Silk Road Day 14: Time to go home

Day 14: Sunday, January 10th, 2016

After only a couple hours of sleep, I woke up at 4am, I gathered all of my things and got ready to head back to Chicago.

Yesterday a few people in the group said they’d see Matt and me off at 4:30am, but I was still surprised that Anne, Tan and Remi amazingly woke up super early to keep their promise. I was running a bit late and got to the lobby at 4:42am, and Matt arrived shortly after. We said our farewells, shared big hugs and I gave them some WLUW pins and stickers as a parting gift. Matt and I were on the same flight to Istanbul, so last night we checked in for our flight and made sure we had seats together for the 7-hour journey.

Our cab arrived at 4:45am, and the driver was an angry-looking quinquagenarian with a tricked-out car. He never spoke a word to us, simply putting our luggage in the car and getting in the front seat. Once seated, he slipped on a pair of fingerless studded leather gloves. His dashboard was covered in gadgets, from a phone in a dash-mount, a gps, a beeping radar detector, some other digital reader, a cab mileage and fee reader, and a dash cam. Ironically, the drive was very calm. We got to the airport, he silently unloaded our bags, and we paid him the flat 1100 Tenge rate ($3 USD).

As soon as we stepped into the airport, we had to put our bags on a security conveyor belt and walk through a metal detector. Foreign airports typically aren’t as straightforward as American ones are; when you enter the airport, it isn’t clear where you go after that.

In our case, there were no ticket windows visible when you enter. We had to go through a doorway that said “passport control” even though there was no control, really. It was just a doorway. Once in that area, we saw the ticket windows, but we couldn’t check in for the flight until it was 5:30am. Then once we checked in, we actually went through passport control, then we were in the gate area where there was a duty-free shop and tons of people sitting on benches waiting for their flights to depart.

At around 6am, we saw Velvet and her girlfriend, who were both leaving on a flight that was supposed to leave at 6am, but it was clearly delayed. After briefly reconnecting with them, they left to catch their flight.

After they left, Matt and I struggled to stay awake, both setting our alarms to wake us at 7am. When the alarm sounded, they still weren’t boarding our flight. It was a constant struggle to just get on that plane so we could finally rest. Once awake, I needed to stay awake, so I paced around the gate, bopping in and out of the duty free shops until I settled on buying some lemon drop candies to soothe my sore throat. Soon, I heard the announcement for us to board, so I woke up Matt and we were off to the plane. I’m worried that without me there, Matt might’ve slept through the boarding call.
Once on the flight, we zonked out and slept almost the entire 7 hours. It was a much needed nap.

We arrived in Istanbul around lunchtime, and Matt and my connecting flights back home were around the same time, so we were able to spend the entire layover together. We grabbed lunch right away, and it was weird to come from two weeks of Central Asian food to arrive in an Istanbul airport and order a Monte Cristo sandwich with a leafy green salad on the side. Ahh fried and unhealthy food with contradictory side dishes, how I’ve missed you so.

After lunch, Matt and I hung out until the very last minute, as he had to leave for his flight just before mine. We had our very last farewell, and he was the final goodbye from the entire group of amazing people I met on this trip.

When we parted ways, I entered a long line to do a passport check before even entering the gate area for my Istanbul-Chicago flight. Welcome to America, where you must go through security outside of the country before even entering it!

Once on the flight, we didn’t take off on time due to a passenger refusing to fly. Essentially, someone was on the flight, then decided they didn’t want to be on it, so that’s obviously a potential security threat. What this means is they must now go through the entire airplane’s carry-on luggage storage and be sure all of the luggage in there belongs to people currently on the flight. So the flight attendants open up each overhead compartment bin, and then point to each piece of luggage and ask the surrounding passengers if it belongs to them. Eventually, after this time-consuming exercise, we took off.

Around 11 hours later, we arrived in Chicago and I was off through passport control (now conveniently digitized!) to the luggage carousel. Five pieces of luggage were released onto the belt, and then nothing. And nothing, and nothing. Thirty minutes pass before they shut off the conveyor, and a voice comes through the speakers to inform us that there’s a delay with our flight’s luggage. The woman next to me loudly tells her husband that she’s gonna check things out and speak to a representative. She returns a short while later to loudly inform her husband (and us surrounding passengers) that apparently the luggage door was frozen shut, so they’re trying to figure that out. I guess I’m thankful it wasn’t the landing gear?

About an hour later, I have my luggage in hand and I go through the endlessly mislabeled maze that is O’Hare’s corridors leading to the CTA. I eventually get on the train and I’m shortly greeted with the harsh cold reality of 5* F weather. I didn’t miss this part.