Tuesday, March 31
I receive an email from my visa agent in Canberra saying that she has retrieved my passport from the Chinese embassy and will send it to me in Darwin via Registered Mail. I confirm with the hostel that they will sign for and hold the package when it arrives.
Thursday, April 2
I arrive at YHA Darwin but they haven’t seen my package. I try to track the package with the link forwarded by the visa agent but it doesn’t work. I call Australia Post and they assure me the package is in Winnellie (suburb of Darwin) and will be delivered ASAP. The only problem is that tomorrow is the start of the Easter week-end so it probably won’t be delivered until Tuesday.
Sunday, April 5
The guy on the hostel desk (who is trustworthy and very competent) assures me that Australia Post delivers on Easter Monday. I’m skeptical.
Monday, April 6
I try to track the package online but again get the “Not Found” error message. I ask the visa agent in Canberra to give it a try.
Phillipa, the visa agent, replies that the tracking works for her, and that my package was “undeliverable” due to “incorrect address.” She forwards a photograph that she took of the package before dropping it at the post office and the address is obviously correct. I’m stumped.
Tuesday, April 7
I call Australia Post and after waiting on hold for about 10 minutes I finally speak to an agent who informs me that my package was delivered to the YHA Hostel on April 1 (about 18 hours after it left Canberra) but the hostel wouldn’t accept it. Apparently they had not heard of me despite the fact that I have a booking under the same name for the next night and had discussed the importance of this package with the manager, both by phone and by e-mail.
Two Australia Post employees assure me that the package has been returned to the sender in Canberra and it could take up to 5 business days to be delivered. We calculate that because of the holiday, it could be as late as Friday, April 10. I have a flight from Darwin to Perth on April 9 and absolutely must have the passport for my April 12 flight from Perth to Bangkok. There won’t be time to get the passport redirected to Perth so I decide to book a flight to Canberra and camp on the visa agent’s doorstep until it’s delivered!
I try Expedia.com. The system crashes twice. On a third try it indicates no flights to Canberra until tomorrow. I find this hard to believe.
The Qantas web site shows many flights, including one that leaves at 1:50 this afternoon with one seat left at $349. That’s about half what I was expecting to pay so I grab it. When I hit “Book This Flight” I get an error message. I try two more times and each time it comes up “Your request cannot be completed. Try again later.” Back to Expedia.
I get a text alert from TD Visa indicating that Qantas has charged my card for $349. Looks like I’m going to Canberra, via Sydney.
Flight confirmation arrives from Qantas.
I’m in a cab. The driver lives in Thailand and commutes to Australia to work for 6 months of the year. He has plenty of good advice. Never shuts up, actually.
Scrabble with Facebook Friends isn’t working. I’m a little stressed so I head to a café called “Dome” with a nice view of the tarmac. A small bowl of pumpkin soup is $14.50. I’m not paying that for puréed Jack-O-Lantern so I leave.
I order the $1.99 Hokey Pokey Sundae at Hungry Jack’s. Maybe that will cheer me up.
Touch down in Sydney is smooth. I have 30 minutes to make it from Gate 10 to Gate 1 for my connecting flight. Shouldn’t be a problem even though I’m in the last row of the plane and will be last to disembark.
I’m halfway to Gate 1 when I notice something flashing in yellow on one of the flight information screens. Yep, that’s my flight. Cancelled.
Cell phone rings. It’s Qantas. I have been rebooked on a flight that leaves in 12 minutes. “I’ll be there,” I say, “But younbetter have the defibrillator out of the case.”
We’ve been taxiing for so long that I wonder if we’re possibly driving to Canberra.
What are the chances that I’ll spend the next week tracking down my checked backpack?
I’m standing in the terminal in Canberra and my backpack is the FIRST to appear on the carousel. Miracles do happen!
The taxi driver doesn’t know where the YHA hostel is located but he drives and asks me to punch the address into his GPS. I enter “Canberra” for the city and get an error message: “Canberra Not Found.” I hand the driver his Mattel GPS and use my iPhone and Google Maps instead.
We arrive at YHA Hostel in Canberra. It’s one of the best hostels I’ve been in so I’m happy to be back.
Wednesday, April 8
My phone rings while I’m still asleep. I didn’t even know I could receive incoming calls on my el-cheapo text and data plan. A woman’s voice says, “Hi, this is Elizabeth calling from Australia Post. I have your passport sitting on my desk.” I thank her profusely, then ask for her address so I can pick it up. She replies, “I’m at the Business Hub in Wannellie.” I know that Wannellie is a suburb of Darwin. My heart sinks.
I hang up and apologize to the dorm mates for waking them. They don’t say a word so I’m sure they’re pissed. I have asked Elizabeth to hold onto my passport and I will fly back to Darwin ASAP. She works from 6:45 AM to 2:30 PM so tomorrow is the earliest that I’ll be able to meet her.
More fun with Qantas. Again I get a text from TD Visa informing me of a $349 transaction. You really should fix this Qantas, unless you’re trying to trick people into making double bookings. Hmm.
Flight confirmation email arrives from Qantas.
I catch an airport shuttle for $12. The driver was using the loo at the hostel so it’s a major coincidence that I found him. This is his last run of the day and I’m the only passenger. I don’t even question why the last shuttle would be at 11:55 AM. I just don’t want to know.
Canberra airport is beautiful. And empty. I see four people working the check-in counters and two fliers. They have more sniffer dogs than customers.
I check the screen and notice that my flight is cancelled. Seems logical.
I manage to wake up one of the agents. He gets me on a flight that leaves at 2:15 and boards at 1:45, so only a short wait here but a longer wait for the connecting flight in Sydney. I’m pleasantly surprised to learn that virtually everything I now own weighs 12.5 kg. Qantas allows 23 kg of checked luggage. I’m underweight! Haven’t said that since I was eight!
It’s chilly in the air-conditioned terminal so I go to zip up my hoodie. Apparently I’ve been wearing it inside out all day.
We board 10 minutes early!
The flight from Canberra to Sydney takes off without a hitch. And yes, I would like a beverage, miss.
No issues boarding the flight from Sydney to Darwin. I had an extra long layover but got caught up on some reading. (Randall: I’m halfway through Shantaram!)
My bag is the last one to appear on the carousel. There are now two people left in the terminal – me and a rough looking bloke who may have thoughts of sleeping here overnight. Of course I would never do that. I have a reservation at the ultra luxurious Hi-Way Motel in nearby Wannellie. You know you’ve been staying in hostels for a long time when 70 bucks for a motel seems criminal.
The Night Manager opens up for me. I tell him my story and he upgrades me to a room with private bath. Woo-hoo! (The $70 room I had booked had a shared bath.)
Thursday, April 9
I walk about 1 km to Australia Post’s Wannellie Business Hub. It’s already 32C and going to 36C today.
For the last hour I’ve been sitting on the floor in a remote part of the airport, using what appears to be the only power outlet in the entire building. I get a charge on my phone and start a Facebook Messenger conversation with my brother.
A rather prim and proper looking woman wearing a Qantas uniform walks up to me. I’m sitting on the floor, looking a little ragged and wearing cargo shorts, faded t-shirt and dirty Nikes. I’m sure she’s going to ask me to move along. Instead she asks what flight I’m on. When I tell her I have two hours to wait for a Qantas flight to Perth, she invites me into the Business Class Lounge for a beer and buffet lunch. Think that would happen at Air Canada?