As I stepped off the plane, the first smell that greeted me was fuel. I can't believe that I flew 2,500 miles and the first smell that I came in contact with is fuel. It is just like I didn't leave McMurdo, except that the air felt heavy. Wet. The air felt that way as the plane got closer and closer to landing (though I never smelled the Earth as some people say can happen).
After a short bus ride to the main airport terminal, we walked through sliding glass doors and towards the duty free shops on our way to clear customs. Unfortunately, the very first shop we encountered was a perfume shop. As those of you who know me well may remember, I don't like perfume. Even in the shopping mall stores, it assaults my sense of smell and I avoid it. Imagine coming into contact with those same smells after a year without almost any smells. I just held my breath, tucked, and ran.
As we approached the always long customs lines, I started to worry. I was in most of my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and the airport was warm. I was going to overheat and get grumpy standing in line. I was too tired to just take some of it off. A customs agent saved the day when he saw all of us coming and directed us towards a line that he was opening just for us. Kiwis (New Zealanders) are good folk. They might do this for all flights, but in my short time here they always seems to take the extra step.
After clearing customs, I took my cart and headed over to the CDC to return my ECW gear. Along the way, the walk was lined with these small white flowers which were absolutely overpowering. I was intoxicated by the smell. I was so happy to slowly amble over there. Once there, we just dumped our gear in a pile and then were allowed to get on to our awaiting shuttle.
Everyone except me, went to the Hotel So, the most expensive option Raytheon will pay for. I went for the Windsor, a quiet B&B near the Botanical Gardens. It was a pleasantly cool spring night. Everyone was already in bed. It was quiet again. I got my gear inside and just went to the park across the street to touch and walk in the grass. I was only there a short time, but the feeling is still tingling inside me this morning. It was the same way when I first saw the sun.
After a short night of sleep, I got up at 7am. (Yes, I did try to sleep in but couldn't.) I headed for a short walk at the gardens before check in. I move slowly or everyone else moves quickly. I'm not sure. Over the winter, life certainly moved at a slower pace, but I didn't realize it was that slow. I can barely remember to walk on the left side of the street or even to look for cars when crossing. At McMurdo, there really isn't a side of the street and everyone drives slow. Keep checking your news report for an American tourist getting sideswiped by a car in Christchurch. Cause: admiring the flowers in a daze.
It's 9am. I'm heading back to bed and then I'm heading out to the gardens again. I'm going to lay there for hours.