Monday, May 18, 2009

An exercise in ignoring the cold of Queenstown

I'd hate to throw frustration in the spotlight above other more interesting emotions, like curiosity, amazement, fear and whatever you call a mixture of the three so I'm quickly following up my previous communique with a shopping list of interesting things that have happened to me recently which elicited said emotions.

1. Ever seen Airplane? Of course you have. You, most likely, found it dryly witty and thought the thick line it walked between satire and farce was well judged. You found the peppering of inconceivable events into the story useful as both a barometer of tone and also as a comic device. The storm through which they, these passengers of this Airplane - (incidentally, which is more proper? Airplane or Aeroplane? Or is it just a Truck/Lorry America/Rest of the World thing?), fly is suitably over-the-top. You probably laughed as the plane was lit up by lightning licking at the windows. So did I. And then one day, long after, I boarded a plane leaving Bangkok bound for Sydney. I didn't know what nest of red tape vipers awaited me once I was to land safely but you see as the flight was in progress the prospect of landing safely seemed then even more unlikely than easily making the connection seems now.

I awoke, stretched across four seats (the flight was almost empty :) ), and thought I saw out of the corner of my eye a flash of light. Then I realise people all over the plane are huddled at the windows. I try to stay asleep, to retreat back to the evil world of dreams where all the horrors aren't real. But it's too late, I've seen it now and my body has taken over, has pumped in some adrenaline. Not much, but enough to keep me alert. A nasty remnant from millions of years of evolution where once my personal actions may have served to save my life, instead of just make it's final moments miserable and helpless. Another crazy flash. This one happens in three parts and continues for at least 4 seconds. I walk to the bathroom, being thrown around my turbulence but for some reason the seatbelts sign isn't on. Perhaps it's a final concession on the part of Qantas. A no hope policy. Sorry, Sir, you're going to die... but you are free to move around the cabin as you please. We hope you have enjoyed your flight. I maintain my upright stance all the way to the back of the aircraft and ask the steward what's going on.

"Tropical Storm, mate," he says. "And she's a Big'un too," he says.

"Yeah? Well yeah but you've seen worse... right?"

Here he whistles, and says something like, "Wooo, I dunno, mate, she's a Big'un."

I look out the window as the plane rocks and stare at the darkness, which persists just long enough for me to think we've outrun the inclement weather. Then a gigantic swirl is illuminated by a flash that comes from above. The plane shudders a little but the Steward assures me we're flying well above the storm. I watch with a mixure of fascination and fatalism. Then I go back to my seat and listen to Morissey's new album thinking about how the more you travel the less scary it should seem.

2. This brings me nicely to where I am now, and under what circumstances I came to be here. I am in Queenstown, New Zealand. And in order to get here I had to take a flight from Wellington to Christchurch and then another, this one with a FUCKING PROPELLOR on each wing, to Queenstown. The weather in New Zealand is almost custom designed for bumpy flights. It's extremely windy and there isn't a massive amount of land between many of the airports to break the wind's strength as it rolls down from pacific storms or up from the Antarctic. Bumpy pumpy I can handle, but the approach to Queenstown airport, one which no pilot on earth could possibly be used to, is the craziest there could possibly be. The plane, propellors going like the clappers mind you, did a FIGURE OF EIGHT through mountain peaks, LORD OF THE RING-TYPE MOUNTAIN PEAKS in order to line itself up at the correct height with the runway. On at least three seperate turns I was convinced the pilot had suffered a stroke and was unaware he was headed for a piece of vertical land. He didn't, but I feel that purely accidental. We landed and I'm here but only by the slimmest of margins. The unspeakable truth of course being that I have to make the reverse trip again in three days. And what am I doing between then and now? Taking a jetboat through a few ravines and doing 360s in it on a lake at speed, riding horses through valleys and contemplating (although largely already certain that I will not proceed with) a bungy jump. Perhaps you can excuse the overriding theme of fear but it's not something I feel a whole lot of. Not out of bravery but more by subtracting the opportunity for it to strike.

3. Stumbled across a gigantic sleeping sea turtle 15m down at Green Rock in Ko Tao on my final dive. Watched him snoozing for maybe 10 minutes as his resident pilot fish cleaned his shell.

4. A lighter note: In an attempt to see more of what Ko Tao had to offer - more than diving and eating/drinking I indulged in a single night at a Muay Thai tournament (wherein small people whose musculature made them look huge hammered each other against ropes until one of them lost consciousness) and made repeated visits to a Ladyboy Cabaret show. The star of this nightly show being one 'Whitney' - whose finest act of the trip I didn't manage to catch on video for you but not to worry some child of the Cyrillic alphabet has done this for me us :)

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