Once I realised that the flight out to Tel Aviv I should have been on had departed a few hours earlier – minus the cougar, I lept into crisis mode. That’s when I am always at my best. For a self-diagnosed adrenaline junkie from way back who is used to making shit happen when it's all about to go pear-shaped, it never occurred to me for one minute that I might have a few problems getting another flight out to meet the 10-day tour I was booked to start in Israel.
I startled the guy on the desk of the hotel I had checked into a few hours earlier at 5 am when I burst into the foyer asking for directions to the bus or train station? I had started the evening with $500 HKD (approx. $120 NZD) and the ride in the taxi from the airport had cost me $300. I knew I wouldn’t have enough money to get back to the airport as the taxis drivers only accept cash. Public transport is always much cheaper wherever you are in the world so I went looking for the big red bus with A21 on it which the concierge told me went to the airport.
I couldn’t believe my luck when I was only on the street for a few minutes and I spotted it coming towards me. I flagged it down and as I boarded the empty bus I thrust a $100 note under the nose of the driver to pay for the ticket. He looked at me blankly and refused to take the money. He “no speaky English”! Flustered, I said I would pay when I got to the airport and grabbed a seat. The sign in front of the seat explained that passengers must have the right change or a ticket to ride the bus, NO Change would be given.
About 20 stops and half an hour later the bus pulled up outside the terminal. There were lines of people being directed through bollards just to enter the main building as the authorities checked passports and tickets. All I wanted to do was get through the bloody door and organise a one-way ticket out of the place at that stage so I made the impulse decision to do a runner from the bus without paying. The bus had filled up and there was standing room only and my reasoning was if I got off quick and disappeared, the driver would have forgotten I hadn’t paid. So I ran with my backpack in tow and joined a slow-moving line and tried to blend. I've never blended well, and with my blonde hair wearing a red shirt and flowery pants my heart was jumping out of my chest. Anxiously clenching every orifice I had, It suddenly seemed like a dumb idea as visions conjured up in my head of being NZ’s answer to Schapelle Corby for stealing a bus ride. I imagined the headlines or having my hand chopped off as the line seemed to stand still. The bus took forever to pull away and in my mind, I was sure the driver was calling security and sending out a posse to arrest the bus jumper. The sigh of relief I felt when it finally left the curb was so welcomed. I have had the odd panic attack in my life and I would be lying if I said there wasn’t one brewing standing in that line.
Another battle ensued to get into the terminal. I didn’t have a ticket any longer – mine had expired a few hours ago and the security is tight there with all the rioting that has been going on. Further quick talking and a display of angst were called for to get over that hurdle. Once inside I headed for the Cathay Pacific desk to book another ticket. Everybody knows that traveling in the holiday period is manic, and prices are horrendous unless booked well in advance. It seemed millions of god bothering holidaymakers were headed to Tel Aviv via Hong Kong with the same idea I had. There wasn’t a ticket available out for 3 days and then at the princely sum of $2800 NZD. That wasn’t even the worst part though. It was on one of those lesser-known “bring your own black box” airlines, was a 38-hour flight and had two stops in the middle east before landing in Tel Aviv a day after my booked tour had departed from that city.
I contacted the tour leader to see if I took the prick of a flight would I be able to catch the tour by hiring a private drier. He was about as much use as a chocolate teapot and after a conversation by facebook messenger, I made a decision in that instant knowing the one thing in the world that causes me anxiety is running late. Choosing to stay in Hong Kong for three days before embarking on a trip into the unknown at a busy time of year would fuel that anxiety I decided I needed to return to NZ instead. The continual rioting in HK has made the city uneasy and in my heart I knew that if I stayed I was sure to find myself in the middle of something inadvertently given my inability to follow instructions, stay to recommended routes and stay out of traveling chaos.
So 14 hours after I arrived in Hong Kong I boarded a return flight to NZ. I had purchased the last ticket on the Cathay Pacific flight back to Christchurch after contacting Air NZ and a friend who is a travel agent here to discuss my options. It transpired if I didn’t take that ticket there was not another ticket out to NZ until the 23rd December. I brought the ticket and spent most of the time in that country in the security office at the airport trying to locate my luggage that had originally checked straight through to Israel after boarding in Christchurch.
When I had been a no show on the earlier flight, the airport had removed my bag and put it in the basement somewhere. There are strict laws that prohibit an unaccompanied bag traveling on a plane. They wouldn’t issue me a boarding pass for the return flight until the luggage was found as they sure as hell didn’t want me leaving it in the airport either. By then, I was starting to feel slightly overwhelmed with the combination of sleep deprivation and hunger.
They found my bag, twenty minutes before the boarding call which was just enough time to buy a cup of coffee from Starbucks in the departure lounge. It was the darest cup of coffee I have ever had – about 7k in fact as before I boarded I knew that despite how well insured you are if you miss a connection because of your fault, insurance will not pick up the tab.
I am risk-averse believe it or not and had a private insurance cover and one taken as a platinum credit card holder because I had paid for the flights earlier in the year using my card. The fight isn’t over as while both companies have said I won't be entitled to any compensation for disrupted plans, they have both said to submit a claim to be assessed as they are ultimately processed on a case by case basis.
Yesterday I celebrated my 55th birthday, not in Jerusalem as planned but on my patch of paradise and it was probably the first time I had a real wave of sadness over the whole saga. I am using the time at home wisely and reminding myself daily that nobody lost an eye in the course of my travels. My glass is always half full, that’s how I roll and when I have paid that bloody visa card off for the unexpected flight back, it will be full of Gin as I toast to the very expensive cup of coffee I traveled all the way to Hong Kong and back for one Xmas.
Go hard or go home…