Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Pond Hopping (March 10 - 12)

Across the Ocean
As I left Montana once more, heading for the fabled land of the kiwi, I had expectations that did not equate to those I'd had on my previous internship for the WildFIRE PIRE program. I was anticipating a much different experience than what I'd found in Tasmania almost a year ago, but I would not, or could not, foresee just how different it would be.

Before we left we met up with a brilliant scientist named Gabe Yospin to give us some financial help on our journey, since we were unable to get our stipend due to some extenuating circumstances. It was nice to have a late breakfast and share some words with Gabe, because I hadn't really talked with him or anyone else from the project for some time. We had a wonderful brunch and then he gave us a ride to the Missoula airport. After some hugs and farewells, Matt and I strolled through the revolving doors and up to the United Airlines check-in.

Our trip overseas began as would any other, with TSA employees and checked luggage. I'd only packed minimal gear for this trip, as I would be spending most of my time in the city of Auckland instead of traipsing around buttongrass tussocks and through nothofagus rainforests, so I only had one item to check this time. With my computer bag and carry-on strapped to my back, we were ready to walk up to the terminal for the inevitable boarding process that we all love so much. To tell the truth, I think I may be too big for airplane rides anymore... I always seem to bump my head on something. Either way, I wasn't quite looking forward to being sardined into a piece of metal for the next twenty hours. Not in the least.

The end doesn't always justify the means, but this was a unique circumstance, one in which I was willing to sacrifice a little bit of comfort in order to travel to such a wonderful and awesome place. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be an intern in this part of the world, and for such a pivotal project. YES!!! I am truly blessed.

At this point, the lack of photography should be indicative of my differing experience. I wouldn't begin to take pictures until after the long stretches of sitting on planes followed by an excruciatingly long stretch of sitting in a chair while my luggage was rummaged through. I'll get to that part eventually.

After a couple of transfers and a long ass flight over the Pacific Ocean, we arrived at an unexpected stop on our journey. I didn't know we were going to stop at the Cook Islands (Rarotonga) on our way to Auckland, I guess the nine hour flight time should have clued me in. It was a welcome break from the confines of the 767 we arrived on. Although it was dark when we arrived, there was just enough light to see the hills that surrounded the airport. As the dawn slowly filtered over the ridge-tops I could make out the outlines of the trees that inhabited the steep slopes. Once the light was full, the beauty of this small island revealed itself. We weren't here long before we had to board the gigantic flying machine once more.

Matt had injured his knee about a week before we'd left, so he was able to get some very convenient wheel chair service, enabling us to board the plane early. I pushed him up to the stairway, where he then had to climb the stairs with a constricting brace on his leg. I was more than happy to help though, as I know these kinds of injuries can be very debilitating, and just plain old annoying to deal with.

Once again, we boarded and were on our way over the immense stretch of water known as the South Pacific. We arrived in New Zealand and this is where things began to get interesting.

We got off of the plane and continued on to pick up our luggage so we could find our way to the place we'd be staying for the next few weeks. As I approached the luggage carousel a sweet little dog came up to me and began nuzzling my computer bag, and then reared up and hugged my leg as its warm eyes smiled up at me. I had an insatiable urge to cuddle with this furry little cutie, until I realized the situation that came attached with it. This was no ordinary cutie, it was a security cutie trained to smell out drugs and explosives.

A man approached me and asked, "Do you know what this dog does?"
I replied, "Yeah. It smells stuff, right?"
"Yes. Do you have any drugs on you today?"
"No. Of course not."
"Now would be the time to be honest. I haven't had any coffee today and I have no patience!"
I continued, "I am being honest. I have no drugs on me. Go ahead and check."
"Oh we will." he chortled.

At this point I was so tired that I was beginning to have trouble staying awake, even while standing. So, I was not in the mood either. This man was being extremely rude to me, and began to accuse me of being a marijuana grower and/or a drug smuggler. Of course, I am neither, and immediately felt offended by the insinuation. I was able to stay calm though, and avoided insulting the man back. He continued to prod me for information, as if somehow I'd change my mind about the truth and decided to implicate myself or "be honest" as he kept putting it. I generally don't like it when someone questions my honesty.

After a pleasant back and forth, he sent me on my way, marking a bold number 4 on my arrival card. This is when I got the pleasure of standing in a line for about an hour and half, only to sit in front of a cold steel table for another two hours while several people rummaged through my belongings over and over again. They swabbed, sorted, opened, and fondled every item in my luggage at least twice before they came to me and informed me they wanted to do a strip search. I was a little shocked at first, but then conceded, saying, "I don't care... I just wanna go to sleep."

This is when the man informed me there was some explosive residue on my bag, and that they had reason to believe I was carrying something on my person. Again I said, "I really don't care. I'm tired, I've had a long flight, and I just wanna go lay down."

I think my carelessness must have made an impression because the man I'd been watching go through my things for the last two hours left and then came back and said I could go. He convinced his boss that there was no need for a strip search and so finally let me go on my way. Unfortunately it took them over three hours to decide this, and by this time Matt had worried plenty and informed Yvonne of my situation, of which he was unaware. All Matt knew was that a drug dog had taken an interest in me and then I was gone from his sight.

Even though it was highly inconvenient and delayed my arrival to the City Lodge by a good three hours, it was an interesting experience. I got to see first hand what a lack of coffee can do to an airport security official. I also found out that I should take more care to keep my "explosive residue" under tabs. I had to laugh as I walked out of the airport and boarded the shuttle that would take me to my well needed bed, one which I took full advantage of after a brief meet and greet with Yvonne.

And that's my story of adventuring over the Pacific Ocean. My next adventure would come in the form of uncertainty and the unexpected... two things I truly relish in life. To be surprised and open to new things is such a beautiful combination, it's hard not to love and be excited.

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