Today was one of those days where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. We laughed through it and became quite delirious and in awe at the unbelievable number of road blocks we confronted trying to make one flight reservation. Here is the play-by-play.
All we wanted was to book a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Mumbai, India, two of the major cities in the region.
A travel agent was recommended. We walked to it and found that it only booked packages.
We went to an Internet café and used Expedia to find the flight. No E-tickets can be issued. Roadblock.
We went to Malaysiaairlines.com, but the site was down. Roadblock.
We went to Air India, the codeshare airline, the computer we were using did not allow the pop-up necessary to book tickets. Roadblock.
We walked to the Malaysian Airlines office. They can only sell tickets leaving from Singapore (our current location). Roadblack.
We try a new Internet café. We find the flight, purchase the ticket only to find out the purchase did not go through- no explanation given, only a phone number. Roadblock.
We figure the credit card may have blocked the transaction. We enter a shopping center to call an operator, staff tell us that Singapore cannot do collect calls and no one knows how to dial an International Operator. Roadblack.
Go to a hotel lobby and attempt to call credit card company collect from pay phone- the operator cannot hear us. Try new phone, same problem. Roadblock.
No one in hotel knows how to contact international assistance. Roadblaock.
Finally connect to credit card company, but collect charges inexplicably denied, 3 times. Roadbloack
Run out of change, must find change.
Buy pre-paid phone card for international calls.
Leave area and go to subway, find another pay phone. Try international phone card, number to Malaysian Airlines cannot be connected. Roadbloack.
Spend .60 to have the operator tell us to dial 104 for international call assistance.
Get through to credit card company – no problem with card- it should work.
Try to call Malaysian Airlines again with pre-paid card. No Connection. Roadblock.
Call int’l operator again. Tells us to try using credit card.
Switch to a pay phone that accepts credit cards. Slide Card- “Card Error”. Try new card: “Replace Handset” was all it said. Roadblock.
Give up on calling Malaysia Airlines – decide to go home. Need to get Subway tokens, no change smaller than $10. Machine will not accept higher than $5. Go to office, no one present. Roadblock.
Find change, enter subway, walk to platform, realize wrong platform, exit and return to new platform. Go home with nothing to show for 6 hours of trying to get one ticket.
I’m quite surprised that we made it back to the room without getting hit by a car or accosted in some way. Our issues were certainly part ignorance and part bad luck. Live and learn I suppose.
Later that night, Sachi got the tickets online and we rejoiced. Yaaaay.
Well, I am officially now cameraless. The Treo (my phone/camera/mp3 player) is gone and we're hoping to get ourselves back on track soon.
It all started a few days ago in Cairns, Australia. I awoke with a sore throat that got worse over that day and progressed into a full-blown head cold over the next two days. The biggest casuality was my nose, which became chapped from all the blowing.
We were making preparations to leave Australia, which had seen the demise of my normal camera. Though I was still sick, we arrived at the airport bound for Singapore last night. All was good.
I am known for a bit of carelessness and losing things easily and Sachi has been diligent in reminding me to look back at my seat after leaving a spot, so as not to leave things behind.
We sat at the gate for our flight to Singapore and I was writing some notes on the Treo and just before we boarded I went to the bathroom, came back, got my bags and we got in line. Just then, things changed. Sachi asked "Did you look back?" "No, Did you?" "No". We shrugged it off as if our karma would protect us.
Once we got on the plane and taxied to the runway it bacame clear that I had made a huge mistake. I left the Treo at the gate and had the chance to look back and didn't. I am an idiot. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Of course, this is an overnight, 7 hour international flight and despite having the captain telex the airport, no one could report the Treo. I called the phone last night and today to no connection.
In just under a week, we lost two of our most expensive and useful gadgets. We arrived in Singapore at about 3AM and slept a restless sleep. The first words out of Sachi's mouth this morning were "I have sore throat". Dammit.
It's OK though. We're in Asia! We have travel insurance and the cold isn't really that bad. I've learned a valuable lesson and we'll mark all this up to experience. This trip will go on and we'll be stronger for it.
The moral of the story is: ALWAYS, ALWAYS LOOK BACK.
In exploring both islands, I’ve done my bit of driving in New Zealand
(over 3000 miles) and overall I’ve been impressed with the quality of the roads and the civility of other drivers. However, there are some differences from driving in America that we’ve learned the hard way and would like to provide some information we wish we had had.
Everything is Opposite
For an American driving in New Zealand, there is one unmistakable and overwhelming fact – everything is opposite. You’re driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road and shifting gears with the wrong hand.
In getting started with driving opposites, there are some things to keep in mind. First, as the driver, you should always be nearest to the center of the road. If you look out the driver’s side window and see the shoulder, you’re in the wrong lane. Also, when you first get started, it will be strange to have the width of the vehicle on your left side and your tendency will be to run off the road on the left side. You have to get used to keeping yourself toward the center of the road- if you’re looking down the middle of your lane, you’re too far left.
Another example of everything being opposite is where you look when entering traffic (or crossing the street for that matter). Americans grow up learning to look left-right-left before crossing. In New Zealand it’s right-left-right.
Interestingly, driving on the left side also governs pedestrian behavior. When approaching another person on a sidewalk in New Zealand, the default is to yield to the left.
