Friday, December 21:
I don't normally wear a watch, since I almost always have my phone with me, and iPhones tend to be more accurate than cheap wristwatches from Walmart. But for this trip, when I knew I'd be wearing pocketless skirts most of the time and likely not connect my phone to a source of data that would tell it we were in a different time zone, I got a cheap Walmart wristwatch. But apparently I'm out of practice with reading and--more importantly--setting an analog watch, because it seems that when we touched down in Fiji and I set my watch to local time, I actually set it an hour off.
We left the hotel at 4:30 a.m. (or maybe 5:30--we're still not sure anymore) in order to check in around 5:15 for our 8:15 flight, recheck our luggage, and jump through the hoops for getting reimbursed for our $20 shuttle ride back to the airport.
After the indefinite limbo we were in Thursday, and with all the delays and uncertainties, it felt unbelievably good to have boarding passes in our hands for a flight to Brisbane that morning! While we were in line for our boarding passes, I noticed that our flight had both Air Pacific and Qantas flight numbers, so I made a point of memorizing both numbers just in case.
Since we had ample time before our flight, we meandered through security and customs, purchased a chicken pie for breakfast, huge bottles of water (still dehydrated from the day before--we weren't sure if we could drink the hotel tap water), and a cappuccino. I had been wanting to find an outlet adapter so I could charge my iPhone and iPad, so we wandered through a few stores and leisurely bought an adapter (for under $2!), then wandered back up to the seating area surrounded by gates.
We still had a little over an hour before our flight, but one of us suggested we go ahead and head to our gate, just so we'd be there in plenty of time. We saw an entrance labelled with a gate range that included ours, but it led to four outdoor gates--the kind where passengers go through the security personnel then walk out onto the tarmac and up the stairs that have been rolled up to the plane. Translation: not the kind of gate where you camp out in a comfy leather chair for hours on end.
We glanced up at the list of flights in the gates beyond that exit and didn't see our flight FJ 921, so we started to walk away. As we were turning around, it registered with me that the screen had said QF 398, and I was pretty sure that was our Qantas flight number. We looked more carefully and, sure enough, it said QF 398 to Brisbane, departing at 8:15 . . . boarding now.
Huh. That's odd that they're boarding so early, but we might as well get on. So we handed our boarding passes to the gatekeeper and proceeded outside to where they had tables set up to search our bags the old-fashioned way, with eyes and hands instead of fancy x-ray machines. They pulled out our giant water bottles which we'd only begun to sip on, and said we couldn't take them on the plane. We'd just spent good money on them, so we asked if we could just drink them quickly before boarding the plane. The security guys gave us strange looks but didn't protest, though my guy reminded me multiple times that we could get water on the plane. Just to make sure the flight wasn't leaving early, I asked, "What time is the plane leaving?"
"In 45 minutes."
"Oh, we've got plenty of time, then!" So we kept sipping.
After about the third nervous suggestion that we could drink airplane water, we surrendered our bottles and headed toward the tarmac and our awaiting aircraft.
While we walked--still leisurely--to the airplane, someone alerted us, "Hurry! Your plane leaves in 5 minutes!" What?! Why is it leaving an hour early? Is my watch wrong? But we've been going by my watch all this time. And the security guys just told us we had 45 minutes. What if we hadn't happened past our gate when we did?
Looking back on the interaction, the bag search personnel must have said the plane leaves in 4 to 5 minutes rather than 45. They probably thought we were so ridiculous and arrogant to stand there sipping our water while our plane was mere minutes from departing!
Brisbane airport was gloriously uneventful. And clean. And air-conditioned. And efficient! We even had time to buy 20 minutes of internet. For this layover we checked and double-checked my watch against the clocks all over the airport, and camped out right at our gate.
From Brisbane, we flew to Port Moresby, PNG's capital, and met up with some of our parents' friends who live in Moresby and had agreed to house us for this unexpected overnight so we wouldn't have to figure out how to get to and pay for a hotel. Their six-year-old son is perhaps the most hospitable person I've ever met, and probably has more enthusiasm in his pinkie than I have in my whole body. He gave us the most detailed tour of a house I've ever experienced--even showing us such things as his vitamins he takes twice a day, each family member's bike helmet, the shovel stowed behind the front door, his bag of swim stuff, and the Christmas story book laying beneath the tree. We are so very grateful for this family's generous, warm hospitality and honestly don't know what we would have done without them.