Least Visited, Day 1: Six hours in Sydney

December 27, 2018

Here’s the first entry in my least visited countries tour, which will hit Nauru, the least visited country in the world! First stop is the Marshall islands, but it will take a bit to get there, even though I am starting in the pacific. Travelling is all about the journey, right?

This morning I woke up at 4am to get to the airport for my 7am flight from Port Vila to Sydney. Other volunteers assured me I would find a bus without issue, but it was not the case. I walked a couple miles into town, at one point encountering a young tourist who was waiting outside of her hotel with the security guard, attempting to hail a bus. She said she was trying to go to the airport, too, and she wanted to follow me. I then saw she was standing beside a massive wheeled suitcase. It was nearing 5am, and I knew I would have to speed walk, possibly even walking entirely to the airport. I turned off my humanity and told her that I had to go it alone.

I walked another half mile until a bus finally passed that was willing to take me to the airport. Sometimes in Vanuatu, people will play the guessing game when it would be more appropriate to just let someone give their answer. Therefore, the following conversation took place:

Driver: Where are you off to? Santo (an island in Vanuatu)?
Me: no.
Passenger: Tanna (another Vanuatu island)?
Me: no. Driver: Australia?
Me: No.
Passenger: New Zealand?
Me: no.
Passenger: Fiji?
Me: no, I’m going to…
Passenger: new Caledonia?
Me: no! I am going to the Marshall islands.

The passenger, who had been sitting shotgun, turned around and nodded, with an impressed facial expression.

I got to the airport quickly, which was good because I never got a transit visa to pass through Australia and I needed it asap. I was able to get one at a whopping cost of 5000vt, and then realized the woman got me a full tourist visa, that I could use for multiple entries over the course of the year. Not what I wanted, but okay? I might pass through Australia again? Maybe?

As I’ve mentioned in my Christmas in Vanuatu post, Vanuatu airlines is quite lax when it comes to security. Not the case with international flights, which the airlines is still struggling to completely understand. They investigate every liquid in your allotted quart size bag, reading them aloud to anyone within earshot, a bit reminiscent of Chinese airport security. Then, once you go through security and board the plane, they refuse to let you on with a water bottle, because I don’t know! Australia doesn’t like liquids or something! They don’t seem to fully *get* what the rules are.

As soon as I get on the plane, I have a massive sneezing fit, which I attribute to the scarf I’m wearing, which has a nice mildew smell from being in Vanuatu on a shelf for too long. Sneezing grows to sniffles grows to runny nose to watery eyes and soon enough, I am having the worse cold or allergy attack that I’ve had in ages. Woohoo travel!

I land in Sydney and pass through customs and security quite quickly. My next flight is Sydney to Brisbane, and the flight departs at 6pm. It’s now 10:30am.

I try to get WiFi, then decide to buy a sim card from a cashier whose Aussie accent is so strong that it’s almost like translating another language. He’s super friendly and wants to know where the Marshall Islands are, to which I respond, “in the Pacific.” We learn my phone is locked, I get a refund, and off I go to seek WiFi. I stand beside a McDonald’s and realize from the wafting odor that I have not experienced the smell of McDonalds in over a year. It’s an odd feeling.

Some searching later, I have a plan. Sydney’s airport is conveniently close to downtown, so I can hop on a train and do some stuff before I have to be in the domestic terminal. This is my first time venturing out of an airport during a long stopover, and it’s thrilling!

I packed carry-on only, so I can smoothly travel with my backpack and purse. I take a train to Circular Quay for a whopping 18aud. This stopover is gonna be expensive.

Instead of upholding my pasty complexion under fluorescent lights, I can get some much-needed sunshine. Instead of sharing circulated air in the domestic terminal, I can share my co2 with the trees of Hyde Park. Instead of snacking on a pack of 100 vatu ding dongs, I can have a fresh bahn mi pork sandwich and Vietnamese iced coffee. Instead of people watching the tourists weighed down by luggage and wheely suitcases, I can people watch the tourists at the Sydney opera house while being weighed down by my own backpack and purse.

It's the place with the thing!

