Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Moon Over Dubai (Part II)

As far as airports go, there is only one word to describe DXB, AKA Dubai International Airport: Big.

Actually, scratch that.  There are two words to describe it:  big and busy.  This was my first experience in an airport outside the US, so I can't say I had any expectations upon arrival.  My initial mindset when getting off the plane was to immediately find my connecting gate. . .

But then I remembered that I would have quite a bit of time to kill.   Local time in Dubai was 7:20 PM when we landed, and my connecting flight to Bangalore wasn't scheduled to leave until 3:30 AM.   Eight full hours with change to kill:  more than enough time fully restore the blood flow through my veins, to wander around the 18.6 million square feet of floor space and become as acquainted as I could with the International Airport Scene.

One of my first challenges was refueling.  While the airplanes in the 90 degree heat outside were sucking down on what was probably the cheapest gas in the world, I was actually cold in the blasted air-conditioning, thanking the heavens that I'd brought a light jacket.  Cold and tired, I decided to seek out some warmth and refueling of my own.  

Perfect weather for hot chocolate.

I spotted a Starbucks, but berated myself for even considering it.  No, I told myself.  I will not be one of those silly Americans standing in line at Starbucks in a foreign country!   I cemented this decision and made a secret vow to myself to not dine or drink in or patronize any American franchise the remainder of my trip.  

The next promising place I happened across was called Costa.  It   But the prices were all in Dirhams (imagine that!).  So this is where I ended up paying $7 USD for a cup of hot chocolate with giant pink marshmallows.

It wasn't the best hot chocolate, nor was it the worst.  But it did give me enough short-term energy to locate my connecting terminal (it was only approximately 10 miles away), and to find a seat and catch a few winks of sleep.

By the time 2:40 AM rolled around, I was so over sleeping in airports.  I'd actually conked out pretty hard for a brief period of time, with my face smooshed up against the arm rest of my seat, and my face had a lovely red impression the shape and texture of the arm rest carved into it.

But they were announcing boarding, so I didn't have time to be vain.  When I finally stepped onto that Airbus A340, I was thrilled to discover that I had a window seat!

The plane took off, and as we climbed up and up in elevation, a sense of overwhelming excitement took over.  In about 4 hours, I'd be on solid ground for over two weeks (longer than I'd stayed on solid ground during the past month!) in the country that I was pretty sure was my home in a previous life.

My ears popped, and the landmarks of Dubai became smaller and smaller below me.  The moon was huge, and I took it as a good sign.  Part of me wanted to hold my tablet up to the window and snap a picture of the view of the giant yellow moon above the city of Dubai like a kid might.  But then the adult part of myself took over, and convinced me that if I were to do that, I'd become a source of amusement and laughter of my fellow passengers.  I was already in the minority:  being a non-Indian, fair-skinned, and female.  Not to mention lacking a head dress or Bindi.  Not to mention travelling alone.

So I never did get the picture of the Perigee Moon of May 4, 2012.  But I have the snapshot of memory, and its placeholder in the timeline of my adventure.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Moon Over Dubai (Part I)

"Ice is way too dangerous for airplanes . . ."  The conversation with my little brother seemed a distant memory as I sat shivering in my airplane seat with nothing more than a thin blanket to cover my lap.  I'd been carefully following the route on the screen in front of me, and we were just southeast of the dot that represented the Northernmost place on the planet.

Although my seat in this Boeing 777 was an aisle seat, it was toward the rear of the airplane.  So only the aisle and two seats separated me from that little window which offered a real-world peek of the Arctic.

The people occuping those two seats were a couple -- tall, blond, Nordic-looking.  They wore matching white sweaters and khaki pants.  They did everything in a strange kind of synchronization, including consuming massive quantities of red wine.  I lost track of the number of mini-bottles they'd consumed, but luckily for me, they also visited the lavatory simultaneously.  When they were away, I surreptuously scooted over and peeked out their window.

And there it was: a real, live Arctic view.  Jagged white islands dotting white water with a vein or two of icy blue.  It looked exactly like the beginning of one of those Discovery channel specials featuring polar bears, only instead of being way up there at the North Pole like I'd always imagined it, it was merely miles underneath my feet.

A short while later, the Nordic pair returned to their seats to refuel on wine.  When they started gushing to the stewardesses, I wished my seat had come equipped with earplugs.  

No earplugs, but headphones.   It was time to start making use of those in-flight distractions.  

Another peculiarly: my body clock estimated the time to be well after midnight, but morning sunshine poured through the airplane.  According to the flight tracker, we were scheduled to land in Dubai slightly after 7 PM in only 6 hours or so -- but the sunshine out the window was clearly early morning sunshine.  It just had that quality.  I tried to do the math in my head, but when I remembered I'd been up since 3 AM PST, everything just kinda blurred together like a strange nightless dream.  

As it turns out, I wasn't completely crazy.   Airlines have only recently been granted "permission" to fly over the North Pole.    

For the next few hours, I attempted napping, but nothing like sleep was had.  I watched as the computer airplane icon flew over Svalbard, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Volgograd, the Caspian Sea, Tehran.  A full day elapsed during those 6 hours, and it was indeed dusk when we eventually arrived in Dubai.  The last minute of the flight was the most surprising; the airplane touched down with gentleness.   

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bench-Pressing Gravity (International Version)

Why hello, India.  Barely 12 hours on your soil, and already do I know that this will be a beautiful and enduring friendship.      

Please forgive me; my body clock is still completely whacked after spending most of the last two days in transit.  On Thursday afternoon, I stepped onto a massive people-transporting machine.  This thing was somehow able to not only comfortably hold more than 300 other people and their 300 pounds each of luggage, but also to lift everybody and their stuff 35,000 feet into the sky with no cables, and to achieve 0.8x Mach, and to maintain these and other baffling altitudes and velocities for nearly 13 hours straight.  I am not making this up.  More remarkably still, after ~13 hours and 8,600 miles of bench-pressing gravity, this people and luggage-moving miracle was to pop out some tires and land everybody and everything safely on the ground in Dubai.  

At least, that was the plan.  ( As a disclaimer, I'm a pretty seasoned flyer.  But this was to be my first overseas voyage so of course it was a little different . . . )

I knew we'd be flying into the future, but I did not know the exact vector when I stepped onto the plane.  So I'm sure you can understand that given everything I knew about this mass conveyance and time-travelling procedure, I was slightly alarmed to learn that the machine from which we already expected so many miracles would be going over the North Pole.  Yes, the North Pole where, when you go there, there is nowhere to go but South.

Of course, they waited until I and my 300 fellow passengers were buckled in "safely" 32,000 feet above solid land to tell us.  Of course they waited until we'd been coddled with a hot towel and cold drink by stewardesses with too much makeup.  Of course, they told us without "telling" us; the forecasted route map was cleverly one screen among a plethora of touch-screen entertainment options:  movies, podcasts, games.  And only part of the forecasted route is shown at a time.  But a diligent traveler can keep an eye on the map the whole time.

The last time I visited him, my brother showed me something he'd found at a thrift store: one of those old fashioned globes that stands very tall, the kind that allows us as humans to understand how our world is round when it can, at least from ground level, appear flat.  I told him about my upcoming trip to India (knowing of the stop in Dubai), and we mused on possible routes.  We even remarked that going over the North Pole seemed like the shortest route.

"But I don't think they fly airplanes over the North Pole," I laughed, as the idea seemed absurd to me at the time.  "Ice is way too dangerous for airplanes."

(To be continued . . . )