After days and weeks of rain in Humboldt County, the clouds parted and a brilliant spring sun shines forth today to welcome me home. Thank you Mother Nature for softening the return to “real” life – or at least this life so dense with responsibilities.
Arrival in the Bay Area after 50 solid hours of traveling was not quite as kind. Storm after storm had lashed the area for the last several days. But at least the rains abated for the necessary hours to allow a safe and timely landing. I flew out of Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar on Monday night at 1:30 a.m. Bali time, arrived in Seoul, South Korea the following morning around 9 a.m., and realized I’d missed the tour of the city by only about a half hour. Darn! What to do with my ten-hour layover?
It seemed to make sense to hop on the bus and head into the city on my own. After all, the polite young woman at the airport information booth had pointed out some sites on a map that she handed over to me. And the woman at the tour booth had even lent me a jacket (temps were a bit lower in Seoul than they had been in Ubud – 36 degrees Farenheit along with some biting north winds, as opposed to an average of 86 in Bali.)
But it made less sense when the bus driver stared at me blankly after I told him the name of my stop, the one where I could catch the ‘tourist bus’ which apparently made a loop around the city allowing one to get on and off at will at various sights. He looked even more confused when I showed him the name of the “station” in writing. Oh, that’s right, different alphabet. Despite my airport cup of coffee I was feeling more dazed and tired by the minute.
And of course I jumped off at the wrong stop, finding myself in the middle of a confusing busy section of Seoul, with no idea where I was or how to get to the station where the tourist bus took off. Shivering despite my loaner coat, I waited for the next Airport Bus, hoping I wouldn’t be charged an additional $10 to ride it to the proper stop.
But that driver was no more helpful than the first. When I got off that bus as directed I found myself in what seemed to be the business section of downtown. Throngs of busy Asians in business suits hustled past. I looked up and down the street, and thinking he’d dropped me off a few blocks past the stop, I headed up the sidewalk.
When I finally realized there was a Korean translation on the map I was using, I showed what I thought was the Korean wording of my destination to a passing woman who looked friendly enough. She spoke a bit of English and pointed me in the opposite direction.
“It is many blocks that way,” she said.
Okay – freezing, exhausted. What was I doing? What about that spa at the airport? Wouldn’t that have been a better idea?
Well, maybe it would have been. The tourist bus proved to be just another boring bus ride and I realized I would not have much time to jump on and off at palaces and other sites and still make the 1-2 hour airport bus back to the airport in time. Since I was starving I asked the woman next to me which stop would be good to find some food.
After more confusion (why did she direct me into an underground subway stop area? Oh… it’s the only way to cross the street.) I found myself in a celebrated shopping district of narrower streets crammed with restaurants, shops and people – a bit more what I’d had in mind for a tour of the city. But the temperature was dropping, my stomach was grumbling, and really all I wanted was to eat some lunch and go back to the airport and see if I could find somewhere to take a nap.
Lunch turned out to be the highlight of this ill-fated excursion. I wandered into a place that looked cheap enough only to find large burners at the center of each red formica table. It seemed that after ordering off the menu, my food would be cooked right at the table. Sort of a fast food version of Tempenyaki. I bumbled through my order and soon fresh vegetables, rice and a mysterious red paste were sizzling in front of me.
I struggled with the stainless steel chopsticks that were briskly pointed out to me (they resided in a table drawer), and sipped glass after glass of the water provided – the resulting concoction turned out to be a bit fiery. But the meal helped me feel I’d had a chance to experience a smidgen of Korean culture.
Next stop was Honolulu, another red-eye flight, this time crossing the international date-line. So I essentially left around 8 p.m. on Tuesday night and arrived at 9 a.m. the same day! In a surreal “Groundhog Day” fashion I faced another day-long layover on the exact same day!
However, this time I was lucky enough to have a Honolulu connection. Tim’s friend, Mike Swank, formerly of Humboldt waited for me at the airport curb when I emerged from customs and whisked me off to the small apartment he shared with his wife just blocks from Waikiki Beach.
“I have a cold beer waiting for you,” he told me as we sped down the Honolulu highway.
Hmmm, I was thinking more along the lines of coffee but…
A day in Mike and Patti’s apartment that included a nap and a sandwich from the Safeway deli brought me back to the airport in far better form than I had been the previous night (or the same night??) in Korea. Boarded my third red-eye flight, this one to Seattle, pulled out the neck pillow purchased at the airport in Bali and tried once again to get at least a couple of hours of sleep.
And, as mentioned earlier, the nature spirits favored me, the sun made a rare appearance in Seattle and the storms in San Francisco abated for a few hours. All planes landed on time and soon I was in Berkeley chatting with my sister and my nephew, then snoozing in her comfy bed, and then sleepily welcoming Tim who had driven down that day to meet me.
At this point I had no idea what time it was on my body clock, but I sure felt glad to be far away from jet planes and airports!
The next day found Tim and I driving south through the driving rains, en route to Santa Cruz and a visit with Ciel. We’d made it almost all the way when we hit the backed up traffic jam as we approached Los Gatos. Highway 17 had just closed due to flooding. This required us to back track almost all the way back to San Francisco and cut over to Highway 1, turning a 1 1/2 hour trip into a 3-4 hour journey.
It gave me a chance to greet the Pacific though, shimmering pewter under a temporary break in the clouds.
I’m grateful for those few days in the Bay Area, visiting family, sharing Bali stories with Ciel and adjusting to this side of the world and the time change. And, since weather closed Highway 101 on and off during the intervening days I’m also grateful that I had no requirement to get home sooner.
Yesterday we passed through sunshine, rainbows and downpours as we headed back up the coast the north lands. The sun broke through just past the Humboldt County line, illuminating the lush landscape with the glorious late afternoon light of a freshly washed late spring day.