Bali & Sydney, Day 1 & 2

In an effort to make these posts remotely interesting, I’ve extracted some bits from the journal I wrote while traveling, and filled in some gaps.

Waiting to fly out of SFO

Each time I fly out of San Francisco, I cut it close enough to get nervous. Long ago I ditched the current rhetoric of arriving two hours before your flight. I cut it to an hour forty-five, then thirty and fifteen. Tonight I arrived 55 minutes before takeoff with my heart in my mouth. But once again, I sit at my terminal with 45 minutes to kill.

One day this will bite me, but I think there’s something kind of exhilarating about starting a trip with a bit of stress. It immediately puts you into the space of unfamiliarity. In my opinion, navigation an unfamiliar city is cake in comparison with the nerves surrounding almost missing a flight. The unfamiliar rush of adrenaline gears you up for the adventures to come.

Upon arriving in Sydney

I arrived in L.A. and was shuttled across the tarmac to the international terminal. An unforseen reality of booking flights through Orbitz, and “hacking” a cheap fare through multiple airlines, was that you’re only able to download electronic boarding passes for the originating airline; Delta, in my case. So I arrive at the Virgin Australia gate, the flight already boarding, and ask to check in. The woman working asks for my passport. A moment later:

“Do you have a Visa for traveling in Australia?”

A series of defeating thoughts leap through my head, the worst being the prospect of buying a flight back to SFO, having been away for only five hours (if that).

Unbeknownst to me—because let’s be honest, I did almost zero planning for this trip—you need a Visa to visit Australia, even just to transfer through the airport. [Retrospectively this seems so obvious, but again, the lack of planning.] After several tense moments during which incomprehensible sounds sludged out of my mouth—sort of like an elongated, alien “uhhhhhmmmmmmmm”—the woman helping me said that she could apply for one over the phone. (Why they don’t make this clear from the start is beyond me. Perhaps they enjoy the momentary terror in the eyes of travelers.)

I was passed to another agent who made a phone call. Several minutes later my Visa was approved and I waited for my boarding pass, still remaining cool. A woman in the same situation as me, and who was just behind me in line, got her pass and was off. I continued to wait, doing my utmost to keep a smile on my face.

And I mostly did, even when I heard another agent, radio in hand, confirming the gate would close in just a moment. The long boarding queue had emptied. Just me at the counter. The woman kindly informed me that if the Visa didn’t come through momentarily that I would miss this flight. She got back on the phone.

I jumped back to sitting in SFO, waiting for my flight to L.A. I was dwelling on an article sent to me earlier in the day about warnings of terrorism in Indonesia, and Bali specifically. As unsettling as it was to read this, I thought about how we are so permanently resigned to fate. Had I note read the article, the theoretical outcome would not change. Horrific and beautiful events alike happen most often without warning or foresight. “Fate” is often discussed as something you do or do not “believe in”, but it seems such a fruitless conversation when you acknowledge that we all, believers or not, have a staggering lack of control over what happens to us each day.

And so here I was again in L.A., resigned to the fates, which threatened to deny me my adventure before it’d barely begun. On the phone the woman was requesting they re-check my Visa clearance. An eternity passed in mere minutes and finally she hung up and a boarding pass dropped from the printer. She thanked me for my patience and apologized for the wait while I bumbled out an apology of my own for my apparent ignorance of the Visa process.

I’ve always been an obsessive planner, but lately I’ve been feeling more reckless. There’s a great thrill in letting what will be just be. It creates memories, even if they are tinged with stress. I boarded, second to last through the gate before it closed.