a web check in for us while they waited in the immigration line, which allowed us to use a shorter queue and get checked in faster. We proceeded through a surprisingly short security queue and walked to the departure gate. The strain of the travel was starting to show, and it reached a crescendo when Angela announced, after doing some tricky mental gymnastics, that our friends and family had enjoyed two full night’s sleep while we had been in transit, and we were headed towards a door to door travel time of about 36 hours.

The flight was delayed by about 30 minutes, but we finally got the call to board and were shuffled into a bus that drove us out to the last airplane of the trip. We got seated and as soon as my butt hit the cushion I was out, and did not actually wake up until the wheels were touching down in Phuket. I hope Ana remembered to grab a vomit bag for David.

Our arrival in Phuket was remarkably fast and soon we had collected our bags, hired a taxi van, and were onto the final leg of the journey. Until this point, we had barely breathed any non-airport air so it felt great to suck in that humid, tropical oxygen and realize that we were almost at the finish line.

After about 25 minutes of navigating through winding roads and villages, passing by shops, houses, rubber tree plantations, and a thousand motorbikes and scooters, we screeched to a halt in front of the Chivatara Bangtao resort. Our motley crue of travelers looked completely shattered and I don’t think the realization that we had actually arrived began to sink in until we had been shown to our rooms, dumped the baggage, and stepped back out to admire the gorgeous pool, view of the forested mountains, and the image of Tony leaping into the pool after an incredibly fast change into his swimsuit.

Bangtao is a place we know quite well as we spent nearly a week here the last time we visited Thailand, so we gathered everybody up and walked down to the beach to take advantage of the remaining few minutes of light. It was just awesome, and felt so familiar. Everybody kicked off their sandals and walked into the water to feel those warm, ocean waves splashing up against their legs. We were finally here and man, did it feel like we had earned it.

We settled in for dinner at the cute little ocean side restaurant located at the end of the beach. We ordered up a round of drinks that included Chang and Singha beers, fruit smoothies, and soda pops, and did a giant toast to our arrival. We all ordered Thai dishes and it was delicious, although the Tom Yung soup ordered by Maddie and Magnus was exceptionally spicy, so they had trouble finishing it, but did not have any trouble at all with the ice cream and crème brulee for dessert. While we were waiting for the bill, Tony found a nice comfy chair and fell asleep with his head back. At the same moment Magnus arrived back in the restaurant after scavenging around on the nearby rocks and was carrying what looked like a giant hermit crab. After showing off his catch he noticed Tony in victim position and went over, preparing to drop the crab into his mouth. Tony could sense trouble so woke up and closed his mouth, thereby foiling Magnus’ plan.

The food and beer gave me a second wind and I was feeling damn good after the meal, hardly tired at all. We walked back to the hotel, but along the way stopped at the 7-11 to pick up some drinks and snacks, and also at a fruit vendor so the Henriques could see some of the local fruit we’d be sampling in the days ahead – rambutan, mangosteens and the infamous durian fruit, the champion stinker of Southeast Asia. Magnus and I had made a solemn pact to eat fresh durian during this trip, but that was not going to happen this night.

Somehow the crew mustered enough energy for a swim, so suits were donned and we spent a glorious time in the pool, washing off the funk of so many hours of travel and capping off what was by far the longest single travel “day” of our lives. I felt very proud of all the kids as they had made it through the entire journey without complaining even once. As long as the journal was, I think it was a great start to the trip and maybe even allowed us to bond a little as a team. We’re ready for this.

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