Day 22-23, 22-23JAN2017
We began our official last day in Japan and hence last day of the first chapter of our round the world adventure with an early rise. The sun was just beginning to kiss the sky pink when we departed the apartment complex and set out at 0645 for a twenty minute brisk walk to the JR train station.
The morning in this part of Japan was quiet, few cars or buses on the roads, and bike parking stations normally jam packed during the day were eerily empty – the two we did see parked had tickets on them!
We boarded the bus to Tokyo Station at 0720 and were surprised by the amount of school children dressed in uniform or wearing matching sports team jerseys, additionally by the number of men dressed in suits appearing to head off to work. Considering it was a Sunday morning both Josh and I were perplexed by this observation which didn’t seem to make sense for a country that utilizes the Monday-Friday work week.
Regardless, we arrived at Tokyo Station and navigated the rivers that are a metropolis’ of humans for the twenty five minute walk it took from the Keiyo Line to the Narita Express. Once aboard the Narita Express – which we could take free of charge thanks to our JR Passes – we sat and enjoyed our previously procured pastries, vending machine coffees, and wifi.
We rolled into the Narita terminal just after 0900 and proceeded to check in for our twelve hour flight to New York City, more specifically JFK. Update on our pack weight: mine is now 16kg and Josh’s 18.5kg. Check in was a breeze, and before we knew it we were seated in the Sakura Lounge thanks to Josh’s awesome air mileage status.
The Sakura Lounge looked as though it’d fit in perfectly in EPCOT’s future world. The sleek tan leather sofa and chairs were arranged in small quadrants allowing people a perceived privacy. There was a second floor serving multi-course meals, however Josh and I stuck to grazing the lower level snack options. There was cheese, crackers, rice snacks and various dry cookies for sustenance and then a whole slew of beverages. Similar to Qantas the Japan Airlines (JAL) Sakura Lounge had free-pour alcohol, however the options were far fewer. There was a bevvy of fresh juices and cold water in the fridge, and then the coolest invention since sliced bread: a self-pouring beer tap. You place your chilled glass in the receptor, then the machine tilted to your glass as it dispensed fresh draft beer, continually returning your glass at a steady pace until the very end when with your glass upright the tap released just enough beer to form a perfectly billowed head of white foam.
After an hour in the lounge we said goodbye to Japan and boarded our JAL flight to JFK.
The twelve hours were chock full of entertainment. I for one devoured all three Bridget Jones movies, “Aloha,” “The Other Woman,” and the recently released “Jack Reacher.”
We were treated to two full meals, lunch and dinner. I love the JAL approach to meals: you’re presented with a smorgasbord of teeny tiny meals that make up one large meal. Salads, rice bowls, pickled veggies, a sweet of some sort, bread, miso soup, small portion of meat, sliced fruit. Of course you’re supplemented with several drink options: the meal is supplied with a cute bottle of water no bigger than the palm of your hand, then there’s sake, plum wine, beer, sodas, green tea and coffee.
In between movies and meals we experienced perhaps the most beautiful entertainment: the earth revolving. We departed Tokyo at 1100 on 22JAN but landed two hours earlier in JFK at 0900 on 22JAN. In the course of our flight we watched the sun set on 22JAN and then rise for the second time as we caught back up with the sun’s footprint on earth. It was absolutely magical and the colors in each situation were brilliant: dark purples gave way to sweet pinks and blazing oranges.
Landing in New York I was happy to return to my country after over six months of living abroad. Unfortunately I have to admit I was slightly embarrassed when we first arrived. With a twelve hour layover in New York Josh and I would have loved to depart the airport and check out the city – however neither of us caught any sleep on the flight and we both were far too tired to consider playing tourist.
To compound the exhaustion, it took us two hours to get from disembarkation through immigration, customs and then drop off our luggage.
