Monday, July 1, 2013
QANTAS - A THANK YOU
My Reluctant Traveller, a picture of utter reluctance waiting to hop on yet another flight. Of course we often disagree, which is why my latest trip was made solo…
This blog is not about him.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Who says long overseas flights are boring?
Ok, sometimes they are; long hours spent in the company of hundreds of absolute strangers; hours of gazing out of windows (if you’re among the lucky few who score that vantage point), gazing most often into either darkness or endless ocean as the hundreds and thousands of air miles float past.
Fast forward then to my latest trip, a 14 hour stretch across the Pacific Ocean from Sydney to Santiago in Chile. The flight is undertaken by the Lan Chile Qantas One World combination. Depending on the draw, you fly with one or the other, on one or the other’s aircraft.
I’ve flown this route before and have nothing but praise for their crew, aircraft and menu. There is no need for me to gush about the food or the service, it simply never stops coming.
But that’s not why I’m taking pen to paper.
Back home now, some months later, I pick up the weekend travel section of our local newspaper and sight a full page advertisement for a Qantas one day flight over the Antarctic ice cap, and in an instant a puzzling part of my recent return flight home from Santiago to Sydney is answered.
There again, failing an official notification I’ll settle on the law of coincidence and go with my gut instinct. But let’s start at the beginning…
I make it a practice to book a window seat way up the back, it’s a two seat combination which makes it easier to hop over one person when visiting the loo or taking a stroll to combat leg cramp. This particular seat also provides additional space for the clutter I manage to spread, jacket, pillow, book and handbag.
The new innovation of personal TV screen with heaps of movies and documentaries to view ensures no one need ever be bored as the hours pass.
BUT on this occasion, just a few hours into the flight, still daylight, I’m jolted into life with a panorama spreading below, the south island of New Zealand in all its glory.
In an instant I’m delving into my bag, searching frantically through the junk I never fail to carry for my old and trusty digital camera.
And I start clicking. My excitement is contagious. Behind me a couple crowd close to the window, where are we? Is that New Zealand?
The word carries forward; cameras of all sizes are put to instant use.
I recognize the town tucked in below, it’s Queenstown with a perfect bird’s eye view of the Crown Mountain Range and Lake Wakatipu.
No this smaller snap wasn’t taken from the plane, but compare the two, imagine my excitement, and the thrill that spread through the plane as we flew over this beautiful part of New Zealand.
New Zealand is a long and narrow country, it didn’t take long to fly across, but the excitement and thrill stayed with plane and passengers for the entire trip. The buzz that ensued melded temporary friendships. I couldn’t imagine a better way to start a holiday.
I would have been extremely happy if that were to be the only surprise of my trip. As it turned out, more surprises were to come, especially another one seen from high above.
But not until the return journey some two months later.
In between I visited offspring, now resident in Ecuador, journeyed up and down and over the Andes and clambered around Machu Picchu. A more perfect two month excursion I couldn’t possibly surpass.
Then it came time to return home. The flight left from Santiago. Again I’ve travelled this route before; take off from Chile’s coastline, hang a right and proceed directly home to Australia across ocean, endless ocean.
But this time settled in snug as a bug in the proverbial rug I noticed something different. We hadn’t turned right, we were in fact flying, I felt, direct south. The scenery was definitely not of the ocean.
Instead we crossed rugged mountains…
We were heading into Tierra del Fuego country, fjiord like lakes, jagged peaks…
…and snowy white glaciers….
I for one was puzzled. Others around me hadn’t flown this Santiago Sydney route before and were none the wiser.
We were flying over and parallel to the southernmost part of South America. The cabin crew was busy, I didn’t like to appear overly inquisitive. The plane continued on and after some time veered in the promised direction westward to home. Strange, I thought, but a pleasant detour over rugged country I had never imagined I would ever see.
But an even stranger sight was in store.
The photos I’m about to show you were taken at dusk. My trusty little camera, very basic, any clever bits and pieces unknown and never attempted by me, was again put into action. Around me more professional photographers had sighted the same extraordinary sights we were now flying over and I was frantically trying to match their prowess.
Sadly I was fighting a losing battle with reflection off window. A helpful pro stepped in, but my efforts didn’t match his.
We were flying over ice, the closest I would ever come to the frozen land of Scott, and Mawson, Shackleton and Amundsen, the vast Antarctic. Peter Fitzsimon’s recent book on Sir Douglas Mawson, his historic Antarctic exploration and survival still fresh in my mind and now reflected in the ice fields below.
Around me other passengers clicked away, we all knew the light wouldn’t last much longer. While my photos do no justice at all to the endless scenes of frozen ice, others were catching the glorious spectacle on far more sophisticated cameras.
I have no idea why Qantas took this extremely southern route home, passengers weren’t enlightened and it was left for us to ponder on our good fortune.
The article I read back home this morning at the breakfast table featured amazing images intending passengers of their forthcoming Antarctica Flights will enjoy… I envy them greatly.
If before I had harboured thoughts that any commercial one day ‘there and back’ flight over the Antarctic icecap was a waste of time and money, this surprise preview, one that touched on only a small fringe part of the Great White South changed all that.
This taste of Antarctica was an amazing experience for me, one I will never forget.
Thank you Qantas.