Day 1: Nescafe & Multiple Movements

29 Sep 2013 ::

Vancouver morning dawns bright and fresh as the autumnal sun grazes the mountain tops. Richard and I walk to the cafe “Bean Around the World” for breakfast and likely our last “real” coffee. By 11:00 am we and luggage are stowed in Neil’s car for our trip to the airport. Neil serenely navigates traffic from the UBC district to the Vancouver airport with fluid expertise. I gaze out at the thick gardens and manicured lawns we pass along the way, and marvel at the greying greens and fading floral colours. Neil drops us at the departure gates, hugs us both and is gone. Keep this image in mind when you arrive at the Delhi section of the Day 2 missive.

The wait at the check-in counter is short and soon the large backpack is tagged and checked. We have our boarding passes for all our departures: Vancouver, Seattle, and Dubai. Although we have a few hours, we go through security anyway. The lineups are long. Richard and I wear several layers of clothing in anticipation of the circulated, cold air of airplanes. We remove the layers, the shoes and the malas, and pass through the security gate quietly. We don our layers, shoes and malas, and enter the waiting zone. When the boarding call comes, we find ourselves on an Alaskan Air craft with cramped seating and no frills. The only amenity on offer during the flight is a glass of water. I accept, knowing that air travel dries out the tissues. My face already feels like sandpaper and my lips are parched. The actual flying time from Vancouver to Seattle is 31 minutes. Clouds block most of the view below, so I adopt a Buddhist perspective and watch the clouds pass by like smooth, undulating waves, punctuated by the occasional billowy mounds jutting above.

Touchdown is uneventful. The way I like them. Although the Vancouver Airport is renowned for its beauty, Seattle by comparison is its gaudy sister, replete with mosaic pillars, copper fish stepping stones (one fish carries a suitcase), and flashy stores shouting for attention. After a leisurely walk around, we settle at “Anthony’s” for lunch. I chose a shrimp, mango, avocado salad with blue cheese. Richard decides on the clam chowder in a bread bowl with a side of caesar salad. Salads are a great meal for the occasion, as we are spending six months in a country where salads are taboo.

At boarding time, we realize that Richard has been assigned the aisle seat, and I the window seat, leaving the middle seat to a stranger that never arrives. Yes, we are blessed with three seats to sprawl over. The Emirates aircraft is a monstrous white Boeing 777-200. In spite of the size, the leg room for regular class seats is meager, and anyone over the age of ten isn’t going to find flying comfortable. Richard and I make a pact to upgrade our seats to a better class for our next flight. Not only is there actual leg room in business and first class, but one can recline fully back and sleep with more comfort. We have “first class” envy.

We are sufficiently distracted by various programs on the screen embedded in the backs of the seats we face. The flight program allows us to see where we are on the trip that is taking us back into Canadian airspace over BC, Alberta and north over Greenland, and finally down to Dubai. This is about 4 to 5 hours shorter than flying across the Pacific Ocean, although the stops add about 3 hours each to the trip, at least we get to stretch our legs.

Dinner arrives. We have a choice: lamb, chicken or vegetarian along with salad, dessert, water, and a tab of chocolate. Tea and coffee are also on offer, but the coffee is that sad replica called Nescafe. It looks like watery mud, and tastes faintly of coffee. But I drink it with pleasure, as I know the future holds more. We are delighted when the lights of the aircraft suddenly go out, and reveal a sparkle of stars sprinkled across the darkened ceiling. We are flying forward in time and are already in the evening. We each watch a different TV episode of Wild India, and then prepare for sleep. There are 10 more hours before we reach Dubai. There’s nothing else on offer worth watching anyway.

Preparations for sleep require downing our little blue pills, inserting earplugs to dull the engine drone, and strapping on eye shades to block out the flickering screens of other passengers. After much adjustments, I manage to curl up on the window seat while Richard sprawls across all three seats, his head on my lap. At some point he shifts position so that his feet are on my lap. His socks smell bad enough to wake me, so I cover them with several folds of a blanket and fall back to sleep. This is not a deep sleep as different muscles begin to cramp. I move ever so slightly to ease the current ache only to have another cramp infiltrate my slumber.

We are greeted in the morning with breakfast, and bland coffee. In a few hours we land, uneventfully, in Dubai.