Signs and the Metric System
In New Zealand, there are more “give way” (yield) signs than stop signs, more traffic circles than stop lights and less pedestrian right of ways. From what we can tell, the strategy is to keep traffic moving and it often works. Without the volume of cars like you’d find in the US, traffic does seem to keep moving and I like the difference.
In cities and towns, you’ll see signs like “P30”, “P15”, etc. These are parking signs and relate how many minutes you can park there without a ticket.
Like the rest of the world (except the US) New Zealand uses the metric system, so the signs take some getting used to. Here are some hints:
100 kph equals 62 mph and 100 kph is the maximum speed limit NZ wide. You can do 110kph max and not worry about a ticket (what we heard first-hand), which starts with a fee of $120 and goes up rapidly.
Round-abouts or traffic circles are everywhere and are somewhat foreign to Americans. The basic rule when entering a traffic circle is to yield to the right. If you get hit on the driver’s side (right side) in a traffic circle, it’s your fault. When approaching a circle, know where you plan to exit before entering (the sign before it should let you know). If you look at the circle as a clock and you are exiting the circle from 9-12 o’clock or so, get in the far left lane, yield to the right and follow through. If you are exiting from 1-3 o’clock, turn on your left hand turn signal and watch for any cars coming up on your left before you exit the circle to the left. The best scenario is to be behind a car that is going the same way as you. If you miss your exit, go around again. It took me a couple of weeks of nervousness and honking horns and to get it down.
In the US, it’s easy to convert miles to minutes to figure out how long it takes to drive somewhere at 60mph. When miles don’t apply, it may seem difficult, but there is an easy way:
When converting kilometers to minutes driving, think about the number of kilometers you need to go as a percentage and then apply that percentage to 60 minutes. For instance, consider how long it takes to drive 25 kms. Being that 100 kph is essentially the same as 60 mph, it makes for a handy way to calculate time and distance. First, think about 25 kms as 25% of 100 (100 kilometers per hour). Then, calculate 25% of 60 minutes, which would be 15. So, it takes 15 minutes to travel 25km at 100 kph.
New Zealand has very few expressways, except in the urban areas. Everything else is a mixture of long, straight rural roads and 2 lanes of curvy white-knuckled roller coasters with about a centimeter for a shoulder. The need to pass other vehicles is ever-present. Drivers in NZ expect to be passed and often pull over to the shoulder and put on the left-hand turn signal. This says to you “Please pass now”. Many of the roads have passing lanes every so often and these are the safest places to pass.
I’ve never seen roadkill on the scale I’ve seen in New Zealand. Like America, it is often the poor possum, which has an uncanny ability to be hit during their nightly scavenger hunts. Other than roadkill, be aware of the errant farm animal. Sheep seem adept at escaping and often appear on the edge of the road, eyeing the other side.
The west coast of the South Island seems particularly fond of one-lane bridges – they vastly outnumber the two lane bridges. Pay attention to the signs when you approach a one lane bridge – they provide information on right of way, which is apparently based on who has the most visible approach to the bridge.
All in All
You’ll be fine! You’ll get used to it in a few days and in a couple of weeks, the idea of driving on the left side of the car on the right side of the road will seem weird. You’ll be fine mate, no worries!
We have mentioned Squeak a few times, and Mark reminded me that we haven’t included any interior pictures for those who have not chosen to live in a van down by the river. So here goes...
Squeak is an Apollo brand campervan 2-berth (sleeps 2 adults) that is about 3 meters (9 ft) high and 5.5 meters (17ft) long. No Mickey D’s drive through’s! It fits almost exactly end to end in a normal parking space.
This is the back of the van with a bench-like set up including a swivel table. The tabletop is placed between the benches and with two other similar boards, a solid platform is created for a bed. It’s pretty wide and Lee – at 6’3” – doesn’t hang off the end…Though he is too tall for the ceiling, unless he stands under the top vent.
Further up is a gas stove, sink, mini fridge, and mini oven on the left and a closet and toilet/shower on the right. The microwave and air conditioner are also tucked high in the corners. There are cabinets everywhere and they hold the linens and kitchen pots and utensils that come with the van.
What we didn’t expect was the cabinets to squeak at every turn and with every swaying movement of the vehicle. Think squeaking plastic rubbing together.
The other noise is an inevitable closet door spilling open or bananas falling on the floor at the first turn of every drive. We try to remember to close all the knobs to lock the drawers in place and be sure to close the windows and the overhead vent, and then be sure everything on the sink or table has been put away…but we have almost always forgotten something. Then we start the engine and boom – this morning it was Lee’s clothes cabinet door that spilled the stack. Two days ago the entire utensil drawer littered the floor (Lee opened that one). Is there a trend here?The cabinet doors squeak even louder when they are flying open. Good thing we’re now in the
Ever since I can remember, car-sickness has been a handicap for me as a passenger - especially on longer road trips. It has even caused me to drive myself on group road trips, just to avoid the constant headache & nausea and long recovery time once the car stopped.
I was definitely concerned about it for our TWINF trip with the expected hot and stuffy chicken buses, roller coaster taxi rides, and possibly rickety trains. Until...we found Motion Bands at REI that we had heard "worked for some people" via pressure points on the inside of your wrists. Acupressure was never something to which I paid much attention, but I thought - why not try it? Feeling like a zombie on Dramamine seemed to be the best option up until now.