Saturday, February 6, 2016

A tale of some woes of air travel

(Moon from airplane)

Travel comes with woes, insignificant ones, perceived ones and bam in your face ones, like the missing hubcaps while returning the rental car in Cape Town.

(Sunset in Okinawa)

The last around the world trip was conceived when planning the South Africa trip, when we discovered that ticketwise we could for a little more money visit Hawaii for a few weeks. Conveniently forgetting about cost of living and the renting of cars while there. But since I have never had the privilege of seeing that part of the US, the decision faltered toward going there and the frugality in buying the better ticket bested the additional cost of adding 4 weeks to the trip.

(Fish tank in Ishigake airport)

(Okinawa city overhead metro system, stopped right in front of our hotel)

During our two week trip in South Africa, Sandee was already fretting about the travel schedule to Hawaii. The reduced pricing of an around the world ticket has extra requirements, such as 4 overnight stops. Starting from Amsterdam those were Capetown, Okinawa, Hawaii and Norfolk.

(Lunch in the park in central Okinawa)

(Just love those trees)

So to get to Okinawa the trip went as follows:

(Love the color composition)

Paris is the first overnight leg of 11 hours, arriving 6 am in the morning in Charles de Gaulle airport (3 days after the Paris attacks - security was especially tight) where we were to hang around for 8 hours awaiting an 11 hour plus overnight flight for Shanghai, where we had a 6 hour layover, while setting the clock 7 hours forward. From Shanghai we took a flight of a few more hours, in the then late afternoon, to Okinawa for a 2 day respite.

(senior doing foot excercises in the park, never seen this before)

Luckily the Air France lounge showed an area with couches where we could "sleep/rest" a bit. Unfortunately the Shanghai airport had a smelly dirty lounge with a shrill lady constantly announcing the next boarding time for other flights, while we were waiting 6 hours for the flight to Okinawa.

(This tree provided him/herself some support by growing extra legs)

There was an earlier flight we would have loved to take, but we were told that we would have to pass passport control and security, which required Chinese visa which we did not have.

(Above and below more park scenes from Okinawa)

So we landed wary and tired, stating to each other never to do this kind of continuous travelling ever again. Travel has to be a pleasure not an endurance race. But here is the kicker: I had rented a car with, unfortunately, a Japanese GPS with which we needed to find a Marriott Renaissance hotel about 20 plus miles north of the airport in the now dark night, as sun sets in these regions around 6pm. (The logic brought by my sweetheart that "a taxi would have been in order here", did not count, because I had calculated long before that a round trip cab for 20 miles in Japan was more expensive than renting a car for 2 days) And of course I don't understand why we need to argue about that either, especially after the fact.

(We woke up the next morning in the Marriott resort to these sights)

The nice lady from the rental agency programmed our GPS in English, inputting hotel coordinates using a telephone number she found and we set off in the dark following the GPS instructions, however the radio noise interfered, so Sandee did something to lower that noise and "boom" our GPS picture screen went blank, so now, only the voice once in awhile told us left or right. It brought us to a toll road and the voice said "proceed on this road" and then silence set in as we drove and drove and drove, making us wonder if the voice would ever return before we reached the ocean at the top of the island.

(Ishigake had many rainbows, but this one was really nice)

When we started to become very anxious after 40 miles or so the voice returned and brought us to a very expensive looking Marriott, where we found out that we had passed the Renaissance by about 40 minutes driving.

(Ishigake road to "well let's find out")

After 40+ hours of airplanes, airports and cars, in the dark, with a GPS we didn't know how to program, in a foreign country were we didn't speak or understand the language, in the dark of night, driving on the left hand side of the road and a wife begging to lay her head down, even if in a broom closet, we stayed in this Marriott - some times a happy wife trumps a dollar saved - hard choice for a Dutchman. The morning found us recovering in luxurious environments, with no knowledge yet if we will ever get a refund from the other hotel.

