I thought that the adventure in this trip was all over, Red Rover, and that on this final day of my year overseas, the time for surprises was long behind. Well, I thought wrong. Although I was originally meant to fly my final leg home (Bangkok to Sydney) with Qantas — as I have a Qantas / BA round-the-world ticket — I ended up conceding to a ticket with the budget carrier Jetstar. This was because, when I finalised my ticket bookings back in October, they were already sold out of seats on Qantas flights. Anyway, when I rocked up at Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi Int'l Airport last night, the check-in staff informed me that I was flying via Melbourne. WTF?!
It was a bit of a shock; but fortunately, the final stretch of my trip home otherwise went smoothly. I caught the express shuttle bus from Khao San Road over to the airport, and I arrived with plenty of time to spare. The check-in staff for Jetstar (which is owned by Qantas) explained that — although the ticket and itinerary didn't mention the fact — my flight was going via Melbourne; which finally explained the mystery of why an 8-hour flight was listed on my schedule as taking closer to 12 hours. Plus, I'm not sure whether they were trying to make up for the misunderstanding about the flight route, or because I just found a nice guy, but the dude at the check-in counter weighed in my 25kg rucksack at "19kg", and saved me a hefty oversize baggage fee.
I felt a pang of sadness, but also a surge of happy anticipation, when we took off from Bangkok. Sweet Jesus: could it really be that my next stop is home? I've flown to many, many places over the past year; but it's been a while since I flew home.
And what a bizarre way it was to fly home. As it turned out, I was a Jetstar "VIP" on this flight. I was flying economy — so none of the personal entertainment systems that Qantas offers were available — but they had me down as a "Qantas codeshare" customer (i.e. I paid for a Qantas ticket, but got dumped on a Jetstar flight). Hence, I was given various things that the rest of the Jetstar plebs were denied: I got a complementary litttle package with a blanket and pillow; plus, I was given food during the flight. Oh yeah, you heard me right: it's a 9-hour flight, and the regular Jetstar customers have to pay if they want meals! How dodge is that, eh? Anyway, the meals weren't too shabby, and I slept for most of the way.
I awoke at around 8am — and I looked out my window, to see the flat dry earth of my sunburnt country, before my eyes for the first time in eons, and almost touchable at 30,000 feet down. I know it's cheesy and cliché, but I think you can guess exactly which song refused to exit my head at this time — if you need a hint, it's about "when all of the ships come back to the shore...". And before I knew it, we'd touched down in Melbourne's Tullamarine Int'l, and my heart had already skipped a beat. And the sun was shining.
Two hours of unexplained waiting, one phone call to my Dad (been a while since I saw or used a Telstra payphone!), and one unnecessary airport security clearance later, I was back on the same seat in the same Jetstar plane, and we were flying to Sydney herself. I glimpsed a gorgeous view of Melbourne and of Port Phillip Bay as we took off; I beheld a sweeping panorama of Canberra mid-flight (could make out Capitol Hill perfectly, even at 30,000 feet); and finally, just before we landed, I was treated to the most captivating view of them all. A view that I haven't seen in a long, long time. The view of the most beautiful city in the world. The view of my home. Do I really need mention that when we finally touched down in Kingsford Smith Int'l, I breathed the biggest sigh of relief that I ever did breathe in all my life?
Mum and Dad greet me at the airport.
And so, despite the little surprise, I've made it home in one piece.
Home... what a word... the very taste of it is strange upon my lips. Home is where I began this trip, so very long ago. Home is where this all finishes. And unlike every other place I've been — places that I've been waiting to visit for so long — home is the one place that's been waiting for me, ever since the day I left it. Of course, home isn't 100% attractive, and home isn't perfect. And, more than anything else, home isn't a holiday. But after schlepping to all the crazy places I've been, and somehow surviving to tell the tale, coming home is certainly very special.