Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Staying awake

February 3rd, 2012

Ken resorts to a final strong coffee to make sure he doesn’t miss his flight out of Miami and a return to the UK…



Into the Twilight Zone

August 30th, 2011

Brief stop-over in Hawaii complete, I was bound for Alaska. The Twilight Zone. During the summer months almost perpetual daylight. That’d already begun to diminish by five minutes or so each day, just as the relatively mild weather conditions would start to ebb away shortly. Knew I’d need to press on out of Anchorage just as soon as I was ready. Not a moment to loose.

Shuttle bus back to the airport I’d left the previous day. Agricultural inspection. Free carriage of thirty pounds of approved pineapples was an irresistible offer that proved to be very resistible. Check in with Alaskan Airlines swift, no quibbling over the half pound I was over on the baggage limit.

All terribly polite and efficient. And as yet no utterance of "Have a nice day". Only criticism I’d have, and it is a minor one, is that full body scanners are probably not best suited to airports in warm climates. Gets your attention. So to speak. And the alternative they offer, full body pat down, didn’t strike me as having much less scope for, shall we say, embarrassment. If you’re male and facing a similar dilemma, imagine Sarah Palin riding a moose. Worked for me. Nice horns.

[At the time of writing the author was partially sleep deprived and riding on a sea of caffeine. So probably not as his best. Humble apologies. But do look out for more Sarah Palin jokes. And remember, people must have voted for her]



A dog called Jasper

June 29th, 2011

His name was Jasper. I knew because I’d asked his handler. The pair had approached each and every passenger. Waiting by the baggage carousel. The dog seemed disinterested. I was pleased.

With Emma, my trusty steed, safely parked up in Sydney, I’d decided to spend a few weeks in New Zealand. Visiting friends. Exploring. Alas, too expensive to bring the bike over. Flying into the Capital, Wellington. Southern tip of the North Island. The other one’s South Island.


Immigration. Six month visa. Of sorts. Just a quick stamp in the passport. Customs. Biosecurity. Terribly friendly. Terribly. I’d ticked a few boxes on my Declaration Card. In some countries that’d get you a full body cavity search. No lubricant. Here the worst you’d probably get is a soggy biscuit with your cup of tea. And they’d be very apologetic about it.

Struggled to find the very items I’d declared. Becoming increasingly concerned I’d forgotten to pack them. Medication mostly. Said so to the inspecting officer. We chatted for a while whilst I rummaged around in my bag. Weather mostly. Already knew I was going to like it here.



Flying south

December 2nd, 2010

Much better behaved than I. Compliant. Diligently completing the immigration paperwork. Putting his bags through the unmanned scanner. Obeying the sign. I’d met Anthony in the Foreigners line at passport control. He was from Sheffield. In China on business. And, like me, hoping to cross into Hong Kong. His thoroughness had taken me aback a little. Not because he was doing anything wrong. Far from it. No. He was just being the person I’d have been before I started on this venture.

I’d flown down from Wuhan earlier in the day. Left Emma, my trusty steed, in good company whilst I was gone for a few days. It had been an early start, up before five. Preferring an extra coffee in Departures than a mad panic at Check-In. The airport had surprised me. Admittedly, for a city of about nine million people, you’d hardly call it provincial. But it had a sophistication, a modernity I’d not expected.

Check in friendly. And in English. Choice of seat. Security checks thorough. Professional. Reassuring. And very efficient. But meant I was madly early. Drifted around for a while. Bemused a little by the shops and expensive boutiques. “London Fog“. “Coolava Island“. And “Generic Shop“. Always wondering what the Chinese made of these names. And then copious coffee.

The flight hadn’t disappointed. Smart Air China A320-200 airbus. As pristine as the airport. Part of the Star Alliance. And a complementary copy of the “China Daily” English language newspaper. Brought to my seat. Soon arriving in the city of Shenzhen, close to Hong Kong. Emerging into bright sunshine. Unfamiliar humidity.

A brief foray into baggage reclaim. Even a check on exit to make sure my rucksack tallied with the label on my boarding card. Not short of people to do these sort of things. The usual taxi touts in the Arrivals Hall. Ignored. Another coffee to sustain myself. Starbucks. Then off to find the bus across the border. Not sure quite what to expect. Certainly not the pink sticker we all had to wear.

[Author’s note: Hong Kong remains a defacto separate country – not sure I’d go as far as describing it as independent – to the extent you’d be hard pressed to realise it, technically, wasn’t. Practical implications? Your mainland Chinese visa gets cancelled as you cross – assuming it’s not multiple entry – and direct flights are treated as international rather than domestic. More expensive. Hence flying to Shenzhen on the border, then crossing by bus – about fifteen pounds return – and very efficient and intuitive]



July 6th, 2010

Almaty international airport. Kazakhstan. Early. Passport. Immigration card. Copy of the border rules and regulations. In English. After my albeit short-lived detention by Kazakhstan border guards a few weeks earlier, I reckoned I was ready for all eventualities. Knew my papers were all in order. My imminent departure on a flight to a third country to secure a fresh Chinese visa wasn’t going to force the payment of any suspicious fines.

The Customs Declaration form – I eventually found one in English – seemed contradictory, and I thought unnecessary for the Green Channel. Not carrying anything I shouldn’t be. Left the pepper spray, knives, petrol and local anesthetic behind. And the form? Sterling effort at translation, or a potential trap for the unwary? You do wonder sometimes.

I’d done the usual things – expensive electronics in my hand luggage, spent a little money getting it wrapped in resilient plastic film until I’d boarded. Protects the external fittings on the front pannier I was using as luggage, and deters officials from wanting to inspect the contents. Nothing to hide, just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle. And dispersed the contents of my wallet about my person. Never like to reveal exactly how much cash I might be carrying to noisy officials.

Customs. Green Channel. Just ahead of a large group. Deliberately. Smiled. Said good morning in Kazakh. Through. Skirted around the X-ray machines. Nobody seemed bothered, and they’d be a few more before I boarded the aircraft. Check-in. Helpful assistant from the airline I’d chosen. One I’d heard of before, unlike SCAT, the small Kazakh operation I’d used to enter from Azerbaijan.

Passport Control. I’d last entered through a land crossing from Kyrgyzstan, had to insist on an extra stamp on my immigration card to show my passport was properly registered with the authorities. Would that be accepted or had I to remind them that all the formalities had been completed when I obtained my visa back in Georgia? But no, a quick check, another stamp, in the passport this time, and off to the departure lounge. Outbound.

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