Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Taking Flight

We wake up just before the birds. While I start packing up Gayle goes outside to relieve herself behind a tree - not best campsite etiquette, admittedly, but you haven't seen the toilets. It comes as a little surprise to her when she reappears to find a dozen soldiers lined up gazing in her direction. They then prostrate themselves in her direction. What's happening? Ah-ha - it's morning prayers. As we cycle off in the wonderfully cool morning air through woodlands beside the city there seems to be rather a lot of folk around. It's about 5 am. Seems this is the best time of day if you want to avoid the heat. Eventually we emerge onto a main road and pedal fast along the hard shoulder. The main road becomes a motorway. There are signs for "Lahore, Airport". After half an hour I'm wondering if we misread the sign and are actually heading to Lahore Airport. I look back over my shoulder to consult with Gayle and spot an aeroplane taking off well away from where we are. Uh-oh. We check with a taxi driver who tells us to keep going - sure enough, there's a sign ahead directing us to the airport. When we do reach the entrance we realise that we've cycled the length of the runway and some more.

Security at the airport is like all security in Pakistan - highly visible and highly ineffective. At the entrance we get delayed by bored soldiers who just want to look at our passports. At the door into departures a man wants to inspect our ticket and passports. I push onwards and leave Gayle behind who is then held back because I've got our e-ticket and the man couldn't read our names on it. There is an inspection of the contents of our panniers. Then the x-ray machine. The soldiers gamely try and fit our bicycles through the machine. Eventually Gayle's goes through, but mine's too big and after a bit of humming and hah-ing gets wheeled around. A man is deputed to inspect it for goodness knows what. He holds it at arms length with a bemused look on his face and finally waves me on. We join the check-in queue. Islamabad airport isn't that big and we're happy to see that the baggage conveyor belt behind the five check-in desks is just rolling everything outside onto the tarmac. Surely our bicycles won't be a problem.

"Excuse me sir, but your bicycles will be a problem." Two of the PIA staff are at our side shaking their heads at our bikes. But they're not heavy, we protest. It's not the weight - but their bulk, they explain. They'll have to go as freight. But it's too late for freight and we've no money. Why can't they just go as part of our normal baggage allowance? Is the flight full? The two men consult and then ask us to wait at the desk for a supervisor. Meanwhile our other bags are checked in and we get two labels for the bikes. We wait around for about an hour as many more people check in. Airport trolleys laden head high with suitcases and boxes trundle up and are off loaded without anyone batting an eyelid. No problem with bulk for some, it seems. We continue to wait. Our flight is about to close and the woman at the check-in desk is telling us that we have only five minutes more. "But what can we do?" we ask. She points over at the Cling-film Men, who are doing a roaring business wrapping anything plonked in front of them. We need to get the bikes wrapped if they are to go on board. All of a sudden the problem has vanished. What fun this is. The cling film men quote us a ridiculous price to wrap the bikes and then set to with gusto after we agree. Fifteen quid seems like a bargain after all the doubts and head-shaking. And then our prized posessions are carried off by a baggage-handler and disappear out onto the tarmac. Will we ever see them again?

Our flight is being called. We have to dash through all the controls. No time to linger in Departures, we are soon walking up the steps and onto our plane. Buckled up and still feeling pleased with ourselves about the bikes, we slowly begin to realise that we are about to leave Asia. After all this time. We are on our way home, albeit indirectly, and this will be our last flight. It all seems too much to comprehend. I wonder what there is for breakfast?


slowmotion said...

Hello, it has been a long time... This is because I have been without really good internet for the last ten months. Or it is slow as... or it is bloody expensive. So, all I ever did is handle my day-to-day business, send my mails and so.
Now I am home in Belgium for a little while and take advantage of a real good connection to do everything I neglected for so long, like reading your recits and lookin at your photos.
Reports stop at the airport for the flight back to Europe, but the photos tell me that you must be home by now.Would be nice to hear a few of your impressions about coming back to good old Europe.
As always I loved to read about your experiences and I relate very much to Gayle about being tired of the way you are treated by men and sometimes women in these societies. Women always ask me how many children I have and when I say none, they 'pity' me. So funny, they are squatting over a fire, making tea for their husbands, being happy if they are not hit, and they 'pity' me. So I also got myself married with 5 adult sons, one a doctor, one a lawyer, one a priest aso. Works fine; now I am blessed an envied.
I loved Gayle's photos. How beautyfull Europeis after all, no? Nice and clean and green. Sometimes it just feels good.
Would be nice to have some news about the last leg of your journey.
Congratulations for all your exciting stories. Many greetings, Kirsten

Liz's diary said...

Hi Gail and John, Helen Vesty mentioned your blog when I met her on the train recently. It is lovely to see photos of you from all over the world. If you're a sloth, what does that make me? Still in Prestwich working at Huddersfield Uni. Have become a doctor after 5 years of study. Yah. Very envious of your lifestyle and freedom but actually really glad that you make it work for you. Love Liz Bennett