Why is it that Murphy’s Law seems to rear it’s head most in airports? I don’t know what it is about the most efficient means of modern transportation that creates an almost inevitable comedy of errors.
We had thus far been able to avoid flying – not because we particularly dislike planes, it just worked out that way. Flights from (and to) NZ are not cheap. The least expensive flights to Indonesia still worked out to almost 1k USD for the two of us – ouch! These flights also had the extra-endearing quality of featuring multiple layovers, long waits, and a confusing mixture of domestic and international flights. This combination is potentially lethal and not recommended by any health care professional.
Our troubles started at the ungodly hour of 430am, as we were checking into the Pacific Blue counter. The lady looked overly concerned as she studied our itinerary and flipped anxiously through our passports. “You do not have visa?” she asked nervously.
“No,” I replied. “American passport holders are provided an automatic 30-day visa on arrival in Denpasar, unless I’ve missed something,” I joked calmly, referring to our final destination of Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. This seemed only to deepen her anxiety.
“No, for Australia,” she clarified.
Now I was concerned. “Oh, we’re not staying in Australia, we’re not even leaving the airport. Just passing through!” I chirped cheerily, hoping to fan away the flames of impending doom with a sunny disposition. It didn’t work.
She called over her supervisor, who quickly adopted the same expression. Concern is apparently contagious (more on contagion in a little while!). I felt dumb as rocks – I had thoroughly researched the requirements for NZ and Indonesia, but I didn’t even consider Australia. Considering our doglegged itinerary (Auckland to Melbourne, Melbourne to Perth, Perth to Denpasar), it even made a modicum of sense in hindsight that Australia may pose a problem. Still…
“Maybe it’s different for US passport holders?” I offered hopefully. After all, New Zealand had given us 90 days free on arrival, and even Indonesia provided 30 days on arrival.
Shot down. AUSTRALIA requires anyone except NZ and Oz passport holders to apply online ahead of time for a visa and pay $20 each for the privelege, even if only staying a few hours.
Now, irritating as this is, I would like to step back for a moment for some comparison. New Zealand, a small country in comparison, has pretty much everything you would go to Oz for, packed in densely (reducing transport time). Plus, NZ has a much cheaper cost of living. The people are welcoming, friendly, and adventurous. Oz has thousands of things that will kill you – spiders, scorpions, snakes, box jellyfish (you die from PAIN), sharks … NZ, not so much. One semi-poisonous spider is about it. NZ welcomes visitors with open arms – 90 days free on arrival. Free. On arrival. Oz? I’m staring at you, Oz.
We did get the ETA (Oz visa) sorted relatively quickly with an additional infusion of cash we didn’t really want to spend, so we didn’t miss our first leg. Did you know Pacific Blue doesn’t offer any free in-flight service – not even water? No? Neither did I! Three bucks for a can of soda? I’m blaming you, Oz, for that too – it might be unfair, but I’m partial to NZ and we were already in the Tasman Sea by then.
Dense fog surrounded Melbourne, so we were delayed a while, but did eventually land. Oz is being VERY PARANOID about swine flu (it’s just the flu, people). There are sensors you have to walk through first thing that determine if you are running any sort of temperature. We aren’t, so all good. However, I smoke and am mildly asthmatic, AND am coming off a sinus infection, so I do have a slight cough. Otherwise fine. I get up to the customs counter with my little mandatory health slip that clearly states I have NO symptoms of flu but I do have a chronic cough. The customs officer’s hand shoots up and she yells loudly: “QUARANTINE!!!” I am so not making this up.
A little guy in a mask comes to retrieve me and asks me to put on a surgical mask too. So no one catches my obvious PLAGUE. He looks a little embarrassed. There is another guy in the Quarantine area, a kiwi visitor pushing a friend in a wheelchair. He sees me and grimaces “This is such a crock of shit!” he commiserates loudly, eyes sliding over to the hapless handlers. I shrug and nod. I’m just laughing at this point. “He just has a bad back!” the guy continues, glaring at the masked men. “Not tuberculosis! Jesus!”
My guy sits across from me and asks me a series of standard questions (one of which is, hilariously “Are you aware of having contracted the swine flu?”). Finally, the nurse calls me back, laughs, and stamps me forward. I am redeposited at customs after getting a well-deserved lecture on smoking. Quarantine in Oz is reason 1,347 to quit smoking. Shush, dear readers, no more lectures today.
We had to retrieve and re-check our packs, and although we’ve been assured that it won’t be necessary to repeat the steps, I’m not entirely confident I’ll ever see my pack again. One leg down, two more to go. Keep your fingers crossed for us that they all go without incident.