During this time while Josh and I were not yelled at, numerous people were belittled by the people working the huge crowd of foreigners and Americans alike in immigration. When we stepped outside the terminal to find our way via skytrain to the American Airlines terminal we were met with the first homeless person I’ve seen since I moved away from the States. This is not to say there are not homeless people in Australia or Japan, but it was a stark reminder of something far more prevalent and visible in US cities. When we made it to the American Airlines terminal we then stood in line for over an hour and a half to process through security. This, I thought was the icing on the cake to deter us from leaving the airport again regardless of how much time we had.
Settled in the American Airlines lounge, we tried to grab a nap in the lounge’s “quiet area.”
Unfortunately during the six hours we were in the alleged quiet area five of those hours were spent with people using the room to make speaker phone calls. I’ll refrain from retelling the stories of which I became intricately aware of these people’s lives, but I will caution readers: if you are in a public place, especially a public place reserved for quiet, it’s a good idea not to order a new credit card and share your mailing address, social security number, challenge questions and answers, credit score, and various other intricately personal details on speaker phone.
Unlike the Qantas or JAL lounges, the American Airlines lounge did not offer unlimited self-pour alcohol. Instead a handful of drinks were “free” while the majority of the drinks costs between $10-$15. Regardless of whether you had to pay for the drink however, this lounge was in the States, so all drinks were served by a bar tender which denoted the anticipated cost of a few dollars tip. Having just spent the past half year in two countries where tipping is either never expected or actually considered rude, to tip again caught me off guard.
Also unlike the Qantas of JAL lounges, American Airlines did not offer full course dining, instead had a few chopped vegetables, soups, and desserts available.
After watching the Patriots-Steelers game, Josh and I actually had to jog to our gate to board our flight to Argentina. They were calling “last call” as we bought a few snacks. We made it on the flight without a problem thankfully, and definitely were not the last people to board.
The flight departed JFK at 2200 on 22JAN and arrived in Buenos Aires just under twelve hours later at 1100 on 23JAN.
To be honest, the flight experience aboard American Airlines (AA) was sub-par compared to its one world alliance sisters Qantas and JAL. For starters the economy section was barely occupied, with several rows only hosting one flyer, yet our row had three people, and unlike I’ve experienced in other AA flights, the hosts and hostesses did not move anyone around. The seat space is also significantly smaller on American Airlines, making it impossible to use my tray when the man in front of me (I was in the middle seat and he had the entire row to himself but chose the middle seat) reclined all the way back. In a bizarre way I am therefore happy American Airlines served terrible food: I didn’t really have a way to eat it even if it had been good. They also only conducted two drink services, both combined with the meal services, and so the lengthy flight was also a really dry one.
To be fair though, American Airlines did have awesome entertainment options! I watched “Ghost Busters,” “Anthropoid,” “Denial” and “The Wilderpeople.”
Arriving in Buenos Aires we were immediately notified that we had departed the Northern Hemisphere’s winter and arrived in the middle of summer. Customs and immigration in Argentina was nothing compared to that of the US and when we walked into Argentina we were greeted with the buzz of an unorganized ciudad.
In order to get to our AirBnB in Recoleta, we had to acquire a taxi, or remis. This required of us to “shop” around the various kiosks in the airport with our massive packs on and sweat oozing down our face and back. We finally happened upon one, pointed on the map where our AirBnB was located, paid an upfront cost for the service to a cashier girl, and then were whisked away by our driver (who appeared out of nowhere!) to our car.
The man buzzed and beeped and swerved and sped through traffic that barely followed lane lines and certainly did not adhere to the speed limit. Within forty minutes our bodies going on less than four hours of sleep in over a 42 hour travel day walked into our bright and crispy clean apartment. We were met by our host Florencia, she imparted a few words of wisdom (great places to eat, neighborhoods to avoid at night), and graciously noting our exhaustion left us to catch some shut eye.
Twenty hours would pass before Josh and I would wake up as fully functioning humans again.