30.06.2010 - 20.07.2010 10 °C
John:.....The Indian tourism ministry has, as its current slogan 'Incredible India'. 'Indelible India' would serve just as well. We have been back in New Zealand for three weeks now and are still full of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the sub-continent. Hopefully over the next few weeks India will take a step back and allow some of the other amazing places that we visited come forwards to join it.
By the end of the 12 months of our trip it was time to come home. We knew it, felt it and the bank balance showed it. We climbed aboard the QANTAS flight to Singapore and left hot, wet, overcast, monsoony Mumbai on the first leg of our journey home. This first plane had lots of Indian people on board but on our second and final flights the proportions changed. It felt like a 3 stage transition from the foreigness of India to the familiarity of Australasia. A short stop in Singapore gave us a chance to stroll about the vastness of Changi Airport, affording us glimpses of things and names we hadn't seen (but not necessarily missed) for some time: Burger King, The New York Times, The Tie Shop, Mojo...and as we waited at the departure gate for the next flight, to Sydney, we realised that we were part of a majority group again rather than a minority...a strange feeling.
The flights were unremarkable with 'straight-down-the-middle' QANTAS service and one great movie 'Invictus' telling the story of Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar (Springbok skipper) in the lead up to the South Africa Rugby World Cup. I must confess to a prickling of the eyes watching the film (and am I alone in thinking that the South African national anthem is one of the most stirring national anthems around?).
At Sydney Airport I took a few minutes out to put on my All Blacks shirt, carried for a whole year just to wear for this last leg of the trip. Before long we were on the Sydney to Christchurch flight with just one small Indian family remaining from the large cohort that left Mumbai with us. We departed from an overcast, cold Sydney and dozed through the mundanity of the trip across the Tasman Sea. Waking just before siting land, we saw the clouds clear and the sky turn the colour of lapis lazuli. The West Coast of New Zealand's South Island stretched out below us. We were able to see right down the coastline as far as Okarito and in front of us the glistening white peaks of the Southern Alps. On the port side, the Waimakariri River silver snaked its braided way through the mountains towards the polite, ordered, geometric farmland of the Canterbury plains. We had seen many magnificent things and places on our travels and this was up there with the best of them. We came home as we had left, in awe of the beauty of the place where we live and deeply moved by the 'welcome home' from our mountains, rivers and plains. Reliving the moment as I am writing causes the hairs on my arms to stand up (but that might just be the cold).
Anticipating a lengthy discussion about our souvenirs with the Ministry of Agriculture people, we were surprised by our speedy exit into the arrivals hall, ears full of the 'welcome home' comments from the immigration and customs staff. We spilled through the door and met Gemma, our next generous host, before driving around the city to the Cashmere Hills; a long way from the Kashmir Hills that we had been so near to just a few weeks previously.
Our first impressions on arriving home centred on the space and cleanliness of the city. We had not been in such uncrowded surroundings for a long time and where was the litter, the cows in the street, the car horns, the homeless people, roadside food stalls,...the clammer and congestion?
We busied ourselves with the inevitable tasks....buying a car, fridge, washing machine, redirecting post and arranging for all our belongings to be moved back to Franz Josef. Going through our treasures that we had been posting back throughout our travels. Reconnecting with our friends from Christchurch and catching up on news from Matt and Gemma (their help with receiving post, managing bills, checking our stored items, receiving and storing parcels from overseas was invaluable, thank you) and so on.
Packing up our belongings to move back to 'the coast' was a sizeable task. Southways Removals' maestro 'Milky' turned up as we hauled our now buckling cardboard boxes from the storage unit out to him whilst he created a magificent mosaic, a real work of art, along the front bulkhead of his truck. He looked remarkably fresh at the end of the exercise while we felt the need for a good lay down. It's not often you come across an artist of Milky's abilities. He is, I understand, a legend amongst the furniture removal packers of the West Coast and it was a privilege to labour for him!
Our drive to Franz Josef was less fraught than the reverse journey 12 months ago; no snow on the road and all our adventures behind us. We paused briefly at The Sheffield Pie Shop for some excellent steak pies to take home. Another indication of being home was the pair of young lads from a local farm, each the size of a junior prop forward, one dressed in his red and black Swanni, calling in for two steak and cheese pies each 'to eat now'. No doubt fuel for the afternoon's footie match.
We had a great drive through a very cold but snow-free Arthur's Pass and enjoyed the opportunity to revel in the alpine scenery of the South Island on a clear crisp day. The first glimpse of the Tasman Sea after coming through Kumara Junction and turning left along the coast, pausing at Hokitika for some shopping and then down the coastline, through bush and rain forest; snowy mountains to the left and all our personal belongings somewhere in front of us in a truck driven by a man called Graham.
Graham was already unloading on the driveway (Milky might have waited until we got there) when we arrived at our house. Franz Josef having been uncharacteristically rain free for 2 weeks this wasn't a problem. The house was warm and we were welcomed with flower arrangements on the table and a big banner saying 'WELCOME HOME JACKIE AND JOHN, WE MISSED YOU'. What a great community to come home to.
And now we have been back at work for a couple of weeks. It can still take the best part of an hour or so to buy a bottle of milk as we catch up with friends from Franz Josef. Nobody looks bored with our stories yet but we are conscious not to overdo it!
We are indebted to many people and realise that without them our adventures would have been all the poorer or even not happened at all. Family and friends, professional colleagues and the kindness of strangers have all played a huge part. Thank you.
The blog has come to the end of this part of its life. It has been an unexpected pleasure to write it and, at 21 600 visits to this site I hope it has been useful and interesting to read. My remaining job is to correct the typos, spelling mistakes and grammer before the final print off.
If you have been on our journey with us through reading this blog, thank you for your company. I hope you enjoyed the trip.