(Ishigaki beach)

Exhausted as we were, we elected to not see anything in Okinawa. After 2 nights recuperation we flew to Ishigake, the most southern island in Japan with therefore the "most southern" museum in Japan and other "most southern things" to see, settling in the only place I could find on the internet, where some English is spoken and the menu is available in English, all this info compliments of Tripadvisor.

(Our Ishigaki resort village scenes)

We drove around the small island during our three night stay there and we did not get lost, because there was a mountain in the middle and a circular road around it. We found that foodies from all over Japan not just come here for things "most southern", but for the Ishigake beef, which is reputed to be better then Kobe and any other famed beef. You will appreciate that we had to try it while here despite the absurd pricing. (We made it lunch and settled for shared portions)

(Rope is made from this crop, found all over the island)

Ofcourse this story of woe would not have been written were it not that when leaving Okinawa, rested and ready to see Hawaii shortly, after a required one night stay in a Shanghai airport hotel, we were refused boarding on the flight to China.

(Ishigake beef sold by the gram)

Here is the story: Planning this trip we had decided to use a 3 day visitor visum in Shanghai, that can be issued at the airport, because the connection with Delta in Shanghai required an overnight stay.

And why do you ask were we barred from getting on the China Eastern plane to Shanghai? Well, we were explained that Chinese 3 day visa required us coming from one country and leaving to another country, making Shanghai a stopover between countries.

(Driving out of the Ishigake Airport this guy welcomed us)

Originally our ticket stated that after arriving in Shanghai we would leave for Hawaii on a Delta flight with a stopover in Tokyo. But a recent schedule change made it two separate flights to Hawaii. One to Tokyo and then a few hours later changing planes (and critically a new flight number) onto Hawaii. AND as a consequence we were explained that our new schedule did not meet the visa requirements, since now we would travel from Japan to China to Japan, before continuing to Hawaii.

(Above entrance to Shinto temple; below private entrance Shisha lion dog protector warding off evil spirits)

Pacing the floor at the check-in area for hours we argued our case, but in the end we had to buy Japan Airlines tickets straight to Tokyo for the next day and started an email battle with Delta for compensation. In the end we got each 10,000 miles compensation, while losing the financial battle. We were beginning to wonder if the lengths we had gone to to save money - car instead of cab resulting in expensive hotel switch, round-the-world ticket price resulting in nights spent on airplanes and in airports and finally this Delta change which resulted in a non-refundable hotel in Shanghai, an extra night in a hotel in Okinawa and separate last minute tickets to Tokyo in order to re-connect with our existing RTW ticket to Hawaii. Hummmm??

(Saw many butterflies)

On the plus side there were a few interesting and thus noteworthy details that come to mind while talking about air travel:

(Ishigaki views)

1. While flying to Tokyo on Japan Airlines this announcement could/should be considered elsewhere in the world: "we have now landed in Tokyo and you are at this time allowed to use your cell phones, however please don't as it may interfere with the comfort of your fellow passengers"

(Are they welcoming us? Or is this a school zone?)
(Shinto Shrine, see below porcelain detail)

2. Also the Japanese GPS was ultra polite in never asking for a U turn at "our earliest convenience", just staying quiet while we drove on in the wrong direction till they could redirect you. They always prefaced each sentence with a "please". Although as you read earlier, the silence can be discomforting.

(This monument in memory of Japanese brutality and murder of 3 US aviators in the last month of WWII)

3. Japan is a clean country, but we were truly impressed while traveling on the toll road, when we found a road crew hand dusting and polishing all the guard rail stansions with a small brush. And we calculated that every 10 feet another stansion would be waiting to be dusted and polished for the next 60 miles. A crew of 10 men slowly moving from one to the next. How many stansions are waiting for their cleanup? We leave it to the calculus genius among you to come up with answer.

(One finds these signs on the coastal areas of the islands, since the islands lie in Tsunami Alley)

This blog is filled with pictures from our Okinawa visit and a selection of never published pictures of the past years, as I still think that my ramblings are less important than the pictures taken on our travels.

(All over Ishigaki island we found these dispensing machines in
the middle of nowhere, really strange)

(What we had to eat to stay slim, unfortunately one needs soy sauce, calorie rich)