As it neared 4pm, I hopped on the train and smoothly returned to the domestic terminal of the airport in less than 20 minutes. I return to the airport about 60aud poorer than when I started.

The second Christmas holiday where I almost got a sunburn.

The flight from Sydney to Brisbane was quick. As the young couple beside me joyfully declared, “I wish all flights could be like that!” We were at cruising altitude, they ordered mini champagne bottles, and then it was time to land. That would be a nice slogan for an airline. “Brisbane: a champagne away.” My experience with mystery allergies made my travel slogan something more along the lines of “Brisbane: 14 tissues and an antihistamine away.”

I arrived in Brisbane and the signs were clear, leading me to the bus for international transfers. I hopped on the bus and checked the time. My flight was to depart at 8pm, and it was nearing 7pm. I grew worried that I would not make checkin. But I breathed deeply, as I knew I could not make the bus go faster and it wasn’t really worth the panic at this point.

I hopped off the bus and in the international terminal, the board didn’t read any flights to Nauru, but flight with the same number and departure time and airline to Honiara was listed. I went to the checkin desk as the board said it was still open for checkin. Yay!

I get to the desk, and ask a male agent if this is the flight to Nauru. He reassures me it is, and I step forward. A redheaded woman sees me and instantly says checkin is closed. It’s 7pm. I look at the clock. It’s 7:02. NO!

The redhead tells me it’s up to glasses woman to make the call, because redhead shut her computer down. Glasses woman says it’s up to the people at the gate. They call and I just audibly beg “pleasepleaseplease” over and over as I try to calm my slight nervous bounce. I tell her I’m not checking bags and I walk quickly, but only the former is relevant information. The person on the phone allows me to go and I’m free. I get my boarding pass as another passenger runs up, frantic, and gets denied checkin because he has two bags and a surfboard. I book it through security, jog to the gate and…arrive a minute before boarding begins, which is delayed anyways to clean the plane. PHEW! All that worry and almost denial at the front of the airport when it only took 10 minutes to get to the gate.

I go to the gate to be sure it’s not boarding, and it’s not, as Debbie the agent tells me. DEBBIE! I tell her I was the one she let onto this plane, and she smiled and told me I made good time. DEBBIE! I am so thankful for this woman. She’s so nice.

I’m off on the plane, run by Nauru airlines, which is an older 737-300 model airplane, which has more legroom by default. And, as my PCV friend Colleen mentioned, they are friendly with the drinks. They keep coming around with the drink cart, and the beer and wine is free and freely-flowing. As my allergies have been slowly killing me, I skipped out, but I could have easily had 8 wines or more should I have chosen. Instead I opted for water and lots of free napkins that the attendant Danko was happy to provide. What a pal. It’s amazing how thankful you become for basic services such as water and napkins on flights nowadays, especially after having flown on a Malaysian airline void of fluids for about 6 hours.

My allergies are just awful, and I feel sorry for anyone near me because I’m just disgusting. I realize I only packed a few antihistamines and worry about what will happen to me when I run out. Then I encounter a mini jar of about 20 that I packed at the last minute before leaving site a week ago and praise myself. Thank you, Melissa from Tuesday of last week, for packing these “just in case.” You know yourself so well.

This was a confusing flight, because the captain was hard to understand on the muffled loudspeaker. I didn’t hear mention of the Marshall Islands, instead hearing “45 minutes” and “Honiara.” After speaking with a flight attendant, I discover that we are stopping for refueling in Honiara a few hours into the flight. No one will exit, some passengers will be added, and we’ll continue on to Nauru. This gets confusing at the time of arrival in Honiara, when they explain everything as they always do, regarding the rules of staying seated until the seatbelt sign is off, to not stand until we’re officially stopped...even though no one is supposed to exit.

I keep sleeping until we land at Nauru for yet another stopover in this grand journey to the Marshall Islands. Upon landing, the flight attendant congratulates the national Nauru Karate team, who is on board, for winning some karate competition. They each are heading home with two or three massive trophies each. The attendant declares, “you are making your team proud, your families proud, and your country proud. Congratulations!” I tear up, but it could be those allergies.

Stay tuned for the thrills of the Nauru airport...